Thursday, May 18, 2023

Laura, The Riveter

This Blog was originally published in the Sleeps Two Blog in 2011  
The blog is not really about camping, it is about my Grandmother
It should be here instead.

George  May, 2023

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After several months of car shopping and driving all sorts of SUVs that could comfortably haul our new KZ Sportsmen 202, we finally traded our trusty, venerable 1999 GMC Jimmy for a newer, 2005 Toyota Sequoia. We simply wanted more towing power to haul our new 21 foot travel trailer than our six cylinder Jimmy offered. We wanted a comfortable vehicle we could use whenever the travel trailer was sitting dormant, waiting to be once in again connected and hauled somewhere exotic.


We test drove GMC Yukons, Toyota V-8 4-runners, Chevy something or others, and Fords with hoods so high I couldn't see the road in front of me. We drove just about every combination of pick-up truck or SUV that could haul the new trailer and still give us a vehicle we could use “off-duty.” We finally decided on Toyota's big V-8 SUV and drove several Sequoias before finding the dark blue unit we really liked. It only had ninety-five thousand miles on it, and other than a couple of cosmetic issues, was in great mechanical shape. I was surprised to find there were very few used Sequoias with less than 100,000 miles on them.

My dad never kept a car beyond the 60,000 miles. He traded every car before the fenders might fall off or the floor board might rust out, but that was then, and this is now, since Detroit has been slapped up against the side of their corporate heads by foreign competitors. Our American-built, Japanese designed SUV looked like new, except for the floor mats, which we replaced. I added a new brake controller and was pleasantly surprised to find the necessary wiring was already in place, all I had to do was take off the existing plastic caps from the wiring coiled up under the dashboard and plug in the new controller. Nothing like planning ahead.

I had the Sequoia safety checked and all the inspections brought up to date, from spark plugs to brakes. When we test drove the SUV with the trailer attached, we knew we had a great combination. Only one thing needed to be resolved: The ride height difference between the two vehicles. The trailer hitch had to be lowered to keep the travel trailer level.

The two-inch box hitch receiver is fixed on each vehicle, but the shank on the trailer ball assembly for the load equalizer was adjustable. All I had to do was move the shank down and we once again had a level travel trailer. But I had a problem: I didn't have any regular wrenches that even came close to big enough to fit the nut on the hitch.

However, using the Ford wrench from my grandmother, yes, my grandmother, I made the switch effortlessly. You see, my grandmother used to build bombers. B-24 Liberators, to be exact.



B-24 Liberators being assembled at Ford's plant at Willow Run, Michigan
1943 Ford photo from Wikipedia Commons




Laura Corns Mindling, my grandmother, worked during the war for Ford Motor Company at the Willow Run Aircraft Plant, just outside Detroit, Michigan. She was originally hired as a stitcher, working on seats and strapping, but was soon promoted to the machine shop, or production floor as a press operator. She was so good Ford kept her after the war, moving her to the River Rouge plant, near Dearborn, where she worked as a press operator until 1956.


Assembly line at Willow Run, 1943
 Any of the women could have been my grandmother, Laura,
who worked as a drill press operator for Ford until 1956.
Wikipedia Photo




She slipped on an oily floor in 1956 and broke her wrist in the fall. When she was finished with her medical leave, she took medical retirement, and eventually moved to Miami. 



From Left: Daughter Ruth, Laura with Grandson, Dick; her Husband Louis, Son Glen, my father,
home from Italy, and me. Detroit May 1945

She and her husband, Lou, first with her son Glen and us for several years, then moving not far away in their own efficiency apartment. 

Laura lived alone for several years in Miami after Louis, my grandfather, died in 1966, then moved to live the rest of her life with my Aunt Ruth in Denver. After Laura's death, my brother and I received several artifacts and family mementos. I received a few items, including a heavy, wrapped bag.


Included were two wrenches used by my Grandmother at Ford, oh so many years ago. I like to think she used these tools to help win a war, or build a car that perhaps someone she knew may have driven. 

Today, those wrenches helped me change out a ball hitch and a trailer shank that had me absolutely stumped. Grandma would have been proud.



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This Blog was originally published in the Sleeps Two Blog by the same author in 2011. It deserves to be here as well.





Sunday, May 14, 2023

When My Muse Goes Back to Bed

What to write? I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop, reading Facebook posts and old e-mails, killing time waiting on my muse to inspire me. There must be something worth writing that hasn’t filtered out to my fingertips. I’m beginning to think my muse went back to bed. Maybe she didn’t even wake up in the first place.

It is dark out, it should be as it’s only 4:49 in the morning. The apartment is subtly noisy even though I’m the only one awake. It’s not noisy in the loud sense, it’s noisy in the odd sounds at odd times sense. The noises that would normally stimulate my writing motivator that we all call our muse. This dark, detached morning when every sound drifting in from who-knows-where should be questioned, my muse is oddly silent.

