So when the first offers for opening with an airline in the mountains of Utah came, I applied and was acceptedby Monarch Airlines, Stapleton Airfield, Denver, Colorado. That was October 15th or 16th of 1948.
Our drive to Denver [from Kansas City] was no problem in our Ford flivver (which was packed with everything we owned, even an ironing board). The car was so loaded down with weight that the leaf springs arched closer to down rather than up.
In Denver we met the personnel man who lined us up with a station in Price, Utah. They were going to need two men, and I and John Harrigal (another fellow from the school) both accepted the openings at Price.
What we were not prepared for was the drive over the mountains from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado. There's one point where the elevation reaches [11,990 feet; Loveland Pass], and our flivver groaned over every bit of it! There was a time up in the higher elevations where the car just wouldn't run. I pulled into a place to check out what was wrong. The mechanic said he'd have to adjust the carburetor jets to allow more air into them, as the air was so thin at that elevation. And he also adjusted the belts, which also acted differently at high altitude. And that was fine for the "running part."
But when coming down those steep hills, many times finding myself on the outside lane with no railings or other protection, the car began picking up speed. I'd apply the brakes (only mechanical brakes on the car), noticing a smell of something burning. But that wasn't the worst part. The car didn't react to the brakes as they should have, and I found myself applying more and more pressure to the pedal hoping this would slow us down in those steep declines.
One time we met an oil tanker where he was on the inside, and we on the outside. We were coming down this mountain slope at speeds way beyond what I wanted to drive (brakes weren't holding too well at all). Our meeting was just at one of those places where you could look down the mountain about two or three thousand feetno guard rails, nothing between us and "eternity." How I would manipulate that turn, at that speed, and with this gigantic thing coming to push us off the road, I had no idea! Maybe I asked the Lord to take over, as it was beyond my skills or capabilities. We did come through it OK eventually reaching the base of the mountains. God answered prayer, or said "It's not your time yet."
From there it turned dark, pitch black. The last thing I remember was that we were following the Colorado River which hung close to the highway for a long stretch as we headed for Grand Junction. It was a treacherous body of fiercely rushing water, and the protection from the highway to the river's edge was about as good as that coming down the mountain. So I'd guess that when I couldn't see anything but darkness and my own headlights, I always feared the worst as to what might be near to the edge of the highway.
When we reached Grand Junction it was pretty late already, and it was still nearly another 200 miles to Price from there. So I believe we put up there for the night.
Jim Cole, the station manager for Monarch at Price, was glad to have John Harrigal and I there to help him cover the hours and jobs which needed doing, as he had been all alone for a time. John was made the "passenger agent, " and I was made the "cargo agent." That didn't mean a thing, actually, for we both worked everything: tickets, cargo, weather reports, teletyping, etc.
We'd open the station at around 4:00 a.m. to get weather reports and to put that on the teletype system. Then we'd wait to see what flights to expect for that a.m., and we'd be alert to boarding or terminating passengers for Price. It took all the time we had to get the job done. John and I would alternate the opening shift and closing.
In time it became noticeable that the till was always short money. John and I consulted with each other about what might be going on. As Jim Cole would always say, "Well, you two guys split up to make up the shortage." He was the manager and could do no wrong, so to speak. But that lasted too long and happened too frequently.
Jim and his brother George were pretty good night life persons who enjoyed spending a lot of time at the local bars. I know John and I accompanied them a couple times to see what was going on. John and I eventually decided we had to call in to the Denver Office to report that we felt we were being taken advantage of by Jim's constant "You guys make up the shortage" thing. An investigation eventually led to Jim's release from the company, and a guy named G.K. Lewis took over as manager. I wasn't crazy about his stiff-necked approach, though.
Learning to Fly
John and I took up private flying on the G.I. Bill while working for Monarch, and we both got our private licenses before the end of the year. We'd begun working there something like October 18th, 1948.
Two fellows ran a flying school and operated out of the same Quonset hut we did. They may have owned the Quonset hut for that matter. They were Ivan (Leo) Broadhead and Dick Peterson, nice guys. And they were looking for G.I. Bill applicants to take up flying. So John and I were prime candidates, especially since Jim Cole had already received his license from them.
John preferred the Piper J-2 ["Cub"], a tandem aircraft which can practically fly at thirty to thirty-five miles per hour (slow flying) and still maintain altitude. I preferred the Aeronca Chief, for it was a side-by-side craft (dual controls) and had a more powerful engine. But when it came to flying with skis attached, the J-2 was always used because of the configuration of the wheels/skis. John got pretty good with the skis, while I never could get the hang of it real well!
After I was licensed, I began flying a plane called the Ercoupe. It was the closest thing one could fly which resembled an automobile. It had a half steering wheel rather than a stick, and it only had a brake pedal and the panel controls for engine rpm's. To go up, the wheel would be pulled into the stomach, and the opposite to descend, away from your stomach. The ailerons and rudders were "coordinated" to operate in sync, so that did away with the need for rudder pedals or aileron controls. It was supposed to be impossible to put the plane into a spin.
"JOHN SEDORY PRICE, UTAH - 1949"
When I took [the] test for my license, the government inspector turned out to be a 225 pounder (big), while I was around 200 myself. So performing the wheel landings became nearly impossible with all that weight in the plane. He may have made some allowance for the weight, but not much, as I was lectured on the procedure. Wheel landings are nothing more than "touch and go" landings where the wheels are touched to the ground, and then a return to normal flight follows.
