Words: barnstorm saffron native
It was the summer of 1919, and it was a hot one! My brother Bob and I had latched onto a junker of a Sopwith Camel flying machine at an airfield in Ohio, and we thought we’d make our fortune with that tired old plane. Barnstorming was the way to go, and we’d get the rubes to part with a couple of bucks each to ride in an aeroplane.
He and I had spent a year or so over in France trying to shoot down the Huns, as they called ‘em, so we knew how to fly, but we were not experts a’ tall. The United States was late to the ‘party’, arriving in 1917, and then with he and I arriving in the summer of ’18, we only had enough time to pick up the basics. Now, we’d have to get better real soon or crash in flames, literally.
Neither one of us knew just how we’d get better, but then we saw a poster about a flying circus coming to Akron so we got on down there to see what we could learn. According to their poster, there would be wing walkers, parachutists, lotsa neat stuff. Yessir, we’d go to the circus!
The “Longbottom-Hardsaw Flying Circus”, they billed themselves, and the posters looked slick. Unfortunately, the circus itself didn’t look quite so slick. They had a couple of overweight sisters dressed in leather caps and goggles who apparently did the wing walking, and one of the partners did the parachute stuff while the other one took care of the piloting. The plane was a faded saffron color, and needed to see the paintbrush again.
When we arrived, things were going full blast, with their zippy old plane buzzing the sparse audience, leaving smoke trails and causing the country folk to gasp in admiration. They had signs up that said, “Ride in the Zephyr, $5”, which sounded a little high to me, but the natives didn’t seem to mind, because there was a small line of folks there at the sign.
The pilot guy landed, then got the girls up on the wings for another wing-walking show before they took up more passengers. I guess they needed both girls on there to keep the light plane balanced.
The engine of the Zephyr roared as they bounced down the grassy strip, struggling to get airspeed. Smoke was pouring out the exhaust, the engine was howling, it was great. The craft moved ever faster, faster, but seemed to be having a hard time of it. Finally, after a couple of more high bounces, he got it up in the air, clambering, pulling, trying to get high enough to clear the big oak trees just off the end of the strip.
The machine climbed into the hot summer sky, just clearing the trees, striving to reach the clouds, it was just beautiful. But just as they got over the trees and started making the turn back toward the airstrip, the left wing began to separate from the fuselage. I couldn’t watch.
Bob and I drove home in our old pickup, deciding to find some other way to make our fortunes.
Maybe the guy in Ohio would buy the plane back.