Flying magazine/1931/I Break a Record and Have a Swell Time Besides
I Break a Record and Have a Swell Time Besides. Some random notes on a two-way trip across the continent. By Eddie Schneider as told to Mary Bell Dann. From the beginning I had wanted to do something with my flying. Just being able to go up in the air and come down at the same spot wasn't very exciting. Airplanes are for going places quickly, safely and comfortably. I don't know why, but my longing had always been to go to the West Coast. First, because I had never been there, and then for various reasons you fly over all sorts of country on the way, and it is the best way to see the country. Then that is the longest distance you can go without hitting foreign country. Frank Goldsborough had made the old junior transcontinental record. Frank was killed in a very unfortunate and peculiar accident. When he returned from his cross-country flight he was touring around, got into had weather and landed in a low tree. His companion got out all right and so did Frank when a very strange thing happened. His reserve tank, which he carried under the ship fell and struck him in the head. It was the sort of thing that wouldn't happen once in a million times, but the average person never stopped to think that out. The idea got around that it wasn't safe for young fellows and girls to fly. Frank had believed in aviation for boys and girls of high school and college age as the greatest of sports. I wanted to prove he was right and be able to give people something to talk about in connection with junior aviation besides Frank's tough luck. Those ideas were all in the back of my mind, but I hadn't bean able to do anything about them. Then one day I went over to the Westfield Airport where Charlie Dann was and got to talking it over with him - I wished I had money to buy a ship. He was already sold on the idea of young fellows being in the air and had more young fellows at his school than at any other school in the country. We got thinking it over and he suggested that I get some of my friends to form a corporation to buy a half interest in a Cessna he had at his field. It was a cabin ship and the average passenger prefers to ride in an open ship for a short hop and it was too advanced for student training. It was cheap, the total purchase price would be less than half of the real value of the ship and it was in good shape. I knew it was a fast ship because I had followed in the papers when it raced and brought back cups from the different air meets it went in. Then Dad come across and backed me to the half interest in the ship. I could buy the other half interest when I got back with any prize money or advertising checks I received. It was a lucky break. Things began to happen with lightning-like rapidity. I took title around the tenth of August and was off the fourteenth. The reason for this was that the National Air Races were on during the last week in August in Chicago and I wanted to be there. I had two hours time in the ship before I headed west. There were many details to attend to; the engine had to be checked, there wasn't time for an overhaul and the boys at the field worked cheerfully until all hours of the night helping me. We didn't do any special streamlining to add to the top speed of the ship although I bet we could add an easy ten miles an hour by putting pants over the wheels and a cowling over the motor. It was just an ordinary commercial ship and I was glad I could help tell more folks that Papa Cessna builds an honest ship with remarkably clean lines and speed without the doo-dads. We didn't install any special instruments either. We had the ones checked that were in there. The instrument company's man swung the compass for accuracy before we put the extra cans of gasoline aboard. First I bought a map of the whole United States and laid out on it what seemed to be the best course. I had it beside me at Valley Stream one day just before starting and Frank Hawks looked at it. "Hey, you, where did you get my map?" He was getting ready for his coast to coast flight. Strange thing, we had each laid out a practically identical route. The next stop was to buy state maps, sort them out in the proper order and layout my course on those. Charlie Dann said that wasn't enough, he must have had a hunch about what was going to happen to my compass, so that last night, after we all left the hangar at midnight after throwing in tools, a spare wheel and a bottle of coffee so that I could got right off as soon as dawn broke the next morning, I went to bed and sat up with the maps. In the morning he handed me a log of points measured on the map with a table of how long it would Lake to get from point to point. In this way I could always know where I was without a compass, by the rivers, mountains, cities and other prominent landmarks. I wasn't waiting for perfect weather because there wouldn't be much aviation if it were all fair day and tail wind flying. All I asked was a little ceiling near Bellefonte where the mountains are apt to be a little too chummy with the clouds. The report indicated a rising ceiling over Bollefonte, which later turned out to be a lot of bologna . It wasn't quite light yet when I got out to the field that morning, but the reporters and men who operated the sound trucks were already there, as most of them had slept at the [field] or