The Adventures of the Walker Bunch PART ONE: Wyoming

The Adventures of the Walker Bunch PART ONE: Wyoming
The Adventures of the Walker Bunch PART ONE: Wyoming

If you enjoy these stories, you may wonder where my interest in aviation came from.   In the beginning, it was my parents, W. Dillard “Pic” Walker and Frances Emily Walker.   I was literally born into an aviation family.   Moreover, I was almost born in an airplane!

Writing this has been cathartic.   As I write, long-shelved memories float to the surface.   At times you may wonder where I am going with a story.   I would think of someone as a part of a particular story and feel a need to provide you, the reader, some insight.   Therefore, my story herein is a story within a story within a story…   My hope is that it will not be too confusing…  So, here is my life with all the warts and pimples:

EVERY STORY HAS A BEGINNING

My mother went into labor as she and my father were en-route from Denver to Cheyenne.   They were flying in my father’s favorite airplane, a Twin Beechcraft D-18S.  The Twin Beech became one of my favorites as well.

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PIC WALKER WITH N-80201 WICHITA KS 

My mother hollered at my father, “…hurry, this baby is ready to enter our world!”  I was born September 30th, 1941 less than five minutes after my parents reached Cheyenne Memorial Hospital; thereby, robbing me of braggin’ rights of having been born in an airplane!   Of course my Mom did not share my enthusiasm for my preferred place of birth…

Even as I recall my earliest memories, my desire to fly airplanes has overpowered all else.   Growing up, my pals wanted to be a variety of things depending on the moment and their age at the time. For me, always, my eyes were locked skyward.   I never wondered about that, I just accepted it as the way it was.

In my writings I have tried to say a sincere “Thank You” to some of aviation’s greats who influenced my lust for aviation.   Mostly, these were close friends of my parents.   Some individuals date back to the 1920s and 1930s.   Ironically, some neither my parents nor myself knew personally!

My dad, William Dillard “Pic” Walker was a farm boy from just east of Greeley, learned to fly as a Colorado teenager in 1925.  His aunt Nolie nicknamed him “Pic!” The supposition, was that “Pic” is a derivative of Dillard (dill pickles).  Regardless everyone, even his mother, knew him as “Pic” albeit he signed documents “W. Dillard Walker.”   I was a junior.

Pic’s first “steed” was a brand-new Alexander Eaglerock powered by the ubiquitous WWI Curtis OX-5 engine shown below.  This is the A-2 Eaglerock and was the long-winged version built at nearby Englewood Colorado Airport.

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Aircraft designer/pilot/entrepreneur, Don Alexander shown above.

Pic remained in contact with Don Alexander into the fifties. Alexander moved to the “Gone West” scroll in 1955.

Pic was a charter member of the OX-5 Club of America.  Originally there were 80 members with a total reaching 107 of the original “OX-5 Club of America.”  Later, I would spend a decade as the president of OX-5 Club of Arizona.  I was not a regular member as one was required to have flown, owned, or worked on an OX-5 powered aircraft prior to December 31st, 1940.   That all changed a few years ago.  New by-laws now mean a member is a member is a member with the original requirements no longer a requirement.   The laws of attrition at work…

MOM LEARNS TO FLY

My mom learned to fly in the 1930s and was the first female to learn to fly in Wyoming.   How she came to this is an interesting story in itself.

During the time of the his produce business, my father formed a flying club in Cheyenne.  It would grow to become “Plains Airways,” an FBO (fixed-base operation).   Pop’s younger brother and he were partners in the produce business and, later, became partners in Plains Airways.  The brother, Charles Willis “Bill,” was not a pilot but ran the business end.   Pop ran the flight operations side of Plains.

As with most aviation enterprises, during the depression years, things were tough and slow-going.   My father had a thought!  Why not put a couple of bill boards up along the highway approaching Cheyenne.   His marketing concepts were acceptable in the ’30s but would bring forth a bus load of ACLU lawyers today.

1937 – PIC & FRANCES WALKER WITH THEIR 40 HP CUB

My father put a picture of Mom on those bill boards announcing “IF SHE CAN FLY – YOU TOO CAN FLY!”  Of course the bill-board included the Plains Airways name and phone number.

So, Mom learned to fly.  Bert Orchard was her instructor.   During WWII, when Plains Airways had a fleet of over fifty aircraft,  Mom liked to fly the little 65 horse power Luscombe 8A the best.  Then I came along and she became a bit too large to fit in the petite Luscombe.   She became a stay-at-home mom and in charge of entertainment when aviation colleagues came to town.

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1941 Luscombe 8A

Plains Airways Laramie Base 1943

Plains Airways operated 33 of Luscombe 8As during WWII.   My first airplane was one my father had bought new twenty years prior to my finding it in a farmer’s barn in Espanola, NM.   Another story for another time…  Above shows a third of the Luscombe fleet along with two Waco UPF-7s and an Waco YKS cabin plane used for instrument training.  Below, the little Luscombe was extraordinarly strong as demonstrated by the factory photo.

Credit photo to Bob Coghill another Luscombe affectionado!

 

In 1939 Pop designed and built Mom a new home at 3816 Capitol Avenue, walking distance to the Plains Airways hangars.   Mom soon had some extra noise makers in the house.

Back when I had hair with Mom and recent arrival Martha Jo

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Above:  Mom, Mary Margaret, Martha Jo, & Pop celebrating war’s end.  I have no idea where I was then.   Likely, in some mischief of sorts.

N’uther photo of my sister’s & our ol’ Studebaker (one of many from Fleschlei Motor Company)

I have no idea where I was when this photo was taken.  Prolly into more mischief.

I remember some of the names of those prominent aviation stalwarts Mom fed.   My room was in the basement next to where the poker table was.  I grew up appreciating cigar smoke.   Our home was a very busy place indeed!

AVIATION GREATS VISIT THE WALKERS

Some of the names of aviation greats who graced our doorway were: Walter Beech; Billy Parker, Phillips Petroleum; Aubrey Keif, Texaco; “Boots” LeBoutillier, CAA (WWI Ace); Gen. “Hap” Arnold; Gil Rob Wilson, CAP; Jack Knight; Elrey and Nadine Jeppesen; test pilot, Woody Woodruff; and Ralph S. Johnson, UAL chief test pilot, come to mind.   Stories of some of these stalwarts will be added to my blog.

   Oliver C. “Boots” LeBoutillier  boots-leboutillier-1932

LeBoutillier's Sopwith Triplane, WWI

He used as evidence his eyewitness view of the incident (from his airplane immediately above).  1) He observed Brown’s fire entering von Ricthoven’s fuselage in the area of the cockpit, 2) the shuddering and hesitation of von Richthoven’s airplane as a result of the blast of fire, and the resultant uncoordinated (flat) turn and wobbly glide into the ground.  LeBoutillier hypothesizes that von Richthoven was dead before he hit the earth.  3) The post accident analysis of the Red Baron’s wound suggests that might have been the case, as the bullet entered his right armpit, proceeded transversely across his chest and exited under his left nipple.  4) The angle of the shot agreed more with an aerial source for the bullet, rather than a ground source. But, see this link for the opposite view. In a 1973 article, LeBoutillier was hailed then as the only living participant in the Red Baron’s last dogfight. Two images above courtesy of A.P. LeBoutillier. He also provides us with an article from 1981 available here. This article further explores the Red Baron shoot down. This animated simulation of the shoot down, which cites LeBoutillier, is worth a look (YouTube video; 6 min).

Above with George King.  Boots and King were to fly a five thousand mile air race to South America in a Bellanca CH-400 “Skyrocket.”  Engine trouble forced them out of the competition.

Boots was Roy Brown’s wingman, flying the Sopwith Camel with the RAF.   Quite a number of American fly-boys joined the Royal Air Force and the French Escadrille’s prior to America’s joining in the foray.

Boots was an eye witness to Roy Brown’s shoot-down of Baron Von Richthofen, the infamous “Red Baron.”  This controversial story will be told in another blog.   Boots was the CAA official overseeing Plains Airways.   He gave me my first pilot’s certificate when I was but eighteen months old.   It was an official CAA form that read “all land models up to 1/4 horsepower.”   Boots was such a good friend of Pop’s I am compelled to add this piece about him.  Below:  two signed depictions of the Baron’s shoot-down he witnessed.   He gave these to me the last time I saw this stalwart American aviation hero.

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Walter Beech visiting the Walker Brother’s sheep ranch in Wyoming.

Occasionally, we would have an orphaned pet deer or antelope to raise.  Growing up around animals was fun but it was also darned hard work.  Interestingly, Mr. Beech no longer flew in those days.   He owned a large black limousine and had a driver take him where he wanted to go.  I always thought that peculiar until Cheryl and I discovered we enjoyed driving trips.  Still do!

A LOVE AFFAIR FOR OVER A HALF-CENTURY!

My parents stayed in love for 54 years until my father had “Gone West” at age 81.  Their’s was a relationship to emulate.

During WWII Pop contracted Scarlet Fever.   He nearly died.   Prior to this he was very strong.  Pop stood 6′ 1″ and weighed 185 pounds.   My uncle Dutch once told me Pop could carry two hundred pound sacks of spuds on each shoulder from the truck to the dug-out produce stand, and stack them.   Scarlet Fever ended that measure of strength.

JUMPIN’ AHEAD

Pop was a heavy smoker.   He used to be able to ride a horse while using one hand to roll a Bull Durham cigarette.  Later, he switched to Pall Mall’s.  Eventually, Pop was diagnosed with Emphysema, so he switched to Salems wrongly thinking they would help.

Eventually, my Mom and one of Pic’s realtor friends bet him $200 bucks that he couldn’t quit smoking.   Pop quit cold!   A few weeks later Mom asked, “Pic, how are you handling not smoking?”  Pop replied, “No problem.   …it’s like getting run over by a Mack truck!”  Still, he never smoked again.

Just three years later Pop acquired Asthma to go with his Emphysema.  Not a good combination!  One disease makes it tough to get air into your lungs, the other just as difficult to exhale.   Pop struggled with his breathing for over twenty years!

Regardless of the Scarlet Fever, the ol’ man was tough.   Then prostate cancer visited Pop.   He dealt with that.   Then bladder cancer, kidney disease, and he even had to have his testicles removed.  Prior to the surgery, Pop handed the doctor two brass balls of equivalent size and said, “I want you to use these as replacements so I can brag about having brass balls!”   The doctor, of course, refused this request but Pop carried them in his pocket henceforth.  Pop came out of that surgery exclaiming, “I guess I can now join the boy’s choir!”  He was a person of strong character, personal values, and an enduring sense of humor.

Next, Pop acquired MD (macular degeneration), and had both his hips replaced which, by his estimate, gave him another five years.   Even with his constant struggle for air, he endured.  He took every challenge handed him with aplomb.   I never once heard my ol’ Dad complain.  Not once.   Finally, In February 1993, he found another need for medical help.   The doctor’s discovered a fast moving inoperable liver cancer. Undaunted, my parents took a flight to San Francisco to visit old friends, Woody and Imogene Woodruff.

For years my parents enjoyed playing bridge.  They loved entertaining.  Annually they would host wild game parties serving everything from bear and elk to deer and antelope with an occasional rattlesnake to make the bill-of-fare interesting.  Pop played bridge until just three days before he died.  In less than a month, following his terminal liver cancer diagnosis, Pop would line up on Runway two-seven for his final flight…  He was in his eighty-second year.

This might be a good place to say “Thanks” to the Hospice of the Valley folks.   For the care they gave Pop and, later, Mom.  They are truly a wonderful caring organization.

Mom would follow Pop “West” in 2008 at age 94.   Mom experienced her own health challenges.

When we moved to Arizona we three kids were enrolled in Scottsdale High School.  Mom was hired as the first employee for the new Arcadia High School.  It was Mom who first unlocked the office door to the new school.  She would become the secretary for several school principals there.   Mom knew “Wonder Woman,” Linda Carter, and movie tycoon, Stephen Spielberg, students at Arcadia.

In 1960 Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.   In those days the treatment was often radical.  Hers was certainly that.   She nearly died from a Staff Infection post-op.   Surviving and moving on with life, Mom was an inspiration.   She was without question the most organized person I’ve known.   The love and support she gave her family was unconditional.  Moms are like that.

In addition to her work with the high school, Mom helped with Pop’s fledgling real estate business which was something he did for over thirty years after becoming Arizonians.  She enjoyed her association with P.E.O. along with the school faculty, church, and golfing in addition to the entertaining she and Pop loved doing together.  Bridge was a weekly thing.  Mom played golf until she was 90!   Her ninetieth birthday party at our home in Ahwatukee included an entire back yard full of friends and family.

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  Some of the 100 guests at Mom’s 90th Birthday Party November 2003

My sisters and I, along with other family members, took their combined ashes back to Saratoga, Wyoming.   It was their request that we should spread their ashes at the resort they built.   We did.

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 /\ Frances and Pic on their flying honeymoon in 1938

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          Mom & Pop after 54 years together November 1992 >

My folks shared a very interesting life together.  It was of considerable variety.  Like many, theirs was mostly happy times interspersed with some challenges.

Looking back to when my folks married in 1938, my father operated Walker Bros Produce with his younger brother Charles Willis “Bill.”   They had a tractor/trailer (semi) that they would operate back and forth between Cheyenne and Denver with considerable produce from my grandfather’s farm east of Greeley.  My mother was a secretary for Asher Wyoming, a wholesale produce company.   It wasn’t long before Mom became a truck driver!

