Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Wild Blue Yonder

Enamored with airplanes, my grandfather left the Civilian Conservation Corps after spending a few months clearing land and building fences for the booming business of aeronautics. He arranged to take a thirty-day course in aircraft mechanic work. His dreams of flying, fueled by building real flying airplane kits from the Provo Woolworth store made from balsa wood and Japanese tissue, were transforming from boyhood imaginations to manhood realities.

Leaving Payson, Utah, behind, he boarded a bus and headed to Los Angeles, California. Some say he took a bus. Some say he skipped trains. Personally, the idea of my grandpa as a real-life hobo makes the adventurer in me gleam. Perhaps he did a combo of these two, but either way he qualifies as an adventurer in my book.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Robertson
Welcome to Los Angeles – photograph was taken by a street photographer in downtown Los Angeles

On the bus, he met Virgine Ford, whom he roomed with for some time. Virgine and my grandpa learned how to rivet in the mechanic’s course and were immediately hired at Douglas Aircraft as an assembler making 50¢ an hour. They built DB-7s for France’s war effort. These twin-engine airplanes were much like the US’s A-20 and A-26, which they started to build after the US entered the war.

With this lucrative job, he was able to manage his finances so that he could spend $7.50 once a week on 30-minute flying lessons. Flying felt natural to him, and he was permitted to go on his first solo flight after just six hours of flight time, even though the law required eight hours. He was able to build up a few more hours, “before other events interrupted these happy times.”

Virgine ended up flying B-17s in the service and eventually B-29s in the Pacific theater. With a tinge of envy, my grandfather wasn’t eligible to be a pilot in the service because he was color blind. He figures it was for the best since he’d, “have probably been shot down in Europe.” Instead, he waited to join the effort until he was drafted by the Army as an airplane instrument technician. I’m glad he waited, as that gave him some time to figure out some things and meet my grandmother.


Sunday dinners were held at my grandpa’s house in El Cajon, CA, when I was a kid. His house was within the flight path of the local air shows. We’d all stop and look up at the airplanes that flew overhead, and Grandpa would tell us all about the crafts that soared the skies.

Here are some planes from the 1940s that we may have heard my grandpa describe while eating lasagna and luscious salad:


A-20C Havoc being serviced at Langley Field, Virginia, 1942


Beachcraft xa

Beechcraft 28 Destroyer/XA-38 Grizzly



Boeing B-52


Do you want to know more about the 1940s and your grandparents? Check out the 1940 Census Project. While you’re there, you can join the census project and sign up to become an indexer.

As part of ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card.


Adri said...

I think the whole project is a great way for our generation to get reconnected with our past... I'm just saddened by the fact none of my family members are included in the census... so I'm going to have to live vicariously through you relating your family stories of the 40s :)

Michael Pierce said...

Wow, what a great story. The photographs remind me of model airplanes I used to build as a kid, the B-52 among them.

I wrote about technology (hypertext)...if you have a minute, would love to hear your thoughts.