The refrigerator makes strange noises, clicking and straining as it cycles through its programmed duties. The building itself seems to occasionally groan, or burp, or emit steam and of course I can hear the ever present hum of electricity. Oddly, I can hear 60 cycle AC, 115 volt electrical power. I used to think I had ringing in my ears until Hurricane Andrew shut down all of our electrical power in Miami for several weeks. I didn’t really realize how quiet it was without power until the night it came back on and the ringing in my ears started again. Perhaps that is one of the reasons my wife and I love camping. I finally hear true piece and quiet when we get away from the outlets and extension cords, except for the ambient noises that come and go in the night. As long as they are not train horns I don’t mind.

CSX Freight train crossing the
Middle Oconee River, Athens, GA
 - Photo by Nikos - Munich Germany
                                                                                
Train horns are why I’m awake now, sitting in front of my laptop screen trying to write something intelligent. My muse has abandoned me, leaving me here alone, unable put coherent sentences together. The freight train rolled through at exactly 3:14 am. The tracks really aren’t that close by our rental house here in the rolling hills of Athens, Georgia, but the main-line CSX railroad track between Atlanta and Charlotte runs along the crest of the hill on the other side of the Middle Oconee River from us, so the sound of the daily, sometimes hourly trains is unimpeded. In fact, I think the small valley is a great natural acoustic chamber and we’re unfortunately at the wrong end of Mother Nature’s really good amplifier.

I like to think one day a great piece of writing will appear here, but so far only detached musings and oddly mismatched pieces of memories display in front of me. For some unknown reason, thoughts about high school, in 1959, when all the cool, future leaders of America were reading their mother’s copies of “Lady Chatterley's Lover,” my friends and I were trading dog-eared copies of “My Brother Was An Only Child” and the book about the Roman Circus Maximus, appear magically on my screen. I don’t remember the name of the book about the Romans but I doggedly remember astonishing things about the Roman Coliseum and the gladiators. It was also when I read my first paperbacks by Ian Fleming, a collection of short stories and a hand-me-down copy of Casino Royale.

Since I was a teenage airplane fanatic, I also had a copy of Adolf Galland’s book, “The First and the Last” and of course Robert L. Scott’s famous book about the Flying Tigers, “God is My Copilot.” I also had the original, illustrated large hardback I got as a present from my Grandmother – with a little coaching help on selection – William Greene’s outstanding “Famous Fighters of the Second World War.” I still have the original book, along with the other three volumes of the set I collected over the years. I used the airbrushed illustrations to paint the multitude of plastic airplane models I built as a teenager. Probably well over a hundred between my brother and I. Most of them ended up hanging from our bedroom ceiling from monofilament fishing line and one time or another.


One of the books in that set I have is a replacement for one I loaned a friend and never saw again. It took over forty years to find a replacement book, but it did teach me to never, never loan a book to anybody. Period. Not a book you want to keep, at any rate. They never come back. Never.

I wonder why no one here complains about the trains, especially in the dead of night. It is Sunday morning and I seriously doubt anyone is driving across any of the several unguarded railroad crossings in the dead of night or in the early hours before daybreak, but I know the trains blow their mournful long blasts at the same places every time, day or night. Probably at the bridge over the river. That’s why the awful sound carries so powerfully down the valley.

And not just short toots or honks. I sometimes think the engineer might have died and collapsed on the horn button. Of course I researched train horns and why they have to be a loud, blaring nuisance at Oh Dark Thirty in the morning. I now know that under the Train Horn Rule, (49 CFR Part 222), blah, blah, blah, “Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.” I also learned the volume can no longer be above 110 decibels, down from the old 130 decibels which is probably why railroad crew members are all deaf. I also learned that we are forty miles from any of the fifteen registered "Quiet" railroad zones in Georgia. I’ve heard so many horns in the last month I can tell differences between different types of locomotives. My wife just looks at me and shakes her head. It is now 5:52 am and there have been no more trains since the one that woke me up almost three hours ago.

It’s really quiet right this minute. The place has gone silent. It doesn’t last long as a compressor starts up somewhere in the kitchen or wherever back there in the dark. I look at my computer screen, apparently my muse was here after all. There isn’t enough to write about to take advantage of the otherwise secluded time of traction. Yes, look it up! Look up the opposite of distraction. That’s what writers do, they research! That’s why I know so much about train horns. Research. 

Maybe that’s why my muse went to bed. Muses just don't seem do well in the land of facts and reality. They much prefer to be free and unrestrained, flying on the backs of dragons or joking with the President about his golf game. They don't care much for the mundane universe of plausibility.

I’m going back to bed, too. The sun will be up soon and maybe, just maybe, they’ll forget to blow the horn.




