Monday, March 30, 2009

Skip Powell part three

Watertown, South Dakota (ATY) - A Station Agent is Born:

After Becoming an 'Airline Man,' I quickly dug into maps to ATY. It was 400+ miles uphill from Kansas ; no Interstate highways then, thus a nice country drive. There, next morning, I reported to the big man, Station Manager (SM) Wayne Sherman on April 4, 1959. Wayne began his airline career July 1952 with Wisconsin Central Airlines at MDW (Chicago Midway), where he later became Senior Agent. When the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) awarded NC a number of new cities ranging from North Dakota to Nebraska and Spearfish SD to Minneapolis, Wayne became ATY SM February 1959 with 4 agents. Displaced was Braniff Airlines DC-3's. All their employees vacated ATY.

Wayne was bred, born and raised on the streets of Chicago. Certainly trepidation prevailed as his January road trip, with city born Wisconsin wife, Ione, and two young daughters, as they approached ATY. Moving to a town of 15,000, located on wide open prairie lands, whose airport (an ex-Army Air Base) was on a grain farm - from one of the world's busiest (MDW) airport - that's culture shock. ATY demonstrated its warm welcome by keeping it's temperature at zero, or below, for the next 30 days - later swapped for 90's + dry summer months.

Added qualification for this history was 'how' I spent my 10 year NC Station Agent career. I worked in 11 stations, nice as a Relief Agent, two were Class A, large stations, the balance smaller (Class C) and medium (Class B) sized. Work requirements and procedures were NC standardized. Only flight numbers, faces and surprise events varied. It was my feeling that Station Managers were taking particular caution that I learned the un-disrupted business of their domain.

Briefly most SA daily duties in Class B and Class C Stations were;
1) Respond to customer telephone and counter 'walk up' traveling and cargo queries. Often we were the only visible airport-humans, so we dealt with physical airport issues; fueling, weather, etc.
2) Quote schedules, fares and make reservations; notify pertinent NC and other airlines. Write tickets, perform similar chores for air cargo customers.
3) Check-In passengers, write tickets, lift flight coupons (insure fare valid), check luggage (if +41 pounds make added collection, listen to customer utterances) and literally HAND them to the Stewardess; NOTE: Often, interspersed with above activities and demanding immediate attentions were:
4) The 'coming and going' of airfreight, airmail, and (usta be) REA (Rail Express Air) express.
5) The 'coming and going' of flights - monitor air-ground radio and crew radio contacts
6) Interfacing with ATC(Air Traffic Control) to file and relay flights air route clearances.
7) Recording In & Out bound load on FMR (Flight Movement Report), send to downline stations
8) Calculating a/c weight & balance, MGL (Max Gross Load) and prepare Crew Weight Tab
9) Assemble weather, forecasts and winds for crew delivery
10) Receiving a/c on ramp, loading/unloading and some fueling/de-icing and crew interaction.

These daily wide ranging activities covered everything done in a large (Class A) station - except maybe ramp congestion. Of course, larger station work was divided between those having public contact, Passenger Service Agents (PSA) and SA's, separated from the public, performing flight arrival/departure duties and ramp work. 'Ramp work' was my 8-hour duty working two large stations, one during the rainy season (we wore those yellow rain suits), the other during mid-winter, freezing weather that indeed did freeze ears and other protrusions. Aside from weather extremes, a full day working the ramp was not to my liking. The glory of an SA is performing the full range of duties with each flight.

PSA duties were governed by the Traffic and Sales Manual; encompassing Reservations, Ticket Counter and Passenger Check-In duties. Additional SA duties were governed by the Station Operations Manual. My ALEA (Air Line Employees Association) Union manual also stipulated another difference, IE; Rates of Pay - several dollars further separated the two. This experience gave me a good sense of the NC operations and was my basic training for a later ESCORT Programming career, developing new ESCORT programs.

At rare times a flight required refueling. Most DC-3's had 200 left, 200 right and 200 gallon center fuel tanks. Fueling was rare but done enough to remain proficient and to check each engines 22 gallon oil dip stick. This was not car gas, it was high octane, volatile fuel. Early on, SM Wayne Sherman had spoken about 'the fears' of improper fueling procedures. This, I always closely supervised fueling, insuring aircraft and fuel vehicle were properly grounded - together. True or not, 'improper grounding an MDW fueling' had resulted in a spark, an explosion and a fully cooked fueler!

