See Tom Lymburn's wrap-up article in Minnesota Flyer.
Sawbones Owner Robin Crandall decided this year to join Transportation King Tony Wolters on his annual haul from Anoka, Minnesota to Reno, Nevada. Ride along as he takes in the western U.S. from the right seat of an eighteen wheeler
Tom Lymburn, famed Sawbones and aviation historian, shares his stories direct from the Reno National Championship Air Races in this column. If you aren't able to join us in Reno, or if you're there and just want a different perspective, check back here starting Tuesday, September 11 for Tom's popular chronicle of life behind the scenes.
“Keep in touch,” JD says as we shake hands while standing in the Peppermill’s lobby. It’s early Monday morning and the races are over. Sawbones finished third in Gold. JD raced for the first time in Bob Pond’s old King Cobra. I’m dragging our luggage up to the Nissan for the drive north to Stead. It’ll go home on the semi with Taz, while we head home, with a long layover in Phoenix, on American Airlines.
“You got it,” I reply. I’d called that P-63A at FCM years ago in the Planes of Fame Memorial Weekend Show after researching its history and nailing down its identity. The 1990’s. A long time ago. It’s one of only four Kings still flying.
The Nissan rests by the “4C” pillar. I stow the three bulging bags in the trunk, drop the empty water bottles and assorted trash into a handy can, and settle in for the drive to Stead. Down the steep ramp one last time from level 4, right onto Virginia, left onto Moana, and under the bridge. Traffic’s not too bad – northbound that is. Southbound it’s rush hour.
The security guard in black waves me through the gate. Sawbones is out on the ramp preparing to start for the trip home via Casper. The drop tanks were installed last night after the Gold race. Rick is squeezed into the jump seat, parachute strapped on. Curt makes the final cockpit checks and, with the fireguard on duty, the big R-3350 coughs into life. They’ll get home much faster than we’ll get to MSP.
I give Tony a Peppermill envelope with travelling cash, then lug our three bags up the steps into the front room. With Gerry and Jan’s help, I disassemble the shelves. The shelf legs are stowed in a bin that goes below the trailer. After quick “See ya”s to Tony, Jan, and Gerry, I head back to I-395. Fifteen mph past the school again, me in the left lane and a huge growling white semi, with silver pinup girl mud flaps, on my right. Traffic southbound has eased up – the commuters must have gotten back to the Monday grind. Now to the airport, drop off the rental car, and American Flight 546.
The blonde TSA lady comments as I check in, “I see they made you take off your glasses.” She looks at my passport, holds it up next to me.
“Looks like you.”
“I wear glasses most all the time,” I reply.
“Typical bureaucracy,” she grins ands points me to the X-ray machine line. I step over to the table and send my camera bag through behind a leather purse almost as big and heavy as my hangar tool bag. I’m glad I switched to the belt with the smaller buckle. Got right through. No beep. No flashing lights. Even kept my ancient Timex on. Thank you, Pre-Check!
While I wait to board the Airbus 320 to Phoenix, I pull out my tablet to start writing before I forget the images I want to use. My camera notebook is filled with scraps that might, just might, become sentences and paragraphs. Some will go into the blog, others into my feature article for the Minnesota Flyer. From somewhere, who knows where, the “Largo” from Antonín Dvorak’s From the New World symphony runs through my head.
The tables and chairs from Friday’s crew and sponsor dinner are still stacked between our trailer and the jet truck. We traded privy privileges with the driver for extra tent space. Shared facilities as it were. And it works. One aspect of air race culture is sharing and assisting your neighbors, as we have with our New Zealand pit mates the last two years.
It’s mid-morning and I grab a handful of orange Sawbones can koozies to give to the Kiwis. The crowd is increasing. Last minute preparations on “Sea Fury” row, which also hosts Full Noise and a visiting General Motors TBM Avenger with a sleeper in an underwing hammock, go on, for it’s finals day.
“What’s that?” Paula asks, curious about the orange somethings I’ve holding.
“Can koozies. For your beer!”
“Now I see. But we don’t call them that – they’re Stubby Coolers.”
“Stubby Coolers,” she laughs. “Let’s find Graeme.”
Graeme looks up from playing with his phone with, “Hey, Tom!”
“Picture!” Paula orders and takes out her cell phone. We pose with me presenting the rubbery orange Sawbones, now Kiwi named, Stubby Coolers to Graeme.
“Thanks, Tom,” we shake hands. “You Sawbones guys are great.”