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    FRANCES EMILY NESBITT – CASPER, WYOMING 1928

Mom graduated with honors from the University of Denver.  Just a couple of years earlier, she graduated from Casper High School, Casper, Wyoming at age 16!   Her parents, A.P. & Josie Nesbitt, were working themselves out of a bankruptcy born of the horrible depression suffered by so many.   So, there wasn’t much money.   With Mom’s ability to cut the corners academically, they worked out of their bankruptcy paying off all creditors completely at 100 cents on the dollar owed!   As you might imagine, my sisters and I grew up with the strong value system exhibited by our parents and grand-parents.

PLAINS AIRWAYS and the CIVIL AIR PATROL

Motto: “Semper Vigilans”; Always Vigilant

With the looming threat of WWII, Plains Airways soon became a major player in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT).   Plains Airways became one of the largest CPT programs in the United States.   Eventually, they would operate more than fifty-five aircraft.

W. Dillard “Pic” Walker became one of the founding members of the Civil Air Patrol.  Fifty years later he would be the sole surviving member of the small group of CAP founding members and was honored at a special commemoration in Jackson Hole, Wyoming celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Air Patrol.  He was the first Wyoming Wing commander of the CAP and the only one ever to be promoted posthumously!

Pop was just 29 when he worked with former WWI pilot, Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City and Gill Robb Wilson, a former preacher turned aviation writer.  LaGuardia and Wilson spearheaded the idea of a civilian aviation support for the huge military aviation expansion.  From the photos below it is easy to see they came from a different cloth.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia

Gil Robb Wilson

My father commented on the two polar opposites and how their personalities made it so surprising when seeing their cohesiveness working together.   As with the last sentence, sometimes being redundant is necessary to “paint the picture…”

As the first Wyoming Wing Commander and Regional Director, Pop could have asked for colonel-status.  He felt that he was too young and such a rank, therefore, ostentatious.   So, Pop became a major in the CAP.  Following his death in 1993, the CAP national commander posthumously promoted Pop to “Colonel.”  I am given to understand this is the only such instance of a posthumous promotion in the CAP.

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A year following the national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary, the State of Arizona celebrated their fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Air Patrol.  Again, Pop was honored as the sole surviving founding member of the “Fabulous Five” founders.   Of course Pop’s CAP activities were in the Rocky Mountain Region, mostly Wyoming, but since he now resided in Arizona, he was their historical object.

Plains Airways operated three CPT schools for the US military.  Cheyenne, the main base, grew along with satellite bases at Laramie, Wyoming and Ft. Morgan, Colorado.   The Laramie base was affiliated with the University of Wyoming.  The Ft. Morgan base was the pre-glider training school.  Additionally, Pop would use Plains Airways facilities, aircraft, and pilots to support the CAP mission.

The pre-glider training was an interesting facet of the overall Plains Airways training regime.   Based out of the Ft. Morgan airfield Instructors and students would depart in 40 horsepower Cubs and Taylorcrafts then climb to a predetermined altitude and area.  The instructor would pull the mixture control shutting down the engine.   The student would then glide down landing on dirt strips bladed out of the sagebrush.  After landing and stopping, the instructor would climb out and hand prop the airplane back to life and off they’d go again repeating this procedure for an hour or two before returning to the Ft. Morgan base.

Many of these pre-glider students would end up flying the Waco CG-3A and  4A gliders in the Normandy Invasion.   Many died when they landed on “Hitler’s Toothpicks.”  This was the name the GIs called the sharpened fence posts planted on potential landing fields.  These terrible obstacles tore their fabric covered gliders to shreds while destroying men and equipment.

Some fabulous aviators were part of the Ft. Morgan training base.  Chesley Harris  and Marv Stevenson come to mind.   Much of the information I have about the pre-glider training came from Chesley who hailed from Sterling, Colorado.

A goodly number of South American, Central American, and Mexican aviation cadets were assigned to Plains Airways.   Several of these hispanic cadets did not like the idea of going back and pretended not to understand the ground school lecturer.

My father had learned to speak Spanish fluently as a farm youth working with migrant workers.   So, my Dad took over the class one morning and began the day’s lecture in English.   When several cadets intimated “no entiendo” Pop continued in Spanish.  No more issues after that.

My parents ended up with several life-long friends from that period in their lives.   Once, when my wife and small son were in Mazatlan, Mexico waiting for me to join them, I caught a ride on the jumpseat of a Mexicana Boeing 727.   I introduced myself and showed my airline ID to the captain who’s English was impeccable.  He looked at my i.d., then looked at me and asked, “How is ol’ Pic?”  He was Guillermo Sottile, chief pilot for Mexicana and had been one of my father’s favorites from Plains Airways days.   I later related this to my father much to his delight.   Yup!  Aviation has made the world much much smaller…

During WWII, Plains would train over ten thousand pilots and mechanics for the war effort.  I would later fly with senior captains at the historic Frontier Airlines who had learned to fly at Plains Airways.  More than once, when I was his first officer, captain Dave “Boom Boom” Cannon liked to announce over the PA system, “My co-pilot today is Billy Walker, I used to change his diapers!”  Not something a young bachelor wants the pretty young flight attendants in back to hear…

During WWII, Dave Cannon was an Army Air Corps captain and the liasion officer overseeing Plains Airways.   He and my parents became lifelong friends.  Often Dave stayed at our home and would occasionally kid-sit my sisters and me while my folks went to a social function.

dsc Colorado Senator Ed Johnson with Dave Cannon 1943 

Below:  Ev Aden, from Chugwater, Wyoming learned to fly at Plains Airways.  Aden would later become chief pilot for Frontier Airlines.

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Another senior Frontier captain was Warren Heckman who learned to fly at the Plains Airways Laramie Base.  I enjoyed flying with Warren.   We worked together again years later with America West Airlines.   Warren’s son, Ron,  flew with me at the old Frontier later joining Continental in 1986.

Captain Warren Heckman 1920- 2017

Fred Hart was another member of the Frontier pilot group and as with Warren, Fred learned to fly at the Laramie base.   Serving in the Army Air Corps, Fred was a marvelous C-47 pilot.  It puzzled me learning Fred later-on had a difficult time checking out in the more advanced, higher performance, and pressurized Convair.  This puzzled me knowing of his having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during WWII.

Fred was flying the military version of the DC-3, the C-47.  He was towing two Waco CG-3A gliders when the number two engine (right side) failed on takeoff.  The procedure for this was to release the two gliders, something not pleasing to those in the gliders as it would mean certain death or injury.   Fred elected to keep the gliders connected.   Adroitly, Fred eased the crippled “Gooney Bird” around to a safe landing.  Immediately, the military brass had a real dilemma on their hands!   Initially the group commander was threatening Fred with Court-Martial.  Instead, they ended up rightfully bestowing the DFC on Fred’s tunic.

I got to know Fred Hart after we moved back to Arizona following the Frontier demise (more about that tragic event in Part Two).  Fred had retired from Frontier and gone into real estate in Sun City, a retirement development on the west edge of Phoenix.   Fred had some great stories but he never did tell me of the harrowing flight that resulted in his DFC.  Captain Jack Schade had related that “Fred story” to me years before.  As with all too many from that era, Fred had been a heavy smoker.  So, his last years were a terrible struggle with COPD.

Frontier really was a “FLamily” as Jake Lamkins would later name us.  Again, more on this in Part two…

Looking for photos from the WWII era, and people associated with my parents, I find but few.   Below is a photo of my pal, Jimmy Hirsig’s,  father, Charlie Hirsig, who was killed in the crash of a Plains Airways Luscombe 8A while buzzing the ranch in 1945.   Charlie was the manager of Plains Airways Laramie CPT school.   He founded Summit Airways which, later, became Challenger Airways.  Challenger later merged with Monarch Airlines and Arizona Airways to become Frontier Airlines.

                                                                                                                              Charlie Hirsig – Plains Airways 1944

The ’39 Ford “Woody” shown above was my parent’s car.   Plains Airways instructor Pilot, Johnny Hart, was killed in this car driving between Cheyenne and Laramie.  Johnny was driving across the summit east of Laramie when the car slid on the icy road during a blizzard.  My parents liked Johnny immensely and felt the tragic loss.  I didn’t know Johnny Hart but hearing my parents speak of him, I wish that I had known him.

In the background photo of Charlie and the Ford, there is one of the Waco UPF-7s that Plains Airways operated.  By war’s end there were fourteen UPF-7s in Plains Airways inventory.   Seven had been operating for some three years before seven new replacement UPF-7s arrived in crates.  With the wars end those seven new Wacos remained in their crates.

Most of the aircraft Plains Airways operated were purchased through the government for the princely sum of $1.00 each!   After the war, no one had the money for gasoline which resulted in hundreds of new, or nearly new, aircraft ending up as scrap!

My Dad eventually sold the fourteen UPF-7s to a crop duster in Louisiana for seven hundred dollars each!   My Dad thought he’d made a heck of a deal.   Had he kept just one of those new Waco’s in it’s crate, and stored somewhere safe and dry, that airplane would have been worth between three hundred thousand and four hundred thousand dollars today!   The thought brings a tear to my eye!

Other names of those special folks who were with Plains Airways and made an indelible mark on my memory.   They became special to me because of how special they were to my parents.

Marvin Stephenson, Manager of the Plains Airways Ft. Morgan CPT school.  Marv later became Wyoming’s Director of Aeronautics and made significant contributions to Wyoming aviation safety.  Marv instructed me some in the T8F Luscombe my Dad operated as a “mosquito bomber.”

Everett Hogan went on to run his own CPT school in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  I remember Ev Hogan from our Denver QB pilots group.

Marvin Zalman was extraordinary as a master mechanic and could literally build airplanes from scratch into museum-quality specimens.  I remember his meticulousness in totally re-building Buck Harding’s old C-17 Staggerwing Beech.    Marvin did it all including beautiful leather upholstery.  He did it all “nuts-guts & feather’s” was a comment about Marvin Zalman’s broad range of mechanical ability.

Clyde Bonham was an excellent instructor in both aircraft and maintenance.   He went on to help form Aspen Airways.  Tragically, Clyde was killed in the crash of an twin-engine Aero Commander during an Aspen Airways training check ride.  I was astounded to learn that the aircraft had just a single set of controls.  Sitting on the right side, absent controls, Clyde had no ability to correct a fatal mistake and rode to his death unable to prevent it.  I accompanied FAA inspector, ‘Metz’ Metzger, to the site.  Sobering.

Billy Macki and his family became close to ours in many ways.   Finnish born, Macki was an excellent pilot and continued working for my father after the war.   He flew the DC-3 during the oil exploration and grasshopper contract.  Later, the Macki family  came with us to Saratoga and were of immeasurable help to my parents.

Missing flying, Billy went with the Union Pacific Railway Aviation Department.  The Mackis moved to Omaha were Billy was flying UP’s Sabreliner jet VIP transport.

Phil Keif was the son of one of aviation’s greats, Aubrey Keif, whose story is included in the blog.  Phil was an ROTC student at Cheyenne High School and developed an abiding interest in aviation working at Plains Airways.  Phil often stayed with my sisters and me when we were small.   Phil is retired and living in Salt Lake City.

POST WWII

Following WWII, my father operated Plains Aerial Surveys with his long-time friend, Captain Ralph S. Johnson.   My dad and Ralph had shared a place together prior to either of them being married.   Ralph was my dad’s best friend and vice-versa.  Ralph gave me my first flying job in 1957.  You can read about this extraordinary man in his own separate story.  Our two families were very close and still are!

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Johnson’s and Walker’s photo taken circa 1947 by TWA chief pilot, Paul Frederick.   Back:  Ralph & Ruth Johnson, Doti Frederick, Pic & Frances Walker.   Front:  Janet & Alan Johnson, Billy, Martha Jo, & Mary Margaret Walker.  Missing is Steve Johnson who arrived some three or four years after this photo was taken at the Johnson home, 907 Frontier Park Avenue, Cheyenne.

DEMMING GRADE SCHOOL – CHEYENNE

All three of us Walker children started to matriculate at Demming Grade School, a short walk from our home.   I attended Demming from 1st through 3rd grade.  My favorite teacher, Flo Dinneen, was the favorite of many.   She remains dear to my heart.

Mrs. Dinneen had several “specialities” that first graders will not have any difficulty remembering.  Some teachers I can’t recall their names.  Some, not even their faces.   Mrs. Dinneen was special.

One thing she did with every class she taught was to have a hen-chicken there.   Soon, eggs would appear followed by little chicks hatching.  You have to be able to visualize the thrill and excitement for kids that age experiencing such.   To me the answer to the age-old-question is, “the chicken came first!”

I had what is likely known today as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder.   I was a day dreamer and had trouble staying focused.   This lasted thru my high school years and some in college.

On a cold Cheyenne, Wyoming morning in 1947 I was in Mrs. Flo Dinneen’s first grade classroom.  I had, what today, what would likely be called ADD.  Yup, as I dreamily gazed out the window at the falling snow that was settling onto the Demming Grade School playground, Mrs. Dinneen put her hand on my right shoulder.  Yup!  It is clear and in vivid technicolor 70 years later.  She said, “Billy, no one will pay you to look out the window.  You need to stay with the class discussion.”