Friday, May 5, 2023

The Magic Circle and the Loop That Isn’t



Moving to a new city means getting lost at the strangest times. Like, while driving in a straight line. I was driving on Alps Road and then I wasn’t. I was dutifully driving straight and hadn’t noticed the street name had changed to West Lake Drive. Somewhere back there a ways it changed and my GPS was naively silent. Did I miss a turn? Nope!

Say you’re in Athens, Georgia, and you decide to find an address on Barnett Shoals Road. Barnett Shoals turns unexpectedly left at an intersection that will leave you on Whitehall if you don’t make the turn. But let’s say, just for fun, you do a U-turn to get back on Barnett Shoals, you will find several miles later, at a T-intersection with still more options, BSR turns unexpectedly back toward the way you were headed to start with. In fact, you’ll soon be in Watkinsville, three blocks from Simonton Bridge Road, which is what Whitehall turned into if you missed the turn that got you off Barnett Shoals in the first place. Stay with me here.

“One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.”

My first exposure to the poem The Calf-Path, written in 1896 by Sam Walter Foss, was a single-page insert into my first management course material package taken while was in the Air Force. I kept it with me until I moved to Athens recently, finally tossing it exactly 60 years after I took the course back at Bitburg Air Base, way, way back in a former lifetime. Dog-eared and often copied, passed on to my daughter, and proven time and again to be absolutely correct, it once again flashed through my memory as I tried to figure out where Timothy Road went. Not because I was curious where it would lead, but because I was driving on it and then I wasn’t.

“The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.”

But I don’t mind. Even with the University of Georgia in full swing, the local traffic isn’t bad and the countryside is just beautiful, turning even mundane address hunting into a scenic road trip. They're even fixing the famous loop that isn’t, the Athens Outer loop, sometimes called Athens Inner loop. It all depends on whether you are coming or going.

“And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

Are you going clockwise or counter-clockwise? How would you know? According to some local experts, it depends if you are driving in the inside lanes or the outside lanes and where you are going or maybe where you might have been. I don’t know how to tell the inside lanes from the outside lanes since there are both left and right hand curves on the loop(s). Which way you’re going is generally relevant on most roads, even if they are a loop(s) because if you drive all the way around at east once, you’ve usually covered all the points on the compass. Apparently, a loop is not necessarily a circle.

“This forest path became a lane,
that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

In Athens, you still won’t have a clue if you did it on the Outer Loop or the Inner Loop because it still is the same road and it ends up where it began, the point where you have to get off the loop to stay on it. Yes, you have to get off the loop to stay on it. Believe it or not, the last exit, or the first exit, depending if you’re coming or going on the inner or outer loop(s), is number 10. It used to be exit 11 until they improved the numbering. Exit number one is on the other side of town.

“The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And thus, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

First, how far is it from the Outer Loop to the Inner loop? Not very far, I found out after my third week driving on them. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to discover they are the same road. The Inner Loop and the Outer loop are halves of the same highway. Not like a highway cut serially in pieces by toll booths, like a pizza, but cut in parallel down the side like a sliced bagel. The SR 10 Loop highway is a divided four lane, limited access highway, just like any other divided highway you’ve ever driven on where two lanes go in one direction and the other two lanes go in the opposite direction, except the middle – median – of this oddly named road is an important line of demarcation of sorts: the name changes from one side to the other.


Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

The loop closest to town, by the width of the median strip, is the inner loop, and since we are in the United States and drive on the right side of the road, travels in a clockwise direction. The lanes on the other side of the median, the furthest away from Athens by about 100 yards, going the other way, counter-clockwise, comprise the outer loop.

Oddly, there is something naively appealing about this simplistic naming convention once you live here: Is it faster to get to where you’re going by the Inner Loop or the Outer Loop because simply cutting through town is out of the question during when the University of Georgia is in session. You can drive the entire nineteen and a half miles of the SR 10 Loop at the legal speed limit in either direction and still knock fifteen minutes off driving through town to get to the same destination.

A hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.”

Just don’t get off on Highway 78. Highway 78 can be Atlanta Highway, which is U.S. Highway 78, but not SR (State Road) 78. SR 78 cuts through the middle of the loop on both the North and South side of the loop(s). The US 78 exit on the west side of town is number 18, the same one where SR 10 coming from Atlanta meets SR 10 Loop, also known as the Outer/Inner Loop that goes both clockwise and counterclockwise, depending on whether you are coming or going.


“A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.

According to Wikipedia, “Between exits 4 and 8, there is an eight-route concurrency, consisting of US 29, US 78, US 129, US 441, SR 8, SR 10 Loop, SR 15, and the unsigned SR 422.” Believe it or not, old-timers here still call the road the Athens Bypass.


