Monday, April 30, 2012

Mirror Swift

Ginger and I were outside with the dogs yesterday when a beautiful Swift flew over, dropped the gear, and proceeded to land.  We had seen it working the pattern here at the field before but never knew who it belonged to.  This time they taxied over and stopped.
My words to Ginger went something like this, "Holy cow!  Woooo, look at that polish job.  Who in the world would take that on?"  Then out stepped our friend Dan Gidzinski.  If you knew him, at this point it would all make sense.  Dan is a perfectionist and he produces some of the finest work on aircraft I've ever seen.  Yet, it seems this wasn't all his doing.
Dan bought the plane after it had sat for a while.  One of the last things it had done before being parked was win a polish award at the annual Swift Fly-In.  The previous owner did an amazing job and Dan was glad to take over.  His reason?  While he worked on perfecting and finishing the Swift project he has in his hangar, he really needed something to fly.  This one fit his standards and he now owns the job of keeping the polish up.
What's involved in a job like that?  Well, I won't go into detail but I can tell you that he was able to tell us how each different kind of rag works at each step in the process.  He even knew of several special manufacture polishing towels and he clearly had a favorite.  Like I said, Wow!
When you have a job like that, it pays to have the attention to detail Dan does.  If you live in the area and you see a chrome bullet cross over your house, it's not a UFO; it's likely Dan out enjoying the sunset.

Ernie Was Right

We’ve all had them right? Those moments when fate and fortune found common ground. Our minds collect them; life’s baseball cards.
Digging through the dusty shoe box of history, one of my favorites comes to mind. Like many great cards it represents the beginning of a career. Its stats convey an image of who that person is and who they would become, the photo captures their youth, and the card itself smells like used oil and exhaust. Well, actually that last part is due to creative license. But, if there were baseball cards for pilots lost in time, I’m sure that’s what they would smell like.
Having said my goodbyes to the last ride of the morning, my mind drifted to Chici’s. Across the road from the airport was the best Cuban sandwich in town. I could almost taste the mustard when someone said “A FED is in there and he wants to talk to you”.
Most people tend to flip out when A FED shows up. Myself, I’m the opposite. Yeah sure, like everyone else I run the mental checklist to make sure I have everything I’m supposed to have but other than that, I really couldn’t care less. FEDs are, after all, just normal people with a penchant for polyester and a hard-on for paperwork. Humor them, make them feel like real people, act impressed with their knowledge of regulation minutia, and pretend that their attempts to fit in are working and they’ll pretty much always leave you alone. What most people seem to forget is that back at their office, the egg laying queen (you saw Aliens right?) is to them, what they are to us. Help a FED make the next level of incompetence happy and your life will be better for it. Got it? FEDs are people too.
Therefore, like so many times before, I set out to find THE FED. Yet before I could, he and his trainee found me. I wish I had a picture; right there in front of me was an image only government could create. A rather tall white guy wearing boots, a cowboy hat, and a Texas size attitude stood with the air of self-importance over a timid black man dressed in polyester, wearing a tie, and carrying a clip board. It was like being on the set of an Eddie Murphy movie.
While driving to Key West they had seen me fly over and turned around to let me have it. Apparently, the cowboy was sure he could accurately judge the altitude of a plane from a speeding car and was doubly sure I was too low. To prove it, he asked me how high I was. In complete shock that someone with such a great knowledge of regulation minutia and an impressive ability to fit in anywhere would ask me such a stupid question, I laughed. Looking back on it, I’m forced to consider that maybe it wasn’t such a good thing to do. Yet like the title of Ernie’s book, Fate Is the Hunter.
Honestly, it wasn't on purpose. It just snickered out. Therefore, when he asked me what was so funny, I just answered his question; “High enough”. It seemed like a good idea at the time but the look in his eyes told me I would soon be punished. It’s bad juju to openly mock a cowboy in front of a black trainee, at least it was to him, and I could see he was going to make me pay for it.
Initially I kind of felt bad for the new guy. It was obvious the queen (Aliens, remember?) had placed him with this penis dressed as a cowboy and sent them away; most likely to get cowboy out of the office. Egg layers have jackass thresholds too. Therefore, when Neal the new guy (the trainee) asked me if he could look at my plane, I said yes. While doing so, Brokeback Bob did his best to impress me with the power of his title and distract me from what was going on. When it became obvious they were going to look the plane over until they found something, I walked away and went to lunch.
Back then, Chici’s Cubans were like crack with crystal meth sprinkles. You just couldn’t get enough and I had to get my fix. Now let’s take a break and ponder me doing crack with crystal meth sprinkles. It’s a good thing I don’t do drugs because I’m pretty sure none of you would want to experience that. Right? OK, back to the story.
Walking back in the door from Chici’s, someone said “That FED's looking for you again and he isn’t happy”. And once again, before I could find him, he found me.
“Where the hell have you been; it’s a good thing you showed up; I was just about to ground your plane” he said. Then I received an amazing lesson on FAA Constitutional interpretation. According to him, once he talked to me, he owned me and I had no right to leave until he told me so. After that, we grabbed a cup of coffee, chatted about the weather, and had a rather colorful debate as to who the #&%$ he thought he was. His answer: "The guy who found a problem with your plane".
Knowing that the Miami FEDs always traveled south on Friday so they could spend the weekend there on your tax dollars, I was doing my best to set them on their way. “Don’t you guys have an appointment in Key West?” “Yes we do but first we need to show you what we found”, said the belt buckle wearing erection. Walking around to the lower left wing, he said “My trainee noticed your aileron has a problem”. That’s when the timid black guy, with a huge self-congratulating smile on his face, reached for the aileron control link that connects the surface to the belcrank in the wing.