Some thirty years later, on another snowy Cheyenne, Wyoming day, Mrs. Dinneen and her friend, Mrs. Baggs, came to the airport to bring me some crabapple jelly.  I would bring a couple of sacks of crabapples from our tree in Aurora, Colorado.   They would bring me a jar or two of the jelly.   
 
On this particular blustery day, my Boeing 737 experienced a mechanical delay.  We had to wait for parts and mechanics to come up from Denver.  It would be a two to three hour delay.
 
I asked Mrs. Dineen if she and Mrs. Baggs would like to see the airplane.  “Yes!” Both remarked in unison.  I showed them the cabin and introduced the rest of my crew.  Then, entering the flight deck, I invited them to sit in the pilots seats.  Mrs. Dinneen sat in the left seat, Mrs. Baggs was seated in the co-pilots seat.
 
I put my hand on Mrs. Dinneen’s right shoulder and said these very words, “Mrs. Dinneen, do you remember when I was in your first grade class and you said no one would pay me to look out the window?  Well now, this has to be a singular moment in history when you were mistaken.”   
 
Both of these wonderful ladies have Gone West.  Yet today, I treasure the memory of my all-time favorite teacher.  
 
Over forty thousand hours later, I still treasure other memories from my looking out the windows of the DC-3, the Convair C-131 (340/440) & 580, the DHC-6, the Boeing 737, the MD-80, and the fly-by-wire Airbus family.  A glorious forty years of mostly Blue Skies & Tailwinds earned by those few moments that could have ended badly but didn’t.  The good endings to bad situations are not to my credit.  They are the credit to superb training and crew members who were professional.  They were good at their job…

 

FRONTIER BOEING 737-200

 

PIC and RALPH

As you’ve read, my father’s best friend (next to Mom) was Ralph Johnson.   My Mom’s best friend was Ruth Johnson.  Those two couples shared many great trips and events together.  Our two families were often together.   I remember the feeling that we were one big family.

Once, Ralph and Pic flew Mom and Ruth to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a fishing/camping trip.   They found a likely place on the Gros Ventre River and made camp.   Pic & Ralph didn’t think the ladies were up to the hike that the guys would be doing to get at a spot likely for trout.   Mom and Ruth indicated that they’d be fine at camp and would have things ready when “the boys” returned with a mess of fish.

Late that afternoon two dejected fishermen reappeared in camp obviously frustrated at their total failure with nothing to show in their creels.  No problem!   Mom and Ruth held up a nice string of Brook trout they’d caught in the little stream flowing next to their camp site.  Everyone ate well albeit the usual chatter was conspicuously absent.   All of us kids learned of the story and somehow both Pic and Ralph were often reminded of it much to their chagrin.

The foursome were active in other social entities in Cheyenne.   The ladies belonged to a sewing group Ruth Johnson named, “Flapping Lips!”   Valiently, Ralph named the male contingent, “Aching Ears!”

It was during this time that Ralph and Pop were enterprising together.   Ralph left United Airlines where he had been chief test pilot.  United decided on moving the engineering and research division to San Francisco.   Ralph and Ruth preferred to remain in Cheyenne.

Ralph and Pop operated Plains Aerial Surveys.  They contracted with the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Agriculture to “bait” the grasshopper infestation using Pic’s surplus United DC-3 and his favoriteTwin Beech, NC-80201.

Plains Aerial Surveys was formed initially to utilize my father’s surplus United Douglas DC-3 to tow a device called “The Bomb.”  The Bomb was a bomb-shaped object filled with array of electronic apparatus all designed and built by Ralph.   They would tow The Bomb behind the DC-3 using a retractible cable arrangement.

A grid overlay of their surface map was used to fly a pre-determined pattern covering a wide area. They flew from the Colorado/Wyoming border to just north of Denver and from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the west and Sterling, Colorado to the east.   Back and forth, east to west, north to south.

They discovered the vast oil aquifer that lay below present day I-25 and to a much farther ranging area than the oil geologists had predicted.  They did well with that contract but they would have hit the jackpot had they done the survey for a percentage.   Hindsight again rules!

They did well with the grasshopper infestation contract as well.  Ralph eventually bought my Dad out and went on with his already rich aviation career flying large former military bombers on government contracts until well into his eighties.   The Walkers and Johnsons remained close friends and, we would like to believe are forever together in a heavenly place.

SARATOGA

We moved from Cheyenne to Saratoga some 125 miles west into the Platte River Valley.  My father and his brother had been ranching SW of Laramie.   They sold their ranch on the Little Laramie River and bought the 4-Bar Ranch in Saratoga.   They sold that ranch and bought the old Cushing Ranch west of Saratoga.   The Cushing place was to be our home.

Mom had made several trips to the ranch to measure and plan.   She had new cabinets made.  Before we moved to the ranch, someone proved to the Walker Brothers that they wanted the ranch enough they paid a premium for it.   It was during this time that the Saratoga Inn was built by Pic and his brother.   So, now homeless, we became the first “guests” of the Saratoga Inn.   We were the only guests  that cold and eerie winter.   Official opening of the Saratoga Inn would follow June 15th, 1950.

If it was snowing hard with the cold Wyoming wind blowing, Mom would drive us to school, a half-mile away, in her blue Fleischlei Studebaker.   Otherwise, we’d walk uphill both ways!  Well, both ways anyhow since it was pretty level across town.

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Below, our first day of grade school in Saratoga:

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       Mary Margaret, Billy, Martha Jo in front of Saratoga’s grade school 1950

After the “Inn” was built and the Cushing Ranch sold, the Walker Brother’s bought the Shay Ranch just south of town and the Cedar Creek Ranch west of town.   Pop bought Mom a nice home in town and the cabinets made for the Cushing Ranch fit!

School was a short walk across a small pasture from home. Mom and my sisters were rare visitors at the ranch.   I would soon have some duties there albeit pining away not to be at the airport.

THOSE MAGNIFICENT MUSTANGS!

I remember an incident when I was eleven or twelve that further inspired me towards aviation.   I remember it visually and in techni-color accompanied with sound.   My gosh it was wonderful!

I was on an old John Deer tractor “dragging the fields.”  Dragging the fields involved driving the tractor pulling a large metal apparatus weighted down so that small railroad spikes would scuff the turf and scatter the dried cow/horse manure.   It was slow and boring except for one very memorable time.

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Above: Haying on the Shay Ranch

Back and forth, SLOWLY, back and forth.   Suddenly, my reverie was loudly and wonderfully awakened by three North American P-51 “Mustangs” in close formation not fifty feet above my head.   I will hear the “music” of those three Packard Merlin engines until I have Gone West.   It was magical!  It was magnificently beautiful!

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The three Mustangs roared over my head pulling up.   By now the tractor was stopped and I was standing on the seat waving, screaming, yelling and begging for more.   Not to be disappointed, they came back again and, perhaps a tad lower!   Then a third pass and I was in an ecstasy like nothing I’d come close to before.   In a word, it was wonderful!   It became one of my most cherished moments as a youngster.

After the third pass they gave a wing-waggle and headed east over 10,810′ Kennaday Peak, a bald-topped mountain part of the Medicine Bow Range east of Saratoga.   It took me a while to get back into focus of what, in reality, was a “crappy” job!

DALE OAKS and C.K. “BUDDY” FAUGHT

A few hours went by. I was helping my father grease the tractor and fill the gas tank with diesel when an unfamiliar car drove into the ranch yard.  A very familiar individual stepped out to be greeted rudely by my father!

Apparently, Dale Oaks was flying lead in that trio of Mustangs that, not long before, buzzed the ranch.   My father really read Dale Oaks the riot-act complaining about his scaring the livestock.  Nooooo!  I thought PLEASE NO!  Don’t discourage something so wonderful!  I bit my lip.  I knew better than to vocalize my thoughts.

Dale just looked at my ol’ man.  Silence… Then he pulled out a bottle of Seagrams Seven and handed it to Pop.   Pop looked at the bottle, looked at Dale, then looked at me.   “Hold down the fort son Dale and I are goin’ fishin’!”  Off to East Lake they went.  Yup!  I remember everything that day.   One of my most indelible childhood memories!

A flying pal, Danny Don, has a magnificent Ryan PT-22 and often joins our Stearman formation.  He shared a link to his brother’s cinematography that reminded me of my own emotions seeing P-51s.  Mine pales by what is depicted here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vivKJiV7rFE

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Wyoming Air National Guard P-51 “Mustangs”

My father had taught Dale Oaks and Buddy Faught to fly at Plains Airways during WWII.  They both became Marine “Corsair” pilots.   Dale shot down a Jap Zero the day the carrier USS Franklin was hit by Kamakazies.  That same day, C.K. “Buddy” Faught lost a leg when the pilot’s ready room #51 was torn apart by a direct hit on the Franklin.  As I recall Buddy was one of just two survivors of RR 51!

            C.K. “Buddy” Faught in the Corsair

Buddy Faught & Dale Oaks 1944

After the war, Dale Oaks flew with the Wyoming Air National Guard.   To my chagrin, he never again buzzed the ranch.

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Here is a photo of Buddy getting his new wooden leg signed by Greg “Pappy” Boyington.  For a time Buddy flew the F4U Corsair in the VMF 214 “Black Sheep” squadron.  Boyington was the squadron commander and second to Joe Foss as the highest scoring Marine Ace during WWII.

GREG “PAPPY” BOYINGTON and JOE FOSS

Belligerent and alcoholic, Boyington liked to fight.   He made a mistake picking a fight with Joe Foss.  Joe one-punched Pappy into dreamland.   I became friends with both – meeting Pappy at some airshows where he was selling his book Black Sheep.  He had a real “rode hard and put away wet” look then.  However, Boyington had been awarded both the Navy Cross and the Medal of Honor.  Shot down, he endured the rigors of being a POW.   When someone suggested he was a “hero,” Boyington always said, “show me a hero and I’ll show you a bum!”  Boyington was unique and he was a great American “hero.”

 

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JOE’S F4F “WILDCAT” part of the Cactus Airforce

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Then captain, Marine F4F “Wildcat” pilot, Joe Foss, the Marine Ace of Aces!

I met Joe Foss in 1990 when he spoke at Ann Faught’s services.  Buddy would follow her two years later.   I remember some great fly fishing jaunts with Buddy and Ann.

Buddy Faught was one of the founders of Challenger Airlines that merged with Monarch and Arizona Airways to become Frontier Airlines.  My wife, Cheryl, was a stewardess, and I was a pilot for Frontier.  Aviation shrunk the world in so many ways.

Joe Foss and I became good friends and saw each other often.   Many times he would invite me in for coffee and “war stories!”  He too wrote a book Proud American about his life as a Marine fighter pilot along with the rest of his storied life.   Joe was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Medal of Honor.   A major in the Marine Corps, Joe became a Brigadier General in the Air National Guard.

 

I was president of OX-5 & Silver Wings of Arizona for a decade.  Every year I would call on Joe and DeDe Foss to give a talk at one of our gatherings.   Every year they’d show up.   Every talk was from the hip – no notes.  Every talk was different from the one before.   Joe Foss was one of the most amazing men I’ve ever known.

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In fact, Joe Foss accomplished so much; a single volume might not be enough!   He is, of course, known for being the Marine “Ace of Aces” and, after the war, being the founder of the South Dakota Air Guard, then two-time governor of the state, then commissioner of the American Football League, President of the National Rifle Association, Host on two television sports shows, along with a plethora of additional accomplishments.

One of those is the institute he formed to educate young people about our rich patriotic history that has been fading thru those teachers who’ve forgotten how it is we have the freedoms we, as US citizens, enjoy.  I will have a separate story about Joe Foss Gone West at 85 January 1st, 2003.

 

BACK TO THE WALKER BUNCH’S WYOMING STORY…

THE SARATOGA INN

The Saratoga Inn had been built in 1949 and open to the public in June of 1950.   It was designed as a resort offering gambling, fishing, and hunting.   The day the doors opened, Wyoming shut down legalized gambling!   This put a severe crimp on the Walker Brothers’ plans.   To make things worse, our family had some six thousand sheep when the market collapsed in 1953!  OUCH!

I never cared much for sheep, or “woolies” as we called them.  My preference was and is horses and cattle.   In my view, sheep are towards the bottom of the animal intellect scale!  They’d try to bunch at the corner of a fence line instead of going thru the gate opened for their traveling convenience.   Above is a rare exception.

We had two Basque sheep herders.   Nice quiet fellows and amazing cooks using a dutch oven at their sheep-wagon sites.   Some unbelievable culinary delights were produced amongst the sagebrush. Even the fried mini-Rocky Mountain Oysters were delectable. The Basques had the sheep-wagon, a gun, and a dog.   It was astounding how well they managed all those sheep with so little at hand.   I don’t remember any losses to coyotes during their watch.   To counter boredom as they kept watch of their flock, they would pile rocks on top on one another until a “Sheep Herder’s Monument” stood prominently for all to see.

Sadly, one of the Basque herders was tragically killed when he was crushed after a piece of heavy equipment accidentally pinned him.   That was an awful day at the Shay Ranch.

As much as I disliked sheep, I discovered two redeeming values to those “durned woolies.”   Handling them and their wool kept the skin on your hands soft when the dry Wyoming air usually caused skin to dry and crack.  My mother used to fix Lamb Curry, a delicious dish served over rice, and is still a favorite.   Like my folks used to caution, “find something good in things you don’t care for.”