Rarer was the dreaded a/c de-icing. You can be certain it was not Florida weather that prompted its necessity, mostly falling slushy snow and freezing rain. Within smaller stations this process was as basic as hand pumping de-icing (ethylene glycol) fluid into a bucket, mounting the muscle builder front bin cargo loader near the a/c and then slopping the fluid about wing surfaces with a (just like Moms) mop. Fun - avoided, if possible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Robert 'Bob' Allison

I'm saddened to hear and report the loss of Robert 'Bob' Allison. Bob passed away on March 23rd, 2009. I've included the link for the Obituary at the Minneapolis Star/Tribune. There is a link to the families Guest Book at the bottom of the obituary if you'd like to leave a message or memory.

Bob was one of the original '50' with Wisconsin Central I'm told.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Skip Powell part two

Preparing to be an Airline Man

I sprung from my mothers arms into (join the Army and see the woods of both Texas and Louisiana) a 3-year Army hitch in the 24th Combat Engineers (bridges, roads, land mines, dozers, pick and shovel) of General Patton's old 4th Armored Division (Sherman tanks). GI time was followed by a year on the Family Chicken Farm. A fun year for a 21 year old buck and moon light drives in a red pickup truck. During daylight it was grain farming, eggs, chickens and shoveling. A really nice life, but a bleak future.

Following another day on the tractor seat, reading the local Beaver Falls, PA Tribune, I spotted and responded to an advertisement to become an 'Airline Man.' I signed up to attend Central Technical Institute (CTI) in Kansas City, MO. The tuition was paid (just like the Daddy of Loretta Lynn, the coal miner's daughter) by selling fresh pork products; the result of the four hogs I raised, skinned and butchered one 1958 wintry day. For sure, my farm boy days were made clear; a 'hog and bacon' commitment, versus 'chicken and egg' participation.

On a dark, stormy, thunder boomer night while loose barges were roaming the over flood stage Ohio River, I was driven to the Pittsburgh Airport. I boarded a TWA Super Constellation (un-pressurized) while it danced thru lightning bolts and thunder, headed for Chicago (Midway) and onto a 2nd 'Connie' to Kansas City. There, at daylight, we landed. The runway approach was over the stockyards, several stories beneath the top of nearby high rise apartments - there folks could be seen scurrying to start a new day.

The mission of CTI was, for a fee, to train idiots to become airline employees. Their admission criteria were two; able to tie your own shoe laces and able to pay their fee. My hogs handled most expenses, but weekend house cleaning and 'cold-calling' to sell 'dining out' books from a dimly lighted room, was needed to settle the balance and provide poker funds. Actually they did a good job insuring we learned each airline operating region and its cities (codes) and such aberrations as ZZV = Zanesville, Ohio.

There, one fine spring day, an important VIP, John J. O'Keefe of NC appeared on a 'hiring' mission. He chose several warm bodies to administer the 'very difficult' Wonderlic and Minnesota Clerical Tests. Once test results were tallied, he cherry-picked for future glories, several potential airline Station Agents (SA), the first be taken from the class.

Asked if I wanted ORD (Chicago O'Hare) work or ATY (Watertown, SD) - dah? Another 'chosen-one' was Larry Philippon, who went to ORD, where later he became it's SM and later, another GO (General Office) 'expert' working for the Ground Operation Chief, Ken Hubertus who had replaced retired R.H. Baker. We both quickly vacated Mrs. Zimmerman's boarding house and headed for the 'real' World of real airplanes, 'crushed hat' pilots, charming stewardesses and the mostly amicable air traveling public.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Coston E. 'Skip' Powell Part One

Good morning everyone! I'm pleased to be adding another employee history for the blog today! Actually, this history will be a multi phased one, seeing it's length and content. So, with that, look for postings of "Skip's" history over the next few weeks.

I have been corresponding with Skip for some time now and his stories are definitely down to detail, precise and filled with emotion. So begins his story...

Life and Times of a NC Station Agent-1959 to 1968
These recollections were prompted by the stories read on the NC WEB site; I read them all; some were familiar, and all interesting. Two areas not covered were; #1 Station Agent (SA). Dale Brinkmeyer did very well from his Passenger Service Agent (PSA) view but the realm of a SA covers additional ground, this 'Life and Times of a NC Station Agent.' #2 ESCORT-a prime SA and PSA Agents' tool - a story I will next attempt.

First, it must be acknowledged that the individuals establishing and maintaining this NC Website deserve our kudos, and financial support. Tho confident it's done for more than monetary reward-Websites are not 'free,' thus there are out-of-pocket expenses. I say this knowing, 'to pry' money from a NC'ite is akin to pulling 'hens teeth.' Since at the age of 70+ my teeth are mostly Dentist manufactured, I'll gladly contribute, even annually.

