The Old Cobbler didn’t do as much reading as usual before Christmas. There is a new lady in my life, and I was busy getting her a new set of wheels. I wasn’t out buying a new model, but rather refurbishing a thirty-four-year-old one that had been in storage for a while.
My son received a Radio Town & Country stake wagon for his first birthday in August 1974. It’s not remembered when my son outgrew the wagon, but he got his first bike at age five, trading four wheels for two.
It’s easy to assume the wagon spent close to three decades in storage, collecting the patina that can only come from an attic. But every minute spent on cleaning, repainting the metal, and refinishing the wood, was worth it.
Son Thad: August 1974
My granddaughter Kate will be one year old in three months. So, it seemed appropriate to give her a chance to repeat an experience her father had when he received his new wheels. It was a great Christmas present to experience the unique reaction that the big red wagon once again evoked.
Granddaughter Kate: Christmas 2008
Kids seem to know the drill. The reaction was the same, first with a son, and then with a granddaughter. It didn't take long for either one to grab on to a rail and assume that "Let's go" look on their face.
But there is a thought about the wagon. Wonder if it can talk, share secrets about father Thad to granddaughter Kate?
It's a testament to the quality of Radio Flyer, which has been in business since 1917. The wagon is as solid now as it was when bought in 1974. They truly do produce today's toys, tomorrow's treasures.
WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL HOME OF BRONSON L. PARKER. A native of Tennessee, "Bo" is a former journalist and writer of historical non-fiction. His creative writing career began after retirement from his day job as an appointed public servant in his adopted town of Hampton, VA. "It isn't a gipe site," he says. "If I enjoy something I read, or learn something about the writing game that I think is worthwhile, I'll have a few comments to make. His goal is to make it a fun site, both to write and, hopfully, to read.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Watch World Flight By Army at EncycloMedia.com
There is a perspective on the 1924 flight around the world by members of the US Army Air Service that has never been told within the myriad of stories and articles written on the flight. It comes from the historical records of the Hampton Rotary Club.
In those days, the commanding officer at Langley Field was automatically a member of the Club. Colonel Charles Danforth held the slot in the spring of 1924.
He arrived at one of the club’s weekly meeting with four pilots in tow. Major Frederick L. Martin, Lieutenants Erik L. Nelson, Lowell H. Smith, and Leigh Wade were introduced to the membership.
These four aviators, who would attempt the round-the-world flight, had arrived at Langley Field in February for flight training in a prototype of the aircraft they would fly. The four were made “regular” members during their stay at Langley field.
Major Martin spoke to the club, explaining the mission and the plane they would fly. The Douglas Aircraft Company had designed and was building modified biplanes for the mission.
A 450-horsepower Liberty engine would power the “World Cruisers,” giving the aircraft a range of 2,200 miles. The design allowed for use of either pontoons or wheels. Ground crews would switch gear as the route dictated.
Each plane would be named in honor of an American City. Major Martin, with Sgt. Alva L. Harvey his riding mechanic, would be at the controls of SEATTLE. Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith, with Lt. Leslie P. Arnold his mechanic, would pilot CHICAGO.
Lieutenant Leigh Wade would be at the controls of BOSTON, with Sgt. Henry H. Ogden along as mechanic. Lieutenants Erik H. Nelson (pilot) and John Harding Jr (mechanic) would travel in the craft named NEW ORLEANS.
In March, the four pilots left for Santa Monica, California, where they would pick up the four aircraft at the factory and fly them to Sand Point Airfield in Seattle, Washington, the official starting point for the flight.
During the following weeks, the Club members became one of the best-informed civilian groups during the flight’s progress, thanks to weekly reports from Langley’s commanding officer.
They were told a minor accident delayed the official start of the trip until April 6. Other accidents and malfunctions, which caused additional delays, were reported weekly as the four aircraft traveled up the Alaskan coast.
The club was stunned when told that on April 30, the SEATTLE had disappeared and apparently crashed during heavy weather on the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula.
However joy returned on May 13 when Colonel Danforth told the group that the pilot, Major Martin, and his mechanic, Sgt. Alva Harvey had survived the crash and were safe and unharmed.
The club said good-bye to Colonel Danforth in late May when he was transferred to a post in Georgia. Colonel Harry Graham took over as Langley’s commanding officer.
On July 1, Col. Graham told the club that the flight, which had reached Calcutta, had completed some 12,275 miles, over half way around the world. He said the flight was only one month behind its original timetable.
The flight left Calcutta, crossed Turkey and Europe, reaching Scotland without incident. However a major incident and weather would dominate events over the coming weeks.
An engine malfunction forced the BOSTON into a crash landing near the Faroe Islands, midway between Scotland and Iceland. Its pilot and now flight commander, Lt. Wade escaped injury, as did his mechanic. But the plane sank when an attempt to retrieve it failed.
The prototype aircraft, still at Langley Field, was readied for flight and dubbed BOSTON II. The goal was to fly the plane to Iceland to join the two remaining aircraft. However, sea conditions prevented the BOSTON II from making it past Nova Scotia.
Hampton Rotarians were sweating through a heat wave of 100 plus temperatures in August, a far cry from conditions in the north Atlantic. Waters needed by the aircraft for takeoffs and landings were clogged with ice, held in the area by a series of storms, including one hurricane.
Military brass met in Iceland on August 9, giving serious consideration to abandoning the balance of the mission. The Hampton Rotarians sent a telegram to the gathering, urging that the flight continue if at all possible.
History does not reveal if the telegram was a factor in the decision to continue with the two remaining planes. Lt. Wade and his mechanic, Sgt. Ogden, traveled to Nova Scotia aboard on a navy vessel.
They took possession of BOSTON II, the replacement craft from Langley, and joined the two remaining original craft. The three planes reached Boston on September 8, and flew over New York the following day.
The flight hop scotched across the country, ending back in Seattle on September 28, but that event did not end the Rotary Club’s involvement. Major Frederick Martin returned on November 11, to relate to the group his ill-fated and short-lived part of the journey.
He told the group that during a takeoff near Seattle, a wave struck his prop tips, and then one of the plane’s pontoons was punctured when it struck a buoy. The start of the flight was delayed for a day while his plane was repaired.
The four planes then flew to Prince Rupert Sound where his craft stalled on landing, damaging struts and bracing wires. Local carpenters were located that were able to repair the damage.
Once the fleet was again airborne, the crankcase on the SEATTLE’s engine split, leading to a forced landing. He and Sgt. Alva Harvey spent a cold night adrift before being rescued.
Once again the plane was repaired and the fleet resumed its journey. It would be the last leg of the flight for Major Martin and Sgt. Harvey. He gave the details of his crash on an Alaskan mountain.
The flight encountered blinding snow and heavy fog. Neither he nor Sgt. Harvey saw the mountain before crashing into it. Both men, shaken but uninjured, crawled from their severely damaged craft to learn it had come to rest within five feet of a very dangerous precipice.
The two men stripped wood and other materials from the craft for building fires. This, plus emergency rations Major Martin had personally bought before leaving California saved the pair from the cold and starvation.
They used the planes wings and snow to build a crude shelter around the plane’s cargo bay where they stayed for two nights. They then began an eight-day hike that took them to a fishing camp on the coast.
Major Martin expressed his disappointment in not being able to continue his participation in the flight, but said the “tremendous support and interest” shown by the Rotary Club helped to “soften the disappointment.”
The first circumnavigation of the world took 175 days. Flight time was 371 hours, accumulated over fifteen days. Speed was not the mission’s goal. The flight proved that with skilled pilots, proper equipment, and ground support, the U. S. military could extend its presence to any point on the globe.