They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They don’t mention if this is the Inner Loop or the Outer Loop because they don’t know which direction you might want to drive, and if you are a hometown fan of the National Champion University of Georgia Bulldogs because then you have to sit on the other side of the stadium regardless of how you get there.



They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.”

1896 – Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

I can hardly wait for the football season kick-off. Game day here must be something to behold.




Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Migration

I rocked back and forth on my heels as we waited patiently behind the red line admonishing patrons against having cellphones beyond the Plexiglas barriers. Not allowed, the sign said. Please forward all documentation via email or texts to the Tag agency at the following e-address. No passing cellphones through the time/space portal of the translucent barrier that separates the world of the unknowing masses from the masters of the universe. If you want to transfer your driver's license or register your car, the all-knowing beings on the other side of the Plexiglas are indeed the undisputed masters of the universe.

Kind ones at least, in Clarke County, Georgia, home of the National Champion College football team, the University of Georgia Bulldogs. My wife and had I decided to relocate to Athens, Georgia, and the first, mandatory actions were to transfer our driver's license and automobile registration.

The three county employees on the other side of the Plexiglas were very busy as our diverse group patiently waited for our turns. One of the patiently waiting was a tall, slender young Sikh wearing a dastar. The four other county representatives were apparently still at lunch, causing the line to extend beyond the entrance alcove and out the front door of the only automobile tag office in the entire county.

I listened intently as the patron in front of me turned dejectedly to leave. He stopped and said back over his shoulder, "In Florida, our proof of insurance cards suffice to get our cars registered, but apparently not here in Georgia.”

“No sir,” the young lady on the other side of the transparent, dimensional separator. “Here you need the binder from your insurance company to register the car. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to return with the proper insurance document. Next!”

My wife and I looked at each other and slowly approached the bureaucratic sanctuary, fully aware we didn’t have the proper insurance binder either. All we had was the same proof of insurance card required in Florida that all car owners have.

“Hello,” I said as I pushed the wad of paper work through the access slot, “If this keeps up, there won’t be anyone left in Florida. We’ve recently moved here as well. Have you seen many of us moving up here.”

The young clerk looked up, her face mask covering her face but not her dancing, expressive eyes.

“Yes, It’s becoming more and more common, let me see if all this is in order.”

She dutifully read the old Florida title and registration, then carefully looked over our brand new, temporary Georgia driver’s licenses, and began typing furiously on her computer keyboard. She glanced up and said, “I can issue the new title, but not the registration. You’ll need the insurance binder from your insurer as well. Sorry, but I can only do so much with incomplete documentation. She slipped a blue stick-em note with the amount $504.14 back to me and said, “This is the Ad Valorem tax required to transfer the title.”

We thanked her, and headed immediately to the nearest insurance agency that issued our policy. After an hour and a half of travel, introductions and explanations, we headed back to the county tag agency.

The counter positions were all staffed and there was no waiting, and as luck would have it, the next open clerk was the pleasant young woman we had earlier.

“Welcome back! All set?” she asked.

“We hope so,” I said as I pushed the newly acquired paper work through the trans-dimensional portal.

She laughed, keyed a few lines and held up two different style license plates we could choose from. Ilse made an artistic selection and after a twenty dollar bill disappeared into the void of government coffers, we received our new Georgia license plate.

As we traded pleasantries to say our goodbyes, I turned and stepped on the biggest shoe I have ever seen. The bright yellow color startled me as much as his huge black ears.



“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, “I didn’t see you behind me!”

“Gosh!” he said in his instantly familiar high-pitched voice, “That’s all right! I sure hope they take my insurance card! I’ve heard it’s different up here.”

We looked back several times as the Magic Kingdom icon stood on his tip toes to see over the counter. We could tell he was listening to the same instructions we received as his ears began to slowly fold down,”

“Maybe they are moving to Atlanta.” my wife said. “It would serve DeSantis right.”



Monday, October 10, 2022

The Flight Engineer and the Nose Wheel

The 76th Troop Carrier Squadron, 435th Troop Carrier Wing, based at Miami International Air Depot, had the distinction of not only hauling our Civil Air Patrol drill teams around the state for drill competitions, but they also got to fly all the cadets from the Miami area to the two week long encampments held annually at different Air Force bases. The first CAP Summer Encampment I attended was at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle in July, 1959, and once again, we flew in a C-119G Flying Boxcar of the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron. With three cadet squadrons in Miami alone, one of which was the Miami All Girls Squadron, the competition between the drill teams was fierce, but this year, our Miami Composite Squadron II won not only the Florida state championship, but our regional drill competition held in Memphis as well. The summer encampment was scheduled just before we flew up to New York City for the National Drill Competition. Spending two weeks at the Air Force Air Proving Ground Center was a treat for all of us, watching, inspecting, and even sitting in practically everything flown by the US Air Force. Nothing, however prepared us for the flight home.