Photo op done, Paula hands the gifts to those in the pit. Two Full Noise team members are wrenching on the Yak, working in the accessory compartment. Graeme’s in the Gold again. After further handshakes and thanks, I head back toward the concrete barriers and our pit. When Sunday is over, Full Noise will once again become the “Yak in the Box,” sealed inside its blue shipping container, ready for the long boat ride back to New Zealand.
It’s a brisk sales day, and thanks to Mary Jo and Mitch, we can cover customers faster. Everything flows well. Robin likes to hang out by the cash register and talk and joke with guests. He signs an autograph on an air racing banner destined for display in an FBO. Although I begged off, not being a pilot of the airplane, the dark-haired young lady with the backpack, insisted, and thrust a Sharpie into my paw. “You’re the historian,” she prodded. “Sign it.” I signed near the bottom, below the picture of the home pylon.
Our sponsor guests buy shirts, hats, and an occasional Sawbones apron, helping to boost sales and modeling items for our race fans. They carry away their purchases in a white and red plastic “3M” bag with strong handles, becoming walking billboards for one of our major sponsors. Our sponsors make Reno possible. Airplanes burn money as well as fuel, and the Chevy-built R-3350 is thirsty. We’re all thankful for the extraordinary support we get.
I ride in the pickup during the “Duck Walk,” a ritual whose name seems to be lost to history. Webster’s refers to it as “to walk in a crouching or squatting position.” Walk is hardly the correct term for what we do. It’s more crawl, wait, shut off the diesel, wait some more, get your skull fried by the sun. Wait more. Crawl and listen to the Jet and Sport racers whoosh and whistle around the track. They’re close to us. Who’d ever imagine a Glassair could run the course at over 400 mph? Ring side seat. One unlucky Sport bird gets towed in by a Jeep, its cowling and windscreen streaked with oil, its prop frozen. Earlier in the week two L.39 jet racers collided in flight. No injuries, landing safely, but two racers out for the week.
Finally, we arrive in front of the Reserved seats and park next to Dreadnaught. The stands are not even half full. The announcer, Steve Stavrakakis, does the introductions in front of the aircraft. His handheld mic cuts out at the worst times. Personally, during my 27 seasons of airshow announcing, I always prefer a mic on a cord. The General Admission section, which includes the race aficionados in Section 3, orange on display, is fuller. Only the box seats appear totally filled. Some of chalets we passed on the “Duck Walk” were, however, almost empty. We wait some more.
Photographers camp behind the concrete barriers or scamper down the line of racers looking for the perfect sun angle. I carry my Nikon, but it mostly hangs on my shoulder. I’m reluctant to photograph toward the empty grandstands.
Introductions and ceremony complete, I walk back to the pit. It feels good to walk after standing on the hot tarmac all week. Mountain shadows lengthen. I can smell jet fuel in the air from their Gold race. The wind gusts and dust swirls in the infield. In the distance, the tail of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s C-17A towers above the smaller fighters. Pit in sight, I pause and turn. Behind me I hear, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
It’s Sunday. It’s race time. It’s the Unlimited Gold.
What historians call The Golden Age of Aviation, which includes The Golden Age of Air Racing, extended from 1929 to 1939. It was an era of those who Dreamed, those who Dared, and those who Died. Setting speed, distance, endurance, and altitude records became a mania.
Three things advanced aviation in the United States during this time; air mail flying, the airlines that evolved from airmail routes, and air racing.
Instrument flying developed as a result of the need to fly at night to deliver the mail. Gyroscopic instruments made flying in clouds possible. Edwin Link, a New York manufacturer of player pianos and pipe organs, developed the first true full motion simulator - NO computers, NO electronics. It was all mechanical - push rods, cables, pendulums, air pressure and suction, and springs - ingeniously integrated to create what WWII pilot cadets referred to as “the blue box.” Link trainers and their descendants revolutionized flight training.
The airlines and air racers demanded cleaner, higher octane fuels. Thanks to the work of Jimmy Doolittle, a great race pilot and aeronautical engineer with Shell Oil, and others, the United States developed 100 octane fuel. This meant airliners like the Boeing 247 and pressurized 307, and the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 transports, could operate from airports with high elevations. For air racing, it meant more speed.
A significant by-product of fuel development came during WWII. Britain celebrates 15 September as Battle of Britain Day. Besides RDF, later called radar, and Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding’s superb command and control system for intercepting Luftwaffe raids, ably directed by New Zealander Sir Keith Park, 100 octane fuel gave Fighter Command’s Hurricanes and Spitfires an advantage in rate of climb, service ceiling, and speed over the Messerschmitt Bf-109E, which flew on 87 octane. 100 octane fuel, developed and produced in America, was vital to England’s survival in the summer of 1940. In the end, it was key to the survival of the United States and its Allies and to victory in WWII.
