Saturday

Dinner with a Legend

Former DOT Secretary and Congressman from California Norm Mineta (Right)
who is a legend, and Me, the guy who has never done anything worthwhile (Left). 
Friday the 13th is usually considered a day of bad luck, things going wrong and general ill winds. However, on Friday the 13th, of December 2019 the day would become an unforgettable good one for me.

The day before I got a text from my buddy, fellow ERAU alumnis and author Bob Brantner. He had spoken to me a few weeks earlier asking if I wanted to attend the annual Wright Memorial dinner with him and his dad, former DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta- who very much prefers to simply be called "Norm." It would be a "black-tie" event and the tickets were $250... each. Of course I could hand out a few business cards and deduct the ticket cost, but that term "black-tie" was like scratching a blackboard to me (for those of you who do not recall what a blackboard is, the reference used here indicates a very annoying noise that causes a shiver to run up your spine. - Advice from a boomer to the generation know-it-all, yet experienced nothing). My normal formal wardrobe involves jeans, sneakers and a CCM Hockey T-shirt. I suggest to Bob that I'd probably pass on the offer. On Thursday morning, however, he hit me with a text saying that his dad had bought six tickets to the event and two people had dropped out, so now I had a free seat and if need be, just a suit and tie would be fine. I said I'd have to contact Teresa and see what she had scheduled for Friday.

Texting my wife I outlined the situation. Now, she has been working as an FAA contractor at several different companies since 1990... she replied, "NORM! You GOTTA GO!!!" I responded that I did not have tux. She fired back, "It's Norm Mineta. RENT ONE!" Then a moment later she sent another message saying that I did to have a tux- "Look in your armour."  I went to the armour and began sliding back the "good shirts," ties and dozen hockey jerseys all of which were waiting for countless years steeped in the atmosphere of cedar wood. There against the back wall was a single hanger with a plastic bag-draped item that had not been disturbed since New Years Eve 1999... it was my long forgotten tux that was older than both of our children.

Of course the first question was... does it still fit? Pulling it out, the pants, jacket and shirt amazingly still fit. In fact the pants were slightly large. Examining the jacket closely I found one small moth hole on the sleeve so tiny that no one would notice. Next I dug out the shoes... the damned things fit too! My only issue was that the shirt collar was too small to button. The tie would hide that. I was in business and I quickly texted Bob and told him to count me in.

Friday morning I decided to get a start by putting some badly needed polish on the shoes. Opening the can I found what had once been the polish was now dried up and cracked, looking very much like a lunar sample that had just been re-opened after a half century. Additionally I found that I did not have a plain white T-shirt! Every shirt that I had was garnished with some sort of block writing or insane image. It was sure bet that people looking at the front of my tux shirt would be able to read "WKRP in Cincinnati" in red letters right through it! It struck me that I was a long way from my days as a corporate pilot where the shoes were shined and the ties were ironed. Thus it was a dash to Walmart. Now... just try to find a package with one, size L mens crew neck T-shirt, in that place. All that was on the shelf was the packages of 8 or 6 and most were size 3XL... which I guess was the hottest seller at Walmart along with the wife-beater shirt because they had plenty of them. Finally, after strolling around a bit and digging up to my elbows I found a pack of two! The shoe polish was easy, but as I picked up the can I heard one of the other shoppers mumble, "What the hell do ya' use that for?" Apparently our wardrobe normality was similar.
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That afternoon with freshly polished shoes I donned my tux which felt happy to finally be out of the armour. Yet I considered that I'd be way more comfortable in my hockey gear, but had hope that I may somehow blend in with the black-tie crowd. Teresa was, as always, working from home on Friday as I stepped out of our room and into the living room to show her how I looked and with the hope that she'd catch any glaring errors. Of course since she was working from home, I was pretty much invisible. I cleared my throat to get her attention. She looked over, smiled slightly and twinkled her fingers to indicate either "good bye," or "get lost" I'm never sure which.

To get a signed/personalized copy
click HERE to get the e-book
click HERE


Driving to meet the rest of the party I stopped at a red light and the guy next to me looked over as if to say, "humph... a waiter." Then navigating to Norm's house, my amazing Google navigation gave me a last moment wrong turn and I found myself in the driveway of a dilapidated country house with two disabled rusting pickup trucks and a mountain of trash in the year. The rusting screen door had a hand-scrolled sign hanging on it that read "BEWAR OF DOG."

I knew that Norm was a down to earth sort of guy, but that could not be his house. A quick call to Bob got me turned back in the right direction and soon I joined the Mineta team. In the gang, which was led by Norm Mineta, were  Bob, who was directing activities, plus Patrick McCarthy, Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, and Don Knight.


The Mineta gang (L to R) Norm Mineta, Patrick McCarthy,
Kaylee Downen-Pizzonia, Bob Brantner, Don Knight, Me.

The great Mark Usciak
and some other guy...
ummm... me.
 After the normal struggle with DC traffic we arrived at the hotel and the event. I was sure that I would not see anyone there that I knew outside of our group. As I was going up the escalator to the reception, I looked down and coming up was my long time space pal and photographer Mark Usciak! I greeted him at the top and he was surprised to see me too. "Where are we," he asked rhetorically, "Tuscon? KSC? Houston?" From there the night evolved from slightly awkward to fantastic. I quickly found that people in aviation and space all see Norm as a superstar. Everyone wanted to shake his hand, greet him and have their picture taken with him. As I recall nearly every speaker that night mentioned his name and the spotlight shined down on our table as the crowd applauded. When selecting seats, Bod sat next to his dad and told me to sit on the other side of Norm. I felt highly honored. As we ate dinner, Norm engaged me in friendly conversation- everyone can take a lesson in charm from him, including me.


Of course plenty of pictures were taken. The only problem was that they had the ball room bathed in burning blue light- so we all looked purple. My later solution was to transform my photos into gray scale.





