Friday, June 5, 2009

Skip Powell part seven

"Watertown was farm country; in fact the airport grounds were active farm lands. Our first year in ATY was one of the coldest (-30 not unusual) and driest. So dry, Farmers were claiming they harvested less grain than planted. Why, I can't recall, but SM Sherman and others were out working along the runways. Perhaps putting up those black marker signs used as runway markers during snowy, winter ops. An aging couple drove up asking, 'How do we get to town?' Someone had left the gate open.

ATY folks, were initially sort of 'stand-off-ish,' but quickly became receptive to us new comers. One example; with a few paychecks in hand, it was time to buy a car. This became known and one ole folksy salesman drove up to the airport and asked me to look at a car. It was a nicely priced beauty, Pink and Cream, 4-door, hardtop 1957 Buick - it became mine, papers signed on the spot - I drove it home.

It was here I learned how the cold, Winter days of South Dakota produced ice for the city folks. Nearby was a big, aging lakeshore building. Prowling about, I learned its purpose. An old timer explained they used long saws to cut large blocks of ice, horses to drag them to the ice house where they were stored between layers of straw. Later, the ice was out-loaded on trains to distant city ice boxes and mint juleps.

Not all travel, like current years, was by air. The Greyhound Bus Station was still popular. Many were the locals who would be roadside picked-up for day trip shopping and later dropped off near their farm.

ATY had their annual pheasant hunting season. Shotgun toting hunters would come from far places. To accommodate this sport, often, extra flights were added. Plane loads of 'big-city-boys' arrived to flush those pretty birds from hay, grain and corn fields. Hunter groups would line up and walk across fields. With a sudden burst of wing clatter, a Cock would rise to their front. A might Sears & Roebuck clad hunter would shoulder his shiny, new, long barreled automatic Browning 12 gauge shot gun and that Cock (hopefully) would tumble from the sky. The more 'daring' would road-hunt, driving the extensive farmland back roads.

Many left town as they had arrived via the airport. One late evening, the ATY MSP flight was loaded over MGL (Maximum allowed gross load). Soooo, to get within weight, I pulled bags and put them on the evening train, so notifying MSP. A couple days later, MSP advised the bags had been found beneath other box car stuff, delaying delivery. Also, the bags contained pheasants, now well beyond dead, quite odorous and the hunter, unhappy. Lesson learned, if the passenger goes, so does his bags - or was it, not to pack pheasants with your underwear?

A problem developed late one evening. I consulted and executed 'guidance' from Traffic & Sales Manual. I knew it was a 'sorry' decision, but the manual prevailed. Next day, SM Sherman questioned my action, so I flipped open the T & S Manual. He read were my finger pointed, flipped the manual to its opening cover page. You've all read it; I later used that info many times over. It said, 'There is no substitute for good, common sense.'

Working DC-3's was always interesting. The Flight Crews seemed always anxious to add their personal touch; after all, ATY was far, far away from the GO. I suppose most of those crushed-hat pilots were WWII vets. One was Ralph. He would frequently announce his arrival by playing a harmonica tune. Examples of some more intriguing, 'admitted' Pilot events are to be found on the NC website;

Dealing with a problem, this 22 year old attempted to alert a crushed-hat pilot, 'there was some extra weight in the rear bin.' Looking me hard in the eyes, he (to wit) responded, 'I use to fly these planes over the hump, during that nasty period when we were supplying our Chinese war partner. There, they would first board the pilots, then fill the cabin - with who knew what. Departure approval was a slap on side of the plane, sending us off - mostly we cleared the hilltops for our next trip. ' After explaining this bit of history, his parting words, 'get off my airplane.' I did and he departed - with the extra, few pounds. Conversely, one Pilot threatened to weigh his airplane claiming it to be overweight - Bull! It was not his only problem!

TO me, it was always a thrill to watch a big-ole DC-3 come churning up the ramp. It often provoked early, rare WWII days memories when over my Pennsylvania hills where Pilots would 'jig and jog' their low flying bi-wing and military planes once they spotted us waving kids. Those big ole twin engine 3's charging up the ramp, would blow leaves, dust and sometimes a hat - always a thrill. It was a step into the future, from the smelly roar of a passing Sherman Tank or smell of sweet Pennsyltucky soil being turn by a team of white, sweat covered draft horses, puffing and blowing mucus out their noses.

NC Ramps, big or small, always had painted yellow squares, above which the aircraft was to be SA 'guided' to a halt, parallel to the passenger gate. Of course, SA guiding a 'crushed-hat' was at times, a contest. Some 'crushed-hats' wanted an 'exact-spot' - others, 'any thing but.' Guess who won! And who cared, except when a passenger path had been shoveled in the snow!"

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