The official Stearman repair manual shows where the link fits into the picture.
 Grasping the zinc chromated part, he rocked it back and forth 1/8th of an inch or less in each direction. “See, something is obviously wrong with this part. It moves”, were his words. I honestly didn’t know what to say. He was dead serious but there was just one problem; that part has or is connected to bearings on each end that allow it to move like that. Yes, it was perfectly normal but it was clear they were going to try to make it an issue.
Turning to look at me, the cowboy said, “You’re lucky I’m not in the mood to ground your plane. Do what you want but that part has a problem”, and he turned to leave for Key West. That left me with a dilemma; replace it or not?
Walking by my friends who had gathered on the bench to watch this all go down, I could hear them laughing. Once Woody had left the building, I learned he had been building a wonderful reputation for himself. Having been run off from several FSDOs for being a trouble maker, he had landed in Miami and the word was spreading fast. Hearing this, I got nervous and went into my full-on the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense mode.
First I called a friend at the FAA. Yeah, I have (or had) friends at the FAA. Anyway, this guy looked at the double dog secret FAA computer and told me the cowboy had already added information about me. According to my buddy, it appeared he was hoping to get the next FSDO, where I hopped rides in summer, to serve me up a cold dish of trouble. Then I called an attorney. He assured me I was ok and said to call back if anything new came up. After that I called the head of the Miami FSDO.  Using my FAA buddy as a reference, I gave him a detailed dissatisfied customer report. Finally I got on the horn and ordered a new aileron link that was rebuilt with new bearings and freshly painted.
One of the great things about a Stearman is if something breaks you can get the part overnighted. The expense would be worth it. If the local Rodeo star were to show up early, I’d already have it fixed with yellow tag in hand. The balls were in the air. “Tomorrow”, I thought, “I’ll see where they drop”.
Jackasses have an uncanny ability to suck the fun from anything. The next morning was proof of that. Pedaling at an increasing rate, exotic plants, colorful birds, and the warm tropical air blew by without notice. Life in The Keys was, at that point, nothing more than life with a booted bureaucrat. Ten minutes later, the UPS guy waved me in front of his truck as he rolled into the airport. The first ball, the new part, had dropped right where I wanted and when.
Tony (The Key’s best mechanic), asked me what I needed and offered any required help. Once you leave the mainland, you are part of the team. Mainlanders need not apply and the locals do their best to keep them out. If you work for the government, your ranking as a human is at the bottom of the list. Your name, on the other hand, goes to the top of the most wanted. Therefore, anyone and everyone offered a hand that day. I had become a part of the team; for a while I was part of The Keys.
Lying under the wing, a bead of sweat rolled off face and onto my neck. Performing aviation’s version of arthroscopic surgery, I could understand why you always see that person in the movies whose job it is to wipe the surgeon’s brow. A simple linkage replacement becomes tortuous when time and nature’s coolant combine to piss you off. And yet I kept turning the wrench. My life, and the patient’s, depended on it.
Almost to the last thread, I could feel the bellcrank coming loose. From here on out the procedure would require spinning the nut off by hand, removing the bellcrank, disconnecting the the FED's favorite link, and then reversing the process with the new one. Reaching into the hole, my attitude improved. The idea the FED would come back early only to find it had already been replaced put wind in my sails although I couldn't believe a perfectly good part was being replaced just for him. All I had to do was rotate it one fuuull - "CLINK, THUMP, THUD, CLUNK" went something from inside the wing. The thud was the sound of whatever it was hitting my head before dropping onto the ramp.
I still have the parts.
“What the hell was that!". Rolling over to grab it, the bushed zinc chromate color tab confused me.  "That must have been in the wing for ages", I thought. “There’s no way that..”.   Then I looked up and saw reality. While removing the nut from the bellcrank bolt, one ear of the casting that holds it in place had fallen free. Likewise, the assembly had fallen loose in the wing. I was stunned. A critical flight control had just disintegrated while sitting on the ground.
Upon closer inspection, it had been this way for a while. Only a small hairline of fresh metal could be seen on the ear that bounced off my noggin. One good jolt was all that separated a good day from a bad. Thanks to chance and an over-zealous FED, it had been found with my butt planted on terra firma.
“High enough”; I knew it felt right. Was it not for that response, Cowboy Bob and his sidekick Neal may have left me alone. I have no idea how or why they decided to pick on that specific aileron link. The other moved the same but they said it was ok. Perhaps it was the shiny top side where the paint had worn on the edge of the spar. Or maybe it was because the left wing had all the patches from people getting in and out of the airplane. And maybe, just maybe, it was pure dumb luck. Whatever the case, Ernie was right.