Mike Collins got this year's Wright trophy award and he spoke to the crowd. In typical Mike Collins fashion his plain-spoken, humor-laced speech had us all in the palm of his hand. I met General Collins for the first time last summer at Spacefest. I got the chance to tell him that his book, "Carrying the Fire" was what inspired me to become a writer, and later the author of more than two dozen books and counting. In the summer of 1977 as I was preparing to head off to Embry-Riddle and become a professional pilot, I read his book cover-to-cover. I said to myself, "Gee... the guy who wrote this is an astronaut and a pilot. If he can write, I can too." For some reason that solidified my deep belief that you don't have to do just one thing in life.


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Unlike my friends Bob and Mark, who often attend black-tie events, for me, the Polack kid from the wrong side of the Saginaw River, such is extremely rare. I have to thank Bob and especially Norm for this chance for me to mingle among aviation's elite. As I repacked my tux this evening I told my wife I would need a new shirt for it. She just smiled and said, "Whenever you get invited to another tux event, we'll get you a new shirt," we were both certain it'll not be anytime soon.

Ummm... yeah... these are my books... so far anyhow.
Click HERE

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Wednesday

Dedicated to a very special guy




James Brink Sr. was a very important person in the first two decades of my life. He passed away at age 92 on November 9, 2019. Thus, hang on folks- this is gonna be a long read.

Shortly after we moved into our home at 3324 Lexington Drive in Saginaw’s Sheridan park I was strolling down the sidewalk near our house and met a kid on a tricycle. It was the summer of 1964 and that little boy was named Jimmy Brink. He was about to start kindergarten and I was going into the second grade at Nelle Haley elementary school. We talked a bit, he turned around and rode home, went into his house and said to his dad, “There’s a new kid on the block, his name is Wes, he’s a Pollack… is it okay if I play with him?”

His dad, Jim Brink, laughed and said it was alright to go and play with the Pollack kid. Forever known to me as “Mr. Brink” that man would become a very important person in my growing up years. You see Jimmy and I soon became pretty much inseparable. People in our neighborhood knew that if they wanted to find Wes, they just looked for Jimmy and vice versa. Right up until I went away to college Jimmy and I were the best of friends- at one point we even dated sisters. Since Jimmy only had older sisters, I sort of became his brother and wherever the Brinks took Jimmy, I often was taken along. His dad became something of a second dad to me, because when Jimmy got into shit, so did I. Of course we never did any really “bad” stuff, just the basic boy’s stuff and Mr. Brink had to deal with us. Being a Saginaw police officer he knew well that there were far worse things than the little crap that we got into.

Once Jimmy, who was as fascinated with wildlife, fish and wild game as I was with things that fly, caught a large frog and had it in a paper cup. His mom wouldn’t let him bring it into the house, so he left it on the front porch and I kidnapped it- leaving a ransom note made of words cut out of Newsweek magazine. When Mr. Brink came home for lunch, Jimmy showed him the note and accused me as the culprit. Mr. Brink, in his police officer’s uniform came knocking at my door. My mom, not yet knowing who he was answered the door and was astonished when the cop asked for her seven-year-old son. He hand cuffed me, (the cuffs kept falling off of my scrawny wrists) and marched me over to their house where he cuffed me to the lamp post in the front yard and shot me with a squirt gun until I told him where the frog was.

He taught me many other life-lessons, some far more serious. His first was respect for his service revolver- NEVER touch it unless he handed it to me. Jimmy and I both learned how to fire both that and some of the other guns that his dad owned. When his ammunition got old he’d take us down by the Cass River and we’d shoot plastic bottles and stuff. Thus, his guns were not sexy, or forbidden, or glamorous they were simply his work tools. Eventually we got our own guns and we treated them with the same degree of common sense. From the time I was 16 I had a loaded .22 semi-auto rifle in my closet, just like Jimmy’s. He and I would take those up to their cottage at Windover Lake and shoot them out in the woods. We never considered ever firing or even aiming any of our guns at another person. That’s not what you did with guns- thus we were taught.

Some of the more important lessons that I would learn from Mr. Brink were the unwritten rules of law enforcement. Rule number one: People are stupid. Rule number two: Remember you’re a people too- thus you may do something stupid. A later rule was that there are some people who get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “Today I’m goin’ to jail.” So, when you put them there, you’re just making their fondest wish come true. In later years while I was working my way through college by busting shoplifters, I remembered that rule… all 372 times that I put someone in jail.

He showed Jimmy and I that it was way more fun to be on the right side of the law than on the wrong side. A good example of that took place on a summer day in the early 70s. One afternoon Jimmy called me said that his dad wanted me to come over and to bring my baseball mitt with me. Okay. Whenever Mr. Brink asked for something odd like that we just did it. I showed up at their house and in the living room was Detective Sergeant Brink and another detective. The other guy asked Jimmy and I if we knew what a marijuana leaf looked like? We said “yeah” because the Saginaw PD had come to our school and showed us in a demonstration. He told us that such was great and they had a problem that we could solve. There was a guy in Sheridan Park who was growing pot in his back yard like it was tomatoes. The neighbors were calling in complaints, but none were willing to sign a complaint- they didn’t wanna get involved. So, it just so happened that Jimmy and I were walking up the street, innocently tossing a baseball in a friendly game of catch until we got to the guy’s house and then… whoops, I tossed that darned ball right over the fence! Oh darn. Jimmy went over the fence effortlessly (keep in mind that we guys who grew up in Sheridan Park jumped every fence routinely, so this stockade fence was no problem). About 30 seconds later he came back over in a hustle. “Let’s get otta here!” he murmured. He hadn’t gotten a leaf… he had uprooted a whole plant! Holding it in his folded ball mitt, it was too long to fit completely into the glove. So, he kept shoving one end back in and the other end would come back out as we walked back toward his house. Just as we turned the corner, one of the neighbors, who was a deputy sheriff, cruised by on his way home. First we puckered and then we snickered at the fact that here we were carrying a whole pot plant in Jimmy’s ball glove and law enforcement drove right past us. Now being good citizens who just stumbled upon a huge pot grove, we decided to, of course, take it back and turn it over to his dad… who just happened to be a police officer… at home… with a narcotics officer. What a coincidence. Mr. Brink and the narcotics detective snickered too- not only at the fact that the sheriff had passed us, but mostly at the fact that Jimmy got a whole plant. What he didn’t get was his baseball. He just nabbed the plant and went back over the fence. Later that day the house was raided and that evening Mr. Brink came home from work and tossed Jimmy the baseball. It was recovered during the raid.

