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Air travel has changed drastically over the years. I remember my first flight. It was from Boston to New York aboard a dual propeller aircraft operated by Allegheny Airlines. Allegheny was a smallish carrier in the Northeast that later became part of U.S. Air.
This flight on Allegheny was nothing like you would experience today. We had seats that were NOT arranged elbow to elbow, sardine-like. Chewing gum was provided to help relieve the pressure change in your ears. The gum probably served a more important purpose, to give you something else to think about other than the constant, mind numbing, hammering of the propellers and engines as we made our way through the skies. Beverage service included cloth napkins. That was air travel.
Grandpa was the one responsible for fostering an early interest in air flight which led to a fascination with space exploration. “Riggie” served as a minesweeper off the Massachusetts coast during W.W. II.
Grandpa’s favorite airplanes were the bi-planes and tri-planes of the W.W. I. In my Uncle’s bedroom, converted to a study, Grandpa had a model of a German tri-plane on a shelf. The times we stayed with my grandparents, I would fall asleep gazing up at the tri-plane from the glow of a lamp fashioned from a Texaco glass globe retrieved from a gasoline pump.
There was one span of time that I recall vividly. It was during a hot New England Summer over a series of Saturdays. Grandpa and I worked on assembling a plastic model kit of an F-16 jet flown by the Air Force. We sipped iced coffee while working on the model in the cool basement of their home. On another occasion, in the Fall, Grandpa made a kite from some wood scraps and a green plastic garbage bag.
Some years passed and my grandparents retired to California. My Grandpa ever the tinkerer didn’t take the traditional approach to retirement. He landed himself a dream job as the repairman of a condo community. If you knew my Grandpa he really had landed his dream job. Grandma has told me frequently over the years that Grandpa spent most weekends painting, wallpapering, switching out screens for storm windows as the seasons changed, tending the lawn or keeping their cars maintained.
During this time my brother and I received a special gift for the holidays… a pair of bi-planes fashioned from aluminum cans. I suspect the cans were rounded up in the course of Grandpa performing his duties as repairman. These gifts were an act of love and a resourceful re-use of available materials. This act of recycling was done long before it became fashionable or necessary to recycle.
My brother’s bi-plane was built from Coors’ beer cans. I learned later that Coors was not distributed east of the Rockies for a long time. This made my brother’s plane all the more of a novelty. My bi-plane was constructed from Budweiser and Pabst beer cans. The bi-planes were ingeniously crafted and included rounded wings with struts and landing gear with wheels, all held together with rivets.
Like my Grandpa, the bi-plane he gave me sits on a shelf in our study and you can find me out in the yard most weekends.
Note: This would have run in the local paper but, due to an error will go to the Editor’s “as space allows” pile. Interestingly enough, The Freeholder has something to tell us about airtravel. –Rob