A FED showed up to cause trouble, claimed something was wrong with the plane that wasn’t, and because of my zeal to shut him down, something potentially disastrous had been found.  Sometimes the cowboy gets you, and sometimes you get the cowboy. When it’s your time it’s your time and for the moment it wasn’t mine.

Note: Fred the FED, or Cowboy Bob as I called him, turned out to be the son of a man in congress. Whenever he would do something completely off the charts, they would ship him out to another FSDO instead of firing him. After I raised hell with everyone you could imagine, all the way to Oklahoma City and DC, I received a call from the Miami FSDO manager. He was sending an inspector who knew something about old planes down to see me and he would be sending the inspector in question with him. When they arrived, the guy who “knew something about old planes” stuck out his hand and said “Al Kimball”. He then proceeded to ask Bob, sans Neal, where the problem had existed. Walking around to the wing, shrinking in stature with each step, he pointed to the link and attempted to slander it. Al gave it a quick look then proceeded to give Bob a learn’n. To this day, it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. Despite Al’s professionalism, every one of his words cut an inch off Bob’s legs. By the time they left, it felt like Al had brought a kid to my house to make him admit to and apologize for stealing something. Cowboy Bob and trainee Neal were never heard from again.

Aircraft note:  If you have a Stearman and your ailerons have ever been left without the control lock on, I highly suggest you inspect those bellcrank castings.  There was even a crack in the tab that broke off.  It went all the way through from the bushing to the apex of the piece.
What’s your "Fate Is the Hunter" story?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We Could Get 1600 Hrs Out of an 1830

This is what a "dropped valve" does to a piston.  Many years ago, WL Paris was flying for the family business when one engine developed a "small problem".

Listening to my friend describe his treasures, I could see a smile in his eyes. Every guy, and I suppose every gal, has some point in their life they’d like to revisit. Whatever their sex may be though, commonalities exist among those favorite memories.
Passion, risk, and reward season the most bland of life’s days and tenderize the toughest cuts. Monotonous turns momentous and misery becomes memory when they are at hand. How else could one explain the excitement in his voice as he handed me the stressed metal?
From a distance the part was recognizable; in hand unbelievable. Once a piece of mechanical artwork, the piston was ugly defined. Pounded repeatedly by the head of an errant valve, its original tolerances were a distant memory. Only now after decades of darkness and dust does it again have purpose. It is history; a mile marker in time.
“There was a small miss but it kept running; occasionally it would backfire. Today’s engine couldn’t do that,” my friend said. He was right.
WL Paris owns and operates Central American Airways out of Bowman Field in Louisville. The company was started by his father and two friends immediately after WWII. Back then they offered the first non-stop flight from Louisville to New York. Their aircraft of choice was a DC-3. Eventually though, they operated across the planet using Connies, Convair 880’s, and many other airframes; then came de-regulation. But, that is a story for another time.
Today Central American Airways is easily described as the most successful charter company in the area.  While going through family and business heirlooms, WL recently came across an original Central American passenger manifest from 1947, his father’s RAF uniform from a time before the US was in the war, and among many other things, this piston and valve. If I can ever get him to slow down long enough to make sure my details are correct, I’ll tell you the entire Central American story.

The valve that once helped power a DC-3 made itself a nice little bed in the top of this piston.  It should be noted, Central American had the engines figured out to the point they were able to get as much as 1600 hours out of an 1830.  Anyone who operates DC-3s today will know how amazing that number is.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Video of P-40 Found in Desert

This video of a P-40, discovered in the Al Wadi al Jadid Desert, was recently published on youtube.  The two part series (part one, part two)appears to show locals more concerned with making a quick buck and grabbing the still loaded guns than selling it for big money to a collector.  Judging by the post, rumors of the find were floating around and the person posted the video to prove its existence.
If anyone knows more about this aircraft and the person who posted the video, we'd love to hear from you.  Is this truly a recent find, is the plane still there, and are there plans to rescue it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ginger Resigns From Event Planner Position

