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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Day Finneous Fell From The Sky


IN THE BEGINNING
During the early years of the previous century some relatives on my dear mothers side, God rest her soul, migrated west from Kentucky into Illinois only to get rather confused and and mistakenly head back east to the lower regions of Ohio. There, mind you, the Kentucky pilgrims experienced some of man’s extraordinary achievements not generally seen back home, such as the new mode of transportation for the everyday human being--the automobile which replaced the horse, the mule and to some degree the railroad. More stupendous yet, aviation was just beginning to, excuse the expression, sprout wings.

In larger cities around Ohio an occasional bi-wing or dirigible could be observed creating headways into the heavens, but one must remember only a few years earlier from the time my family settled in the untamed Ohio wilderness, the Wright Brothers accomplished what man only once dreamed of. Since that inspiring day only modest improvements had been made to the design of the aereoplane. The stratosphere was still an open frontier for both the brave and the foolish.

According to unsubstantiated stories handed down to me, my great Uncle Finneous, a short, fiery red haired, Irishman whose only wardrobe consisted of Osh Kosh coveralls, considered himself an inventor of sorts. For reasons unknown he settled away from the remaining "confused" Kentuckians and settled into a mixed Irish, German community known as Plumwood, slightly west of Columbus, where he felt a man such as himself could find the respect due him for his mechanical wizardry.

One notion in particular drove Finneous and that was to revamp the aereoplane and bring to it the dignity of the common automobile. In the study of physics, early pioneers of flight realized gravity still had the upper hand over man. Finneous understood just one thing-- an aircraft had to have both propulsion for a successful takeoff and enormous horsepower to keep said object from crashing back to earth. Physics occupied no part in his reasoning. He felt gliding through the sky on currents of warm air, hoping with all ones might that the gasoline engine had the stamina to keep running, kept daredevils electrified.

All that aviation tomfoolery was fine enough for the common thinker and wayward inventors. Lodged deep in the imaginative sector of Finneous’s brain, was an idea that kept him awake many a night. Why not, he thought, build an aerosedan complete with the comforts of side curtains and luxurious upholstery. It just so happened my great uncle had just the vehicle to start with–a late model 1923 Packard he acquired after the beautiful coach met an unfortunate encounter with a steam locomotive. Most of the body survived but the front wheels and engine ended up sinking into a large stone quarry.
THE MIND CAN BE A DANGEROUS PLACE TO LIVE

Systematically he stripped the once luxurious coupe of all unnecessary road equipment that had no business flying over the heads of local citizens. My great uncle then began to fabricate wings, struts, propellers and other aeronautical equipment from parts strewn about the farm and local junkyards.

Although he tried to keep his project a secret, fear soon spread about the area by yet another recent addition to the community–radio station KUR, which made a point to broadcast the ongoing progress of what the announcers dubbed "Finneous’s Packarplane." Even the best oral rendition of his ornate flying machine left the locals conjuring up mental images of huge winged monstrosities created only to scare both delicate women and uppity livestock by crashing mercilessly into houses with blazing fires. Several poorly designed dirigibles found similar fate and were little trusted by Ohio residents. It didn’t take long before signs started cropping up along the gravel road leading to Finneous’s farm stating, "God is in the heavens and He has not invited us there,"or
"Save our cows from falling cars."

On blustery days Finneous would tow his aereocar to the highest elevation of his farm to see how the craft would react in the wind. During one particular mid-summer thunderstorm, the tail section lifted suddenly and heaved the test vehicle down the hill. When station KUR reported the unfortunate accident on the Gleaming White Laundry Noon News, the calamity only increased the towns paranoia.

This flaw caused Finneous to make a major correction in the tail section but another problem arose in the wing supports. He discovered strong updrafts had a tendency of yanking off the doors which held the flexible struts that connected the wings to the body. The disgruntled scientist feared moving the wings closer to the front would add an unbalancing amount of weight to the front, since an engine, if he ever found one, would likely cause a terrible nosedive once in the air.

As the flaws were somehow discovered and revealed by drug-store-detective and radio announcer Virgil McGiffle on his, "Afternoon Livestock and Community Interest Report," the anger amongst the towns folks increased to the point Finneous deceivingly reported to Virgil his project had been abandoned and he was going to put his energy into building a lightning driven power plant that would store enough electricity to run a farm for nearly a year. A collective sigh could be heard across Plumwood.

Finneous pulled the dismantled plane into the barn and behind locked doors studied the wing layout. It suddenly struck him as he puffed away on his Prince Albert filled pipe to relocate the wings under the car body, a design not yet attempted by other aviators. He quickly disassembled the flawed setup and crafted new wings which attached to the underbelly of the pillaged Packard.

