Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Dad with some of the 600 planes he built.

Dad with some of the 600 planes he built.

My dad loved airplanes. Some of my earliest memories were of him sitting at the kitchen table making model airplanes. Dad had worked hard all his life. After many years, the abuse to his hands from his job as a glazier made it nearly impossible to mold the tiny pieces of a model. When he finally gave this hobby up, he had built more than 600 model planes.

He also loved trains. Every now and then, maybe once a week, he would load the family in the car and would drive out to a place where the tracks crossed the road then park and wait for a train to pass by.

When the train finally came, we would wave at the engineer, and get excited when he waved back. Then we would sit back and count the number of freight cars in the train. After the caboose passed and the train had disappeared around a curve, dad would start the car for the drive back home.

Often on the way back home we would stop at Farr's Ice Cream. One of us kids would go inside with him to help carry the ice cream out. We would each get a "Sunday" in a small cardboard container with our choice of topping. I always liked Butterscotch. Then we would sit in the car eating our treat with the little wooden spoons they gave us.

I don't think dad really cared much about what kind of car he had. His only requirement was that it run, and if he went some place, that it would get him home. I don't believe he ever owned a car less than ten years old. His first choice was a Chevrolet, but he also had owned a Dodge and a Plymouth. He would never own a Ford.

But planes were his first love. During the time while United Airlines was still providing service to Ogden he would drive out to the airport to watch the planes land. He would park by the fence near the runway and watch the night sky for the lights of the approaching plane.

We would scan the night sky watching for the red and green flashing lights that signaled the approach of an airplane. Slowly the shape of the plane could be made out, the lights of the cabin, the fire from the engine exhaust. I would not be aware of it at the time, but I would hold my breath as I watched it glide slowly to the runway. As the twin engine DC-3 touched down we could hear the tires "chirp" as they made contact with the concrete.

Dad would lean back in the seat and light a cigarette as the plane taxied over to the terminal building. As the plane came to a stop and the engines were shut down, the ground crew would roll a staircase over to the side of the plane. Then one of the ground crew would climb up and open the door and the passengers would slowly make their way down the staircase. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed to me that those passengers climbing down were more than a little glad to be on the ground again.

Then one day an announcement was made that United Airlines would no longer land at the Ogden airport. They felt that it was unnecessary to stop in Ogden when the Salt Lake City airport was only 35 miles away. Dad was not happy. He hated hearing of any business moving from Ogden to Salt Lake. He felt that the state Capital was going to steal everything from Ogden. He would often comment that if the S.O.B.'s had the chance that they would make everyone in Ogden go to Salt Lake to use the bathroom. (That's not exactly the way he expressed it, but you should get the idea.)

Dad would still go out to the airport, but now it was on a Sunday morning. The family would pile in the car and he would drive out and park near the hangers where the private aircraft were parked.

We would all get out, except mom, (she was not that interested in planes, and would sit in the car and read a book) and began to wander around the planes. Dad knew the history of almost every plane there. Sometimes he would stop and talk to one of the pilots that was working on his plane. He got to know several of them quite well, and once in a while he would be able to "mooch" (as he called it) a ride.

Although he never had a chance to earn a pilots license, he loved to fly. There were times that he would arrange for one of us kids to go flying as a birthday present. These were always a short flight over the city but dad didn't seem to mind, because for those few minutes dad was a happy as a boy with a new bicycle.

Dad tried to get us kids interested in aviation. He encouraged us to join the Civil Air Patrol. They had a program for C.A.P. cadets at the Ogden airport. There was a requirement that you had to be at least sixteen to join, but our parents did not hesitate to fudge on the application, and although we were a few months shy of the sixteenth birthday, they would enter a revised number that was acceptable.

Pat was the first to join, then Larry, Frances and me. I was a member for about a year before I got tired of it. The meetings were a waste of time, and they never did anything. I believe the turning point for me was at an air fair.