in Rahway, the nearest town. They took pictures and asked me to speak. I couldn't think of anything to say. I was much more anxious to be up and off. People kept thrusting letters and charms on me until my pockets were bulging with junk. Imagine how silly it would seem if you were starting on an automobile trip and fond friends and relatives insisted that unless you took all of this along the trip was bound to be a failure. A fellow at Roosevelt handed me a little teddy bear, my aunt gave a crucifix, my sister put the first ring my mother ever wore into my keeping, Smitty told me to take along a ... supposed to be lucky Cuban half dollar and his pocket watch and the Danns thought their tiny green stone monkey might help. The ship had been warming up and Sarge, the head mechanic, was at last satisfied with it. So I started off down the runway. I felt one wheel bind slightly, there must have been some grit in there as he had the wheels off greasing them the night before, so I changed over abruptly to the runway that meets the one I started on at an angle. There was some crosswind then that took the weight off the ship off that wheel until she got into the air. We named the ship the Kangaroo, because we hoped I could get to California in a couple of jumps. I left the field at five fifty-five and the weather grew increasingly soupy. It was still early in the morning when I found a hole in the thick stuff and began to look for a resting place. With a compass that didn't work and being unable to distinguish a railroad from a river from the air I had a perfectly swell chance of losing myself, which would add up my flying hours. I saw a nice even wheat field and landed there. The farmer didn't appear to resent my intrusion but started to talk. "I seen you circling around and the woman and kids ran in the house scared. but I watched you." Big, brave farmer! "I always did want to see one of these here airplanes light, I been wanting tuh go down to Altoona and take the family, but is a long drive, nigh onto thirty mile and we ain't been yet, but I reckon we have to go now." They gave me lunch and were very friendly. The weather started to clear and I was eager to be off so I had the farmer sign a paper telling what time I landed and what time I took off. This would seem to be as appropriate time as another for me to wish aloud for an airport in every town. I had expected to be in Columbus in four hours and a half after leaving Westfield, New Jersey. No reports came through over the press wires about my arriving there and people got kind of worried. I had sent a telegram to Charlie Dann telling him why I won't going through, but he had been up all night working on my navigation and had gone home to bed when I left the field. They didn't want to call him because he was so tired and the contents of the message weren't known. He didn't come to until in the afternoon and then I was six and a half hours overdue at Columbus. I am sorry it gave anyone any concern, because I was enjoying myself. I got kind of still in the front cockpit. but it was a thrill to be in the act of doing what I had always wanted to do most. A combination of fog and darkness made further travel impossible for that night, as I was off the regular mail route which has the beacons, as I making as near a beeline as I could. Before I took off the next morning from Altoona an Army pilot come back for the third time after traveling in circles. The flat lands of the central states were to fly over and until I came to El Dorado, twenty miles east of Wichita, every little thing was just humming along. I was running out of gas or I could have flown over a sand storm that came along. It began with a strong wind, then there was a blast of sand, more wind and then a thunderstorm. It was the time I had seen ball lightning bouncing along telegraph wires, as though the burning spheres were basketballs. There was a flying field there, but you would never know it was one. I was the only one on the field, it came too quickly for me to take the plane down and the only way to keep the plane from blowing away was to sit on the tail, which didn't improve my personal appearance any, as I came into the Wichita airport covered with red mud. At first they just stared at me then Pop Cessna gave me a bawling out for coming in after dark and guessing where the lay. I had a general idea of the direction and distance, having out once before to take delivery on a Stearman. They were at work early the next morning, removing the wing so they could install a big tank for extra gas. This stunt of carrying five gallon cans was not hot as the weight shifted and the heat of the cabin sent the corks popping with expanding vapors. Then if I hit a bump a jet of gas went shooting up. I didn't like the fumes or fighting with the stoppers and was glad to see the tank go in, although it is hard to forgive them for putting the tank in on top of my spare wheel, which I could't get at when I needed it without taking the whole wing off. The tank was much too big to go through any of tho doors or windows so they lowered it through the roof. While they were fixing it, Clyde Cessna let me try his new little powered glider. Clyde had just soloed for the first time with ordinary controls. In the early days each man taught himself to fly in a machine of his own design. In his machine the controls were reversed