Many of these monuments are visible today.   Driving into Saratoga on US 130 they stand guard up high on the lonely ridges of those sagebrush hills overlooking the beauty of the Platte River Valley.  Every time I see one, I’m reminded of Gorka and Imanol.  We called Gorka “George” and Imanol “Manny.”  They seemed to like their American nicknames.

The Basques had a unique language but also spoke Spanish.   My Dad was fluent in Spanish, so communication was excellent in that respect.   They were picking up some English some as well.

PIC’s BRIDGE

Day by day, things went along with the ranching and the Inn, but it was a constant struggle financially.  My dad  bought an International TD-14 dozer and started clearing the island next to the Inn.   Pop, nearly single handedly, built Wyoming’s first all-grass golf course.

I remember kids my age playing in the jungle of trees, bushes, and shrubs abounding in the island just across from the eastern edge of the Inn.  It was a mess to clean up and clean out predatory to Pop building his golf course.

Pop bought a couple of old dump trucks and, by the time the golf course was completed, those trucks were ready for the scrap pile.   I loved ’em!  I was too young to drive but had learned to drive on the ranch at an early age.   Finally, my ol’ man figured a way to get some honest work out of me.   I loved driving those dump trucks.  I had to fill them up with trash first!

I worked side-by-side with some of the UW football players my Dad hired during their summer break from school.  That helped toughen me up some.   I had to put out an equal or better than work output in order to be given the opportunity to drive.   Mostly that worked out for me.   I was motivated and, except for Johnny Walker, the other UW guys were really lazy.

If the UW team as a whole had Johnny Walker’s work ethic they’d have been national champions.   They weren’t.

The TD-14 proved inefficient, so Pop traded it in for a Caterpillar D-8.   He hired an operator whose name was “Bearcat.”  He was someone more enamored with alcohol than operating a bull-dozer.  So, with a wave “goodby” to Bearcat, my father became an expert dozer operator along with everything else.

    

 

Many thanks to Dick Perue who had arranged for a plaque honoring Pic Walker for his monumental feat.   It is a permanent fixture to the bridge.

 

Above:  Nancy Pennock and Dick Perue at an all-class reunion in Saratoga 

Just imagine moving that huge bridge, intact, eighteen miles from its moorings at Cow Creek to it’s present location across the North Platte River.   Pop engineered this feat then put his plan into action using two big truck-tractors, four big-wheeled “dollies,” and his D-8 “Cat.”

Donna Mae (Henderson) Nordin, mentioned in the photo below, was one of my classmates.  She and her husband, the late Gordy Nordin, would later purchase and live in our former home on Bridge Street in Saratoga.

A number of men, including Donna Mae’s father, took part in the project.   The REA power folks rode on top of the bridge moving wires as necessary as the bridge slowly made it’s way along the railway as well as highway 130.  Pop used the D-8 all the way to nudge the dollies when needed.   Amazing!

The following “Pic’s Bridge” photos compliments of R. Richard Perue & Donna Mae Nordin:

Above:  Pic Walker in ball cap 2nd from left

Finally, the golf course was completed.   It was before underground sprinklers.   We’d move aluminum pipe from fairway to fairway.  The pipe and sprinkler system was connected to a large electric pump drawing water from the river.  We planted over a thousand trees along the fairways.

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I say “we” because I was forced labor.   Back then, I found it utterly impossible to sleep in.   My father’s unique method of waking me was to toss an ice-cold wash cloth from the doorway.   SPLAT!  …and I was fully awake!  Fortunately, there was no firearm handy or my Mother may have become widowed… I avowed to get even, but never did.   The good vastly overshadowed the bad!

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                  Pic’s golf course fifty years later…

I never really hated my father, but, in those days, did not share a close relationship.   My father was someone who said little, but it was a wise person who listened when he spoke.   Later, we would enjoy a great relationship, but I’m getting ahead of my story…

Our family wasn’t rich, but we never went hungry.   My parents created a very stable atmosphere for my sisters and me.   Regardless of when we had money or were on the poor side, our home life was the same.   We three kids knew when the folks were tightening their belts some.   We’d have more fresh caught trout (Mom’s favorite) and wild game of one kind or another.   Mom could even make Antelope taste delicious.

I never recall a cross word between my parents.   They saved those up mostly for me.   I was just plain ornery.   You’ve heard the expression “…trouble is my middle name?”   That was me!

I was constantly trying to prove my toughness and more times than not was proven not so tough.   I had my nose broken an even ten times before I was junior in high school.  Mostly my nose trouble came from another boys bad aim when their knuckles were supposed to meet with my jaw.   Then too, we did not have nose guards on our football helmets initially.   My nose caught hell from that as well.

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YUP!  THAT’S MY FIERCE LOOK!

One of my classmates, Kenny Carpenter, and I were pals when we weren’t given each other a black eye or bent nose.  Several other’s became spontaneous sparing partners.   One kid in my class, Fred, used to chase me home after school.   I would escape into the house.  “WHEW!”

One afternoon, I ran from ol’ Fred only to be stopped by my father standing at the door.  “Lemme in!” My Pop said, “If I let you in, I’ll give you a whoppin,’ and I’m a lot bigger than that kid out there. So, you have a choice.”   I turned around, scared to death.  I ran as fast as I could to where he was standing and ended Fred’s enjoyment of taunting me.   He and I got along pretty good after that.

One thing I learned, and later told my son, if you are confronted by several bullies intent on doing you harm, pick out the biggest meanest one and hit him as hard as you can as fast as you can.   You won’t likely win, but they won’t be back for more.   I discovered this to be a truism on more than one occasion.

One day I walked in the back door of our home.  Mom was in the kitchen and asked how I was.  “Fine,” I remarked.  Then she saw that my nose was laying on the side of my face.  She was not enamored with my fighting.   I figured it was necessary in the order of things.  The peckin’ order.

MUSIC

Music in the Walker household was mostly noise for a while.   My mother had a beautiful baby-grand piano and insisted we three kids would learn to play.   She coaxed Dixie Swanson to drive in from their Spring Creek ranch to teach us.   My sisters did much better than I did, but we all were motivated towards learning to play an instrument.

Mine was the trumpet, Martha Jo selected the clarinet, and Mary Margaret played the flute.   We all eventually played in the world-renowned PVHS marching band.   …perhaps renowned to a few folks in Saratoga.   I remember even playing a public recital on stage at the Range Theater in Saratoga.   I remember being scared to death!   In fact it was another 30 years before I became comfortable at public speaking.

Kenny Carpenter and I were close friends growing up.  Still are.   Kenny played the trumpet as well.  Can you imagine the noise we made much to the neighbors chagrin?    We’d get ourselves in some trouble and folks would say, “well at least they aren’t bustin’ our eardrums with those infernal horns!”

BILLY THE BRONC BUSTER

It was amazing how much there was to do to entertain ourselves growing up in that little town.  As I’d mentioned, Saratoga had a population of some eight hundred souls in the fifties.   Of course, in the summer months the number swelled to around twelve hundred including fishermen, hunters, families, and groups arriving for summer vacations at the Inn.

For a time, Kenny Carpenter helped me operate the Inn’s stables where we would rent out the horses.   The stables and horse corral had been very well built by Kenny Zeiger and Dick Stockwell.   For a long time they were the go-to fellows in Saratoga and the valley for carpentry.   The stables had an amply stocked tack room, horse medicine cabinets and even several cots for we tired wranglers.

No longer interested in horseback riding, my Aunt Muggs gave me her palomino mare, “Sara.”  She was a very pretty animal and easy to ride with one exception.   She had what is called “tough mouth.”  If she started running it took a really strong pull on the reins to get her to stop.  Of course that was no problem for a tough Wyoming kid who’d been ranching.  …I thought!   Of course at age ten or eleven one’s imagination overpowers any levelheadedness.

Interestingly, we had another palomino, a gelding named Togie.  “Sara” and “Togie” how novel…  After reading the following you’ll wonder why I didn’t ride Togie!

One summer morning Sara started running with me.  The next thing I knew she was going faster than former triple crown winner “Citation.”  I was seemingly powerless to rein her in AND she was heading for town!  Down Pic Pike Road (named for my Dad) Sara galloped past the Inn then around the old Donelan building across the bridge roaring down Bridge Street and across Highway 130!

Thank Heaven Above, no cars interfered.  My luck was holding, my water wasn’t.  My yelling and screaming was likely making things worse.  As you might imagine, I was hanging on for dear life!

As Sara passed our house on Bridge Street she saw an opportunity to rid herself of the obnoxious noisy kid on her back using one of the big cottonwood trees in our yard.  Turning across our lawn down third street she tore.   With a tight grip on the saddle horn and my left leg grabbing the saddle leather, I leaned out and down barely missing being hit by the low limb that would otherwise have made that day an even worse experience.

Still running hard, Sara was seeing the dead-end ahead.   She took it upon herself to start a speed reduction and I finally coaxed her to a full stop.  I dismounted, dried my tears, and led that SOB all the way back to the stables.   Sara paid the price for her tough mouth.   I was able to acquire a special bit from Marvin Reid.  It worked!  After that I could control Sara’s tendency to run away.

It was later proven to me, finally, that the horsemanship I believed I had was not to the level of my imagination. in 1957 I tried to ride a bareback bronc at the town’s Fourth of July Rodeo between my junior and senior year.   I had ridden horses that bucked several times and was able to buck them out.   The rodeo stock as I discovered, rather rudely, was another thing altogether!

“No sweat,” I thought.   All I have to do is stay on for eight seconds, rake the poor beast with my spurs, and impress the girls in the stands.  Yup! I was certain that would be no problem!

I pulled my new Whitney’s Saddle Shop straw “Stetson” down tight, checked the wrap holding my right hand to the rigging and nodded at the gate man.  The gate swung open and out bounded the bronc named “Smokey.”   I had thought he was named “Smokey” for his color.   I rather think, looking back, his name came from the fire from his nostrils as he made me look like a comic character.   He must have known of my interest in aviation as he was hell-bent on my becoming airborne.

My eight second ride was closer to a nano-second with my new straw hat flying off and up as I flew off and down.   It wouldn’t have been too bad had I kept my mouth closed instead of using it as a shovel to pick up a rather foul tasting mixture of dirt and manure.   Horse apples dry out pretty readily in the Wyoming climate.   Some of my noon “meal” had not yet reached that point and were of the medium rare condition.   It took a considerable amount of time to get that awful taste out of my mouth.

Likely, this was when I committed myself to aviation leaving such wild enterprising to fellows such as Pete LaFarge and Earl Bascom.    It still gives me the shivers thinking of the landing I made at Saratoga’s rodeo grounds over a half-century ago.

Ray Walker was another Saratoga pal.  I ended up Best Man when he and Mary Kay married.  Ray and I were not related but we shared a “cousin relationship.”   I remember Ray reminding me of the absolute pleasure he had watching ol’ Smokey try to send me into orbit.   Ray was a champion roper and stayed active in that sport his entire life.  Ray’s gone now, but his sister (also a Mary Kay) and I call ourselves “kissin’ cousins.”   She looked good on a horse and could ride with the best of ’em.

MJ – Billy – MK – MM 2011 Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame party

Mary Kay was strikingly beautiful (still is) and was selected as Wyoming’s Rodeo Queen one year.   Ray and Mary Kay’s dad, Len Walker, was a champion bronc rider winning the Cheyenne Frontier Days Bronc Riding in 1937. Just forty five, Len died young from a heart attack.   This past year (2016) Len was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame.

TEENSE

Loren “Teense” Willford is an unforgettable character to all fortunate enough to meet this natural born entertainer.  Teense was a couple of years ahead of me at PVHS.  He had a lot of influence in my early development.  Not all was good.  However, all was educational nonetheless.

Teense is a teetotaler.   He wasn’t always so.

One day Teense and I were in the back corner of the high school study hall.  We’d arrange our individual desks so that our target, the in-floor air-return, was easily hit by our chew residue.   All was going well until…

 KABLOOOIE!!

An explosion startled everyone, shook the building, and was immediately followed by aftershocks in the form of a very large school superintendent, one Rex G. Cadwallader, Jr., whose heavy footsteps grew louder as he marched heavily down the hallway, into the study hall, and headed directly to where Teense and I were seated.

Next, this former WWII US Navy heavyweight boxing champion, grabbed us and proceeded to march us out of the study hall, down the hallway, and into his office.    On the way we three felt conspicuous with everyone’s stare.   Then we saw the reason for the explosion and the source of Rex G. Cadwallader Jr’s consternation. Teense’s school locker had exploded and the home-brew he had placed there escaped from the confines of the locker finding it’s way everywhere within a forty foot radius.  Apparently, the tightly sealed jug of home-brew had not completed it’s fermentation process!

Below:  Rex G. Cadwallader, Jr.

Ceremoniously, Superintendent Cadwallader began removing “Ol’ Blue” from its exalted place of repose, a spot where all passersby’s had the opportunity to look it’s way respectfully.   “Ol’ Blue” was a solid oak paddle. This terrible instrument of torture had a two-fisted grip handle along with a goodly number of holes drilled thru the paddle area.

The recipient would hear the short albeit fierce whistle as the wielder swung this menacing instrument of social correction towards the aiming point, properly positioned, with the announcement, “OK BOYS, GRAB YOUR ANKLES!”

There was no allowance for pleading one’s case, nor an appeal as to the harshness of the sentence.   You were never innocent even if you were in fact.  The theory being that, even if you were innocent that particular time, you were surely guilty innumerable times prior…

I recall after “Ol’ Blue” soundly connected with it’s aiming point on my posterior, that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I did realize I was in no condition to sit for a while!   Yup!  Ol’ Blue was a famous and extremely effective correctional instrument.

