About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, July 29, 2016

The First Time

By the time school was out for the summer of 1938 and Dick had graduated from VHS, Dad’s “itchy feet” had resulted in our moving twice.  He first moved us for a time to a small yellow house about three blocks further away from the railroad yards, then to a three-bedroom two-story house on 17th a block off Kauffman.  Since we only moved a few blocks each time, we were still Vancouver “westsiders” so our friends and the Gearhart Gang remained unchanged.
Dad had apparently gotten some raises at the sawmill because he bought a car, our first since the Model T in the Ozarks.  It was only a dark green 1928 or 1929 four-door Chevrolet, but it was wheels.
When school was out I wanted to get a job that would pay more than a paper route—which I could have gotten since Dick quit the Columbian in favor of a job that he could go to college.  Dave was making enough to keep us comfortably housed, fed, and clothed, but there was no way that he could send us boys to college unless we earned the money.
My good friend Dave Daniels and I were both avid about airplanes.  (When I joined the Navy two years later, the ceiling of my bedroom was literally covered with balsa and rice paper models.)  We never s=missed a movie like “Dawn Patrol” with Errol Flynn and David Niven or “Eyes of the Navy”.  We saw each of them two or three times.
1940 LaSalle

One Saturday Dave and I had a job washing and waxing a big maroon LaSalle sedan that belong to Mr. Larson who had a grocery store on Kauffman near where Dave lived.  It was quite a job as he wanted it rubbed down with carnauba wax.  We worked all day on that car and when we finished it was a gleaming beauty.  Mr. Larson was so pleased that he gave us three dollars apiece for a job that I would have done for a dollar.
Dave and I felt rich.  We trekked off down to Gearhart’s and had a coke while we talked about the things we could do with three dollars apiece.  (It did not occur to either of us that we could put it in the bank.)
I had an idea.  It was still early in the afternoon and was a beautiful, calm, sunny day.  I said, “Hey, Dave, for three bucks apiece we could go for an airplane ride.  There is a fellow down at Pearson Field who has a Curtis Robin that will hold two passengers.  I will go for an airplane ride if you will!”
Dave thought it was a great idea since neither of us had ever been up before.  We downed our Coca Colas, trotted home for our bicycles, and off we went to Pearson Field.  I neglected to tell my mother where we were going because I figured she would object and put a damper on the idea right quick.
Curtis Robin

The Curtis Robin was out on the flight line and its owner agreed to take us up for fifteen minutes for six bucks.  Now a Curtis Robin was a pretty ugly angular high-winged monoplane (the kind “Wrong Way Corrigan flew across the Atlantic) but this one was freshly painted green and yellow and we thought it was beautiful.  We liked the way it smelled inside of fuel, motor oil, and airplane dope.
The pilot strapped the two of us into the rear seat, then slid into the front.  Someone cranked the propeller and the engine caught with a satisfying roar after it coughed a few times.  I believe it was a WWI ox-5 engine.
We taxied out, warmed the engine, and as we roared down the grass runway Dave and I were grinning at each other like fools.  The Robin went bumping along and shaking until it got flying speed, then the nose came up, the ground seemed to drop away and it got smooth except for engine noise and vibration.
We climbed away over east Vancouver into a new and wondrous world.  Objects on the ground shrank until cars on the highway looked like little beetles that scurried along and people looked like ants.  From up there you could not see the dirt and trash and the whole world looked clean and beautiful.  The sky was an unimaginable blue, studded with snowy cumulus clouds that we skirted.
I was exhilarated and entranced with a feeling that I could never adequately describe until, sometime later I chanced across some lines written by one John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a young American that served with the RCAF in England before the U.S. got into the war that became WWII.  After he was killed in 1941 this sonnet, written while he was in flying school, was found in his effects.  For those of us who must fly, this says it:

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

                And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth’      

of sun split clouds—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and swung and

                Soared—high in the sunlit silence.

Hovering there, I’ve chased the shouting winds along,

                And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped

                The windswept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

                The high un-trespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

Those lines reflect the jubilance and awe that I felt during that memorable first short airplane flight and, later on, when I few small airplanes alone.  It is a joy that no earthbound mortal, and those who have flown only in bus-like airliners, can know.

That day our pilot climbed to three or four thousand feet and circled over Vancouver.  Dave and I sat there excitedly pointing out individual buildings—the courthouse, Gearhart’s, the high school, and our own houses—all looking like a tiny layout for a model railroad.  It was marvelous and all too short.

We were still excited when we climbed out of the airplane.  I stood, stroked the sleek side of the fuselage, and exclaimed, “Boy oh boy, I sure want to learn to fly!”

Dave threw an arm around my shoulders.  “We will, Con, we sure as hell will!”  And time would prove him right.