 I have resigned my position as event planner at Lee Bottom Flying Field.  
As a marketing professional, you know you’ve been effective when you see others replicating your slogans, sayings, advertising, and pretty much everything you do.   They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but frankly, I’ve grown tired of it. Yes, it is nice to know my efforts have inspired others to do better.  But now that we’re here, I’ve decided to gracefully bow out of this race to look for greener pastures.  The next direction for grass runway airports is about to launch.  And so it begins; the effort to once again set our airport apart as that special place everyone loves to enjoy.
Some of you are probably thinking, “What marketing?  Huh?  We don’t see your airport’s flyers on event boards at our airport.   What are you talking about?”  And, to that, I say “exactly”.  There is more to marketing than putting up flyers.
You may not realize it but we work full-time on marketing the airport and events.  If you doubt that because you haven’t seen Lee Bottom advertisements or flyers posted everywhere or lying on every table at every other event you go to, ask yourself “Why is their fly-in and airport so popular?”  I’ll tell you why.  It’s a FULL TIME JOB and we are available as consultants if you want to make your brand known and take advantage of our knowledge.
As for the events, I started helping with the fly in during 2001 when the entire thing lasted a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.  Back then it only included lunch, and the day we reached 100 planes we thought we had hit a milestone.  During these early years, it took a month to brown the meat for the big pots of chili we stayed up all night simmering.  There were no port a pots, no tents, no special t shirts, and no auto parking section.  We didn’t have showers nor did we have hot water for the public restroom.  There were no overnight campers and 2 picnic tables sufficed for everyone.  The restroom facility was a dirty, filthy mess filled with spiders and lady bugs.  Signs were made the morning of the event with markers and poster board, there was one event vehicle, and we did not spend the week prior laying down parking lines.  Furthermore, the aircraft parking area was only 10 acres instead of the 40 acres available today.  We had no special operating procedures for arrivals nor did we have coffee for those that arrived early.  There was no website, no logo, no special Lee Bottom attire, and your ticket for lunch was a clothespin which had been scavenged from the many thousands Fritz had purchased throughout the years for some unknown reason.  Rich’s old room mate flew over the night before and used the weed whacker on the tall grass around the shelter building so visitors could find the picnic tables.  Green moss grew on the siding of all the buildings, which also needed painted, and there were no flowers or plants growing anywhere - actually there were tall weeds everywhere.  Mayor Maggie and Sir Cory were the only volunteers and neither of them was old enough to legally drive.   Myself, I even had time to fly during the day of the event. 
As this atmosphere became more and more popular, we struggled with ways to keep it going.  But as the years wore on, our old friends stopped coming.  My only guess is that they thought we had money and should be entertaining them for free.  Instead, they were replaced with new friends who longed for a place like this. Yet, at some point, it became apparent something had changed.
With new friends came those that didn’t understand.  They had never met Fritz, didn’t know the history of the airport, nor did they seem to care.  We had some pretty contentious arguments with people who wanted to cross the runway while planes were landing while others couldn’t seem to grasp that the only way we could continue to host these growing events was to charge for attendance.  And still others didn’t follow the very few simple rules thus placing the event and airport’s existence in jeopardy for their own self fulfillment.  Despite these issues though, I have to say the majority of attendees were, and are, really awesome and they rapidly became members of our new airport family.
In the past 12 years, the airport has seen its share of weather phenomena.  We’ve had a blizzard that collapsed a hangar and crushed planes, a certified Midwest hurricane that took out the electricity for a week prior to the September fly-in, an ice storm that left us without power during the cold winter months, droughts that killed the grass, torrential downpours that washed away thousands of pounds of newly sown grass seed, all time record setting rain storms that caused all of the aircraft parking areas on the field to be mud which resulted in a cancelled event, and the river has flooded into our auto parking areas.  But, this year’s smiting was the worse and it has taken a toll on us:  The Tornado of March 2, 2012. 
During all those years, with one exception, events have gone on despite weather phenomena, broken bones, and family emergencies.  We have rescheduled surgeries, attended events in pain, missed weddings and funerals.  Vacations have been postponed and missed all together to make sure that events can be held.  Our home needed remodeling but it always took a backseat to the welfare of the airport and the events. 
If you could have seen the inside of the buildings when I arrived for the first time in May 2001, you’d understand.  Fritz had not been gone long and Rich was struggling to do it all himself.  You can not believe the disarray of papers, clutter, and utter mess.  It was barely suitable for human life.  Slowly though, things were cleaned, painted, washed, and organized.  In 2001, the tools, equipment, and associated hardware were all laying in the middle of the shop floor.   You couldn’t find the top of a 30’ work bench if your life depended on it.  Things were picked up, put into piles of similarity, and eventually into labeled boxes. 
The costs for maintenance were evaluated and savings made wherever possible.  Fuel purchased in bulk at the right times, utility bills combined and re-evaluated, heating and cooling issues were addressed, winterization of plumbing and pipes were changed to make them simpler and more effective, and we operated under-insured for property damage.  Yet, we kept the runway expansion going despite problems at every turn.  Everything was for the airport so that people would have a great place to fly.  And now as it turns out, all the cleaning and organizing of the equipment, tools, and such was futile because it is currently worse than it was the first day I arrived.  Thanks to the tornado, if our lives depended up on it, it would be difficult to find or get to a screwdriver.
Maybe I should get back to the events; otherwise I could go on for days about the time spent managing the airport that is allocated to meetings, phone calls, letters, and emails sent to people to help our cause.
Last year, we had 3 people who stepped up and helped us coordinate some areas of the fly in throughout the year.  Thinking that we could continue this technique and keep the events going, we enlisted the help of others.  The help that we were looking for was that of event planning and implementation.   The first meeting was very successful with over 30 in attendance.  The 2nd meeting however produced 6 attendees plus us.  It was held just days after a tornado hit our home.
Not being ones to give up, instead of rebuilding our lives, both of us spent an entire Tuesday planning for the meeting.  When we arrived to six people, we felt abandoned.  We have a rule that everything for the fly in needs to be planned by May 1 so we can spend the rest of the summer implementing the plan.  At this point, we were only weeks away from this deadline and the event facilities were gone or in shambles, most of our equipment was damaged by wind or water and our help had disappeared.  Were we really the only ones who cared if aviation stayed alive for others to enjoy?  What?  You thought we did these events and provided the airport for our own personal enjoyment and enrichment?  That’s about as silly as the person who thought we were going to get rich off of FEMA payments after the tornado.
Hoping that most would take the initiative and see what needs to be done, we asked individuals at the meeting to prepare a document on what they planned to do for their respective areas of responsibility.  That simple task would save us some critical spare time.  Yet, only 2 people followed through on this assignment.  Again, we saw the trend.
But this isn’t meant to blame the people who had the courage to step up and offer to help.  They went one step further than many others.  Far too many people are eager to sit in the background and tell you how to do things but very few actually rise to the challenge of doing them.
When it comes to money, the event is financially draining.  There is an old saying that goes “He who spends freely has many friends”.  Unfortunately we aren’t into buying friends.  We’re into helping aviation but the reality is that putting on these events in addition to operating the airport is financially draining.  Here are the generalized, annual, rounded figures which have been going up at break-necking speeds:
Airport operation expenses          $30,000
Event expenses                         $30,000
Grand total                               $60,000
We were recently told by a helpful soul that we should hire an event planner.  Well, that sounds good in theory but it would cost an additional $30,000 minimum and that was already being done successfully, and for free, by me.  Additionally, a committee of assistants would still be needed.  Furthermore, most airport managers make around $50,000.  This too is something I have been doing as a volunteer.  If you’re mad at me for making this decision or you think I’m ungrateful, think again.  I hope that you can see that I have been doing my part.  All I wanted was for others to be involved and committed to helping me. 
2011 left us with 2 additional debts to pay off:
1)  Fly in weather was average and left us with a $7000 bill;
2)  The runway received an extensive fall maintenance program because of the effects of the past 3 years weather phenomena’s causing the expenditure to be twice the normal amount with an additional $8000 going to a special herbicide treatment, fertilizer, and overseeding program. 
Although we do get contributions from the calendar mailings, this funding typically covers the calendars themselves and the current year grass maintenance fund, with us footing the additional $15,000 in operational expenses (we understand that is our choice).  The events also bring in some revenue but have yet to cover the expenses as can be seen by the bill we are still trying to pay for 2011.  Therefore, although we have managed to pay down some of the debt from last year, we have additional expenses for this one that are currently mounting.
Having recently watched the movie ‘Courageous’, there was a line from this movie that made me realize that what I am doing is not important in the grand scheme of life. “You can't fall asleep at the wheel only to wake up one day and realize that your job or hobbies have no eternal value”.   The tornado and the events surrounding it have made me realize that I was ‘asleep at the wheel’ and there are things I could be doing which would provide eternal value.  I’m sorry that planning events for the airport, at least how they are currently held, is not one of them.  If it were, more people would be here and committed to making it happen.