Saturday brought another reunion, when retired Northwest Airlines Captain Larry Daudt stopped at the pit. Larry flew with NWA beginning in the Lockheed Electra turboprop and finished by flying the MSP to Tokyo route in the Boeing 747-400. At Flying Cloud Field, Larry flew the P-40N, P-51D, and P-63A (plus all the trainers) for Planes of Fame - East. Now living in Texas, he reconnected with Sue and me, John Sinclair, Jim “JD” Dale, Rick Ranheim, and Tommy Krueger from the old Planes of Fame team. It had been many years, but the bond was still there.
Aviation is a small, tight knit family. The bond of the sky, the lure of flight, the companionship of the clouds, the shared experience - as with Sawbones’ crew and our Kiwi pit mates - derives from our love of flight, our shared language, and a desire to touch the heavens.
Early morning brings the pylon judges to Sawbones’ pit. One day, it was a delegate, a deputy sheriff, from the group asking if we could contribute “door” prizes for the pylon judges’ dinner. We always donate. These are the folks who live on the track with the jack rabbits, dust devils, and rattlesnakes. This year, as every year, Sue found appropriate gifts - shirts, hats, and a Sawbones’ apron signed by Robin and Curt.
Today, the two judges, who look down on the course from their mountain perch, stopped to shop. One tends to think of looking up at the races, but these two look down on the action.
During Thursday’s unlimited race, Graeme Frew, our Kiwi pit mate flying Yak-3 Full Noise, was forced to depart the course, escape up and out, to avoid another aircraft. From the pit, we wondered what was wrong.
Graeme skirted the melee, circled high over the track, flew higher behind the grandstands, and, converting altitude to speed, re-entered the race to finish an excellent fourth. It was not until after the race that things became clear. The two pylon judges in their mountain aerie witnessed it all. Both agreed that Graeme made the perfect exit, recovery, and with complete safety, continued the race. Both men spoke of his outstanding airmanship. Sawbones’ pilot, Curt Brown, echoed that at our crew briefing It had been textbook.
I relayed these compliments to Graeme, who was very appreciative. “That makes me feel great,” he responded. “This morning Steve Hinton told me the same thing, that I’d did everything right.” In only his second Reno, Graeme has flown a good line, handled the adversity of last year’s engine change in a lightning storm, gone from last to flying in Sunday’s Gold - and Thursday, flying the lightest and smallest Unlimited, earned everyone’s praise and respect.
At the end if the day, just before our crew and sponsor dinner, Lockheed Bob stopped by with his latest protege.
“I’m trying to convert this car guy to aviation,” he quipped. His buddy, at least 20 years younger, shrugged and smiled.
“Hey, a motorhead is a moorhead,” I laughed.
“I’m taking him down to see the Sport Class,” he pointed with his black cane. “Some pretty fast babies there - up to 400 mph.”
I thanked him again for the dozen black and white photos he’d taken at the 1949 Cleveland Air Races. He’d given me the copies on Tuesday. Sue let me use her iPad that evening and I’d found aircraft flown by Charles Tucker, Cook Cleland, Dick Becker, Woody Edmonson, Anson Johnson, Jo De Bona, and Jackie Cochran. With a further wave of his cane, he led his pal west toward the Sport Class. “I’ll be around. See ya, tomorrow.”
Over 80, and still with a merry gleam in his eyes at the sight of a racing aircraft, Lockheed Bob is the epitome of the air racing historian. Best of all, he shares his experiences with us younger learners, who can only read about the Cleveland days, while he lived them. For the wisdom and experience he imparts, I’m grateful.
After helping set up the store and being at the A.M. crew briefing, it was time to hike. That is, head out of the pit to collect ideas and photos for my annual Reno article for the Minnesota Flyer. I’ve written a monthly Mystery Airplane column in the Flyer for 17 years. In addition, I write a feature article on Oshkosh and Reno. The Oshkosh article appears in the September issue, see MNFlyer.com.
Founded by Sherm Booem, the Flyer has been the voice of Minnesota aviation since 1960. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Sherm’s “World of Aviation” on WCCO-TV Sunday mornings. It’s been a privilege to help preserve Sherm’s legacy. My goal for the Reno article is to give a flavor or sense of atmosphere for those who couldn’t or can’t be here - paint a picture of the event. You’ll have to provide the sound effects.
With my Nikon, notebook, a bottle of green Gatorade, and my weathered Tilley hat, I head towards the grandstands.