This site is equally important - in this age of airline debacle, for their and other employees to see 'how it can be AND how it has been done. 'An organization can succeed with creditable leadership giving priority to 'the business and concurrently,' it's prime tool, it's People. Result will be loyal, productive employees and a successful business.

This is a story of 'my Life' during Station Agent years. Perhaps not unique, except it was a chunk of my impressionable younger years. These jottings are non-fiction, not a novel or works of a professional teller of history. Fully aware my composition skills are faulty - maybe lacking, it is self-written, simply words strung together, somewhat sentenced, as pried from my memory of those times. I did seek clarifying help, on various portions, from earlier co-NC folks. I'll freely use names, when recalled, hoping to engender retorts. I believe the only person incriminated herein is I, if not it's an error.

My literary expertise might make more sense, if it's known that I was a country born betwixt the farm hills of Western Pennsyltucky. My birth year included the setting of a 7+ hour cross country air record by Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart vanishing over the Pacific. Following my 3 year Army hitch, I returned to Dad's Chicken Hatchery farm. There I failed, never knowing, 'had I planted those chicks too deep or too far apart.' Thus I sought a better future.

A newly minted, innocent 22 year old, ready to become an 'Airline Man,' I began a 25 year airline career with NC - I began with nothing, departing 25 years later - I still had most of it. Still do.

My credentials are #1 A 10 year (1959-1968) NC Station Agent, and #2 15 years as an initial ESCORT Programmer advancing to its Manager (1968-1983). What really put the NC years in perspective was the later decade plus of working similar jobs with other employers. It was after departing NC that values and ethics learned at NC (note that I did not say RC0 became clear.

Over the following 11 years, I held management positions with three subsequent, large employers having ESCORT similar systems. Experiences across these times made it very-very clear my fortune to have developed what proved to be a unique work ethic during my NC years. This character building was only possible due to the NC philosophical management style and its pursuit of performance and employee job gratification. The 'school of hard knocks' has taught; "Ethics, Performance and Gratification" differ across employers and differing top-down leadership styles. In other words, the NC work environment was unique to NC. In this era of change, it'll not soon be matched.

Under the continuing gaze of the 'Blue Goose,' the long held 'make sense' work environment began to fade. During the early 1980's the NC spirit was replaced with that of RC. Vanishing were ole-timey cost controls and key NC leaders who had made them an everyday reality. One example of events illustrating erosion of NC standards I experienced during this period. Yet another of the many hired 'extraneous experts' appeared. One had the mission to 'root-out' detraction's that might impair the RC image. An imperfect literary memo of mine crossed his desk. His days work made. He phoned to discuss my literary shirt comings. I asked if he understood the memos message, 'yes' he replied. I hung up, never met or heard from him again. While this guy might be deemed harmless, the real problem was that too many of his tripe were appearing.

NOTE: In 1959, the 2-letter code was NO for North Central. About 1968, when Northern Consolidated Airlines of Alaska vanished, it's 2-letter code was acquired and NO became NC. I'll consistently use NC, though at a given time it was really NO, or perhaps RC (Republic Airlines). Wisconsin Central apparently did not have a 2-letter code?

During the 1960's to 1980's, it was a time of NC transition; #1 aircraft transitioned from piston propeller DC-3's to Jet powered aircraft, #2 available seats increased from 800+ to some 4,800 and, #3 Agents moved from prime tools of stubby pencil and reference manuals to keyboards and CRT's as prime computer driven tools. Plus, sadly for some, two sizable airlines (SO/RW) were combined with NC resulting in RC.

I departed RC while 'Herman, the Blue Goose' still rode the tails of its aircraft, prior to the taint of the 'redtail' - thus today, I remain 'pure.'

I'll end part one of Skip's story here...check back again soon for parts two, three and many more!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Hello everyone! I'm ALMOST ready to post some new employee and fan stories. They should be online shortly. Thanks! :)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

North Central Film success!

Hello everyone! I'm pleased to say 'it worked!' Yes, we were able to upload the North Central promotional film to YouTube. With that, I'm able to add it to the blog as well for everyone to see. The film was large enough though that it had to be separated into two parts. MAJOR thanks go out to my friends 'Dr. Tim' and 'Capt. Keith' for making this event possible. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Updates coming...

Hello all...sorry about the lack of posting lately. I'm still trying to figure out the North Central video, how to split it so as to post it, etc. Frustrating! Alas, I wanted to let everyone know more postings are coming shortly, including some wonderful stories from a former employee! (And hopefully the video!)