The Road Forward

There is a theory that exists that says in order to be successful, in business or life, occasionally you have to tear it all down and build something new.

Interesting Book

A book review from our friend Tom Lowe:

Dr. William Lloyd Stearman, the son of famed aviation pioneer, Lloyd C. Stearman, has recently published a memoir which should garner the attention of anyone who has any interest whatever in early aviation, WWII in the Pacific as a Naval Officer, life in the diplomatic service in Europe during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the workings of the White House National Security Council staff.

This book, titled: AN AMERICAN ADVENTURE From Early Aviation Through Three Wars to the White House, is published by the Naval Institute Press and is available on Amazon as well as other book sources.

Of particular interest to Stearman enthusiasts are his recollections of the lives and history of various members of the Stearman family, their interactions and of the many of aviation’s famous personalities that he encountered as a young boy at his home, as well as at the Stearman factory. He also describes how the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) came into being. His father was its first president.

This volume displays his keen insight into life from the 1920s to the present and his opinions and perspective on world affairs and leaders is very insightful and persuasive. It is one which should join the list of required history reading. His elegant prose and writing style makes for a very interesting and informative easy read. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it to all.

Moreover, I agree with John F. Lehman, Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy and author of several books, who wrote “With a novelist’s sense of drama and a historian’s rigor, he had given us a real page turner full of insight and anecdote.”