Do the names Cierva, Kellett, or Pitcairn ring a bell? Before the helicopter (see Igor Sikorsky) became practical, these companies, plus Avro in England and Focke-Wulf in Germany, pioneered the autogiro. Replacing the wing with a rotor (normally not powered) the goal was to create an STOL aircraft for utility work. A short runway was still needed, but the concept worked, but only so far.
Today I checked out the prototype of a two place Rotax powered girocopter. Built by Blasdell Cavalon, in Arizona, and scheduled for production next year, it was a marvelous example of the homebuilder’s art and craftsmanship.
Reno 2018 is hosting five warbirds from the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. As part of the show, they put on a flying display honoring the aircraft and veterans of WWII. True, the P-51 is well known to Reno fans, but the F6F Hellcat and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero (“Zeke”) are rare. Reno fans also know Rare Bear, but stock F8Fs are more likely to be seen at Oshkosh. One of the rarest warbirds the CAF brought was the North American PBJ-1J. B-25 you say? True, but the CAF bird is the only known example of the USMC Mitchell in existence. Over the years the CAF has preserved and flown many warbirds that would otherwise be extinct. I announced for the CAF Minnesota Wing at Holman and Fleming fields for many years. The “Ghost Squadron” salutes our WWII heritage and veterans.
Ray Anderson’s shop in Grangeville, Idaho, overhauls the “big round engines” by Pratt & Whitney and Curtis-Wright. Name it, R1820, R1830, R2000, R2600, R2800, R3350, R4360, the big ones, Anderson rebuilds them. Many warbirds and racers depend on their experience and expertise. Each year at Reno they display intact and cutaway engines. Next to this display are parts from radials that have “failed.” This year I watched as a cutaway R2800 was turned over by an electric motor. These great power plants are WWII (some pre-war!) designs that powered the fighters, bombers, patrol aircraft, and transports that were huge factors in the Allied victory. In their day, these engines were miracles of design technology. On the front of the cutaway’s stand, was - cue the drumroll, a Sawbones sticker.
Volunteers are the backbone of aviation events. When you visit an airshow, thank the volunteers!
And now, Friday! Curt and Sawbones go from resting in the pit into the air. RACE ON! It’s why we are here. It’s the world’s fastest motor sport.
The outbound I-395 traffic crawls toward downtown as we motor at 65 mph north towards Stead. I’m glad I was never a commuter. No black and whites by the roadside, colorful lights flashing, after pulling over some rusted pickup truck.
As I’m before 0700, no “15 mph” flashing lights by the school. I keep up with a red GMC who seems to know it’s safe. A few kids in black school uniforms struggle toward school or gather by stop lights playing with their cell phones, ahead of the busses and staff cars. Soon, we’re through and head toward the left turn to the industrial park and Stead Field.
It feels different today. Like opening night for a concert, play, or musical. The cast is ready, rehearsals are over, and other than the faint moving of lips practicing one’s lines, it’s all systems GO.
I open the trailer and start the store set up, while Sue operated on the cash register’s paper tape. For all its electronics, the register still relies on a narrow roll of white paper. I’m glad some things don’t change. Sue’s sister and brother-in-law are getting oriented. They are willing to help with sales, but need to recover after the flight from MSP.
We’re greeted at the gate by two Sawbones fans who “guard” the gate during the early morning. I give them each a Sawbones sticker and the guy with the black mustache shoes me he’s wearing an old Sawbones shirt. They plan to stop when duty is over for new Sawbones gear.
Only a few steps inside the gate I hear, “Tom, hey, brother!” It’s Chris Holder of Concorde Batteries. He’s already connected with Rick and a new battery is in the works, maybe as early as tomorrow. Networking! It’s especially true in aviation and, of course, in air racing. We see Chris and Walter at Oshkosh every year and keep up the connection.
With the sun still low in the east, a tall slender guy on a bicycle glides to a stop. It’s John Preacher, who crews on a Cassutt called Heat Stroke, Race #8. John is a Delta Airlines mechanic based in Atlanta. We were pall bearers for Liz Strophus, the Faribault WASP. During WWII, Liz not only instructed in the trainers, but flew the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-26 Marauder, and the Bell P-39 Cobra fighter. Four of the six pall bearers have kept in touch. Liz was an inspiration to everyone she met. As she always said, “An airplane doesn’t care if you are male or female, it just asks, can you handle me?”
Early birds venture closer to check out the new designs, colors, and fabrics displayed on the rack. As it turned out, Wednesday was a record Wednesday for sales. A tribute to Sawbones many fans.