Not to be foolhardy enough to bring the "Packarplane," back to the test hill, Finneous had to rely on the luck of the Irish to see if his design would work. If the lower wing design leaked out to aviation companies, the hopes of a patent would be destroyed. Now the craft sat camouflaged behind the horse stalls while the enormous task of finding an engine powerful enough to lift his six passenger plane into the sky was underway.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE RANCH
A year now passed away since Plumwood’s Packarplane frenzy. Virgil’s radio program found new problems to address as local citizens suddenly had to deal with the sobering headaches of prohibition. Added to the misery of no beer, the womenfolk were running about in near panic with the news of Rudy Valentino’s death that August. The Columbus Dispatch reported numerous suicides across the nation, forcing the local officials to close down the only picture show establishment in a twenty mile radius in order to protect the faint and foolish damsels of the region.

Back at his barn, Finneous took note about the rumors of retired racing legend Barney Oldfield having several souped up racing engines sitting about his garage in Wauseon, so he jumped in the car and after a long grueling day of traversing muddy roads he arrived at the shop of ol’ Barney himself. Finneous made it plain to Barney that money was tight and investors nonexistent so the ability to pay top dollar for one of his supercharged engines was impossible–but if the Aereo Coach, as my great uncle so named it, flew, he promised to cut the racing legend in on the ground floor. Well anyone crazy enough to race around a brick oval at speeds exceeding 80 miles-per-hour was crazy enough to listen to Finneous. And so, with a handshake an undisclosed amount of money, an engine was procured.

It didn’t take long for my great uncle to fit the supercharged Mercedes engine into the frame of the old Packard and somehow retool the power plant to accommodate a huge wooden propeller. Now you readers are going to have to trust me on this for I know absolutely nothing about aircraft design. All I can do is best describe what came rolling out of the barn that early October. I do though remember my grandmother’s description

The Aereo Coach had a length of 45 feet. The tail section, riveted from the back seat on, was a wood frame wrapped in canvas with corrugated tin roofing for a tail. The rudders were connected to the cockpit with clothesline rope and bailing wire. The cab, as mentioned earlier, was a chopped down Packard complete with leather seats, glass windshield and front and rear doors. The wood and canvas wings, each about 15 feet long, were secured below the running board with angle iron and numerous bolts. The front cowl, consisted of several revamped Model T Ford hoods with slotted openings on both sides for extra cooling. A large manifold pipe protruded through the lower part of the fame and across the running board. To top it off the Aero Coach sported a red, white and blue paint job.

Finneous planned to dub his Aero Coach, "The Calvin Coolidge," after the current president but his birthplace in Plymouth Vermont made him to much of a Yankee for my great uncles liking, so he christened it "The Warren G. Harding," named after the former president who was of Ohio decent, a Yankee by most standards, but he felt this name might help him find favor with local investors.

After tethering down the plane with a logging chain and firing up the engine several times at full throttle, he felt the Aereo Coach had the wherewithal to lift himself and five passengers off the ground and fly to Columbus, located about 30 miles due east of Plumwood. His only problem now was securing four passengers for the maiden flight without raising the suspicions of the local townsfolk.

LIFTOFF PERHAPS
Finneous sat down with a lead pencil and scratched out some figures on the back of a cereal box. An average man, he reasoned, weighed about 145 pounds each so he tossed a few bags on concrete and an old engine block wrapped in burlap in to the back seat. Most importantly he needed a navigator to occupy the seat next to him. Recalling the confused family members who forgot east from west, Finneous decided the directional mistake could not be made on the maiden voyage.

My great uncle took time that chilly autumn day to chase down his old friend Ramon Kringhoffer who was a WWI aviator with little to no navigational experience but he once bragged he could find his way through a darkened mine shaft with his eyes closed. After an afternoon of arm twisting and, like Oldfield, Kringhoffer was given a chance to get in on the ground floor, the flight was scheduled for Saturday morning.

My now, aviator industrialist, great uncle spent Saturday morning, checking and rechecking cables, ropes, bolts and any other part that may fail him in flight. In the last minute he decided to chuck the cement bags and engine block and throw two sows in the backseat instead. As he checked the air pressure in the tires he noticed the clock ticking away on the barn wall. He made it clear to Kringhoffer that takeoff had to take place at 9:30 and already the clock read half-past-ten and soon the residents of Plumwood would be moving about. This spelled disaster. One neighbor about a mile from the farm swore he would ground the flying monster with a 12 gauge to protect the fine city and all the peace loving people living there.

Finneous had given up on Kringhoffer and started to drain the fuel when the newly commissioned navigator stumbled into the barn, unshaven and a bit disoriented from a secluded Oktoberfest he attended the previous evening. My great-uncle’s urgency to take flight overruled common sense and after forcing a freshly brewed pot of Chase and Sanborn down Kringhoffer’s throat, he fired up the Warren G. Harding Aero Coach, and taxied down the gravel road, hoping to get the late morning breeze behind his patriotic painted flying machine.
With dust and gravel flying and the ear-splitting thunder from the super-charged Mercedes engine, the Aero Coupe accelerated down the road and after a several bumps that unfortunately caused great fear amongst the sows, so much that they bolted out the back doors and headed back to the farm, which in turn caused a sudden reduction of the weight of the load, which then generated a sharp and sudden uplifting of the Aero Coach and off the two men soared into the cloudy wild blue yonder.

