Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Skip Powell story 'finale'

Hello all! I've been in contact with Skip Powell, who has graciously given us a wonderful background into his history and career with North Central Airlines. As many of you will see, Scott at www.hermantheduck.org has added Skip's story IN FULL under the 'Stories' heading. It's been my pleasure to add Skip's story to the blog for our readers but feel it would be better served and read, in full, on www.hermantheduck.org. Please visit the site for Skip's continuing history, and thank you for reading!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Herman The Duck

Hello everyone! I'm pleased to announce that Scott, over at www.hermantheduck.org, has updated his site as of yesterday. Skip Powell's full story has been added along with the fleet histories of the DC-9. Stop by and check it all out!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Skip Powell part nine

"Yet a single man, by now a battered, seasoned SA after some 14 months at ATY, I exercised my ALEA union rights. I became a Relief Station Agent, reporting to GO-Chaired Dave Padrta, The Assistant to Superintendent of Stations, Mr. Robert Baker. I left SM Sherman behind, I witnessed no tears, perhaps with less hair. We would meet again in Michigan. His June 14, 1969 memo to my next boss stated (to wit) 'a good agent in almost all aspects, except etc etc.'

But first, during those heady airline days, many station people and all Stewardess's (longest word in the dictionary typed only with left hand) were young-young boys and girls. Thus, hook-ups were not rare. Being a single man in ATY, with each passing flight, I 'interacted' with equally young, single Stewardess. those were nice, young ladies who served warm smiles, along with coffee, tea, bouillon and those 4-pack cigarettes, in later times doughnuts and rolls were added. Often across the open door to their favored SA's they would pass 'some' - in unused gift bags.

Time during three minute stops was brief, but often productive. One day, while guarding the airstair door, I looked up at a blond, blue eyed 'lassie' clad in blue. She later enticed me to marriage, even paid the $3 license fee. I freely admit it was influenced on her near by parents farm, where on Thanksgiving the table was loaded - what 'living, breathing' youngster would forsake those meats, taters and pies upon that table.

So, I departed ATY in 1960, taking with me lasting memories and a soon to be lifetime partner.

Many changes have taken place since departing ATY. Many can be considered progress, BUT some, well, consider these comparisons. (Per Consume Price Index-CPI). A 1960 dollar compared to $7 in 2007. The combination of money value and the ill conceived 'Airline Deregulation' is here illustrated:

CHI-DTT 1960 NC DC-3 2 stops, schedule time 2hrs. OW fare $17.90 (2007 CPI $125.30) 2008 AA Jet Nonstop, schedule time 1hr 25 mins. OW fare $250.00

CHI-DLH 1960 NC CV340 1 stop, schedule time 2hrs. 5 mins. OW fare $34.35 (2007 CPI $240.45) 2008 NW Jet 1 stop, schedule time 2hrs. 8mins. OW fare $932.00 (No nonstop service)

CHI-DHL after July 1960 was nonstop CV 340 Dinner Service. The future ain't what it usta be!!

Some 20+ years later, I visited ATY. There sat my ole cohort SA Verlyn Nordseth. Watertown Terminal changes had been made, but the table top 'worn spot' remained-there Verlyn was resting his heels. Verlyn was a good-ole-boy, like his WWII Aviator brother, NC Capt. Ordell Nordseth (RIP, Jan. 2009).

Capt. Nordseth, on a foggy December 1972 night, had just begun his DC-9 roll down a Chicago O'Hare runway. Suddenly, a Delta Convair 880 appeared directly to his front, an unauthorized crossing of his runway. His premature liftoff almost cleared the CV-880 - almost. His extended gear bounced off the CV-880 top, crashing back to the runway - beyond the CV-880 - fire broke out.

Passengers were evacuated. Capt. Nordseth crawled the aisle to insure all passengers were off, he was the last off his plane. While he thought all people were off, they weren't. Due to the black, oily smoke filling the cabin, several missed exits, ending up in the biff and cockpit. If the Captain of the A-320 landing on the Hudson River (February 2008) was a hero (and he was), for sure Captain Nordseth is equally so. I understand these fatalities, became the driving force behind aisle floor lights on current day aircraft.

I appreciate what a harrowing experience it is to be surrounded by black, boiling, oily, stinking smoke, which is what Captain Nordseth endured. Early on a sub-zero, windy ATY Sunday morning, a nearby equipment building was on fire. Thinking I could rescue something, I opened the door and stepped inside. It was my first time dealing with black, churning smoke - I let it burn."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Skip Powell part eight

" I worked DC-3's at 11 NC stations. Except for the two biggie GRB and MSP stations, all flights were scheduled 3 minute stops. On ramp arrival, the left engine would be shut down. The airstair door would be let down and often, with outbound passengers at elbow; the SA would assist deplaning/enplaning passengers - all the while maintaining 'meaningful conversation' with the young 'Stew.' Cargo handling was mostly via the rear bin, thus more talk time.

