Monday, July 9, 2012

Of Biplanes and Watering Holes

KAPOW! Then silence.
Crossing the Cascades to begin a long journey home, my mind could not free the memory. Another venture from another time had certainly left its mark. A new engine over mountains breeds nostalgia or death and I was not in the mood for either; a week’s worth of flying topped the agenda. Fortunately our cylinders, stressed by explosions, contained the force propelling us forward. Thank you God.
Through the eyes of a memory, all things are better. Ferrying aircraft is no different. Whether it’s your airframe or another’s, work, trust, and doubt are demanded. Doing so over rocks commands use of the E6B. Find "work", spin in "trust", then read the outer line for "doubt". Next, locate “mountains” on the card and slide that line through the wheels until you reach the size of mountains through which you are flying. Flip the devise over, and read the “F’d” window. There you will see your chance of death. Although E6Bs usually work on a factor of 10, this scale goes all the way to 11. But hey, that’s real flying. Aviation and risk, bred from the same desire, need each other to be whole. Without either, the other is a shell of itself. This begs the question; where’s a good shell when you need one?
Everyone deals with stress differently. Some folks laugh, others go silent, and a few people get moody. My friend up front, Glenn Frith, was the later. He’s known for that and I love to kid him about it. Yet on that day, I went easy. It was after all, his new plane I was flying; a bright blue and orange Travel Air. As for me, I relieve pressure by socializing.
If you’re wondering how this works, I’ll let you in on a secret. When flying cross-country, the best cure for tension is a good watering hole. Now you must understand, when I say watering hole I do not mean the fine establishments which retail adult beverages. Nope, for me a watering hole is a safe place to tie up (down), kick back, and if need be, get the old girl some new shoes. Yeah I know, me and my equestrian references. Anyway, every good biplane watering hole has three things in common: Good friends, good friends with hangars, and good friends who are handy with tools.
Again, don’t get the wrong idea. A good watering hole is not a place to take advantage of others. It is what it is and all of us who fly these things understand that good friends are necessary for the survival of old planes and pilots. Of course if you like old planes, your good friends are probably going to have the same passion. Likewise, if you meet someone who owns an old plane, chances are fairly good you'll like them. Ultimately, and for whatever reason, everything that makes a good watering hole involves great people and I have been fortunate to know some of the best. That’s why we were headed for Spokane.
Rolling to a stop in the cul-de-sac in sight of old friends and new, for the first time in my life I heard an engine say “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could”. It had been a long day and the trip ahead was already wearing on me. Something just didn’t feel right and it was all I could think about. When that happens I'm usually able to resolve the problem and move on. This time was different. My first piece of solid evidence came in the form of those new friends.
Having said our hellos, exchanged admiration for every aircraft on hand, and settled into the moment, a couple walked up with a familiar story. “We were in the house when we heard a radial flying over so we stepped outside to see what it was. When we spotted the plane we were so excited we dropped everything and drove for the airport”. Although I’ve heard those words a million times, I could tell there was something different about these folks. They knew the plane and they really wanted to see “her”.
Skeeter showing us his Model T race car.  The man is amazing.
Younger years were in their eyes as they told us of tach time in this very Travel Air. Speaking through smiles, it was obvious the old girl was precious to them. Their collection of documents and photos revealed how much. One by one though, they were given to Glenn as we learned the story of each. It was their attempt to keep the history alive. With each passing yarn, more memories were triggered and the morsels of time accelerated. Back and forth they bantered, "Remember the time when…wasn't there a passenger that…what about the backfire….she’s a darter…our favorite place to hop rides was…” “WAIT, BACK UP”, we blurted. “What did you just say?” “Oh, our favorite place to hop rides was…”. “No not that, the part about a darter?” I requested. “Oh yeah, she’s a darter; that’s what we used to say; she goes where she wants. (Chuckle) But with a little work it’s not that hard to handle her.”
My suspicion was confirmed. This plane may have been “restored” but years later it was still very much the same plane our new friends had flown. The rest of the day was spent discussing the gear. Upon closer inspection, our worst fears were verified; pigeon toes. But, were they too far off to be livable where it was going? Could they easily be repaired? Was there anything else wrong with the plane? They were all good questions and they would have to wait; a night on the town was called for.  "Anyone know a good watering hole?"
Indeed, the best places to tie up involve good friends. When you find yourself at the end of the day with concerns about your aircraft, if nothing else, those folks are there for support. Thanks to them we had a good meal, took a flight in the forty, and blew off some steam. Then, like so many times before, with fewer days available than ferry time required, early the next morning our minds took us flying while our hearts stayed behind.


Unknown said...

Thanks for remembering some good times

Ken said...

Thanks for "taking me along" on that trip.
It brought a smile to my heart.