We were then told that we would spend every evening the next six weeks after school washing the walls.  I don’t recall how the actual damage to Teense’s locker was resolved.  Perhaps Teense’s father, Harold, and his wallet came to the rescue.

I was simply guilty by association.  But I paid an additional price for this experience.   On the way to Superintendent Cadwallader’s office, I had swallowed my “chew.”  Initially, I felt like I was walking on a cloud.  Soon, I felt like my insides were trying to rid my body of their confines.  Sick?  I was throwing up stuff I’d eaten as a baby!  I never chewed tobacco again.  Be assured, I never have had the urge to look at, smell, or taste anyone’s home-brew again either!

Sandy explaining to Teense and Billy what makes an airplane fly…

PVHS Class of ’59 during our sophomore year

The class sponsor was Gene Smith.  I still don’t know if he helped me or hindered my scholastic endeavors.  Mr. Smith told me I was too stupid for his math class.  At the time I thought he was right.   I tried hiding my lack of self esteem, but it was omni present.

After moving to Arizona and being in Devon Showley’s physics class I discovered that I wasn’t stupid.  By the time I made the 4.0 Club at Arizona State University I felt a little better about myself and not so impressed with Mr. Smith.

BILLY & JOE

My Mom grew tired of hearing me snort and snore as I was trying to get air that was mostly blocked by a nose that had become largely shut.   Having one’s nose busted ten times will cause this.  Mom whisked me off to Cheyenne where a family ENT friend, Russ Williams, MD, fitted me with a new nose made from a bird’s breast!   No kidding!

I was still in the hospital, with my nose stuffed with packing, when my pal, Joe Davis, and some other miscreants paid me a visit.   Learning that it hurt like the dickens when I laughed, you can be sure they recognized a glorious opportunity.   HURT!  Mercy!

Joe Davis and I have been buddies for over 75 years!   We just spent Thanksgiving 2016 together with our wives reminiscing.   Actually, they were our wives.  Now they are our immediate supervisors!

Our being pals is special for a number of reasons.   First, the tenure!  Seventy Five years is a long time to maintain a friendship.   Second, we were in business together.  Well, sort of.

WYOMING’S FIRST BIDET

Joe and I invented Wyoming’s first bidet!   At the time we didn’t even know what the word meant!   Often, as we were growing up, Joe would come to Saratoga to visit.   Or, I’d go to Cheyenne to see Joe.   That tradition endures like the sands of time.

When Joe and I were pre-teens our intellectual development was slightly stunted.   This led us into grave danger at times.  One summer when we were around the age of twelve Joe was visiting.   It was nearly the Fourth of July.  In his right front pocket of his Levis, Joe carried a single Cherry Bomb!  This proved to be the catalyst for our inventiveness that resulted in Wyoming’s first bidet.  It was an amazing thing to be part of the semi-intellectual mechanisms suddenly at work.  Almost immediately we decided on letting my little sister, Mary Margaret, help with our nefarious science experiment.   Of course, she was totally unaware of her involvement at first.   Soon she would be totally involved and unknowingly became the star of our experiment.

Our home on Bridge Street was a two-story amazingly well built turn-of-the-century structure.   Conveniently for our experiment it was important to have the toilet upstairs vertically aligned with the toilet downstairs.  This was absolutely imperative.  After assuring ourselves that all was set, we waited.   And, we waited.

Finally, we heard our fellow, albeit unknowing, scientist seat herself on the downstairs throne.   Luck and timing is very important with scientific experiments.

Joe was ready with his solitary Cherry Bomb.  I was ready with the lit match in my right hand and the flush handle for the upstairs toilet firmly in the grasp of my left hand.    Nodding to Joe, I lit the fuse.   Joe hesitated a second, then dropped the instrument of our ingenuity into the bowl, as I simultaneously activated the flush handle, culminating our part of the experiment.   Now, it would be all up to my little sister as to any success we might achieve.

fullsizeoutput_5032KERBOOM!!

INSTANTLY the two scientists upstairs were completely drenched from the resulting geyser!   Our situation paled in comparison to the experience of my little sister, the scientist downstairs!    It was an awful mess.   You’ve heard the expression “…when the shit hit the fan!”   Same results – absent the fan!

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Photo by Martha Jo Walker Tisdale

Joe and I are alive today but for a singular reason.   My family’s old house was extremely well built.  The heavy cast iron pipes leading to the septic system were held by gravity.   The explosion caused a reaction to those pipes similar to a pump shot gun’s sliding action.  The pipes moved vertically some then settled back to their original position.  Again, luck does play a part in the scheme of things..

Likely, Pop thought of grabbing his pump 12 gauge shotgun, when he discovered Joe’s and my use of his and mom’s home as a laboratory.    Joe and I were truly fortunate that there was no permanent damage and the mess, horrific as it was, was cleaned to the point of erasing all evidence.  Those wonderful ol’ pipes are likely still doing their designed function albeit likely not suffering the explosive stress Joe and I imposed upon them.  Needless to say, our business partnership went up in smoke with a lot of noise and, do I dare say, excretory.

Joe and I have stayed pals.   I can’t think of another friend as good as Joe has been.  Certainly, he has seniority.   He’s been at most of the important moments in my life, and neither of us can recall having a single cross word.  Pretty special!

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              Billy & Joe fishin’ at Hog Park 2012  –

I caught an eight pound Splake there in 1998, and Joe was my witness.

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I’m a catch and release fly-fisherman.  But the Splake, a combination of a Lake Trout and a Brook Trout can not reproduce.  So, I kept this one for my Mother whose favorite food was trout.   She shared this with Cheryl and me.   The salmon colored meat was delicious!   The catchin’ even more so!

EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

Our home had a barn and several out buildings and a small pasture.   I raised rabbits and “Kilroy” the piglet in a couple of those buildings.   I trapped muskrats in the slough by the Inn and used the little pump house building to skin and cure the hides.  I sold the hides to Mr. Mortimer, a local trapper.

I had a .20 gauge double barrel shotgun.   I made a pretty good living, for a kid, shooting crows and magpies.  I would take the heads to Orville Mayer, the local game warden and our next door neighbor.  Mr. Mayer would pay me .25 cents for each crow head and .10 cents per magpie.   After paying for the ammunition, I still made a modest profit.

For a time, I had a Rocky Mountain News paper route using the bicycle I’d bought new from Ed Shively and John Glode at Shively Hardware. I wrangled horses at the Inn, when I was theoretically too young for such an enterprise.  Mostly I did what my father needed me to do, knowing that if I did, I would have more chances to fly.

My father expressed some dismay when I would be mowing the grass at the Inn and suddenly switch off the machine to take advantage of an offer to fly with one of the guests or their pilots who often flew into Saratoga.   Many were members of the secretive group “Conquistadores del Celio” made up of prominent aviation people.

Many from this group would stay at the Inn either before or after their conclave at nearby A bar A Ranch south of Saratoga.   To my everlasting delight, Shively Field had a plethora of exciting corporate aircraft land and park there while the Conquistadore gathering took place.

There were some really wonderful pilots who helped me keep my hair on fire looking for any and all opportunities to fly.  Some of these aviation stalwarts took an interest in me and my enthusiasm.   I flew with Billy Parker, Elliott Roosevelt, Aubrey Keif, Al Litzenberger, Arthur Godfrey, and other’s.

When I was twelve, Bill Lafferty and Bill Brian invited me to fly the FRAM Oil Company DC-3 from Saratoga to Providence, RI.   The DC-3 had been my Dad’s.   He sold it to FRAM and became good friends with the CEO and the pilots.

FRAM’s DC-3 later became Aspen Airways 

Of course, I didn’t get to make any of the takeoffs or landings but I got to fly it during the cruise phase for literally hours.   I got so good at “following the beam,” I would be by myself in the cockpit with Lafferty and Brian back playing poker with the boss!   Often one would come up to check on me, the gas, and, certainly, if I was on course.   No sweat!  Back then the skies were a far cry from the congestion of today.

I challenged myself to 5-5-10!  No more than five knots off the mark, no more than five degrees heading from that assigned, and no more than 10 feet of altitude change.   Truthfully, I was more 10-10-100…

HUDSON RIVER TROUT

Years later, Cheryl and I were in Marathon, Florida on a friend’s sail boat.   Next to us was another sailboat with a familiar face looking my way.   It was Bill Lafferty, and we shared a wonderful evening eating, drinking, and telling some great stories.

Lafferty said that my Dad had showed him Hudson River Trout in the Hudson River!   I exclaimed that I had never heard of any trout in the Hudson River and, certainly, had never heard of that trout species.

Straight faced, Lafferty said “It’s true!”  He went on to tell of the time my father had sold Fram the DC-3 and delivered it.   They were in New York City and took the Staten Island Ferry.   Lafferty discovered my father absent and went to search for him.   Apparently Pop was at the bow of the ferry looking intently into the Hudson River.

Lafferty asked my Dad what he was doing?   Pop replied “…looking for Hudson River Trout!”   Lafferty grew up on the east coast and lived in New Bedford, Mass., a seaport.   He told my Dad that he’d never heard of “Hudson River Trout!”   Pop then pointed one out.   It was a used condom elongated in fish form floating by!

AL LITZENBERGER

Another memorable flight was in the Mesta Machine Douglas A-26 with Al Litzenberger and Jack Bald.  Mesta Machine owned a beautiful sleek “Invader” that was faster than a stock P-51 “Mustang.”  I was twelve or thirteen when Al Litzenberger invited me to fly with them to California where they were having On Mark convert the airplane even more.   I didn’t get to touch the controls, but I fell in love with that airplane and told everyone that I would one day own one.   Eventually, I did.   N-91354 and that too is another story.

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     Above: Mesta Machines Douglas A-26

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Billy Walker climbing into Douglas A-26C – N-91354 1970

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Cheryl Walker photo of N-91354

We were enroute to Twin Falls Idaho 1970  –  I sold the A-26 to Charlie Reeder, Reeder Flying Service, for use as a borate bomber.  Cheryl rode along with Denny Leonard in the Bonanza as my ride back to our Salt Lake City base.   Denny was my mechanic and also a pilot.

The first view Cheryl had of the A-26 in flight was watching the airplane do a barrel roll around the Bonanza.   They had taken off ahead of me. As I caught up with them, Cheryl snapped the photo.

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SAD ENDING

Sad ending for a magnificent airplane.  Charlie Reeder’s pilot had just landed at Boise, Idaho when a small Beechcraft 23 ran into the A-26.   The B 23 exploded causing the four people in the Beechcraft Sierra to perish instantly.  Charlie’s pilot survived the accident only to die three days later.  Charlie’s pilot escaped thru the canopy and was on the wing when a helicopter operating nearby saw the accident.  The helicopter picked the pilot off the wing and whisked him to the hospital.   Unfortunately, too much internal damage from smoke and the heat fire prevented his survival.

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The trip with the Litzenbergers was wonderful.  Mrs. Litzenberger and Billy Litzenberger sat in the cabin.  There was a crawl space to get between the cabin and the cockpit.   I spent all my time right behind the pilots.   The airplane was so fast; it didn’t take long when the earth suddenly fell away, as we crossed the Wasatch Mountains into the Salt Lake Valley.   We landed, refueled, and were off to another quick flight into Los Angeles.

We stayed in Hollywood at the Knickerbocker Hotel.  Billy and I roamed the streets and saw the famous corner “Hollywood & Vine” and were awed by the sights and sounds.  We stopped for pizza where a very drunk Dana Andrews was embarrassing himself and me as well.  My view of Hollywood actors changed dramatically.

At a Knickerbocker Hotel reception I met the author of “God is My Copilot,”  Col. Robert L. Scott.   Scott later retired as a Brigadier General.  Col. Scott’s book was about his exploits flying with General Chenault’s “Flying Tigers” in China and Burma during WWII.  I had read his book and was excited having the opportunity to meet this famous aviator.   He signed a note for me to put in my book when I returned to Saratoga.

Col. Scott was a very down-to-earth individual.  I was surprised when he took an interest in speaking with a kid like me even telling some important folks to “stand by, I’ll be with you in a few minutes!”  Another “WOW” moment for me and another feather in aviation’s cap.

I flew with the Litzenbergers on an old DC-3 to Catalina Island.   We enjoyed the day there then returned by boat.   That was my first experience seeing the ocean.   I recall being excited seeing sharks in the water as we cruised by.

I returned to Saratoga by Union Pacific and even had a sleeper room on the train.  Al Litzenberger paid for the entire trip.

Above, LAS Super 26  –  N5052N (probably at Carl Spaatz Field – Reading PA – circa  mid-1960’s)  This photo was taken after my trip with the Litzenbergers to California.

The above photo shows N5052N, s/n 44-35994, when the plane was at Spaatz Field, Reading, Pennsylvania, on 29 September 1968. At that time it was owned by Mesta Machine Co. of Pittsburgh.


 

A separate arm of Lockheed Aircraft, LAS operated from Ontario, California, and specialized in the conversion of airframes. In the late 1950s, the company created the Super 26 which utilized just the wings, engines, tail, and landing gear of the Invader. A new fuselage with a pressurized cabin that was 22 feet long and six feet high was built and this could carry six-to-nine passengers. Constellation windows and cockpit sections were utilized and the first example, N5052N, flew in mid-1960. Apparently only one was built and the hulk finally wound up with Air Spray in Canada as a parts source.