Lastly, with fire bottle at hand, the agent would signal with 2 fingers aloft, OK to start left engine. Once engines running smoothly, the SA and Pilot would exchange military type hand salutes. The salute was an important communication. First, the SA salute meant all pins, locks and chocks were removed, the area was clear of gear and it's OK to move the a/c. The pilot salute meant responsibilities were now his and he was departing.

NOTE: The 'on-ramp' Agents time was measure between left engine stop and exchanges of salutes. At times, the clock was a bit 'shaded' to avoid a Delay Report write-up. Of course, and no one would ever admit that at times, Pilots would 'shout out the window' a reduced ramp time, which we would use and he would record on his flight log. I suppose later, that modified time, became input to the Payroll Departments pay calculations? Nah!

At rare times, a two engine stop was necessary. Such might be required for front bin loads (pilots often helped with front bin loads), a/c fueling or much more rare a/c de-icing. Delay report write-ups always followed - with attendant explanations.

A rare thrill during a/c engine start time could disturb the normal. The cranking engine would issue a loud cough, belching smoke and maybe flames. The alert pilot would keep the prop turning and finally blow away the bad stuff. I understood things could get nasty if the prop should stop and the flames naught. I never had the pleasure. My only action with that red fire extinguisher was its periodic weighing.

Early one high wind and 'snirt' blowing morning, the runways were snow and ice covered. Runway braking action was 'Nil', ice covered runway, absent any braking capability. These BRA reports were often determined by car. The first flight delivered got his IR (In Range fuel report), answered by the station barometer setting, along with a braking action report. He arrived, made a circulating approach to the airport, and executed his landing. Fish-tailing down the nest of two cross-wind runways, he finally stopped 'catawampus' to the runway. The waiting second flight questioned conditions and was told by the first 'landing not recommended!' The airborne pilot responded 'get off the runway, if you can make it so can I' - and he did. I was hoping neither would land, it was nasty Parka WX and fur lined trooper ear flap hats were not yet authorized attire - by arm chair GO types.

Weather in ATY ranged well between 'clear & cloudy.' Temperatures exercised both ends of the scale, my first joys of -30's. The winds blew heartily; summer time dust, fall time tumbleweeds, and wintertime snirt (dirt mixed with snow).

Weather forecasting then was quite rudimentary. DC-3's did not have radar capability. On a summers evening, nasty thunderstorms and fierce lightning bolts filled the air. A DC-3 landed and taxied up on the ramp, stopping in front of the terminal. Fast rising, low flying, hair raising turbulence is unique to Dakota flat lands and perfect for a Clint Eastwood movie scene. Heavy winds increased. Passengers were ushered in the building for safety. Ramp gear, with an agent in tow, blew across the tarmac.

A tornado sat down, destroying buildings either side of the terminal building. During which, the pilot had spun around his close by DC-3 to point up-wind. There he practiced his 'tail up' ramp flying. Meanwhile, watching passengers were also doing a bit of 'wondering' of their own. No one was hurt and all soon returned to normal.

Idle time was not unusual working in small stations like ATY, and most of my later 10 stations. But, one could not anticipate their next airport adventure, some not ending well. At ATY, a 'flamed-out' Air Force Jet Fighter dead-sticked one hot summer day from about 30,000 onto the short (for him) runway. Later, as he sat drinking a cup of coffee, we were unable to determine the wettest part of his attire was arm pit area or the pants? Later, working at ASX (Ashland, WI) a Piper Cub spun a hole in the terra-firma, his last act and messy. While in BEH (Benton Harbor, MI), a couple guys were pulled from a twin a/c floating in Lake Michigan, one of which was my former high school class mate.

All was not sweat in ATY. There was small airplane recreation flying in the 'wild blue yonder,' tossing out rolls of toilet paper, then attempting to cut the unrolling ribbon headed toward Mother Earth. Even more fun was trading my '57 beautiful, pink and cream hardtop Buick for shares in 'The Future Bottle Opening Bottle Corporation.' Its President, a big, gregarious red bearded guy, was quite a salesman. I was not the only investor. The newly arrived pop-top can and twist-off bottle caps killed the investment. I got my car back with a bit of my scarce cash - wish I still had it. Attendant to that relationship was trip invitations in his ball busting AT-6 air machine and his Piper tri-pacer. Where we went, fun followed. "

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; http://hermantheduck.org.

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!"