Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ceiling Unlimited

My first exposure to 'Ceiling Unlimited,' the story of North Centrals first 25 years of service written by Robert Serling, came in the mail one day from Marlene Krogstad, the Director of Consumer Affairs for Republic. Unbeknownst to me, my Father had requested a copy of CU from Marlene as he wanted me to understand the history of the airline I loved and to delve into it's past to see what made it 'tick.' Well, needless to say, I read the book from cover to cover in one day! Fascinated with the stories, ideas, the people involved and lack of money in the 'early days' were new knowledge to me. I'd never heard of Francis Higgins, the 'Father' of Wisconsin Central/North Central, nor the fact that most employees in the 'early days' weren't even paid, as there was little to no money! Talk about dedication. Hence, the airline that 'beat the odds.'

A few moments in the book still stand out to me, as are many throughout the book, but I'll quote a few here for you...

During one evening in Madison, Wisconsin, Hal Carr and Francis Higgins had been planning strategies for the airlines' operations, along with drinking (heavily) when Mr. Higgins decided they needed a break and took off in his old, black sedan, with 'Speck,' Higgins' pet Dalmatian in the back seat.

Higgins was doing more talking than driving, and the speedometer crept considerably above posted speed limits. A siren wailed behind them.

"Oh-oh," Carr warned. "When that cop smells the liquor on your breath, you're dead. They won't let you drive a kiddy-car for six months."

"He won't smell any liquor," Higgins assured him.

"The hell he won't. He could smell it through a gas mask."

"Relax," Higgins said, "I just won't open my mouth."

They pulled over, and Higgins rolled down the window as the policeman walked up.

"You were driving pretty fast," he commented. "Let me see your license and registration , please."

Higgins, staring straight ahead, made a few gestures in the closest imitation of deaf and dumb sign language he could achieve. The officer stared.

"Is he really deaf and dumb?" he asked.

"Very," Carr muttered.

"Well, I'll be damned," the policeman sympathized. "First time I ever stopped a deaf mute. Can you talk to him?"

"Fluently," Carr allowed.

"Well, tell him to drive slower and be careful. I'll let him go this time. Poor guy--deaf and dumb, eh?"

"Dumb--like a fox," Carr said under his breath.

My friend Marlene Krogstad was also mentioned in CU in regard to responding to the constant flow of mail from passengers. Some critical, some praise and some giving/seeking advice. However, one such letter arrived that Marlene, nor her staff, could adequately respond to!

"Dear Mr. Carr:

The airplane is cold

The coffee is cold

The stewardess is cold

And you're not so hot yourself."

These are only two examples of the most interesting history behind North Central Airlines. Robert Serling, a very famous and award winning author/writer of Aviation literature, did a fantastic job with 'Ceiling Unlimited.' If you're lucky enough to own a copy of this 225 page account, HOLD ONTO IT! The original list price for 'Ceiling Unlimited' was $8.50 in 1973. Today, if you're able to even find a copy on or even, I've seen copies go for as much as $100! Every year now, I sit down and re-read CU from cover to cover and I'm happy to say I now own 4 copies...:)

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