The above shot shows N5052N, s/n 44-35994, when the plane was at Spaatz Field, Reading, Pennsylvania, on 29 September 1968. At that time it was owned by Mesta Machine Co. of Pittsburgh.

 Prototype serial number: 44-35994

 The Super 26 utilized just the wings, engines, tail, and landing gear of the A-26 Invader. A new fuselage with a pressurized cabin that was 22 feet long and six feet high was built and this could carry six-to-nine passengers. Constellation windows and cockpit sections were utilized and the first example, N5052N, flew in mid-1960. Apparently only one was built and the hulk finally wound up with Air Spray in Canada as a parts source.

 The modifications in detail by Richard E Fulwiler Increased interior height by raising the fuselage top ( looks like a foot above the normal A-26 ) – and – deepening the belly ( by 6 to 9 inches – starting with a fairing at the nose landing gear well / forward bomb bay lower-partial bulkhead ) carrying this height section aft to the break in the parallel longitudinal reference ( tapering to the tail ).

Increased the interior cabin length by adding what appears to be a 6 foot ” plug ” in the fuselage aft of the wing. This configuration is remarkably similar to the L.B. Smith Tempo II conversion design. With the incorporation of the ” ring spar ” to replace the rear wing spar carry-through structure, the interior would be open from the rear face of the forward wing spar, all the way back to the rear pressure bulkhead ( behind the rear-most cabin side window ).

LAS was said to have used Constellation L-1049 Super G cabin windows in conjunction with pressurization. These can be identified by the square shape with generously rounded corners as seen on the aft fuselage ( 4 on each side, includes the entrance “Airstair” to starboard and the escape panel opposite ) and the pair below the right wing. The oval windows above the wing appear to be horizontally sectioned from the side window size. The cockpit windshield appears to be the normal A-26 curved units but with small cockpit side windows, both incorporating heavier framing to withstand pressurization loads. This configuration can also be found on the L.B. Smith Tempo II conversion.

 A newly designed fiber glass nose with considerable length and contour revisions over the standard A-26. The added length of the nose was certainly increased to compensate for the added fuselage length aft of the wing. This would bring the C. G. back to the correct location and aerodynamically improve the shape. An added benefit would be an increased capacity to carry luggage and baggage in the nose along with the aft compartment ( note the small open doors on the right side, nose and tail ).

A half-dome transition shape to the aft end of the cabin top to blend with the standard A-26 tail section. Note how the vertical stabilizer leading edge blends into a horizontal dorsal spine, ending at the half-dome transition. These shapes can be found on the On Mark Marksman ” C ” configuration. As the LAS Super 26 preceded the Marksman series, it seems that there were many design elements used by the various conversion companies, especially those operating from the San Fernando Valley area of California. It must be noted, however, that On Mark Engineering dominated the A-26 Invader conversion business, and was successful beyond measure compared with their competition.

Born in 1900, Al Litzenberger had been a pilot for TWA Airlines and a founder of the Airline Pilots Association.  He left his airline career in favor of the corporate flying world.  Both Al’s and his brother Carl’s first licenses were signed by Orville Wright.  This was true in my father’s case as well.  Both brothers (Carl, just a year older than Al) contracted the aviation fever early and became well known barnstormers in those Golden Years of Flying in the 20s and 30s.
ABOVE:  A pre-ring spar conversion photo of N-5052N

Here is one news clipping dating back to Alvene Litzenberger’s aviation happenings in 1929: “AIR PASSENGER LINE IS PLANNED Airlines. Inc, Will Add to Trl-Motor Ford Ship Now Being Operated. W. O. Smith, president, Pennsylvania Airlines, Inc., of Pittsburgh announced that the concern Is now equipped to handle conventions and private parties to any part of the country, on short notice. The Pennsylvania Airlines. Inc, has Invested $50,000 in one of the most modern and up to date planes built, a twelve passenger. tri-motor Ford all-steel cabin plane. This is the only ship of this type in Pennsylvania. The pilot Alvene Litzenberger is a former mail pilot and has over 3,000 flying hours to his credit. The hangars of the Pennsylvania Airlines, Inc, are located at Bettis Field. Smith announces that as business warrants, he will increase his equipment with additional planes of this type, and that the first plane purchased is the first step in the organization of what he proposes to make one of the most important passenger airlines in the United States.”

On their trips to Saratoga, the Litzenbergers fell in love with the Platte River Valley.  They purchased the Flying Diamond Ranch south of Saratoga on the Encampment River.  They owned the ranch for four decades!  Later, they would buy their summer retreat home at the Inn.   The two Litzenberger boys, John and Billy, became pilots.   John was a corporate pilot like his father, and Billy became an airline pilot like his father had been.   John and his sister Kay survive and live within 20 minutes of each other.  John and I are fraternity brothers in QB and stay in touch.  For a while John, my Dad and I owned an orange grove in Mesa, AZ.

According to the Sioux Falls ‘Argus Leader’ here’s what John, his Mom, his Dad, his Uncle and his grandfather were doing January 13, 1934:  Pilot Brothers Rush to Bedside of Dying Father!  Torn Between Desire to See New Baby of One and to Be With Parent Walla Walla. Wash. Torn between a desire to be at the bedside of their dying father here, and in Columbus. Ohio, where the wife of one of them expected the birth of a baby, two brothers were able to because they were aviators. , The brothers, Alvene and Carl Litzenberger, were Informed in Columbus last week that their father, John Litzenberger, retired Endicott rancher, was dying in Walla Walls. However, Mrs. Alvene Litzenberger was expecting a baby and the brothers wished to be in Columbus to welcome the new arrival, Tuesday noon. . They alternated at the controls of their plane and flew west through winter weather which delayed them twice. They were at the bedside of their father when he died last night.  John was named for the grandfather he never knew.

In the winter of 1993 /94 Pittsburgh History had some references to famous aviation personalities from Bettis Field.  Cliff Ball was one.  He was a founding member of the OX-5 Aviation Pioneers and, later, Silver Wings.   I never knew Cliff Ball but Al and my father did.   My Dad was one of the early members of the OX-5 Aviation Pioneers.  My mother and I became members too.  I was president of the Arizona Chapter for nearly a decade.  Mom was the secretary/treasurer.  Additionally, along with Barry Goldwater, I co-founded the Arizona chapter of the Silver Wings Fraternity.   Being president of both, I combined the two meetings albeit the names remained separate.  Most of our Arizona group were members of both national organizations.

The 1993/4 article mentions Al Litzenberger being from the state of Washington.  He and his brother Carl were barnstorming pilots who came to Butler.  Carl outlived Al some twenty years.  Carl flew the governor of Pennsylvania for a while then returned to Endicott where he farmed until retiring.   Al had Gone West in 1973 while Carl waited until 1994 before he lined up on Runway Two-Seven for his final flight.

It was unknown how Al and Carl ended up in Pennsylvania, but apparently it was through a man named J. Warren Smith. Smith worked for C. P. Mayer and needed a couple of pilots. Smith and Al barnstormed in the early days somewhere out in Ohio.  Smith said, “Come on,, Al, come on down here to Pittsburgh.  You can do some flying down here.  There are some jobs available and you can get in on the ground floor.”  So Al did.  He came here.  He had a Waco 9 of his own and he promoted a guy by the name of Robert Headland who sold dynamite for Du Pont. Al and the Waco 9 barnstormed in the local Pittsburgh area.

The article mentions Al having flown for TWA a while.   Then Al met “Ivy” Iverson who controlled Mesta Machine Company, a huge heavy machinery manufacture in Homestead, PA.  Mesta owned the first corporate aircraft in the Pittsburgh area.  They purchased a new Lockheed 10A and based it at the Allegheny County Airport.  Al was Mesta’s Chief Pilot.  Al became known as the go-to guy and was approached by a number of companies such as Gulf Oil, Consolidated Coal, and other corporations who saw what Mesta Machine was doing.   They all asked Al’s advice on aviation matters especially aircraft purchases.

May 25th, 2017, provided a serendipitous surprise.  I received a letter from a fellow who had happened on my website and read the aforementioned story about The Litzenberger family.   John Morasch grew up near where Al and his brother grew up in Endicott, Washington.  Here is Larry’s four page letter outta the blue.  Already a treasure to me!   The only way I’ve found to show Larry’s letter is where you simply click each link below in sequence.

1 Larry Morasch letter P-1

2 Larry Morasch letter P-2

3 Larry Morasch letter P-3

4 Larry Morasch P-4

Captain Al Litzenberger pre-mustache

Photo contributed by Larry Morasch

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     Al Litzenberger in the 1930s

1938 Newsclipping 

Photo of Carl Litzenberger, Chief Pilot Americus GA CPTP WWII

In 1925, the Kelly Air Mail Act authorized the postmaster general to contract for domestic airmail service with commercial air carriers.  Rates and subsidies were established to be paid to the companies selected to carry the mail.  By transferring airmail operations to private companies, the government helped create the commercial aviation industry.  Various routes were designated and contracts for carrying the mail over these routes were let.  The Contract Air Mail routes became known as CAM’s.

CAM 34 was awarded to Transcontinental & Western Air.  In 1928 Jack Frye and his partners founded Standard Airlines.  In 1929 Standard Airlines merged with Western Air Express forming a powerful air express and transport company.  Jack Frye became Director in Charge of Operations.  Jack soon became part owner forming T&WA by 1930.

Frustrated by Boeing’s refusal to sell TWA the sleek-modern 247, Frye petitioned Donald Douglas into action.  The DC-1 was born and soon the DC-2 and then the ubiquitous DC-3 (arguable the most successful aircraft in the history of aviation).

Early on T&WA flew several different types of aircraft.  One, the Lockheed Orion, shown below, was flown by Alvene Litzenberger who signed a few of the first air mail letters flown.

Above:  Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed Orion and CAM 34 initial flight by Al Litzenberger in 1933.

Pittsburgh Press Sunday February 7, 1937

… bit bumpy over the mountains but Pilot Al Litzenberger has a way of ironing out the roughness … by the way Mrs. Lorenz Iverson is “good- sailor” when it comes to air travel and likes riding with her back to the pilot’s cabin . . . a feat that makes most air veterans a bit “pale around the US”

All the above on Al Litzenberger thanks to Larry Morasch

6/20/2017: Just in from ALPA:

1954-11-08 13th BOD – Vote of Appreciation for Charter Members (1)

Above plaque displayed at ALPA headquarters showing the founding members of The Airline Pilots Association

I’m still waiting for more gems from Larry Morasch and John Litzenberger.

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More of the Joe & Billy show…

Into our teens, Joe and I rigged up a set of weights in the hay loft above the barn-turned-garage.   There, with the help of a Joe Weider manual,  we became powerful specimens of our imagination.   We’da done better going along with the Peru boys to load hay bales.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but growing up in Saratoga was as close to “Mayberry” as I can imagine, lookin’ back.    I think of all the things I was able to do back then.   Still, my goal was to become a pilot.   I told my father, “I want to be a pilot just like you when I grow up!”  Pop said “Son, you can’t do both!”  A lot of truth to that…

SARATOGA AVIATION

Pop taught me to fly at the Saratoga Airport that was re-named “Shively Field” in honor of Lt. Jack Shively who was killed in action on a mission over Chinon, France during WWII.   It was the 13th of June, 1944.  The people of Chinon honored his heroism with a permanent monument.  I’ve always wished I could have known Jack Shively.   His folks and sister, along with her husband, John Glode, were great family friends.

Because of the Glodes, my parents donated the pasture behind our house for the Catholic church.   The church stands there now right on the spot where Fred Picard and I duked it out!

My father kept some ranch supplies stored on that pasture.  For a long time he had a stack of red-cedar fence posts.   The posts made into an amazing fort much to the pleasure of the neighborhood kids.  Also, there was a large water tank with a removable lid that mad a perfect tank or submarine what ever the day’s choice might be.   Now it’s all sanctified ground.

AVIATEUR     2monu_chinon__6__37

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I remember the festive airport dedication which included a small cannon donated by L.D. “Don” Donelan, pharmacist and pilot who owned the sole hangar at the airport.   Don had acquired the cannon from E. L. Gould.  I had heard that someone stole the little cannon that had been used back in the Indian Days at Fort Halleck back in 1880.  Not true!  Cheryl took this photo before we departed Saratoga September 20th, 2017:

The monument is in dire need of repair.  It looks like a mad buffalo was angry and rammed it a couple of times.  Hopefully, some corporate money staying at the Old Baldy Club will come to the rescue?

Don’s son, Jerry Don Donelan, was born in the room above the front porch of the home we later owned on Bridge St.  That room became my sister’s bedroom.

Jerry, three years older, was a mentor as well.   He was ahead of me in school and in flying.   After he gained his pilot certification we often flew in his Dad’s Luscombe and, later, Don’s Piper Tri-Pacer.

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Don & Fan Donelan with Don’s Luscombe Silvaire . Don on the left – Fan second from right…

Saratoga aiprot manager Don Donelan, right, with his 1946 Luscombe 65 aiplane. First hanger at aiprot on right.

L. D. (Don) Donelan gassing a transient airplane at Shively Field

Jerry Donelan, left, and Joe Jones taking flying lessons at Saratoga airport in mide 1950’s. First hanger in background.