In another event Mr. Brink showed a fine example of cool. We were on Windover Lake water skiing and always the mischief-maker Mr. Brink spotted two pretty blonds who had just come out to sun on a nearby dock. Jimmy and I were just trading turns and as Jimmy got into the water his dad suggested that it might be fun to zoom in close and “Give ‘em a splash.” Off we went- Jimmy dropped one ski, zoomed in close and splashed the girls. They squealed and  Jimmy made several more passes. Then it was my turn. I was still trying to do the one ski thing so I made a single pass with a lesser splash then dropped a ski and thus proceeded to spread myself across the surface of the lake in a spectacular crash. The boat recovered my ski and putted by so Jimmy could have the girls ask their folks’ permission to ride in the boat. A few minutes later the two blonds were in the boat and I was up on the skis again. I wrecked two or three more times trying to do the one-ski thing and provided sick comic relief. Finally the boat came along side and Jimmy said I was done for the day… my nose was bleeding. Apparently the last crash was harder than the rest. Climbing back aboard I met the oldest of the two sisters, Debbie. We were together from then until I went to college two years later. As Mr. Brink pulled the boat back to our dock an enraged neighbor came stomping down the hill. He was shouting out how reckless we were running the boat. When the angry idiot stopped to take a breath Mr. Brink just calmly said, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you call the sheriff.” Unable to contain himself the enraged oaf held up his chin and shouted, “I’m with the sheriff’s department!” With the utmost cool of moves Mr. Bring simply said, “You’re with the sheriff’s department? Let’s see your badge.” Not expecting that retort the dude stammered, “I… I… left it at home.” Mr. Brink then reached into his bathing suit pocket and pulled out his badge. Displaying it he said, “Well, I’m with the police department and in the state of Michigan all law enforcement officers are required to carry their badges on their person at all times. So, either you’re in violation of that policy or you’re impersonating a police officer, which is a crime. So I’d say you need to go back home and find your badge.” The enraged neighbor deflated and trudged back up the hill never to be seen again for the rest of the summer. Mr. Brink turned to us kids and said, “I think we’d better take it easy from now on.” That sort of cool-headed thinking in the face of an enraged person is a quality I have since always tried to hold in my own life. It works.

When I was in the 9th grade at Webber Jr. High school, Mr. Brink helped keep me from taking a very embarrassing ass kicking. I’d gotten a new girlfriend as the school year began. The only problem was that this sweet little auburn-haired 8th grader came with a string attached. It was a snot-nosed little 7th grade pipsqueak boy who had decided that somehow I’d stolen his girl. She’d made it clear that such was not the case, but still the little runt blamed me. Now, knowing full well that I’d shove a street hockey stick up his butt, he was not about to take me on himself. Instead he set his Neanderthal 8th grade half-sister upon me. She was a monster who could easily have pounded me into a pulp. Plus, I was raised that you never hit a female… even if she is a Neanderthal. My only choice was to let myself get beaten into a heap in the hallway at Webber. How embarrassing. After an increasing series of threats of my impending doom I sat down and talked to Mr. Brink… what am I gonna do? He was a detective in the juvenile division then and asked what the Neanderthal’s name was? When I told him he just nodded and smirked. “You know her?” I asked. “Oh yes,” He said. As it happened, the following day my family was leaving for a two week vacation in Florida. Mr. Brink told me to just go and enjoy myself and not to worry. I did as he advised and when I got back to school, the Neanderthal was gone! The rumor around school was that she’d been busted for drugs. Mr. Brink later told me that she’d been arrested on possession with intent to distribute, he also told me that I would not have to worry about her anymore.

On a very serious note, Mr. Brink saved all of us on the block from a notorious child molester. On the day that Bob Hughes moved in across the street from my house Mr. Brink called the five of us who hung out together in for a meeting. He told us in VERY serious terms that Bob Hughes was a child molester and a convicted felon and to never be coaxed into his house or find yourself alone with him. We were ordered to stay away from him and if Hughes made any advanced toward one of us we were to immediately go to Mr. Brink and report it. His level of seriousness scared the crap out of us and we indeed stayed away. Three years later I testified at the murder trial of Hughes’ wife and daughter wherein his homosexual lover was convicted on both counts. Since I was the last prosecution witness to be called, my mom sat in the courtroom through much of the trial while I waited outside. It came out in the hearing that Hughes had systematically molested a number of young boys in our neighborhood, then gave them model ship kits to buy their silence. A number of mothers were shocked to recall that their sons had come home with those models. Some of the few who were spared were the five of us in my gang of friends whom Mr. Brink had warned. By the way, don’t take my word for what a low life Hughes was- it’s all in the court records. He’s dead now- and burning in hell.

Mr. Brink was one of the very few people who had traits that I wanted to add to my own as I grew up. He never lost his temper at me and he never ridiculed me in spite of all of the shit that Jimmy and I got into as kids. One of the last times that I saw him was when he was doing arena security for the Saginaw PD at the Civic Center during a Gears game. I had a brand new camera and found him standing at the stop of a stairway watching the game. I focused on him and then said loudly, “Mr. Brink!” He turned around and I snapped his picture that is attached with this tale. I spoke to him on the phone back in March of 2009 after an old friend of Jimmy and I had passed away. I had to get Jimmy’s phone number so I could inform him. Mr. Brink and I had a long chat and caught up on many years.