The long, droning flight from the Florida panhandle was uneventful. We never flew above ten thousand feet and most of the cadets took turns looking out the few windows that were not scratched or discolored, watching the Florida landscape slip slowly beneath us. The magnificent Florida thunderheads never interfered as we started the long approach from the Marco station on Florida’s west coast, approaching Miami over the Everglades. On the long, gradual descent into MIAD, the flight engineer climbed down out of the cockpit and casually looked out the window on one side, and then crossed over to the other side of the cavernous, square box of the troop compartment and leaned against a window to get a good look at the engine on the other side. The fabric troop seats mounted sideways along the fuselage walls were in the way, so he would lean between whoever was sitting there to see out the window. The flight engineers always checked for oil leaks from the powerful Pratt and Whitney radial engines on every flight, and sometimes before we started an approach to land. They always came down from the flight deck when the landing gear was lowered.


He was satisfied and climbed back up the short ladder on the left side of the front bulkhead and disappeared back into the flight deck. Not soon afterward, the huge wing flaps began to extend and the buffeting that accompanies their extension began in earnest. The huge main landing gear doors opened and the main landing gear began to noisily lower. The C-119 was unique as some of the passengers could watch as the huge landing gear assemblies extended downward right beside the passenger windows. Another unique feature of the C119 was it required almost full power to fly with all the drag of the wing flaps and exposed landing gear. Those who were in the Flying Boxcar for the first time always got quiet and you could usually see the whites of their eyes from anywhere inside the fuselage as the noise levels rose and power was applied to the big Pratt and Whitney engines. The whole plane would shake and vibrate. Us “old” cadets would usually talk heroically to the rookies but some you just couldn't console. Besides, you had to yell which didn't help matters.


The flight engineer, a dark haired young looking fellow, probably in his mid to late twenties, climbed back down into the troop compartment for a second time. The flight engineers usually came down to spot check the main landing gear, a routine task done for every landing. This time however, he couldn't mask his concern. He turned and squatted down looking at the center of the bulkhead in the very front of the compartment. The bulkhead had an access panel held in place with Dzus fasteners, the standard Air Force twist-lock type quick access fastener. In the center of the panel was a small inspection panel that allowed a quick check of the nose landing gear. When the landing gear was up, the huge double tires of the nose wheels were clearly visible from inside the cargo area. You could squat and look through the panel window and see the tread on the tires on the nose landing gear, folded compactly inside the fuselage just under the flight deck. That was the problem for our flight engineer: they weren't supposed to be there, at least, not when the pilot was trying to land. They should have been down and locked for landing. The adult members of our squadron began to look like the first timers. You could see the whites of their eyes in the dimly lighted compartment. We all had on the mandatory parachutes but only the cadets were excited about possibly having to bail out!


We hadn't changed course, still droning on directly toward Miami. We knew we were still over the Everglades west of Krome Avenue, but we knew we weren't too far out or the pilot wouldn't have lowered the landing gear. The flight engineer removed the panel and looked around inside the nose-wheel compartment. He backed out and stood up, grabbing a red painted D-Ring hanging just above the panel. The D-ring was on the end of a metal stranded cable which barely protruded into the troop area. It was the emergency gear release should the hydraulic system fail. He braced himself by putting one foot against the bulkhead and yanked the D-ring with all his might. He practically fell on the floor as the D-ring pulled off the cable, leaving our surprised flight engineer with a useless, red painted D-ring in his hand and the nose landing gear still firmly stowed inside the aircraft. He scrambled back up the ladder and almost immediately reappeared as if speed were of the utmost importance. We all watched, absolutely fascinated by the drama unfolding right before our eyes.


He had grabbed a pair of vise grip pliers from the flight deck, a type of locking pliers that can be adjusted for size and locking grip, and returned to the stubborn cable. Working to get a grip on the cable proved to be futile as attempt after attempt to pull the cable met with failure. Finally, with absolutely no recourse, he twisted the remaining Dzus fasteners and took off the main panel. He laid it off to the right side of the bulkhead. With the panel removed, we could all see into the wheel well from the troop compartment. The flight engineer took a deep breath and climbed into the wheel well, squeezing past the struts and braces that cluttered the opening. He disappeared from sight completely and all the cadets as well as the few adult members held their collective breaths.


It was a moment I will never forget. The flight engineer couldn't be seen, yet we knew he was struggling with no tools inside a dark, cramped compartment with absolutely no room. The droning was incredibly intense, yet none of us heard it. Suddenly, with an indescribable noise, the nose gear doors slammed open and the huge landing gear swung free. The inside of the fuselage was blasted by 150 mile an hour wind! Dress uniforms, carefully wrapped in plastic, hanging from the static jump lines that ran the length of the aircraft, blew all over the back of the airplane. I could see the landscape below with the nose gear fully extended, and our incredibly dedicated, unsung hero, bracing himself with one foot against the fuselage and the other foot against the other side of the bulkhead, inches from the gaping hole! Nothing below him but the Everglades some 2000 feet down. And he didn't have on a parachute! He couldn't fit in the wheel well with one on.