Late morning, I step into the shade and ditch my jacket. It warms up fast in the high desert. Approaching our pit from the west is Miki Matsuda, the Japanese photographer and artist and his pals. Although I don’t speak or read Japanese, Miki generously gives me copies of his latest TEAM FIREBIRD air racing comics. He does this every year. A mixture of drawings and photos, these books chronicle Reno. This year Hachiya Kazuhiko, another photographer, is along. He also presents me with his latest photo books, including one on a fabulous flying wing glider with a small jet engine inspired by a cartoon drawing and the work of legendary Jack Northrup. While we talk, with Miki interpreting, Jan Reyers, our tall media dude, circles us with his latest Go Pro Toy. Miki and Hachiya are part of the international flavor of Reno and perfect examples of how aviation is a universal language.
Not until Friday will Curt and Sawbones take to the course. It’ll be the last race of the day. Rick tended to some small issues to bring the racer to perfection. Gerry tapes seams and Eddie makes sure the sponsor graphics are complete for our valuable guests.
Early morning heats for Formula I and Biplanes are running - early to avoid the daily mid-afternoon “Winds of Reno” - not a song title, but part of the local lore, the conditions everyone must adapt to as part of the high desert. It’s a dry, dusty wind that affects the nose and eyes. Beware nose bleeds. As the sun drops, a few dust devils dance across the course floor. We strike the set with Gerry, Wayne, Merlin, and Rick generously helping stow the bins. It’s about team. I check with Rick to ensure the sales stuff won’t be in the way. Always the gentleman, he tells me not to worry. Merlin and Wayne will see to the Honda generators.
Ross Duncan, done with his security duties for the day, stops to compare notes. Yesterday, he’d called his daughter Katie and handed me his cell phone, Katie is bummed out she can’t be here this year. Coming to the races is an addiction. Airplanes, the Reno atmosphere, speed, shared experiences - like Oshkosh, Reno is about people.
I parked in Lot 3 today. Looks like new gravel was put down from the dust on my Rockports. At the airport gate, we were met by the old crew from previous years who are Sawbones fans.
After having to modify the set yesterday, Sue hung the samples and figured out where she wanted the bins. Only the sales stuff wasn’t out. The strong wind covered everything and everyone with a fine dust. Rick tended to a few small Sawbones issues, with more minor items to amend Wednesday.
Dreadnaught qualified today at 433.285, ahead of Sawbones. Miss America joined the 400 mph club for the week, followed by Argnonaut and 924. We’ll wait for the official times to come out to be sure. For sure, Sawbones, is 2nd.
Reno announcer Roy Haefli stopped. A couple years ago, he bought a present for his grand daughter. This year, he’s shopping for himself. I assured him we have a number of new items for this racing season. New designs, new colors, even some new fabric. Roy is a retired Mountie, as in RCMP, who announces in western Canada most of the time. He’s a great “voice” and we chatted about air show announcing and our personal connection to the late Gerry Beck. Just before Reno I announced at Battle Lake for the salute to Beck fly in.
Sue and I ate dinner act Biscotti’s. Her sister and brother-in-law arrived from MSP as we finished our meal. As I left the restaurant, the rest of the crew arrived. Merlin, Eddie, Wayne, and Jerry had arrived on the same flight. The team is now complete. Race on!
What’s this? On the hotel room dresser I found a letter from the hotel’s Executive Director stating, “Please be advised…” and alerting patrons overlooking the swimming pool that Wednesday and Thursday mornings a drone would be filming the hotel’s pool deck. DRONES! Looking in the window? The letter says, not. Drones, can’t escape ‘em.
Traffic is heavier this A.M. must be a work day. Of course, us retired guys…what do we know? Same road, heading north to Stead BLVD - but this time school’s in session. 15 mph. Creep by the school. All’s good.
At the airport gate, I roll down the window, but the yellow vest waves me through with, “Have a safe day!”
I figure he saw the parking pass in the window, but didn’t read it. Tomorrow, I will have to park in Lot 3, as things get more serious. Besides, we hear the jet truck will be here soon.
When I park behind the trailer, I see that Rick and Mike are already there. Work begins.
Sue works on merchandise while I assemble the new shelves. Rick’s carpentry skills help solve the first rack’s contrariness. The rest of the display projects engages Tony the “Taz” and Robin. Robin heads an expedition to Home Depot guided by “Siri.” I ride shotgun and, as I rather like “her” voice, wonder what see looks like.
Jan arrives bringing lunch and threatening looks about the Green Bay Packers insignia on the fuselage and rudder. Mike’s guilty, if guilt be the correct crime. Mostly, it’s laughs, as when Robin arrives, he doesn’t see it right away. Seems it was a great on line hit. Me, well, I’m the poor relation. A Twins fan, or glutton for punishment.