This world is a lesser place with the passing of Mr. Brink. He was one of the very few truly good guys.

Sunday

KLYDE AND TYPOS



THAT TYPO WAS QUITE QUIET

I’ve often been asked how the Klyde Morris cartoon strip is made? What are the mechanics? And how does an occasional, obvious typo get through?

To start answering that I have to first highlight the software that I’ve used since Klyde first hit the Internet back in 1998. Originally, I had a Cannon scanner that came with a real cheap-O drawing software the name of which I’ve completely forgotten. The scanner was a piece of crap, but that little software package worked quite well. It was very simple to use and allowed me to take the hand-drawn cartoon that I had scanned and neaten up lines, add shades and erase stuff. Great. However, have ya’ ever tried to draw with a mouse? No can do… with any quality that is.

It was my wife who suggested getting a Wacom pad and pen which would allow me to draw right in the computer. 


Since I was already suffering from pronator syndrome from years spent flying, okay, fighting the Saab 340 in the weather of the north central states, ditching the mouse worked for me. I, currently on my 4th Wacom pad.
Yes... that pen rest is sitting on a hockey puck. Those pen holders
are always too light weight, so I glued mine to a puck. Works great.

In February of 2000, my web master and the guy who built klydemorris.com, James Ahrens, found a utility that allowed him to take my own handwriting and associate with my keyboard. I sent him a file of every single key on my keyboard written in my own hand, both upper and lower case, and now I could write the cartoon totally in the computer! Of course I do still draw scenes and characters and scan them, but for dialogue the pen and ink were gone.

Two years later disaster struck as I had a computer crash that wiped out my desktop unit. Of course when I had the new computer built I found that Windows 2000, which was what we all were forced to use because Microsoft was no longer supporting Windows 98, would not run my drawing software!

CRAP!!

I tried assorted popular “drawing” software programs and they all had one huge flaw… they wanted to do TOO MUCH. They were designed for people who cannot draw and they have scads of additional “tools” trying to meet the needs of all of their cannot draw users. All I needed was a simple tool that would let me draw a line, erase a line, add some color, or shading and move some items around, yet nothing really got me there without a jungle of other aids that I didn’t need or want.

Finally I was actually doing chat with an operator at a company called Ulead and I expressed my frustration. She said that her daughter, who was an illustrator, had the same complaints and she got her an old copy of one of their utilities called Photo Impact 6, which Ulead no longer sold. She suggested I try eBay. Bingo! Problem solved. To this day I use that old 32 bit utility and Windows 7 actually runs it with just a few hiccups that I’ve learned to live with.



Now, as to how the typos get through…

Any professional author or writer will tell you that you should never proof read your own stuff. Why? Because you already know what it should say and your brain can read right over what it does say. Additionally, Photo Impact 6 does NOT have a spell checker. Thus, putting the words into Klyde is very similar to old fashioned type-setting. That was way back in the olden days when news papers had every letter in every word in every story and headline set individually, by hand! In the Klyde Morris cartoon I have to type in every letter of every word and I have no magic spell check or auto correct to aid me.

That process alone dose… I mean… does… lead to countless typos. I despise typos, they make my nerves hurt, my head ache and most of all they make me look bad. 


Additionally, I was always the kid in school who spelled everything the way it sounded. Agin and agin the teechers preeched at me thit mie splling was atrochious. I’d hand in an essay which would be handed back with so many red pencil marks on it you could not even see what I had written. They did all they could do to change me- they flunked me, they put my mom through parent / teacher  conferences that were akin to Vietcong POW interrogations and my report cards were sent home with comments such as “is capable of doing better work” and “doesn’t focus in class” or “refuses to read aloud” and “was drawing instead of doing his work” or “thought it was funny to walk behind Debbie Kline and unsnap her training bra.” So now when I make a typo it gives me flash-back to the third grade… both times, 1965-66 and 1966-67.


Of course good editors normally catch those little, self-made pools of puss from HELL that are my few typos. Some, however, are so cleverly disguised that none of my two editors manage to catch what I created and then read right past myself. A good example is this cartoon, which ran for a full week and was viewed a quarter of a million times before one alert reader finally caught it…


Did you see it?

That typo was quite quiet.


Get my Aviation Spy novel HERE!




Tuesday

CATCH MY INTERVIEW ON TALON TALKS


I was granted the honor of being the very first guest on Embry-Riddle's new podcast series TALON TALKS and it was a great time. Click in the picture to listen!

Environmentally Appropriate



My wife, who is perhaps the most intelligent person I've ever met, has had a bad cold and cough. I took her to the doctor and he prescribed some medication that included cough syrup. This morning before she headed off to work she told me that she was gonna stop taking the cough medicine because it tasted awful and really wasn't helping. Then she took a dose and left. Two hours later I get the following text from her...

"Can you please call the doctor and ask for the environmentally appropriate way to dispose of codeine?"

Really?

I mean there's 2 ounces left in the bottle!

Realizing that there is NO WAY on Earth that I can call a physician and actually have such nonsense spew from my mouth... I sent my beloved wife the following e-mail...

Environmentally safe method of disposing of 2 ounces of codeine-guaifen 10-10-0 mg/5 ml cough syrup:

While wearing non-latex protective gloves, safety glasses and 3M 6200 or similar class respirator spread out 55X64cm sheet of non-acid brown paper in a well ventilated outdoor area exposed to full sunlight at midday under no wind conditions. Carefully pour the 2 ounces of cough syrup onto the paper in a spiral circular motion extending from a center point outward until the entire contents are expended from the bottle. Build a 3 meter square metal screen enclosure and cover the paper so as to prevent any animals, bees or children from reaching through. Cover the paper with that screen using the greatest of care to not contact any of the liquid with any part of the screen. Place no less than six, 1 meter tall, international orange cones around the enclosure and top with a solar-powered amber colored strobe light. 

Allow to dry. 