Saratoga airport manager Don Donelan, left, with son Jerry at Saratoga airport in 1950’s

jerry-donelan-with-plane2 Jerry with the Winn Dixie Twin Beech he flew

Jerry was the last one my father taught to fly from start to finish.   Pop taught me as well but it was Les Larson in Cheyenne who finished up my Private Certificate training.

Don Donelan airplane at Saratoga airport in 1950's with hanger to left and Saratoga in background to right

Pop had a Luscombe T-8F with 90 horse power and a Sorenson tank that he used to spray the dreaded Platte River mosquitoes.  He soon realized it was grossly underpowered for spraying from an airport seven thousand feet above sea level.   He sold the Luscombe!

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1953-cessna-180

Then he bought a 1953 Cessna 180 (shown above) with 225 horse power.   Another Sorenson tank and spray booms, all quick-removable, were added making a fine machine to attack those swarms of dastardly mosquitoes, two of which could carry an 150 pound man 40 yards before he could shake loose.   Yup!  Mean and nasty they were.   Today it is a rare instance of a mosquito problems around Saratoga.

I was a freshman in high school and was telling some of my teammates about my father teaching me to fly.   Pretty soon I was challenged to the premise that I couldn’t fly an airplane.   Around airplanes my entire life, I had some formal lessons by then.  Not surprisingly, I was overly confident that I could, in fact, fly.  More egging-on.

Before I took the time to use my head in considering the ramifications, I was home getting the key to my Dad’s Cessna.   He was out of town in Denver for some parts to his D-8.   That meant I was largely unsupervised.   Not a good thing.

Then I headed to the airport with pals Norm Perue and Ted Wilson.   They were as sure of stumping me into an embarrassing moment as I was showing them I could fly.

Below:  Teddy Wilson below – Below Teddy, the author sitting behind Norm in our 1957 Sophomore Class photo.

At fourteen, I was some two years too young to solo.   Then and now the minimum age to solo is sixteen.   The minimum age to qualify for an FAA Private Pilots Certificate is seventeen.

Undaunted, I approached my father’s Cessna and began un-chaining it from it’s tie-down.  I checked the oil, checked the fuel quantity, drained the gascolator sump, and performed a walk-around carefully checking all the controls, tires, etc.   Just like I’d been taught.   Teddy and Norm were looking at one-another no doubt thinking “…he’s actually going to try to fly this thing!”

“OK guys, here’s the deal.   If we get caught, I will not be the only one in trouble, understand? If my father knew, he’d skin all three of us, and if the CAA or the police find out, there will be hell to pay.  Are we clear?  Do I have your word?”  They both nodded.

Why, if I had the presence of mind to consider what might happen, would I do such a thing?   Likely, I just wanted to “Devil be Dare.”

Norm was seated in the back, Ted sat up front with me.  I soon had the engine running.   I taxied to the run-up pad to warm up the engine and check the magnetos and propeller mechanism.   Then, worried someone might see us and report back to my father, I did another dumb thing!

Shively Field has a single runway with a steep gradient.   Regardless of the wind, one always took off downhill and landed uphill.   Not THAT Day!

Using a notch of flap I added power and off we went!   Surprisingly, we were airborne sooner than I had thought possible.  I made a gentle right turn away from the hill off the southwest end of the runway.  Ted and Norm were conspicuously silent.   I glanced at Ted.  He glanced back keeping his head moving to meet eye to eye with Norm.   They were sure we would die!

Holy Smokes!  I spotted a dust trail coming down Spring Creek Road.   This is the road to the Cushing Ranch where the McIllvane family lived.   I’m thinking that is likely Charlie McIllvane!   He’ll recognize Pop’s airplane and likely mention it.

I did a quick 270 degree turn back and did another really dumb thing!   I landed downhill!   No one was more surprised than me when the airplane slicked on the runway like every pilot’s dream.    My heart was in my throat and, regardless of the cool Wyoming air, I was sweating.

Next we taxied back and tied the airplane down.   I looked at the recording tachometer and wondered if my father would notice the small change from his last flight?   He never did.

As far as I know both Ted and Norm never betrayed the confidence of our agreement.   I never told anyone until I told my father years later.

It was the summer of 1971 when my Dad was visiting Cheryl and me in Salt Lake City.   I was a pilot with Frontier Airlines then, and Cheryl was a stewardess.   Pop and I were sitting at the kitchen counter having a beer.   I said “Pop, I have something I really need to get off my chest!”  He just looked at me waiting.

I told him the story about my having “stolen” his Cessna 180 and taken a couple of pals for a joy ride when I was fourteen.   He just looked at me.   You know “THE LOOK!”   He never said a word about it, but I’m sure he was thinking about the things I should have considered.   Things such as liability, CAA enforcement, etc.   Luck does play a part in the scheme of things…

Some of the really enjoyable things to do in and around Saratoga in the fifties were hunting, fishing, seasonally swimming or skiing, horseback riding, and, of course, supervised flying.   I never flew any more passengers until receiving my private pilots certification (PPL) on my 17th birthday.

Bud Rhoadarmer and Roy Rasmussen

Every chance I had, I would drive the forty miles to the Rawlins airport.  Airport operator,  Bud Rhoadarmer, had a little 65 horsepower Piper J-3 “Cub” for rent.  Three bucks an hour! …and the gas was included!   Bud Rhoadarmer was a quiet unassuming fellow well respected in Wyoming aviation.  His son Bill and I are still friends.   Bill having a great career in aviation as a corporate pilot/chief pilot.   Bill and I along with others such as fellow Frontier pilot, Dennis Koontz, owe Bud Rhoabrdmer a lot.

In those days Roy Rasmussen worked for the FAA as a Flight Service Station Specialist. During WWII Roy had worked for my father as a Plains Airways flight instructor.   In the 1950s Roy was assigned to the Rawlins FSS.  He had stayed active instructing and became, for a time, my instructor.

I would rent Mr. Rhoadarmer’s little Cub and off we’d go.   I was having the time of my life!   Additionally, I was getting some time in my Dad’s Cessna 180 and the Donelan Luscombe.   I had one hundred and seventeen hours logged when I legally soloed.  That is nearly three times the time needed for the private certificate!  (Note:  The FAA in it’s desire to add to the confusion issues certificates but calls them a license.  A PPL, (private pilots license), is actually a private pilots certificate.   Apparently, it is easy to take back a certificate and more difficult to take back a license).

Joe Davis was at the Cheyenne airfield for my first LEGAL solo September 30, 1957.  It was my sixteenth birthday.   Joe would later learn to fly and has owned three airplanes to date.   Below:   Joe flying my new Cessna Skylane from Grand Junction to Lake Powell where we clambered aboard a houseboat for some more quality time shared.  scans-flying-and-friends-1

Kippy, Cheryl & Joe in my new Cessna Skylane at Lake Powell 1976.

BILLY, THE FOOTBALL STAR

We moved along one year following another.   Soon, I was a senior at Platte Valley High School.   I was a captain of the team playing linebacker.   I had begun my less than illustrious football career as a freshman, the first year Saratoga fielded a team since prior to WWII!

My freshman year Mom asked me what position I played.   I said “…end, guard, and tackle!”  She said “Really?”  I said, “Sure, I sit on the end of the bench, guard the water bucket, and tackle anyone trying to get it!”   I didn’t play much my freshman year.   Come to think of it none of the team played much; we lost every game that year.  Jerry Donelan was the quarterback.  Reg Lord, was our coach.

We didn’t do much better when I was a sophomore.  We  improved some my junior year and had a great season my senior year.  Clyde Thrasher was our quarterback.  Dennis Reagan was our coach.   The 1957 “S” Club of Saratoga’s lettermen show Coach Reagan in the first row right side.  Clyde is in the third row second from the left.  Champion wrestling coach, Dale Federer, is seated far left in the first row.

One day at football practice I was carrying the ball in, what I thought was, an impressive style.   Apparently, Gene Ence and Charlie Swanson thought otherwise.   One hit me high, the other low on my right knee and WHAM!   Down I went!   I fumbled the ball and was writhing in unimaginable pain.   Finally, Doc Corbett showed up and quickly had my right knee cap moved from behind my knee back into it’s original position along with the knee joint itself.   He thought I should have a specialist look at it suspecting ligament damage.

My knee was soon filled with synovial fluid with ice being of little help.   Pop called his friend, Red Jacoby, athletic director at the University of Wyoming.   Soon after Pop’s call, Mom drove me to Laramie where the UW trainers went to work.   I spent time in their whirlpools which I found to be therapeutic.

With the knee healed, I became an amazing wrestler!  PVHS had several championships with a number of individual state champions.  The late-great Coach Dale Federer was our FFA teacher, shop teacher, and the father of Saratoga wrestling.   Two in my class became state champions.  Merle Oxford and Norm Perue were State Champs along with Norm’s older brother, Ron.   The most amazing of all was Perue cousin, David Edington.  He was an undefeated state champion for four consecutive years in different weights!  Look for Dave’s story, a separate tribute to a truly great individual.

I, on the other hand, had a perfect season.   I lost every single match I wrestled in!  

BILLY’s INNOVATION

Back in Saratoga, I was soaking my bum knee in the Hobo Pool’s hot springs when my “inventive light bulb” went off.   I looked at the hot springs and thought “…what if!”

Next, I pilfered one of my Dad’s Evinrude boat motors and rigged it up to make a whirlpool out of those hot springs.   Eureka!  It worked GREAT!

After the third time I received a visit from the town constable.   He threatened me with arrest and a fine if I ever brought that boat motor anywhere close to the Hobo Pool’s hot springs.

hobopool

I asked him what the problem was.   He explained that a number of the older town folk liked to drink the mineral water produced by the hot springs and failed to appreciate the new taste produced by Pop’s ol’ Evinrude!  Well SHOOT! …another great innovation shot down!

I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a great football player, but I accomplished something unique in annals of high school football.   It is very likely no one else has accomplished this feat before or since.

However, it would take a move from Wyoming to Arizona to make it happen.  I earned FIVE varsity football letters!   In fact it is rare, these days, for a young person to earn more than two varsity football letters.   There is freshman football, junior varsity football, and varsity football in most schools.

Our son, Preston, was a great player in high school and college.   As a freshman, he was pulled up to varsity for a couple of games.   By his senior year, he’d become his team’s MVP earning All State and All Arizona recognition.  He was named to the USA Today All America list.   He went on to earn a full-ride scholarship at the prestigious Villanova University.

(2016) Our grandson, Dylan, a freshman, is six foot four inches and the tallest on his team playing varsity football.  Dylan is a starter both on offense and defense as well as being his team’s kicker.   Preston thinks Dylan is twice the athlete he was.   We are going to enjoy watching Dylan during the next few years.  Already, in his sophomore season, Dylan has two “Plays of the Week” receiving national recognition on Hudl and Max Preps.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH!

pic-walker-bill-forest-shay-ranch-1953-10

 Pic Walker & Bill Forrest

Bill Forrest was the ranch foreman on the Shay Ranch south of Saratoga on the North Platte River.  Bill’s wife, Ruby, was a terrific cook and, in a way, she provided me with my first bicycle!  Their three children, Rose, Bill Jr., and Penny, were all slightly older than me.   Penny is the sole survivor of the Forest Family.   She is a recent widow living in Alaska.

KILROY

Ruby raised pigs on our ranch.   I bought one of her piglets for $3 and took him home to raise.   I called him “Kilroy.”  Kilroy thought he was a dog!   Until he grew to an unmanageable size, Kilroy was a terrific family pet.   He was smart except for thinking he was a dog.

An example was one evening when our family was seated at the dinner table, there was a knock at the door.   It was Bobby Corpening, and he had Kilroy under his arm.   “Is this your pig?” Bobby asked.  My Dad acknowledged that he belonged to me.  Bobby said that he’d found him running with a pack of dogs.   Yup, he really thought he was a dog!  In those days, in a small town of 800 inhabitants, many of Saratoga’s dogs ran loose.   No collar or license, just loose.   Everyone seemed to know whose was who’s.

During this time I had a nice Springer Spaniel named Charlie.  Charlie ran around with his sister who belonged to Kendall and Carolyn McBride.   Charlie was a great dog and taught Kilroy how to fit in.

img_0043   

Charlie – Pic & Kilroy

Times such as Bobby Corpening bringing Kilroy home happened a time or two before my Dad insisted we build Kilroy a pen.   Also, Pop had Doc Pierson, Saratoga’s veterinary, extract Kilroy’s tusks.   He likely wouldn’t have intentionally hurt anyone, but those tusks would have been formidable obstacles as wrestling Kilroy, became a popular neighborhood sport.   I learned to never wrestle with a pig.  You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.    I could have come up with a famous adage if George Bernard Shaw hadn’t beat me to it!

Kilroy, eating the scraps from the kitchen at the Inn, got rather huge.   Finally, Kilroy became too large and unmanageable.  So, my father loaded Kilroy into the pickup and took him back to the Shay Ranch.  He turned him out with the rest of the pigs.   The resident hogs did not like Kilroy and tried to kill him.   The pen was three sided with the open end in the North Platte River.  The other pigs tried to drive him into the river where he would drown.  So, we put him in a separate pen.

I sold Kilroy to Marvin and Mavis Reid who owned the Cowboy Bar in Encampment.  Marvin was the foreman on our Cedar Creek Ranch.  He was a true Westerner having cowboy’d all his life.  I went fishing a lot with Marvin and he gave me one of his old guns, a Winchester 45-90.    Marvin was at the ranch one day and asked me what I was going to do with Kilroy.   He was no longer a pet of course, but I had not thought further.   Marvin paid me $57.36 for Kilroy and I am left totally stumped as to how we arrived at that figure.