Kringhoffer, who was still a bit blue in the gills from a night of drinking bathtub beer yelled to Finneous to abort the flight but to no avail, the Aero Coach was up and hopefully heading east. Finneous had his hands full with the rudders, watching the fuel gauge and grabbing on to parts which worked lose on takeoff, let alone watch for landmarks. Kringhoffer felt assured they were going the right direction but could not attest to that because of low clouds and the hangover caused him to drop his compass under the seat.

WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN

According to his flight charts they should know in 15 minutes but Finneous only had enough fuel for 25 minutes . He regained control of the unpredictable flying machine and lowered the plane to about 100 feet, just high enough to fly safely over the tallest trees and newly erected radio towers. After 10 minutes into the flight fear stabbed Finneous in the heart as he passed over the Buckeye Lake Reservoir on the far east side of Columbus, After several minutes of arguing over the location of the reservoir versus the Delaware River, Finneous decided to loop back around and head northwest to determine the location of the Columbus Airstrip. The pitch of the Aero Coach’s turn caused the fuel to run to the side of the tank and the engine began to sputter.

The new aviators had two choices--attempt a three point landing on the National Highway and wipe out the Saturday traffic heading in and out of Columbus or head for Buckeye Lake and pray their lives be spared. Finneous wiped the sweat from his brow and chose the lake. As the Aero Coach continued to sputter he attempted to steer the awkward flying machine to the lake where the Columbus Christian Temperance Union was about to set up a picnic lunch.

The picnic shelter had colorful, patriotic banners spread all about the building along with the pies, chicken dinners and of course, German potato salad assembled along the benches and tables. After a rousing sermon from Mrs Spunkbaiter, the ladies all headed for their baskets of delectable goods when a screaming Warren G. Harding Aero Coach, descended from the heavens.

The Columbus Dispatch so eloquently described it as such in the Sunday paper, "All that was left on the picnic grounds was shredded chicken, pulverized pies and busted assortment of wheels, canvas wings and Packard parts. Fortunately the fine ladies of the Temperance Union, as well as the crazed aviators, escaped serious injuries, but less could be said for the airplane which got another burst of fuel and thrust its decrepit frame into the chilly waters of Buckeye Lake. Onlookers said it bobbed in the water several times then sunk into the murky grave of Buckeye Lake."

Now to this day history has recorded the beginning of the airlines starting in the glorious year of 1926 with a company called Aeromaritime which flew passengers between Miami and Havana to escape prohibition. Soon came the big corporations such a Trans World Airlines, United Airlines and Pan American. Ford entered its own plane into history with the legendary Ford Tri-motor that raced passengers between Ohio and New York at unheard of speeds up to 113 miles-per-hour.
FINIS
Great Uncle Finneous had no idea how fast they flew that nerve-wracking day but he still claimed to his death that he, and he alone, created the first airline between Plumwood and the resort spot known as Buckeye Lake. In fact great old Finneous also maintained he developed the first seaplane. I am not so sure history has been so kind to him and to this day there is no statue of Finneous nor a plaque honoring his flight into the heavens over Central Ohio.

14 comments:

Hawkeye® said...

GREAT STORY Ms. RW! I felt like I was right there watching the whole thing. For awhile there, I was afraid you were going to say they couldn't get off the ground. I'm so glad they did. Too bad the contraption sank in the lake.

(I'm tellin' ya... you ought to write a book!)

(:D) Best regards...

Ms RightWing Inksling said...

Hawkeye®

Slowly I am trying to get all these stories and more into a book. For about the last 12 years I have been saying that. Trouble is I get distracted to easily

camojack said...

I agree with Der Hawkmeister...

Anonymous said...

camojack

I would too, but I don't know what I am suppose to agree with

Beerme said...

Splendid story! Except for the sad part about prohibition and all...

Anonymous said...

I know. And to think they had to make Strohz in a bathtub. Sort of hard on the fire brew though

Da' Ms RW

Maggie said...

Great read.

mig said...

Oh I loved that story! I am assuming that he did not get the patent...

The trotting Possum said...

Like garage bands and personal computers, this could've been another American success story of great enterprise coming from nowhere. At least Uncle Finneous took the advice of Teddy Roosevelt about daring defeat instead of living the gray life of never trying.

This is a great story! Unlike mine, your inner literary "voice" is coming through loud and clear. If only I lived closer, I'd love to possibly collaborate with you by editing and polishing your stories for that book. (No changing the content or style; those are fine. Just the anal-retentive technical and spelling corrections that are the bane of every author.)

Da' Inkslinger said...

mig--your assumption, I assume is right.

Beerme

I knew that would make the tears fall into your beers. My mind was thinking of you all through the part

possum.

I know all they typo's. I have them on a post it note, but to tired to go back and fix 'em. Life is sooo hard. sigh

camojack said...

ELEVENTEEN!!!

'da inkslinger said...

re eleventeenth

sigh

Da' Inkslinger said...

re possumtrot:

I know all they typo's. ???? Oh blindness is so sad

Hankmeister said...

Cool photos (and story), Ms RightWing. Thanks for posting them!