and until then he had always had the controls reversed on his own personnel ship. The powered glider was fun to fly. so I looped it and rolled it. When I got down Clyde's hair was standing right up straight. They forgot to tell me that no Approved Type Certificate had been issued for it yet and no one knew what it would or would not do, being still in the experimental stages. I left slightly after noon and altered my course to the southward. As soon as I entered New Mexico, I had to dodge one thunderstorm after the other which wasted the gas and added to my flying time. I landed on a high mesa with no vegetation on it except low bushes and rolling tumbleweed. From out of everywhere and nowhere came hordes of Indians. They must have lived nearby on a reservation and I never saw one of them who had any thought of working. All they have to do is around in old broken down Ford cars, about ten to a car, draped on the fenders, the hood, and the folded top. When they wanted to start the cars, it never occurred to them to start them with the starter or to use the crank that swung out front. Everyone would pile onto the car that they wanted to start and shove. Their clothes were cut like ours but made of the dizziest colors you can imagine, mostly reds and yellows. Only one of them spoke any English and he not much. He managed to convey to me that it was the first airplane they had ever seen. When they went by in the air they had always thought they wore big birds. Soon they discovered the ailerons, the movable control surfaces on the wing tips, and were convinced that the plane flapped them to fly. Then one of the men bumped into the rudder and shouted to the rest of them to come over to wiggle it. My English speaking friend remarked deep in thought, “Bird no have him." The flippers were the next discovery of moment. If anyone thinks of Indians as big quiet, impassive individual: he should have hward the babble that crowd made when they were exploring the flippers. Again I heard, "Bird no him." "What make him go?" I pointed to the propeller. "Me no believe, keep um white man cool?" The tank in the back was the next and the word got around that it contained firewater. What a noise! I told the one that it was gasoline and that it made the big bird go tho same as it did their Fords. Another "Me no believe." He was skeptical about everything. I opened a valve and wet my finger with it. "Me believe" which was immediately translated into Indian, “ZXCVBNMASDFGHJKL." They went off at sundown leaving me alone on the mesa. It was a strange feeling. I didn't know any place could be so lonely or any sunset so gorgeous. There was about every color in the world in it. I don't wonder people get nutty about the west. Sleeping in the front cockpit of the plane was another matter though. I awoke just before daybreak from my uncomfortable position and realized I could have slept outside, but I had been afraid to try it for fear a sudden wind might come up and blow my ship away off the tableland and I wasn't taking any chances. A few of the Indians arrived before I got off in the morning and they didn't seem to realize the danger of the prop mowing them down. In fact they were a blame nuisance. As soon as I got in the air I saw the rest of their village headed for the mesa. The ship didn't get very easily off on account of the rarity of the atmosphere and I must have run two miles along the longest dimension of the mesa, before my wheels left the ground. The place was called Anton Chico, although I don't know why a person would bother to name it, and I shan't forget it soon. Most of the time I was busy checking up my navigation, but once in a while when it got monotonous I would go down to the ground and brush the bushes for a while. I could not do that over the desert proper, it was too hot down there. I picked up a thermometer at Wichita, not knowing how good it was, but it registered a hundred and twenty in the cabin. The desert was sprinkled with meteor craters and one of the big ones must have been all of four miles wide. It was just like a mountain, only growing in the wrong direction. There must have been some fireworks when the meteor that threw it up landed and buried itself in the sand. I did some cussing at Holbrook, where I landed to make sure of the weather ahead and ran a sharp sand burr in the tire. I didn't know I had a flat, because the sand of the airport made the going naturally heavy. When I got out at the hangar the tube was all chewed from running on it flat with the load. They had no other and my spare was buried under a hundred gallon tank filled with gas and a wing bolted down on that. I had the luck to locate a motorcycle tube, three sizes too small, but more than welcome. It is still on the ship. The San Bernardino Pass back of Los Angeles was full of fog, so I landed at the town of Ontario to find out if the weather was equally bad ahead, and if not, how to get to the Municipal Airport at Los Angeles. They have been changing the names of the flying fields out there and the man I asked about the Municipal Airport misunderstood my question and directed me to the Municipal Airport in Long Beach. While I was in Ontario I phoned to the Richfield Oil Company in Los Angeles and was told that their man, Mr. Pedri, would be there to meet me when I landed. The weather seemed to be passable ahead, so I took off for