The young flight engineer slowly backed out of the wheel well, stood up and brushed off his pant legs. He climbed back up the short ladder while we sat in wind-blown awe. The landing was without further incident, even though we were followed back to Base Operations by an Air Force O1A fire truck.


He got a round of applause but I don’t think he heard it. We never even found out his name. We all disembarked from the aircraft, and waited on the apron, but we never got to meet him. He was probably busy filling out paperwork.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Ludwig and the Donkey


An image of the old farm just off the highway immediately popped into my mind as my wife and I turned sharply into the triangular courtyard at the bottom of the hill. The Bauernhof looked astonishingly familiar. The house was nestled between the highway and a small farmer’s access road that ran along the river. I drove past it every day for three years on my way to and from work in the early 1960's.

The farmhouse was just over a small bridge over the minuscule River Nims, which in North Carolina would probably be called a creek, but this is the Eifel region of Germany, and the small, innocuous river played havoc with the area just two years earlier with horrendous flooding. Luckily, our hosts for the next three weeks,  Ludwig and Walburga Pax, were spared any damage.




They were kind enough to let us stay with them as they had an empty apartment on the ground floor of the old, but completely refurbished farmhouse. The arrangements were made by other German friends of ours so we could spend time in Bitburg, Germany, my wife’s hometown. Bitburg Air Base was also home to the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing and the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron, my duty station for over five years during two separate assignments. Bitburg was made famous in May, 1985, by President Reagan's visit to a local cemetery that drew both praise and condemnation.

Our hosts were very cordial as my wife and I spent the first several days going and coming, shopping in town, sightseeing and catching up on old friendships. We also got to meet several people we had friended on-line, mainly through Facebook. Soon, Ludwig and Walburga invited us to join them in their garden patio for a glass of wine and we immediately accepted. They had just returned from Tirol in Northern Italy where they celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary. They had arrived home the night before we got there. They were settling in as much as we were.

Even with my rusty German, bolstered by my wife’s translation skills, we were soon reminiscing about the old days when blue US Air Force trucks roared up the hill on their way to Bitburg Air Base, or further on to Idenheim, one of our two launch sites. The missile support area where I worked was several miles back up the highway in the other direction. The Pax farmhouse was directly adjacent to the two-lane highway that connected the areas. The traffic on the highway back then was sparse, usually local farmers headed toward Oberweis or the farming villages scattered in the area. Occasional Luxemburgers came across from nearby Vianden, but the parade of blue USAF trucks and transporters and the colorful big, American cars of the officers and sergeants who worked at MSA or the other launch site we had at nearby Rittersdorf were just as common as the black-on-white license plates of the local residents. In the several days we had been there, it was obvious things have changed.

The traffic was incessant up and down the hill. Trucks of all shapes and sizes from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and even France were common, and the license plates of the continual flow of cars and SUVs reflected the economic state of the European Union, which seems to be doing quite well. The traffic at night slacked off little but the Pax’s newly rebuilt apartment had soundproof windows and window shades that insulated us completely from the outside world. While we were chatting about the differences between now and then, Ludwig laughed and told me about the day an Air Force truck brought him a donkey.

I sat up. Again, old memories began to stir. 

Sometime during the late 1950's, while the TM-61C Matador was the primary weapon system of the 585th Tactical Missile Group, MSA was developed as the off-base maintenance area and the nearby Site VII was then known as "B" pad. Ludwig’s parents rented the apartment on the ground floor of the farm house to an American missileman who often brought candy or gum for Ludwig. One afternoon the renter was talking with Ludwig's father and asked Ludwig, who was six or seven at the time, if he wanted a bunny, a chicken, or a donkey. Young Ludwig said he’d rather have a donkey. 

Several days later, a blue Air Force truck pulled into the farmyard towing a trailer. Several airmen opened the trailer and unloaded a donkey, complete with a box of feed and blankets. The American had asked Ludwig's father to house-keep the donkey for the Air Force, but Ludwig had no idea of how or why. Ludwig said he was very happy to get the Donkey.

I sat and listened to his story, my mind furiously spinning. I remembered posting a photograph on my web site of a donkey that had been brought back from Libya as a squadron mascot.  It was taken from a squadron newspaper clipping in the late fifties and I suddenly remembered where to find it. I went inside and logged on to Ludwig’s W-lan – it’s not called WiFi in Germany – and pulled up the photo of the donkey. When I showed it to Ludwig, he was speechless. He went inside and came back out with a photo of him sitting on the donkey! Now I was speechless.