Once fully dried, re-don the non-latex protective gloves, safety glasses and  3M 6200 or similar class respirator. Ensure that no animals, insects or bacteria are within 80 meters and using steel tongs remove the paper from the shelter and fold it as small as possible. Place the paper into a Trader Joe’s grocery double bag and ride your bicycle to the Atacama Desert. Once there, dig a hole 20cm in diameter and 1 meter deep. Using a bamboo pole, shove the bag to the bottom of the hole and cover completely. Then interpretive dance around the hole chanting, “OhwhatuhkluckIam” repeatedly for 16 hours or as long as your water holds out.

You may now feel safe and environmentally appropriate. Because the very fact that you have sincerely asked this question clearly demonstrates that you’ve already taken too much of this shit.



If you think this was fun, check out any of Wes' BOOKS!

FLYERS AND FOAMERS


Always have a good jumpseat story to tell.
Railroad engineer's kids, my sister and I Easter Sunday 1962... at the roundhouse in Saginaw, of course. Showing off our Sunday best for Dad... who was working that day.

I come from a railroad family- that’s why I talk loud. When you grow up in a railroad family, if you wanna be heard you gotta be loud. From the time I was born my dad was an engineer on the C&O railroad. For an engineers' kid, climbing up on an engine is simply no big deal... like going to dad's office. Been doin' it since I could walk. When I was little, often on the fourth of July, after the fireworks, I’d “got to work” with dad. He worked a half shift that night and I’d ride in the “fireman’s seat” aboard the engine as dad switched railroad cars in and around the Saginaw yard or the auto plants in Flint. On “payday” I’d get a C&O check for a half day’s work. It wasn’t cashable, but I never knew the difference. Dad would take it into the drug store and come out with some cash for me… seven whole dollars! I was a rich nine-year-old! It was a lesson in how you get money. You go to work and you get paid.
Photo from the Buck Wyndham collection (airline pilot and foamer)


For someone in aviation, going to the airport is also nothing special- it’s just a part of going to work. Same thing as going to the railroad yard for a kid who grew up in a railroad family- it’s no big deal. Goin’ to pick up dad or to fetch his paycheck while he catches some sleep. Yet, there are other similarities you may not consider. One day as I was jumpseating home to BWI and as we  taxied out for takeoff at MSP I noticed a crowd of people gathered outside the boundary fence at the end of the runway.

“Lots of foamers out there today,” I quipped.

“Foamers?” the captain squinted, “what’s that?”

“Those folks there at the end of the runway with the cameras,” I replied

After we blasted off and got into cruise the captain asked me to explain “foamers.” I told him that my dad was a railroad engineer and that was the term they used to describe the train-buffs who stand by the tracks and photograph and film the trains as they go by. The crews said that those guys foamed at the mouth when they saw a train coming.

“Hey!” he smiled, “I’m a foamer!”

Suddenly the cockpit conversation turned to trains as both pilots confessed to being friggin’ foamers. I told them that I had a story that they’d like.  Now…for people reading this who are not those of us who have spent endless hours in a cockpit at cruise, you should know that interesting cockpit conversation is of GREAT value- because the hardest thing to do in the cockpit is stay awake. Thus, I let go with my story and had a fully captive audience.

This story brought to by Wes' best-selling spaceflight book APOLLO PART ONE



When I graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1988 having finished all of my commercial and multi engine instrument pilot's ratings, I headed back to Michigan to stay at mom and dad’s house while I worked as a survey pilot for the DNR. Before I ever got that job and nearly as soon as I got into the house my dad casually says "Yer' goin' to work with me tomorrow."

Okay... been doin' that since I was a kid too- so, what the heck. I figured he wanted to show me, his newly minted commercial pilot son, off to the crew in the shanty. The next day mom made us both a couple of lunches and we headed off to the yard at Midland’s Dow Chemical plant. Dad had been working the Dow job for the past few years. He was WAY high on the seniority list of CSX (which was the company formed when the C&O was swallowed up) and could pretty much pick whatever job he wanted and hold it. He picked the Dow day job because it was just a few minutes’ drive from our house and he could pass the Dow security clearance for handling HAZMAT in the plant. Once he had that Dow badge he really could not be bumped.  We got to the yard and dad introduced me to the guys on his crew then he tells me I'm gonna run the engine from Dow to Farwell, Michigan!

"If you can fly an airplane commercially, you can run an engine," he reasoned.

So... I did!

Dad only had to show me the basics. I already knew where the throttle and the brake handle was located, how to see if the flashers were working by looking at the hole in the side and how to run the “notches.” I knew about the deadman’s peddle and so on. He did need to instruct me on the alert system that would go off if the engineer had not taken some sort of action after so many minutes. First an amber light would flash, and compared to aircraft “caution lights” in the cockpit, this was a big light. If you didn’t respond by making some action- tooting the whistle, adding some brake, cycling the deadman’s peddle or a half dozen other things that could be moved, the light would glow steady and then after so many seconds it would apply the brakes, stop the engine and begin blowing the whistle. He also coached me on how far from a crossing I needed to begin my whistle blow; timing is everything. Lastly both he and his conductor told me very clearly that if anything happened, we hit a car, a person or the train went “on the ground” I was to leave the engine and walk far away… like I was never there. Oh yeah, this was an unauthorized trip for me.

I got the "N" scale engine for Dad one Christmas... it turned out he had 8210 in his logbook! That's his UTU button that I keep pinned on it today.