what I thought was Los Angeles. I found the field all right, but there was hardly anyone there, and that seemed strange, as just a few minutes before Mr. Pedri had told me there was quite a crowd waiting. It had gotten dark and I was blamed tired, having come all the way from Anton Chico, New Mexico, that day. I had asked the minute I came in and was told that it was the Municipal Airport. After being there some minutes I came to enough to ask, “Is this the Municipal Airport in Los Angeles?" When I found out it was Long Beach and I had no idea of my way around over a strange city, I had another pilot lead the way to the other field. There was a crowd there and the photographers kept me posing, which was the last thing in the world I had any desire to do. The officials added up the time and I was glad to have established a new record. knowing that the chances were it would not be my record long, but that would be just what I wanted. to stir up interest in junior flying. The Richfield Oil Company presented me with a case that is a beauty, with places for everything and lined with oilskin, and the whole thing is as light as a feather. From then on I dragged it around with me everywhere I went after that. I knew that Charlie Dann would want to know how I made out, so I phoned him. It was midnight when I was able to break away to do it so it must have been three o'clock in the morning in Westfield. I think I got almost as much of kick out of phoning three thousand miles as I did out of flying that distance. I spent most of my time in Los Angeles at the airport seeing that work was done on my ship and motor. I did take a few minutes to deliver two letter's, one from Jimmy Walker and one from Mayor Hague, to Mayor Porter of Los Angeles. Mr. Padri took me to the "Breakfast Club" in Los Angeles. l never heard of any similar institution. It is like night club, only for a little later on. You ate breakfast there in a beautiful grove. where everybody made friends with everybody else and sang. The management put on a show and gave a setting up drill. I finally got back to the port the work on the ship was done and she appeared to be in A1 shape. I was up early the following morning and hopped off for Albuquerque. l hated to leave California. it had looked so good after the miles of desert I had over, but, of course. l was interested in seeing what the ship would do with favoring winds. You can usually count on a tail wind going cast. But no such luck for this boy. I buckled headwinds in both directions. However, I can manage to be thankful they weren't crosswinds. which not only cut down your forward speed but throw you off your course. I enjoyed the night back. Knowing the route, I didn't have to strain so to distinguish landmarks as I had done going out. It would have been easier to follow the oil pipeline from Wichita to Amarillo, Texas, and from there another pipe line to Los Angeles, but that way is considerably longer and consequently slower. Going back, though I could remember having passed over many of the features of the landscape, and another item was that I didn't have the glare of the sun through all the glass and celluloid panels in the front of the ship all through the long afternoon. In Albuquerque some kind of historical pageant was going on and they insisted on my staying to watch it. About a thousand Indians were doing war whoops. We couldn't make out whether the songs were different songs with the same words or the same song with different words. When you saw the way they acted, pushing one foot along in the dirt, digging in first with their toe and then with the heel, at the same time hopping on the other foot, you didn't wonder much that the white men were able to do some sharp trading and get Manhattan Island from them for the price of a hundred gallons of gas. After the first hour or so their performance was terribly boring, they reminded you of a lot of small children showing off in front of grown people, so I was plenty glad when a sandstorm came up and we could clear out. The field at which I put up was an hour's drive from town. Western Air Express used it, as it is a high mesa and the planes can leave and be on their courses. The other field that T. A. T. uses is nearer the town, but you have to circle it several times to get, enough altitude to clear the mountains. They always think up some good reason to put aviation fields as for away from the town as possible. Left for Wichita in the morning and ran into the entrants in the Pacific Coast Women's Derby. I had met them on the coast, so it was like a reunion with old friends. Three of the girls came in several hours late on account of one of the girls getting off her course and the other two following her. Off again early for Columbus and through dirty weather all the way, but it was of no consequence, as over there farming land any can be a landing field. The forecast at Columbus for points east was thick stuff, so I waited, not caring about going over the mountains in Pennsylvania until it had lifted. It hadn't cleared up a whole lot even by the next morning, but I pushed on through. There wasn't a smooth spot to sit down for miles and I was happy that the old coffee grinder up front kept singing along. Landed at Roosevelt, having been in the air twenty-seven hours and some odd minutes. Then for the first real sleep in weeks. Gee, it was good.