Ludwig Pax, about 5 or 6 years old, with his mother
Photo courtesy of Ludwig Pax


A Martin Company civilian named Bill Baily accompanied the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron to Wheelus Air Base in Libya as a Technical Representative during a live-fire exercise done annually by all of the tactical missile squadrons assigned to NATO. The exercises, called AMLO, or Annual Missile Launch Operation, were done from 1954 through early 1959, with thirty-six Matador missiles launched annually at an area sixteen miles from the Wheelus flight line. While on the 1959 exercise, Bailey somehow acquired a burro from a Libyan local near the launch area outside of Tripoli and managed not only to get it on the C-119 flight back to Bitburg, but also got the Squadron to adopt the animal as its mascot. Renamed to Mahl Ish from whatever it was called before, the new name supposedly reflected the phrase “mox nix,” the military bastardization of the German phrase “machts nicht,” roughly translated as “doesn’t matter.” Someone even had a blanket made, probably in Libya, with the burro’s new name across the top and the squadron insignia proudly emblazoned in the center. It would be hard to imagine the 585th Tactical Missile Group commander, Col Fred Vetter, wasn’t in on the stunt as 1st Lt. Sherman J. Uchill was assigned as Mahl Ish’s custodian.



Ludwig did not remember the name of the American family his father rented to, but he remembered when the Air Police – since renamed to Security Police – knocked on the farm house door one afternoon asking to speak with the American renter. The tenant produced documents about the burro that satisfied the police and they left, leaving the burro with the Pax family.

Ludwig remembered having the burro for several years, with the Air Force coming by every once in a while to pick up the animal for special events, but they always brought the animal back to the farm. He also remembered the burro getting out of his pen more than once, one time going all the way to the main street in Bitburg before Ludwig's father found him.

Ludwig doesn't know the fate of the burro, only that one time the Air Force picked up the burro and that was the last time he saw it.

Not only does Ludwig still have the shears used on the burro...

...he also still has the original box it came in!

Both photos courtesy of Ludwig Pax


Determined to fill in the blanks after we were back home, I asked Russ Reston, webmaster for the TAC Missileers Association if he could put a blurb on their site asking anyone for information about the mysterious squadron mascot. He put my odd request on the Web page and the next morning I had an answer from Mike Fedrick, a missileer who served with the 585th TMG from 1959 until 1962, the year I arrived in the group.

Mike wrote “I was in the 71st TMS from 1959 to 1962. The donkey was brought to Germany from Libya in 1959 by the last group to go to Libya for combat ready launches. The rest of us went to Cape Canaveral for launches.

I got to know the donkey up close and personal. When the 585th Tac Missile Group had a summer picnic for dependent children, the group commander (Col. Vetter) had me pick it up from the German farmer that was taking care of it, load it into a weapons carrier, take it to the picnic, and lead it around with kids riding on it, load it back, and take it back to the German farmer. My memories of this event are unpleasant because the donkey did not want to get into the weapons carrier, both when I picked it up and when we had to load it to take it back. The German farmer got it loaded the first time, but it took several of us to load it to take it back.

I was told I was chosen for this onerous task because I’m from Texas. I’m actually good with horses, but never had to deal with a donkey before or after. As you know, Mox Nix means "makes no difference".

Best regards, Mike”

I have no idea what strange stories will pop up next time we visit Bitburg, but it will be hard to top meeting Ludwig and hearing about his donkey.

George



Ilse Mindling, Walburga Pax, Ludwig Pax, George Mindling
Steinebrücke, Bitburg, Germany, September 2022









Saturday, January 29, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 12, Rollin' Home


 

The trip back to the US from the lesser Antilles of the Caribbean is a solid two day voyage, and a great time to relax and enjoy cruising for what it really is: sanctuary.

It is about birds and flying fish. The wrong birds, it turns out but cool birds after all. I watched them on our way into San Juan as they flew alongside the ship into a strong, blustery headwind. They often flew close to the surface, between the cresting waves, flying in the toughs between the spray-capped peaks as flying fish, startled by the ship, would leap out of the water and soar along the wave line trying to escape the huge, blue hull that pursued them in the water. I saw the big, dark brown seabirds, with huge wing spans and long bright, beaks that looked like spears between the other islands as well, but not in the abundance we saw in the Atlantic north of San Juan. I watched them soar overhead, circle each other and then float easily, almost motionless alongside a cruise ship that was shoving its ninety-one thousand ton mass relentlessly through a protesting, cobalt-blue ocean.