Bryan Greene, chief greeter and standard bearer for Section 3, brings orange stickers for the Sawbones team. I introduce him to our “new guy” Mike. Mike has yet to experience the rabid fans of Section 3.
“At least it’s not Section 8,” Mike quips. Bryan laughs. “Pretty close,”
Graeme Free, the Yak’s pilot, stopped to thank me for the letter Dave
McDonald published in the outstanding New Zealand aviation magazine Classic Wings about Full Noise’s last to Gold debut in 2017. As I told him, we made great friends. To me, the real story of Reno 2017 was Full Noise, not the Mustang duet.
By the end of Monday, with the wind picking up, Sawbones qualified at 413.511 mph. Curt and Rick were happy with the engine and systems. Graeme Frew in Full Noise came in well at 362.770 - on a stock V-1710. True, not everyone ran or called for the clock today, but the times look very good.
After the flying was over, I hiked to the “official” Air Race merchandise tent to buy a program for my collection. This was inspired by watching Robin admire a Warbird Pin Up Calendar that was in the pilot’s air race Swag Bag with a 2018 program. The good doctor looked the calendar over with an expert eye!
At the official race tent, I was pleasantly surprised when, upon seeing I was with Sawbones, I got the program at a 10% discount. Or maybe, it was a senior discount.
I rescue the Nisson from the 4th level of the parking ramp. Down the steep slope to Virginia Street, south to Moana Lane, west under the bridge to the ramp for I-395. Get the hell over to the far left lane to avoid the merging traffic from I-80. We’re headed to Stead!
It’s Sunday, traffic is not too bad - although the Casino, where it’s never day or night, clanks, whistles, clinks, and buzzes without pause, the search for the elusive jackpot somehow and addictive lure.
Up I-395, through the dead brown hills, punctuated by billboards and scattered campaign signs - past Lemmon Drive the road narrows from three lanes to two, past the pull off for putting on your snow tire chains, and there’s the green sign for Stead BLVD. Off we go, careful to slow down past the school, where on school days, the speed limit is 15 mph or a ticket. Yellow busses and backpacks will be crossing the road. Be alert. The sun is already harsh, casing mountain shadows among gas stations, fast food joints, and chain link fences.
Finally, up to 45 mph looking for the last stop light by the Sinclair station and its green lizard tribute to fossil fuels. The left turn is soon.
Now it’s the industrial park, including the massive J.C. Penney warehouse, then after yet another turn, straight in toward the airport gate. No one is there! I sneak in, dodge some amblers pushing a stroller, and with the low sun in my eyes, navigate to the trailer. We’re first.
I open the doors, crank Robin’s new Honda generator - only one of two for today. We’ll need both when it’s time for the refrigerator and the air conditioner. As for now, it’s prep time.
Pete Law stops, a legend in air racing and with “Skunk Works.” With his white hat and white moustach, he conducts class with our crew chief Rick, Curt, and the “new guy” Mike.
“I’m 82,” he says. “It’s important to share what I know and what I’ve learned before it’s too late.” Like so many in aviation with experience, expertise, and wisdom, they’re dying off. New blood is needed. As he gets ready to leave on his golf cart, he holds out a child’s bicycle bell.
“Now, if I could attach this to my gold cart, it might keep the someone from getting run over.”
“Maybe you need a bulb horn like the Marx brothers,” I say.
“Got one,” he laughs and squeezes it. “Trouble is,” he laughs. “You and I are old enough to know who the Marx Brothers were. Today, no one knows who they were.”
Sadly, that’s true.
I brought copies of the aircraft histories I’d written back in the early 1990’s for N151BP and NX163BP, the Mustang and King Cobra that used to be at FCM with Bob Pond. Both are racing this year. Jim Dale is flying “Pretty Polly” and Tommy Krueger, who painted the T-34B that was the first restoration I worked on, is crewing on “Bunny.”
Our good friend Jan Fisher who is part of the water and ADI crew stopped by briefly. She’s the one with the racing finger nails, including Sawbones. Her husband is in the hospital. She’s an important part of the air racing family.
“Seeing everyone today will make it easier on me. I’ll miss all of you.” We get and give hugs.
Our Kiwi friends from last year are back with the “Yak in the Box.” Full Noise arrived at Reno in a giant blue shipping container. Then the assembly began. Last year, not fully ready for the ordeal, they lacked tools and other necessities. We helped them out and made great friends.