Thomas E. Lowe
President - National Stearman Fly-In

And Then The Winds Came

Here it is coming over the hill.
Two free tetanus shots and a world of giving; that’s what we got out of it.  If you think there’s anything else to be had after such a disaster, you’re dreaming. Once the Weather Channel collects stories to sandwich between commercials and the government puts a pretty face on everything, they drive away and leave you with a mess. Fortunately, our friends were an enthusiastic lot showing up daily to help us clean up the tornado's mess.
Wait, you didn’t know we were hit by a tornado? Really? How could you not know? It was covered by every major publication in the township of Fritzville Indiana. Where have you been?
Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We ourselves just figured out today that we are going to have to rebuild and some decisions will have to be made.  So then, in all fairness, I should fill you in on what happened.
Here it has just left the sheep pasture and hit the river.  Note the second one coming into view.
Six weeks of chaos, five weeks of fighting the county for our neighbors, four weeks of waiting on the insurance company, two weeks of looking for a new car, ten days of living in a hotel, eight days of clean up, five days of walking the runway, three of disbelief, two days of temporary repairs, and one day’s worth of hell, is how we’ve spent our time since March 2nd. That’s when the tornado hit Lee Bottom.
One local crossroad that was devastated.
So that you won’t have to ask the same questions everyone else has, I'll just give you the answers.  When the tornado hit, I was at work and Ginger was here. Fortunately, my little AM radio was on and our local stations were doing an excellent job of reporting where it was. Basically, the tornado was coming straight for the airport. Hearing that it was heading her way, fifteen minutes before it hit, she ran across the road to a neighbors storm shelter. There she waited with our friends. Tightly secured underground, they heard it approach, whip things around, and roar past. At the time they were sure they were going to open the door to a home that was no more. Fortunately, it survived mostly intact and Ginger ran out to check on the sheep, donkey, bees, house, and pets. All of them came through unscathed except the home and the bees.
Here you can see the shop that was blown to bits.
Our house lost part of its roof and received water damage. It is still under tarp. For now we are able to live in it but not for long. The shop/garage was destroyed. Inside was all our equipment and tools. Unfortunately, it was also the place where nearly everything we do here on a daily basis happened or originated. Since it is, er, was attached to the hangar, the hangar also received a blow. One of the hangar doors was ripped off with the other three being bent beyond reasonable repair. The roof of the hangar also received damage. Amazingly, neither the Cub nor Champ inside moved; not even an inch. Weird.
Three of our trees, one of them my favorite, our prize maple sap producer, and an heirloom apple were lost. Two cars were destroyed and the one metal patio where so many event functions were held was destroyed in the process of damaging our primary tractor and another mower. Fifty feet away our log cabin was moved on its foundation resulting in everything inside being broken. Simultaneously, thirty or so plastic Adirondack chairs were shredded as three picnic tables were crushed and one was thrown 100’ through our garage door. Yep, it was a first class tornado; well, actually it was an F-something but who’s counting right?
Need we say more?
Across the road four small sheep barns were blown to bits, two sheep hutches were ripped from the ground, fencing was wadded up, and a farm wagon was tossed like a toy. Flying through the air and landing next to it was our steel dumpster from over 600 feet away. Meanwhile, tens of trees were twisted, ripped, or toppled from the ground. Dropping in randomly among this chaos were many of the things blown from the shop as its walls collapsed.
Piercing the ground evenly across every acre, tree limbs stabbed the earth leaving the appearance of a planet size porcupine. Well traveled plaster, plywood, and sheet metal fell from the sky. It was the classic tornado story. Likewise, similar to most people hit by tornadoes, we ate a significant amount of green ($). Unless you are significantly over-insured, that’s just how it goes.
Now for what we learned.
FEMA: Everyone asks about “FEMA money”. This is both hilarious and sad. Apparently, even the most well healed conservative believes or thinks the government is going to ride in to the rescue. That just isn’t the truth. In fact, what FEMA was most interested in was collecting data on families and their homes and whether or not they had any underground rooms.