I called them Albatrosses, not that I know what an Albatross really looks like, but it sounded right. I knew they weren’t forked-tailed Frigatebirds that soared overhead in every port. It was almost a given they were going to be Albatrosses, after all, that is what writers call them when writing about ships and the sea, right? The graceful birds would suddenly dive down into the ocean, just like on the television shows on PBS. The white, turbulent trail of bubbles and foam would dissipate before the birds reappeared on the ocean’s surface. They would take off immediately and rejoin the others in the hunt. Several of them would skim along the cresting waves and grab an occasional fish that leapt into the air. But they weren’t Albatrosses, they were Brown Boobies. Yes, Brown Boobies. Now you know why writers call them Albatrosses.


Perhaps one reason they’re so common north of Puerto Rico is because that’s the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. Well, probably not, but when the captain announced the ocean we were passing through was over 16,000 feet deep just north of Puerto Rico, I had to research, why here?


This is what happens when I have two whole days without telephones and television and very limited Internet. With plenty of time to write whatever wanders through my mind, complete, coherent sentences would magically appear in my spiral notebook. I thought they were coherent at the time, but now I’m simply happy to have the abstract notes and tidbits that trigger memories all in one place. As I read them now, I often drift off in memories and unanswered questions. The second answer is the Puerto Rico Trench. It is the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean and full of long, floating patches of Sargasso sea weed.

I’ve often wondered why the land in our neck of the woods is flat. Florida, the Bahamas, even the parts of the Yucatan peninsulas are flat and featureless, while the islands south of us are typically mountainous, starting with Cuba, not all that far away. Except oddly enough, for the Cayman islands, which from what we saw, looks like Key Largo. Maybe the Puerto Rico Trench doesn’t have anything to with that either, but it does separate two major tectonic plates. Neat, huh? Just a few hundred miles further south and we could have earthquakes like Puerto Rico, and volcanoes such as the one on St. Vincent that erupted violently two years ago. Instead, we get flat, featureless, boring Florida.

Something else neat about the trench we can not see even when we pass over it. According to NASA, “beneath the trench is a mass so dense it has a gravitational pull on the surface of the ocean, causing it to dip somewhat. It also has a negative effect on the accuracy of navigational instruments.” Apparently it doesn’t bother the birds.




The weather was beautiful. Sunny, with the winds behind us in a following sea, the ship was perfectly at ease. We slept in, taking yet another tour of the boat after our late, late breakfast. 


Being fascinated by the open ocean, I stood on our balcony and watched the big birds flying alongside us for several hours and took hundreds of photographs. I deleted all but the few that weren’t blurry, keeping one or two that show they distinctly are not Albatrosses.






The telephone rang and we both looked at each other in surprise. It was Concierge services but the voice was broken and erratic. We could barely complete a sentence without popping noises and sporadic silence. She apologized and said she would send a technician to fix the phone. I know that’s what she said because ten minutes later, a technician knocked on our door with a new telephone set. The concierge called back on the new, working telephone because we had earlier asked for the room temperature to be raised a few degrees. The room controller didn’t work and couldn’t be adjusted by us, so again, they sent a technician to solve our problem. They were checking to see if the temperature was to our liking when they found out we had the telephone problem. We told her the room was fine. Thirty minutes later we had another knock on the door. The concierge sent us a complementary bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for our inconvenience. The service from Celebrity is outstanding.

This was the second dress-up night for dining, and for the second evening in a row, we had the pleasure of meeting Dany and Seba for dinner. We had the option of dining at one of the upscale specialty restaurants, but we all agreed to dine in the main dining room again. 

Luh and David, great people and part of the memory

The service staff of the Millennium was without doubt, one of the best we have encountered, and that includes the SS Norway. David, our waiter, never missed a hint or gesture and by the second meal, had our quirks and tastes so well known we didn't have to ask for anything, it was already there, and Luh, our server, was even so comfortable with us she did the infamous dropped coffee cup routine not only on me, but on Seba as well. On our final night, Ilse asked them to "bend" the code a little bit and please remove the masks momentarily so we could finally see their faces and take a photograph. That is without doubt, one of the biggest drawbacks to the COVID procedures which Celebrity adheres to religiously; we don't get to see the faces of the people we meet.  


Tonight was lobster night, so once again, had a great dinner along with great company. We all retired to the lounge on the fantail where we were joined by several other musician friends of theirs, and their fiancées, and ended up listening to music and chatting until 1:30 in the morning. A really great day.




Our last day at sea was an indoor day. The weather turned rainy and windy, with one break long enough to hear a final pool-side performance by Dany and Seba, Supernova Duo. They performed “My Life is Going On,” the theme song from “The Money Heist.” the hit Netflix series, just for us. There could not have been a better note to end the vacation. Without a doubt, one of our best vacations ever.


Seba and Dany - SuperNova Duo - open our Home video, simply click on the photo!

As far as cruising? We’ve already started planning our next one.


Ft Lauderdale at sunrise - Welcome back to reality.