“I’ll introduce you to our new crew chief,” I tell Ryan and Paula. They’ve filled me in about the issues bringing the Yak-3 to Nevada. Paula assures me they’ll be over, as they’ll “need a few things.” Later that day, introductions made, Rick helps them with the air compressor. When “Full Noise” is ready for an engine test and later first flight of the week, we loan them a fire extinguisher. They couldn’t bring one as it was considered hazardous material. We’re glad they’re back. True pit mates.
Robin and Tony did the early Sunday A. M. motorcycle tour that included Tahoe and Virginia City - Mark Twain territory! The Indian motorcycle made it back without a flat bed. Robin had a great tine. Ride on!
Pete Law wasn’t the only one to conduct class. After attending the crew chief meeting, Rick checked the screens, carefully explaining too an attentive audience, each step. We don’t want to find metal in the oil screens. The “screen test” my not have the sex appeal of the movies, but it’t vital for engine operation and safety.
The red numbers on the digital clock winked 02:18. Then the window air conditioner kicked in with a thump and moan. We’d opted to cut the “drive in the dark” to a few miles and stayed in one of Carson’s best south of the Mall of America (or wherever). It may have cut the distance as I detest driving I-94 and I-494 at night, but it did nothing for sleep.
0438 I drive deserted roads toward the Park and Fly, sitting at stop lights waiting, waiting, with no one else within a hundred miles. Forlorn street lights awaiting dawn for the automatic light sensors to starve them of life when the sun comes up
Slot 1-82, next to the black Buick at the Park and Fly. A whiskey bottle in a torn brown paper bag waits next to the roughly painted cinderblock wall. The van arrives.
“Don’t lose this,” the gray haired driver advises and hands me a parking reminder slip. Aboard the van, four sleepy passengers stare at cell phones or the floor. Our driver races Le Mans style toward Terminal 1, and lets us out in what looks like the airport basement.
0538 We check through TSA, after first heading the wrong way. U-turn. Thank you Pre-Check! Shoes, belt - still on. Just my over-filled camera bag to send through the X-ray machine behind someone’s giant suitcase. No beep. No hassle.
“Thank you, sir.”
Okay, no one calls me “Sir” unless it’s a reference to creeping age and senior discounts.
0638 Meadow Bakery. Sue has coffee and a muffin. Me, a cherry danish. Outside the dirty window, with faint rays in the east, morning strains itself awake, another primeval attempt to edge the Earth around another rotation. An airport cleaner clanks by, stopping to rearrange a mop to a more secure position on his cart to keep it from smashing some poor devil in the head. Oblivious flyers, with backpacks or rolling suitcases over eagerly tap at their cell phones. My cell phone is off and stowed in my camera bag.
0738 Seat 20B, an American Airlines 737-800 to Phoenix. It’s not filled, so Sue and I have three seats. Some folks, including the huge guy snoring and snorting on the right hand side, have three seats for one. I’m reading Simenon’s Maigret and the Loner. I discovered Simenon in 1975, and found even years later a source of solace and understanding of the all too hazardous human condition - not to mention an escape.
0938 I’ll have to reset my ancient Timex. After reading a while, I switched to a puzzle book, 2.50 reading glasses on the end of my nose.
1138 We’re past Phoenix, heading down to Reno on an Airbus 319. The flight attendant, a slim blonde with her hair in a pony tail, is collecting trash. She’s wearing stockings with a run in the left leg. I admire her fortitude and ability to smile this late in the flight.
1438 After picking up the Nisson, it’s on to the Peppermill. Since Jan e-mailed the reservation codes, no problem. A perky brunette in a dark blue blazer taps away at her computer.
“Lymburn?” she asks.
“Sawbones crew,” she smiles.
Fifteenth floor with some mountains in the distance over the hotel’s roof. Later that evening Tony would comment to us and Robin, also on the 15th, “So, this must be the floor for the old folks.”
1538 An all black Nisson in the brutal Nevada sun - well, yes. Nowhere for my left foot to go, me being a manual transmission guy since Noah.
1738 We share a chef salad for supper, guzzle water, and after reading a few chapters in my Simenon novel, enough is enough. Nap time. It’s been a hell of a long day.
Hey race fans check out these nails. I like the Sawbones one!
Sawbones getting fueled today with 145 octane, the “good stuff “ for racing
Sawbones qualifies in first place (so far). Dreadnought and Miss America yet to qualify.
Today was a slow day at Reno for Sawbones. Curt had a pilot briefing and Rick had a crew chief briefing. Rick checked the sea fury’s screens prior to running the plane hard. They were perfectly clean We need to burn off the 100 octane fuel and replace it with 145 octane tomorrow.