After disasters like these, everyone is told to file with FEMA to see if there is any assistance available. Folks then spend twenty minutes filling out a long form which requires them to offer up all sorts of information about their lives. Finally, the very last thing you are asked is “How much do you make?” 99.99999% of the time, this income is too high to receive any “FEMA money”. In fact, the threshold for “FEMA money” is so low that you would damn near have to be homeless to qualify for it. Oddly though, before our area was declared a disaster area, FEMA, TSA, Homeland Security, and the SBA came to our home to run up the tab. What’s “the tab”?
The tornado hit the cemetery where Fritz is buried.  If you look closely you'll see his headstone slid on the foundation.
Well, to be declared a disaster area there has to be a certain dollar amount of damage done to the area. Without that level being reached, these groups don’t get money to play with. Therefore they go around looking at things that were damaged and dream up wildly inappropriate dollars amounts to assign to them. Thus they, the foxes in the hen-house, run up “the tab” in order to get additional tax money allotted to them so they can go around collecting more information on you or handing money out to people who likely didn’t have $31,000 worth of stuff to begin with. $31,000 is the max amount that was available in our area. Everyone else is told to apply to the SBA for a low interest loan.
Did you get that? The SBA helps run up “the tab” so that they can get an additional allotment of tax dollars in order to loan them back to you. That’s a nice little padding of the bureaucracy. Next door (at the one stop shop) the IRS representative tells everyone that it is very difficult to write off storm losses. Back at the FEMA desk, they tell you not to give up.
Here in Indiana, when disasters hit, our state sets up locations called “one stop shops”. These are places where everyone you might need to talk to after such a disaster is located in one place. That's where we talked to all these groups. It is also where we received the only governmental plus entry on our tornado balance sheet. What was it? We each got a free tetanus shot.
But wait, I’m not done.
Part of our cleaning crew.  Notice the trees where the tornado went up the other side of the river bottom.
Among the other lessons we learned was that we will never give to the Red Cross. This group seems to have become a mere shell of what it once was. Today our experience tells us that it serves mostly to collect information and make its donors feel like it is really doing something by offering bottled water and blankets the first day. Unfortunately for the organization, local residents, churches, and even people who traveled overnight from far away, did a far better job of both. The Red Cross was nothing more than flashy vehicles with uniformed personnel poorly attempting to do jobs done much better by others. If you love the Red Cross, we’re sorry but that’s true. In one local place, the Red Cross folks had some words with a church group. Apparently the well uniformed Red Cross soldiers didn’t like the church butting into their territory. Seriously, it was amazing how many different people brought up the Red Cross and how disappointed they were in their efforts.
FEMA, TSA, and Homeland Security are a joke. I know I know; you already knew that but hey I have a story to tell.
We were all in the middle of the clean up a day after the storm when I heard Ginger’s voice and the words “We don’t like you”. Naturally wanting to investigate such an odd statement, I walked over to see who all these people gathered around her were. You guessed it; it was FEMA, TSA, and Homeland Security, plus the SBA. When Ginger introduced me, the TSA guy said to me “So what do you think of us?” At which point I replied, “We don’t like you”. That’s when the little (literally) troll of a lady representing FEMA said in an incredibly annoying condescending shrill bureaucratic voice “Well that’s what’s great about this country; we can all have our opinions”. Then she asked us about our 8 million dollar VORTAC she heard was destroyed. If you’ve been paying attention, this is the point you should look up and too one side as if you are thinking back about something prophetic. Done correctly, above your head a memory cloud should appear, and in that cloud should be the image of me saying, with an echo to my voice “RUNNING UP THE TAB running up the tab running up the tab”. Fortunately for the FEMA lady, the TSA guy spoke to me again at which point I recognized him. Not knowing from where, I asked. He had worked with the police department (don’t ask) and he said “Well, I don’t really like TSA either but labeling me as TSA was the only way we could get money to fund my position”.
Did you get that one? Yep, the hits just keep on coming. If I need to explain, you should just go back to filling out your TSA application.
Here you can see a few of the holes in the hangar roof.
Despite our conversation, it took us a full week to get them to accept the fact our $500 Davis weather station was not worth 8 mil.  Ultimately, their estimated dollar damage to our house was equal to the insurance company’s estimate on everything we lost (debate that among yourselves), and our FEMA numbers helped the area be declared a disaster. Yes, that's right, ur house helped FEMA, TSA, Homeland Security, and the SBA gain funds that we did not qualify for unless we were willing to pay them interest. Hmmmmm. Are you starting to understand why so many places today are labeled “disaster areas”?
As for the real help, located in each county were several food banks that were actually more like miniature Wal-Marts sans weird people. Everything you could ever need or want was available in abundance for free to anyone hit by the tornado. Food, cleaning supplies, water, storage containers, diapers, you name it they had it. Most or all of these were located in churches and the people running them were wonderful. It was such an amazing sight I asked them where it all came from. The answer? It came from individuals and business owners. Not one item in the storehouse was government supplied and they were having serious problems getting much of it to those hit by the storm. The biggest problem being that the people of our area are proud people who insist on taking care of themselves. Therefore, the biggest effort went toward getting them to understand that others wanted to help and this was how they were doing it and that it wasn’t a handout. It was a gift from nameless friends. Seeing that example of giving almost makes me tear up with pride from writing about it. We live in the greatest country in the world with the greatest people who ever lived.
Other forms of giving also impressed us. The Lions Club is apparently well experienced and skilled at disaster relief. Their method was the best. Direct and easy, this organization went to great lengths to find out who had been hit by the storm and then they gave gift cards to those people in an effort to help them clean up or rebuild. Similarly, some churches had locations where those affected by the tornado could pick up gift cards. Although there were a few random cards from different businesses in the mix which were donated, the vast majority of gift cards we saw or heard of were donated by Wal-Mart. Remember that the next time you slam this retailing giant.

When it comes to us specifically, Girls Inc, a group for which Ginger is a board member, sent us a Lowe’s card which was extremely useful. They also gave us a card for our favorite sandwich shop which was a perfect gift. Having never been through something like this, most people do not have the knowledge of what is really needed and when. Everyone wants to hand out water, and although that is useful, there are many other things you can do that would better benefit those affected by such a disaster.