Dad worked the engine inside the Dow plant as we only had a few cars to shove. Then we pulled  a few and switched to the line headed for Farwell. Now it was my turn to drive. I guess any of you foamers out there reading this would have been fully puckered and near orgasm, but frankly, I was right at home. It was like the first time I flew a Falcon 10, I’d been around it so much that it was a comfortable place. Besides… it’s a train… it can only go where the tracks go. On we went to Farwell and as we approached one section of track my dad told me to smile. Pointing down he showed me four foamers standing there taking our picture. I smiled and waved. Approaching our destination, which was actually a siding just northwest of the town of Clare, I got us stopped, with some coaching, where we needed to be and dad along with his crew of one switchman and a conductor parked the cars we had and picked up one to go back. Then I ran the train into Midland and, again with some coaching, got her stopped where we needed to stop. Once more the real railroad men took over and soon our day was done. I asked dad why they called it the Farwell job when it only went to Clare? He said it originally went all the way to Farwell, so they just call it that.

Today that line that I ran back in 1988, all the way from Midland to Clare, is a paved bike path! Yet nearly every time I told this story from the jumpseat I found at least one of the pilots to be fascinated by it. Dad told me that I could tell everyone that before I ever exercised my commercial pilot's certificate, I ran a locomotive. You'd never guess how many airline pilots are totally envious of that.
"Irish" 1981


My dad passed away in December of 2004 and although most people in the Saginaw, Michigan area remember him as the Zamboni driver for the local professional hockey team, the ice was his art, but running a locomotive was his career. When he worked the “road job” from Midland to Port Huron the line ran just 800 feet behind our house and you could always tell it was him by the whistle blow. His was two long, one short and one extra long. If you were listening on the radio you could tell it was him because all of the other engineers were called by their job number “2346” or “5418” or such… but they called my dad “Irish.”

For more of Wes' story telling check out his aviation spy thriller INVISIBLE EVIL




Thursday

"D" CHECK PART 5: YELLOW GUCK


“D” CHECK”
Part 5
YELLOW WING BOLT GUCK



One of the final parts of the Falcon 20 “D” inspection involved the wing bolts. All these years later I don’t recall how many wing bolts there actually were on each side. My Falcon 20 maintenance manuals do not give much information either. So, we’ll just say it was more than 12 and less than 18… somewhere in that neighborhood.

For weeks we’d been warned that the worst part of this job was gonna be the wing bolts… and they were right. In order to get the job done they needed two mechanics who could dedicate themselves just to this task for about 3 or 4 days- plus overtime. A fellow named Jim volunteered and I was volunteered by the shop A.I. Their reasoning in using me was the fact that I was hired on at near minimum wage and working under the shop certificate. Thus, they could charge $28 an hour for my labor while just paying me about $2.50 an hour. Additionally, I was well known as the model boat maker and was very handy with tiny parts and tools. This job was similar to dental work.

Our first task took the greatest time. The bolt recesses were filled with the hard crusty brown junk that was similar to that used inside the fuel tanks, but certainly a different formula. It was designed to keep all forms of fluids and moisture away from the bolts and effectively make them corrosion proof over the life of the aircraft. Since no other Falcon 20 had ever gone as far as a “D” inspection, the folks at Dassault wanted to know how well that crap was actually holding up plus they had a new method for re-sealing the bolts. Now we had to chip out that hard brown stuff and completely clean both the bolts and the recesses.

We were told VERY clearly, “No matter what you do, don’t scratch the bolts.” Each bolt was different diameter, numbered for its position and cadmium plated. The smallest scratch on any part of a bolt made either while uncovering it, removing it, or handling it would condemn the bolt and it would have to be removed and replaced. Thus we picked and chipped away with the greatest of care. Finally we ended up working with dental tools to get the last of the hardened crust removed so the bolts cold be inspected. As best I can recall we damaged just three. Yet about four others showed corrosion- and I’m talking near microscopic spots, not huge areas of rust. Bill, our A.I. would look at one and say, “Nope- that one’s gotta go.” And when it was removed I’d look at it and couldn’t see a thing wrong. Then he’d take the tip of his pen and carefully point out the spot of rust that I would never have noticed. Such is the sharp eye of an inspector. Replacement for the scored bolts was another matter. New bolts had to be installed with the A.I. watching and torqued carefully to a very specific value WITHOUT compromising the cadmium plating. Then each replacement had to be properly stated in the aircraft logbook.

Once the inspection was over Jim and I were told to come into work the next day wearing clothes that would have to be thrown away and to bring fresh clothing to wear home at the end of our task. Personally I picked out a pair of bell-bottom jeans from the 70s that I’d never wear again and a shirt that a cheating former girlfriend had given me and I was good to go. Jim had some nasty coveralls that were so filthy they’d make you reflex vomit. We were also told that we’d get no breaks and no lunch because once we started we had to keep going until it was all finished. We did, however, get time and a half for the whole day… so who could argue?

Arriving at Hangar 6 that morning we were presented with a series of purple Styrofoam forms that were shaped like half of an egg. Each had a dimple molded into it that was the size of a wing bolt head and each was exactly the size of the recess where the bolts were located. With that came some bright yellow gunk that was called Mastinox Compound. I was told that it was a rubberized sealant that never hardens. It was non-corrosive and was supposed to keep all moisture away from the bolts. We had to, by hand, smear that stuff around each bolt head and work it in to make sure that there was no air bubbles. When the bolt was well covered, we had to take one of the Styrofoam half-eggs, fill its recess with the compound, smear some on the surface and shove it into the recess where the bolt was waiting. The compound oozed out and we had to carefully cover the exposed flat side with more compound. Above all, we were not supposed to rush the job.

Looking back, we should have been wearing rubber gloves. But it was 1985 and instead we went at it, Jim on the right side wing and me on the left, with our bare hands. As it turned out the hardest part was not touching anything else with your hands! When that yellow guck got on something it was there to stay- and it showed up real good too. Heaven forbid you should put your hand on the aircraft fuselage, or worse yet- scratch your head. Of course they brown papered the wing for a huge area and tapped brown paper to the fuselage up to the tops of the windows- we needed that. By mid day we had that stuff all over us, but I was focused so hard on doing the task properly that I really didn’t notice. The brown paper that was tapped to the aircraft fuselage and wings was covered with hand prints and slopped guck. We finished about mid-afternoon, both at nearly the same time. Sliding off the wing, I looked over at Jim and we both said, “Now how do we get this shit off of us?”