Tony and I decided to take a trip on the motorcycles, two of which caused us all the work loading in South Dakota. It was chilly this morning so we both “borrowed “ Dale
Zoerb’s custom leather jackets . We fueled the bikes, me on my Honda Rebel 500 and Tony on Dales beautiful Roadmaster Indian
Our trip took us up the Sierra’s through Virginia City and Silver City. After that we climbed the road up to nearly 9000 feet to get into the Lake Tahoe area. On straight roadways I formed up on Tony at a 45 degree angle, similar to a wingman in a T-6 As we climbed through the steep inclines I could hear the deep farting noises of the Indian’s robust exhaust. My bike sounded like a little kid making buzzing noises through a toilet paper tube. (Sorry Honda). It did however climb effortlessly through the steep turns. We had to slow twice for wild horses crossing the road near Virginia City
The wind pounded at my aging body, but with the scenery so stunning I ignored it. Somehow I felt like I was younger, back in college again! It was an experience you could only have on the back of a motorcycle or maybe a horse. Some folks were riding horses on the steep mountain trails. I wondered how our three horses would like it.
Typical soot pattern from exhaust after flying Minneapolis to Reno. After opening forward panels all is very clean with minimal oil residue!
Drop tanks are off. Rick is preparing aircraft for tech inspection. A beautiful morning at Stead field
Mike Brown’s highly polished “Goldfinger”. This clipped wing P-51 Mustang is a new airplane this year and will be competition for Sawbones .
Mike Dudinyak our new crew member does an amazing job making Sawbones sparkle!
Tony drives not only the truck but also the tug. Thanks to Dave and a Camy Etchel for letting us use the awesome classic tug.
Legendary Pete Law shows Curt and Rick how the anti detonation water regulator works on the R 3350.
Well my “Travels with Tony” is nearly over. We are driving over the high plains of Nevada where all the scenery looks like Reno. We are only 300 miles out near Elko
The trip reminds me of John Steinbecks book “Travels with Charlie”, although Charlie was a dog. No offense Tony. Together we have solved all the political problems on earth, learned everything about each other and in general had a thoughtful wonderful time. The trip was heavily punctuated with huge belly laughs. We join up with our airplane soon
Twin tunnels through the mountain near Carlin Nevada. Tony looks happy finally as he soon will be booting me out of his truck.
The end point. The observation deck under construction, the hauler lines the pit once again.
As we start our second day in the Sawbones truck we are driving over the vast open spaces of Wyoming. As we carry on our trip I am struck by the difference in flying Sawbones over this same terrain. As I look out of the truck you are aware of ranches scattered among the tan-brown hills, numerous solitary oil pumping machines with occasional scattered cattle. From the big Hawker Sea Fury you see none of what’s intimate to the ground but only a vast ocean of rolling hills with protruding ridges
Today we grind along at 70 mph listening to the Kenworth diesel spool up and down as we go over the ground. In the aircraft we cruise along at 300 knots with the Wright 3350 monotonously droning on at 2000rpm with 30 inches manifold pressure. It doesn’t need to vary it’s power as it thrashes through the air.
When I flew Sawbones I could go from Minneapolis to Casper Wyoming in less than two and a half hours. Now early in the second day of our trip we haven’t even reached Casper! I think of Curt as he flys Sawbones today.
Today we go over the mountains ⛰ and will keep you posted
Well we finally made it to the Rockies and are getting through Park City .
Just saw my first sign for Reno showing 546 miles to go. We are both happy Curt is safe at Reno Nice scenery here
We are almost done with today’s driving. Tony hauled truck 653 miles. This is the last of the Bonneville salt flats
Just left Anoka airport at O dark thirty and heading to Reno with Sawbones trailer it’s 645 and we are just past Madelia 125 miles into it. Tony seems to be in a good mood so far. Will keep you posted!
Driving through South Dakota where the deer and the antelope play....and hopefully we will when we get to Reno. Nothing but open space here as we near rapid city. Lots of Wall Drug signs. Tony has his dash set up with nice sharp pointed toggle switch extension units to impale us in case of sudden stops. Truck running good. We have been playing the “convoy” song from the seventies. Tony is making me feed him his lunch!
Airplane on a stick! Looks like a fast one too! We know we are getting closer to Reno now.
Tony worked hard to get two big ass Indian motorcycles loaded. Couldn’t get third one started even with two attempted push starts. On the road again!!
Just pulled into Gillette Wyoming for the night. Tony is looking forward to his Long Island ice tea. Other than the motorcycle glitch all is going well