After a storm, many people are without livable homes. Therefore, restaurant cards offer a welcome respite from what’s just happened. Likewise, a card from a place like Lowe’s is extremely handy. Gas cards are also a great idea as long as a family’s cars aren’t destroyed. Yet, even then if they are borrowing a car or being offered rides, it gives these people a way to get themselves around by also not feeling as though they are taking too much. I can tell you from experience, pride does come into the mix and despite the fact everyone wants to give, it is often hard to feel as though you are not just taking. Gift cards offer a way for people affected by a disaster to give back to the community while getting the things they so desperately need.
One unique example of kindness came from a guy in Indianapolis who owns a billboard company. Today’s billboards are printed on material that can best be described as mega-tarps. Super strong and wear resistant, once each specific advertisement has run its course and been pulled down from the sign frame, they are often sold to farmers or other folks as tarps. This gentleman brought a truck load and gave them to people who could use them on their homes or whatever. The idea of a used sign being handy seems odd on the surface but in the end they were extremely useful to many people.
And I can’t forget Wolverine. This company dropped off a load of waterproof shoes and boots for anyone affected by the storm. They were set out at the Chelsea General Store and as people came through, they sorted through them, found what they liked, and off they went with a new pair of kicks.
In this photo you can see the path of the tornado, to the horizon, by following the smoke from burning debris piles.
But back to those proud people; A few days after FEMA first showed up they came around again to look for more damage dollars. While here, that little whiney lady actually complained about how quickly people were getting the clean up done. Yeah, our extended neighbors were not making these government folks look good.  With nobody groveling at the feet of FEMA, it became obvious they were a little put off by it. That’s your government; upset that there are still people who can take care of themselves.
Thankfully, not everything was bad about this storm. To start with, our friends Mike and Crystal Korff were very helpful. I was flying with Mike when I learned of the tornado strike. About the same time, not knowing we had been hit, Crystal sent Ginger this light hearted text, “Isn’t it great the guys always leave us at home for these storms”? Ginger was able to get into her smashed car, hook her phone up to the charger, and call her back to let her know we’d been hit. After that, Crystal ran out to buy tarps and started making her way to our place through multiple turns and back-road switchbacks. There was so much stuff lying everywhere, I’m still not sure how she made it. When Mike and I landed back in Louisville that night, he rode home with me in case there was something he could do to help and to then catch a ride home with Crystal.
A power tranmission tower up on the hill from us that was blown over.
After the tornado, over thirty people from all over creation appeared to help us clean up. Friends far and wide arrived to put in time helping us in our time of need. Most of them surely had better things to do and most of them likely had important things to do. Yet all of them came that day to help, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day. For a full week people did their best to help. One friend drove from five hours away, others flew in, and quite a few of my co-workers even came to help. Wherever, whomever, or for whatever reason they came, they were and still are greatly appreciated.
As for other positives, thanks to the storm we now know many more of our extended area neighbors. They are a widely varied bunch of good people and we’ve enjoyed our time with them despite the terrible circumstances. This is a story in itself that we will tell you about in the future. Therefore, let me wrap this up.
Right now, we are seriously struggling with how to move forward. Enough damage has happened to make significant rebuilding necessary but what and how to rebuild is the question. Nearly everything we have is damaged to the point that bulldozing and rebuilding would be equal to repairing yet doing so would pretty much put us out of commission for a long time. On the other hand, repairs are just repairs despite the benefits of shorter finish times. Whatever we do we’ll have to redo plumbing, wiring, concrete, and the well; all of it. Like so many other things, to look at the damage it doesn’t look that bad. But with a little understanding of the details, it becomes a nightmare. The decisions yet to be made are not easy. And yet we came through much better than others. Some of the people in our area lost family members and every square inch of their homes.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Pilot's Sunrise Service

There is a time of day I love, that I rarely see. The onset of darkness means nothing to me. Yes it is morning, the best time to be free.

Many of my best memories are framed by sunrise. One of those is the subject of this post and the reason for the lines above.
Mostly perfect with its deep first light glow, black silhouettes define the horizon as if the sky were cut free from the Earth.  The manicured edge reveals all that existed before night trimmed it away. The trees are most obvious and their limb to limb splits.  With exponential fray toward the limits of canopies, the planet’s veined inner workings appear to the eye as an unforeseen hand placed upon light.  It is magic beyond magicians with truth denied astronomers;  no tricks up the sleeve and no formula for understanding.
Purity defined, a clean slate is morning delivered; each day a new life for the living; the movie version of the book that has yet to be written. The Earth is my prison and my pen has wings.
A brisk walk of intent implies a fleeting chance. My escape from this place lies in the dark and I have little time.  My secret is out.
Warm pools of air pass over my senses.  “I am here”, they say; the sprites of sunrise.  “Flowers and fescue come 'round to lift your soul”. The planet’s exhale expresses the unseen; its fragrance a reminder that I should return.
Like horse to a hitch, the ship stirs with tension released from the rope; dew drums on the canvas and my leather it crunches.  Inside the cockpit goggles fog from my breath; the craft shakes under power; a mind stirs.
With a vector of color against a fresh new sky, a two-dimension world is about to turn three. My wings shall make it so; something the avians know.  It is why they sing the chorus of morning.