They hadn’t thought of that.

Aside from working the radios on the engine runs, those wing bolts were the last major thing I had to do in the “D” inspection. Weeks later I was back in Daytona at Embry-Riddle finishing my degree in Aeronautical Science along with my multi-engine commercial instrument ratings. Sitting in a Turbine Engines class I was still picking little bits of Mastinox Compound out from under my fingernails (no foolin’ folks). The instructor flashed a slide up on the screen of a CF-700 engine.





“I’ll bet none of you have any experience with the aircraft that uses this engine…” he said.

I raised my hand.


If you think Wes writes a good aviation based story check out his other works HERE

Tuesday

MEET ME IN THE AVION



With the UC being torn down and hauled away like so much trash, I figure it’s a good time to publish some of my memories of the place that was my home away from home for so many years… the Avion office. Considering that I was the one who haunted the office for a full decade… well, okay, it was just three terms… one for Carter and two for Reagan… I guess I’m best qualified to tell the story.

Often people attend Embry-Riddle and stay in the dorm for a term or two and then move off campus to a series of apartments, rental houses or even fraternity houses. Your classes and labs rotate and even your daily mean cycle can take you to many differing locations. The Avion office, however, had the unique ability to become an anchor point for us from our freshman year until graduation and perhaps a little bit thereafter. You could join the staff as a freshman and remain attached to the Avion through your entire tour at ERAU. There was no need to pledge or take an oath or change yourself to fit in, as we are all misfits. Dean Rockett has often said that no fraternity, organization, club or even ROTC has the sort of bonding that takes place in the Avion. Both as a student and as an alumnus, the Avion mafia remains strong.

I always wondered what non-Avion people did to survive on campus. For me, the Avion office was in effect- my office. I had people from back home come to campus and walk around asking where I may be found and the answer that always worked was, “Check up in the Avion office.” I had a phone number where I could be reached, a place to sleep when I got back to school and hadn’t found a roommate yet, free postal service and especially important; a family when I was away from family. We all had that same benefit. The Avion office was the place where we vented, goofed off, created, sang, scammed, mourned, laughed, argued, made fun of one another, ate, drank, celebrated and just simply relaxed. We were all equals with a common interest, differing goals and assorted points of view and we all respected one another. Those are rare circumstances in the real world.

When Teresa and I were first engaged, she told me one day that she was going to join the Avion staff, “…because you’re up there all the damned time, so I may as well be up there too.” For me the Avion office was just a part of my normal existence at ERAU. I’d first ventured into the office on Friday, February 10, 1978. In those days the Avion office was the narrow room that would later become the common purpose room. It was packed with upper classmen and instead of simply going in and taking some time to be the fly-on-the-wall, I was introduced by Dan-the-man to the whole staff as “This is the guy with the cartoons I’ve been telling you about!” as he slammed my portfolio of cartoons onto the layout table.

“Uncomfortable” is a rectal exam, this was more a kin to being dragged grudgingly to a back yard party at a complete stranger’s house and being immediately thrown into the pool.

As the entire staff began reading my cartoons and snickering, smiling and laughing, I started to relax a bit. What struck me was that they all “got it” they understood most of my twisted humor and understood jokes that my own family back in Michigan didn’t understand. Then it came time for editor Ray Katz to read… he never cracked a smile. He just stroked his beard pensively and then said, “Here’s what we’ll do, (Yes “we’ll”) you draw your ant life size and we’ll call it the adventures of Empty Ripple. I politely scooped up my portfolio, quietly said “thank you” to everyone and made tracks for the door. Jeanie Snyder and Keith Kollarik (the guy who was then assistant editor and would soon be editor) apparently both saw this coming and were standing at the door as I went out. Jeanie grabbed me by the sleeve and whispered to “forget Katz” and do it my way. Keith pulled me over and said that he was the one who took the paper to the printer and I should do my cartoon any way I want. He’d put a junk story on the editorial page where my cartoon would go and after Katz did his Monday read and went home, Keith would remove the story and insert my cartoon. “Once it runs,” he whispered, “Katz can’t do a thing about it.” I’d fallen in with authority-scoffing scamsters… I’d found a home!

By the end of that first trimester I found myself spending more and more time in the Avion office. The staff members there were nearly all upper classmen and being around them allowed me to become more and more a part of the university. By the following autumn term I’d gotten my roommate Jeff Barrow onto the staff and we were spending all of our free time up in the Avion office. I’d been tipped off to some nasty and underhanded events in the university and worked them into my cartoons, so I was soon a target. But I had two advantages- first, no one really knew who I was. The classroom instructors could never pronounce my last name always asked if they could just call me by my first name, which was registered as “Walter.” So when they called the roll and got to the “Os” I simply answered to “Walter.” Second was the sanctuary of the Avion office. With the prog. pilots, food services, housing administration, Delta Chi and WERU all gunning for my scalp, the Avion staff got quite protective of me. I don’t know how many times over the years that pissed off people came stomping into the office with an Avion opened to my strip and demanding to see me. The staff would just shrug and say that I only came in on weekends to drop off the cartoon. Of course I’d be sitting right there.
To say that we were friends on the Avion staff would be a short sale of what the relationship really was in that office. In the Avion office we were a family. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor or what color your skin happened to be or what part of the planet you came from.

It wasn’t unusual at all to walk into the office in the morning and find someone still sleeping on the couch, or find a few people actually having spent the night mapping out a new computer game that they’d loaded. Rafts for the raft race were built by staff who guzzled October Fest beer and the construction quality showed it. ( in October 1978 the Avion raft was so poorly constructed that raft race officials had to send a power boat out to tow it across the finish line so the awards could be given out the same day as the race) Photographers worked until all hours, sometimes printing off rolls of photos taken at the previous nights staff party, the approach plate for which had been laid out on the light table.