My cadet squadron was charged with selling raffle tickets. We were to take the tickets and sell them to the patrons at the fair. I had found a great spot near the parking lot, and was selling tickets to the patrons as they came through the gate. Then one of the senior cadets came over and told me that I would have to sell somewhere else so the other cadets could sell a few tickets. I became disgusted, and never bothered to sell another ticket.

Every year there would be an open house at the airport. It was called an "Air Fair" and dad would always be among the first to arrive. This was really a great event. The first activity was a "fly in" breakfast. Private pilots from all over the western states would fly in, land, and then get in line for breakfast at tables set up on the lawn in front of the terminal. There were often more than two hundred planes arriving to take part.

I liked to climb up to the traffic control center in a tower on top of the terminal and watch as they gave directions to the planes coming in to land. These controllers were always concerned about safety. I had heard them comment that some of the private planes did not have a radio and there was no way to communicate with them. If they saw a plane not responding, they would contact those who did and advise them to stay out of the way. It worked, there was never an accident.

Then several military planes from nearby Hill AFB were brought in. It was exciting to watch them land. They were brought over to be put on display. These planes would be open to the public. My favorite was the C-154 Globe master. This was a huge cargo plane, and I often wondered how it was able to land.

Mom and dad would let us kids see what we wanted, having made arrangements to meet back at the car for our picnic lunch. They would go off in one direction, and my sister Fran and I would go in another. We would visit all the displays, climb up to the tower to get a drink of cold water from the water cooler.

There was always an air show as part of the festivities. One time they had an old Bi-plane with a wing walking demonstration, another time there were aircraft from WWI doing acrobatics. The last event was a performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds.

My sister and I would join up with mom and dad to watch the show. The hundreds of spectators would crowd together along the runway craning their necks to get a good view. One thing I liked about an air show was that no matter where you stood, you could see everything. You never had the problem of looking around people to see what was going on.

With the air show finished, and all the events were closed. I would always get as close as I could as the Air Force began getting their planes ready to take off. The first to leave was always a fighter jet, and the last was the C-154. I was amazed that it could even fly. It was so slow and clumsy on the ground, I would have bet anything that it could never fly. It would taxi to the very end of the runway, and then slowly began moving forward. Just about the time it looked like it was going to run out of runway, the wheels left the ground, and the plane began to slowly climb into the sky.

On the drive home, dad would complain about sunburned tonsils from watching the air show. He was happy, but I guess he needed something to complain about. (Dad would rarely use a word like complain. He would express it as "cry" or "B...." as in quit your b....in.)

Dad had other interests besides airplanes, he also liked baseball. He would collect clippings from the newspaper and paste them in a large scrapbook. He would often take our family to ballgames to see our home town team "The Ogden Reds." This was a franchise of the Cincinnati Reds. But after the Reds moved the team out of Ogden, dad no longer cared for baseball.

Not being able to build the model planes, dad lost interest in aviation and became more interested in trains. With the help of his youngest son, Dennis, he began to build a rail yard in an upstairs bedroom in his home. Eventually he had hundreds of train cars, miles of track and the two of them spent countless hours planning and laying out the train yard. He also quit driving out to the airport. Now, with Dennis, he would visit the rail yards and watch as the freight trains were assembled.

For many years, every Easter dad would take the family to "Little Mountain", a small volcanic outcropping on the edge of the Great Salt Lake. He would always park on the side of the mountain near the railroad tracks.

This spot was wind swept and unprotected. Although there were better spots, dad insisted on this spot for our picnic. I never realized it at the time, but this location gave him a great vantage point to watch the trains as they came over the "Lucin" cutoff going across the great Salt Lake either going to or coming from California.

As I finished High School, I announced my plans to join the Navy after graduation. Dad's disappointment was obvious. "Why don't you join the Air Force" he once asked me. "Well it's like this" I replied, "I can swim better than I can fly."