I took the cash and went straight to Shively Hardware and started going thru the Schwinn catalogue.   There was a picture of a beautiful Schwinn Panther bicycle.  I paid for it when I ordered it.  I recall how anxious I was waiting for that bike’s arrival.  Johnny Glode “checked me out” explaining what needed to be done in order to keep the bike in good shape. In my imagination, it was a P-51 “Mustang.”  I wore it out on the streets of Saratoga.  I wore out several decks of cards and clothes-pins too.   The cards made a terrific sound as I roared down the streets in town.

KINO

My next favorite pet was “Kino” a registered Hungarian Visla.   Kino was given to me by a breeder from Boulder, Colorado.   They were guests at the Inn and thought Saratoga would be a good safe place for one of their dogs.   I think they assumed Kino would be trained to hunt, but Kino was just my pal.   He even slept with me.  I hunted a lot with Kino at my side, but he was never trained and never pointed out a single bird.

Saratoga proved not to be a safe place for Kino as he was hit by an irresponsible teenage driver.  A very sad day at the Walker household.   It would be a long time before I  had another dog.

Hungarian Vizsla puppy, 13 weeks old, lying with chin on floor

Kino

 

By the mid fifty’s things were getting tough economically.  The Walker Brothers sold the Cedar Creek Ranch.  Then the sheep market collapsed at a time when we ran six-thousand head.  The Inn was barely getting by, although it was grand place with much to offer especially to the hunters, fishermen, and golfers.

DON KENT and JOHNNY WALKER

I remember two of my Dad’s favorite workers.  Don Kent and Johnny Walker (no relation).  Don came from a well-to-do eastern family who often vacationed at the Inn.  Johnny was from hard scrabble Alabama and went to the University of Wyoming on a football scholarship.   I discovered how strong Johnny was one day when I had a flat tire on my mother’s Studebaker.

I was with Butch Brennan and Jimmy Hirsig, Cheyenne neighborhood pals who were in Saratoga to see how much mischief we could accomplish.  We were driving around the golf course at the Inn when some phantom object caused the tire to deflate.  No problem for us notwithstanding, I was the oldest and still too young to drive legally.

I got out the jack and spare tire.   I jacked up the car and just about had the spare on, when the jack slipped and down came the Studebaker on my right foot.   I started yelling and cussin’ like crazy.  Johnny was nearby and came to investigate the racket.  In-between cuss words I asked him to get this blankly-blank car off me.   Johnny, a very straight-laced southern boy said, “Not until you quit that cussin’!”  I’m not the sharpest knife in the block, but I readily discerned that my plight would not lessen until I stopped my belligerency.   I stopped.   Johnny, all by himself, lifted the car!   I got out from under the car with nothing broken except some scuffed skin on the top of my foot.   Johnny repositioned the jack and changed the tire and we miscreants were off on another mission of dastardly deeds.

Don Kent went on to become a doctor of veterinary medicine while Johnny Walker became the head of the women’s track team at the University of Wyoming.

In addition to my ranch duties working with cattle, sheep, and horses, I had some odd jobs of sorts at the Inn.   I would be a bell hop and liked that due to some of the terrific tips I received.  I would be required to perform lawn and pool maintenance and maintenance on the various pieces of equipment usually working with someone who actually knew what they were doing.  My Dad made sure every piece of equipment with Zerk fittings was greased after use.  And, he believed in changing the oil regularly.

I was actually lazy and remember working harder at getting out of work than actually working.   Unless, of course flying was a result of those efforts.  For sure, my father’s airplane never wanted for being kept clean.

I’m reminded of other revelations during this formative part of moving from one year into the next.   I was noticing girls!   I was literally surrounded by some very lovely specimens of the female species.   From our front porch I could look left and see the Gould home filled with three pretty girls.   If I looked right, I could see the Wilson home filled with another three pretty girls.  One of the Wilson girls, Martha Jo “Jody,” was a classmate.

You would think that out of six at least one would be attracted to me.  Nope, not a single one!   However, when we moved to Saratoga in my fourth grade class, Shirley Sanders became my first girl friend.   We are still friends.   Shirley eventually married my pal, Brent Carpenter, Kenny’s older brother, who sadly succumbed to COPD a couple of years ago.

MISGUIDED INNOVATIONS

Another invention that I remember is one Gordon “Joe” Misso remembers as well.   I rigged up an empty fifty-five gallon drum with ropes tied to two huge cottonwood trees in our yard, similar to the image below.   I “borrowed” one of the saddles from the Inn’s tack-room and mounted it to the drum.

buckin-barrel

BUCKING BARREL

Several of my pals would feel challenged to ride this bucking bronco of a barrel albeit few would last the requisite eight seconds. Gordon was one of those.  With one of us pulling on the front rope and another pulling the back rope we could put the legendary Steamboat to shame.   Off went Gordon landing in a crashing heap and staring at his obviously broken arm.

My father after hearing of the bumps and bruises, along with Gordon’s broken arm, brought my newest innovation to a screeching halt.   “Dismantle that damn thing NOW!”   I did.

By age 15 I had my driver’s license and my first car, a 1938 Chevy 4-door.  I bought it from Lewis Stolins for twenty five bucks!  …and it ran fine.   Ok it mighta been a bit sorry lookin’ having been painted by brush.  But, it ran really well.   It had a straight six engine that I thought would sound much better with dual pipes.

Down at River Street Motors, I discovered Mr. Sojden had a brand new tail pipe for a 1938 Chevy in stock.   I then enlisted Louie Stolins help and we split the manifold and then braised the new pipe in place.  It sounded great.   That car even had a radio that played along with a working heater.

The car is, today, likely sitting out in the sagebrush east of Saratoga.   Clyde Thrasher, Kendall McBride, and I were chasing Antelope with the car off road bouncing over the sage brush trying to get into a shooting spot having spotted a nice buck.   BANG!  Then BANG again!   It wasn’t a gun going off it was the knee action front end joints on the car.   We walked back to town.   The car never moved again and, as far as I know, sits forlornly in the middle of the sagebrush.   Apparently, the knee-action front-end suspension wasn’t built to chase antelope over rough two-tracks and sagebrush…

JIMMY BERNATOW AND HIS BUICK CLASSIC

Clyde Thrasher, Jimmy Bernatow and I went fishin’ east of town in Jimmy’s Buick “Classic.”  Jimmy’s Buick was definitely a classic!   I wish a photo of that car survived it would impress!   Jimmy’s Buick was a frame with an engine and drive train propelling four totally different tires he had likely pilfered from his father’s gas station.  On top of the frame sat four nondescript seats, also classic.  Of course there was a steering wheel and gear-shift mechanism.   It was a “Goin’ Jessy!”

Off we went on a beautiful summer day.   I don’t remember if we actually caught any fish, but I remember getting lost cutting across Debbie Chastain’s ranch!   We looked and looked for a gate, but all we found was mile after mile of fence.

Frustrated we finally, albeit reluctantly, decided to cut the fence.  After getting on the county road next to the fence we re-wired the fence so that no one would know we had been there.

A day or two later the three of us were confronted by the FBI!   Apparently, someone at the Chastain Ranch saw where the fence had been cut along with a less than professional repair.  RUSTLERS!  Yup!  It must be rustlers so the FBI along with the Carbon County Sheriff were on the case.

They took tire prints.  What!  Four different treads?  Well Jimmy’s Buick was unique and there were a lot of folks who knew about the four different treads.   So, it wasn’t long before the perpetrators were discovered hiding behind the identities of high schoolers.

We finally convinced everyone that we were not rustlers but actually students of off-road navigation that needed more education in that endeavor.   We agreed to properly repair the fence and to never trespass on Debbie Chastain’s ranch again.  WHEW!  No harm, no foul.   Alls well that ends well…

THE END OF A 25 YEAR PARTNERSHIP

One October day in 1958, after football practice, I went home to wash my folks car prior to a movie date.  It wasn’t there.   I went into the house and found my Mother in tears.   I asked what was wrong.  She wouldn’t say.   I asked where the car was.  Mom said,  “River Street Motors!”

Confused and not knowing what to expect, I ran the three blocks or so to the Sojden’s to discover our family car, a 1957 Ford station wagon, had been impounded with a threatening sign from the county sheriff stating, “No one is to move this vehicle under the penalty of…”  I ran back to the house and discovered Mom more composed.  She said that my Dad’s brother (take note I don’t refer to this scoundrel as “uncle”) had done something bad and some creditors had attached our house and  car.  She went on to say that my now least favorite relative had been selling my father’s stock by forging Pop’s signature.   My mother had serendipitously discovered this when she was helping with the bookkeeping at the Inn.

My parents philosophy was to not buy any personal property unless they could pay cash for it.   My Dad’s brother’s philosophy was to buy things on time.   His car was not impounded since it was already encumbered.  I ran to the Inn to see my Dad, past the shiny new Oldsmobile with red leather upholstery that my uncle had recently “bought.”

Sitting in the Inn’s dinning room was my Dad’s brother and aunt Muggs.  Ostensibly, he was flim-flamming a guest as I later surmised.   I told my this scoundrel that I needed to speak with him.   He became indignant and told me I was being rude to interrupt his conversation.   I told him that what I had to say should be more private, but that I would say what I came to say, regardless.

I had no idea what I was going to say, but I never remember being so angry ever before.   I still do not know if I was angry for what he’d done against my parents or for his actions causing me to cancel my date.  But, I sure was angry.  There is another word for this and that other word was the one best describing my emotional make up at the time.

“He” jumps up and brushes by me saying, “come with me.”  I followed him thru the foyer, and by the time we arrived at his office, I had absolutely no clue as to what to say.   He turned around and started to say something.  Suddenly, I hit him so hard he went backwards across his desk landing in an awkward position.   I was in pretty good shape then at 185 pounds and captain of the football team.  He felt it!    So did I!  My hand hurt like hell but I wasn’t going to let on that it hurt.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good and remember my right knee shaking uncontrollably.   However, I kept my fierce look and my fist clinched having no clue as to what would happen next.

Uncle’s feet were up against the edge of the desk with the rest of him in his chair.   Shaking his head, he reached next to him for the phone and hit the direct line to my Dad’s office.  No plush office for Pop.  His “office” was actually the shop (part of the heating plant) next to the railway tracks on the west edge of the Inn property.

This, now former uncle, told my Dad that I had hit him and he needed to come right away.  I could hear my father’s voice say “…maybe you should listen to him” and he hung up.   My relationship with my Dad began right then and there.   Simultaneously, my father’s relationship with his scurrilous brother ended right then and there.

I would be the beneficiary of numerous lessons life offers and what character should be.  My parents did very little in vocal instructions believing that teaching by example their preferred method.   Of course there were instances in my miscreant youth where the rod (actually my father’s belt) was not spared.

I remember distinctly the sound of that belt swiftly pulled thru the loops in his pants as he told me, “Son, this will hurt me more than it hurts you!”   That I discovered, was the only time my father lied to me.   The one time I spanked my son, Preston, I told him the truth.   Smarter than me, Preston earned but that single spanking.   Preston’s story will be in a separate blog.

Soon after my giving uncle a fat lip, my parents straightened out the car and home legal situation.  My folks had their attorney dissolve my father’s fifty-fifty partnership with his rotten brother.  Mom and I wanted Pop to sue his brother.   Pop just walked away from a sad situation saying, “Not while my mother is alive!”  They had been fifty-fifty partners for twenty five years.

Pop’s youngest brother, Bob, owned a big cattle truck.  So, we borrowed it and Pop moved us to Arizona.

I wanted to stay in Saratoga and graduate with my classmates.   We’d been together since fourth grade.  It was natural for me to want that.   I argued that David Edington had lived in a little trailer alone since his folks moved to Jeff-City located in north central Wyoming.  I further argued that Dave made good grades and was the states greatest wrestling champion.  I thought that I was winning this debate.

I argued that the schools in Arizona were huge by comparison and that I was in the top twenty in my class at PVHS.   My little sister piped up and said, “…but there are only twenty one in your class!”   I said, “OK, then I’m in the top twenty one!”

I wasn’t the best student.   Never was.   Gene Smith, was the high school math teacher.  He thought I was too dumb to learn and always put me down. Perhaps he knew what would ultimately challenge me.  It did and, educationally, things would be vastly different in Arizona.   I went from being in the top twenty in my class in Saratoga to the bottom three hundred and seventy something in my Scottsdale High School graduating class.

Then Jerry Donelan presented his argument. Jerry Donelan had been staying with his aunt and going to school at the university in Tempe, AZ.   Likely, my father put him up to it, but Jerry convinced me that moving to Arizona would be the best thing for me regardless of my desire to stay in Saratoga.   One word did it.   Airplanes!

Jerry spelled out that the potential opportunity to fly would be enhanced by the rich aviation enterprises existing in Arizona.   I will always be indebted to Jerry for nudging me.  Otherwise, I would have found it necessary to work for a living.   As it turned out, I was paid to do my hobby!   Like my pal, Ed Newberg says, “Find something you enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life!”  I’ve proved that statement a truism!

Off to Arizona with the Walker Bunch and an entirely new adventure.  Gene Smith would have been amazed at my academic transformation.

One word describes my life so far, “serendipitous!”

The Arizona story to follow…