And, then there were things like “The Boards.” Someone would scroll something on the white erase board like “Tim meet me at the library at 10- Pat” and seeing that someone else would scroll, “Pete, you and me- the cone of silence at 1:45” And another staffer would write, “Holly, I really need you to meet me at the adult detention center at 4, bring a file in your underwear- Brian” which would  bait a response of, “Brian, I don’t wear underwear- Holly” and so on until the whole frigging board was just filled with hysterical nonsense. When nothing more could be fit in, a photographer would take a picture of it and after enough time for everyone to tickled by it the board would be erased. No one in any other office on campus ever did that sort of shit.

The annual “Avioff” spurred another office thingy- nicknames, many of which stick to this day. As staffers wrote their National Lampoon worthy prank stories, they began signing them with some prank names that evolved into their staff moniker. Around the office we had “Uncle Pat” “Jabba” “T.A. Binzo” “Tim Van Militant” “Larry Newguy” “Cheff Spagetti” “The Ferret” just to name a very few.

One of the best kept secrets of the Avion office in my era was the back hallway. Campus security almost never patrolled that hallway. In fact I’m quite sure that some of the campus security officers didn’t even know it was there. At night, the single guard who was on duty at the UC switchboard very rarely left his little nook. Thus, aside from being a good place to study for a test or a prog. or have a private conversation, it was also a freeway to monkey business. In the spring of 1979 the staff of the food service had set up a fine luncheon for the visiting board of trustees in the room next door to the Avion office… and neglected to lock the back door. Discovering that, Dan-the-man got a tube of super glue and went in and started gluing shit. He glued cups to saucers, napkins to silverware, water glasses to tables, menus to the walls he even glued the carrot sticks and celery sticks to one another so when you lifted one the whole lot came out retaining the shape of the dish! Oddly, for the rest of that afternoon, no one seemed to be in the Avion office… hummmm. Of course the best one that I can recall took place about seven years or so later- just before Christmas break. The trimester was over and the bookstore was doing their end of the tri. book- buyback… where they buy your text books back at about half price or less and then mark it back up to a buck under new and act like buying it is a bargain. They conducted this term’s buyback in the room next door to the Avion- and of course locked both doors at the end of each day. Rob Watt, however, found that if you stood on the back of the light table in the Avion office and slid some ceiling tiles aside you could drop down into the buyback room, open the door to the back hallway and fleece the book store right back. We went in and nabbed assorted high price books for three nights in a row and sold them back to the book store for three days in a row. Rob had to make it even more fun by selling them back the same text books for three days. You see, the people doing the buyback had no idea what your major was and if you watched and caught different clerks each day, you could sell the store back the same book you’d sold them the previous day. Some of those engineering books were expensive to. I made enough cash to buy my plane ticket home for Christmas and had some left over to buy gifts.

Yet no established society can exist without taxation. It was Brian Nicklas who introduced the “fry tax” to the Avion office. Thus anyone who brought French fries into the office was subject to the tax. It allowed everyone to reach in and deduct one fry from their plate while uttering “fry tax.” It’s a lesson that many of us passed on to our kids and grand kids.

For some unknown cosmic reason the university never fully understood the Avion office and the people who called it home when we were on campus. Solid proof of that came when a hurricane was heading toward Daytona. As a part of the standard preparedness plan the Avion office was issued huge black trash bags to cover our equipment- in the event of a roof leak, or loss. Additionally, a large roll of duck tape (yes folks, the original name for that magic gray tape was “duck” and not “duct” because it was waterproof. You never stop learning from me do you?). The tape was for taping up our office windows so that when the hurricane force winds shattered them deadly shards of glass would not blow everywhere. Big gray “X”s were to be placed over everything glass. Of course we had no windows- so we taped everything else that had glass… Uncle Pat’s glasses, my watch crystal, the computer CRTs and so on. It mattered little, because Pete Merlin dressed up like witch doctor and with hands full of palm leafs and stuff went out on the balcony, danced around and chanted “Booga, booga, booga, hurricane go away…” and the damned storm actually turned and went out to sea.

The most important thing for all of us, however, was to protect the sanctity of the paper itself. Forever the SGA and the university administration have wanted to gain control of the Avion. It is a struggle that continues to this day. More than once I have seen SGA henchmen physically “removed”… okay… bodily thrown from the Avion office. Our greatest protection from their low level tyranny has always been the fact that advertizing made the Avion self-sustaining, so when SGA threatened to pull the purse strings we simply told them to shove it… the Avion would be better on its own. Recently, even that protection has come under threat.

It was always a given that the Avion would take first prize in college journalism conventions. I’d always thought that the reason was that our staff were not journalism majors- thus we were not trying to advance any points, we were just reporting the news. Additionally, we learned hard lessons about layout and context and were garnished with some of the most amazing photos.

On the first day of March, 2019 I was again on campus… the university had actually put up a temporary sign in front of the administration building reserving a parking spot for “Klyde Morris” because my name wouldn’t fit. I was guided on a fantastic tour of the campus which is far, far larger than anything I’d ever expected.  The campus is fantastic, but the students are the same- they’re all there for the same reasons that we were there. The institute for the incurably professional remains itself; a bit over crowded, a few hassles, a few delays. While other campuses are wasting time protesting, our students are working hard with a goal in sight among the towering buildings and newly paved walkways. Yet, in the middle of the new campus I saw large equipment that was chewing away at what was once the UC. The final walls were coming down as I was there. The Avion office that I once knew was nothing more than a void. Of course the new Avion office is open on the second floor of the death star… directly across from the SGA office. Tyranny seems to never be far away.

Safely stored in the new Avion office is “the door” from the old office of my era. Avion alumni who visit are asked to autograph the door and it is covered with tons of signatures. Interestingly… the SGA has no such door. That’s because Dean Rockett was right- no group on campus has ever been as closely knit as those who resided in the Avion office.

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Holy crap... did I write all of these?

Anyone see a pattern here? Hummmm