The spins were done over Utah Lake at Provo without the test man. He observed from the airport what the spins looked like. That's the maneuver where you put the nose of the plane straight up until power to climb is lost, and just before the nose begins to descend through the horizon, you kick either rudder, depending which way you want to spin, right or left. You hold the peddle in until you count 2½ turns, and then you neutralize to stabilize the craft at the point the spin began. I'd never before had trouble with spins, but when you're over water and are looking for the 2½ turn point, the water and sky look amazingly alike. It did throw me off a bit. The idea was to come out at three full turns.
I think the only warning this guy gave me was to "clear" myself better before beginning any maneuver, for it's possible for another craft to be in the area and a tragic accident can result if you don't make sure you're clear before beginning.
Prior to taking the exam for the license, I'd already made my cross country flights to three points on the map, touching down at all three airports for signatures at each place. There was a minimum distance from the starting point which was required. I remember that when flying over the mountains to the southeast of Price (I think it was Manti) I got to the other side only to find the airport looking like the runways were tunnels. The snow was piled so high I began wondering if the wings would fit between the high banks. And at Green River, the wind so strong, I couldn't get the Ercoupe to slide (slip) to compensate for the strong winds to align with the runway. I tried and tried without success. Coordinated controls are useless for slipping onto runways (the craft is tilted to the side with the nose into the wind so you can practically get to the ground before the wind blows the plane off the path). As I recall it's called "crabbing."
I bought a 22 caliber pistol on a 38 frame as protection from thieves who might have ideas about what we might have in the till at 4:00 a.m. on a cold, windy, snowblown morning. More than once I'd been followed to and from work, and I sometimes didn't go directly home. It gave me chills up and down my spine, but the gun on my hip helped. We also fired guns from the car's window while driving, shooting at jack rabbits and other things. But mountain lions did live nearby, and the guns may have acted as deterrents to their presence on the airport proper where they might have ventured out in search for food. I fired my gun daily there.
Guns, by the way, were legally carried in a holster even in town, so they presented no problem as to legality. They just couldn't be concealed.
Trip to Salt Lake City
John Harrigal, his wife Dorene, Eleanor and I all packed up in our car one weekend to take a drive to Salt Lake City. Once there we thought it'd be nice to go back over the north side of the Wasatch Mountains and then come south from there back to Price. Big mistake!
When we reached Duchesne, we tried to look up some people from back in the Midwest we'd known (I think it was), but we couldn't locate them. But we'd lost time in the search, and the hour was beginning to turn later in the afternoon. It was at Duchesne we were to begin heading back south toward our own Helper Canyon area, perhaps 40 to 50 miles from there. Our only obstacles were Soldier Summit [7,477 feet], the night setting in, and the COLD which prevails at night time at that elevation.
We must not have yet reached the peak when it was noted that our cooling system was beginning to steam up. I got out, lifted the hood, and couldn't see anything wrong. But I thought I'd jam some of that clean, white snow into the radiator just in case overheating was part of the problem. It didn't help!
Soon there was no heat in the car, and every time I went out to try figuring what to do with the steaming, I could hardly stay out any time at all before I was frozen stiff. I knew I'd put alcohol in the radiator and couldn't see how I could be having this trouble. And it began to snow to further complicate matters.
We'd drive until the steaming would get bad again, and then stop and wait for it to slow down. Then we'd start up again, making a little progress up the mountain in this way. But now came another blow!
The sharp ice and snow must have torn a gash in the side of a tire, and we had a flat. Fortunately, by now we'd reached the plateau and the rest would be mostly downhill. There either was no spare, or it had no air either. So we just rode it down a bit at a time, "bumpety-bumping" as we drove.
Bit by bit, mile by mile, we eked out progressrolling downhill, stopping to allow the steam to subside, standing, then continuing on. Eventually we reached a mining camp town in the canyon at Castle Gate (I believe it was). We pounded on doors, blew the horn, yelled. No one could or would be aroused!
So figuring it wasn't that much farther to Helper and Price where gas station services would be available, we kept on plugging away a little at a time. It was now about 5:00 a.m. or so, and either John or I would have to open the station that morning. I think I volunteered to do it.
The flat fixed, I asked about what had caused all the overheating. The mechanic said, "Come here. Those two long hoses leading from each bank of the engine to the radiator, give them a hard squeeze!" I did what he suggested and was amazed. The two hoses were frozen solidly! The overheating we'd been experiencing was from blocked lines of solid ice. There was no circulation of the water at all! The alcohol wasn't of a strength sufficient to withstand the cold of that mountain drive.
The highlight of my flying career (and nearly the end of my life) came in about March or so of 1949. Jim Cole wanted to fly to Grand Junction to pick up a flight (a free flight we'd be able to get now and then) for somewhere, one which didn't come into Price. He flew the Ercoupe there, and I was to return it to Price after he got his flight out of Grand Junction.
Doing as I'd always been taught, I checked the left magneto, and it was OK I switched to the right magneto, and it wouldn't read as it should (this was done by revving the engine up to a certain number of RPM and kicking a switch). So I taxied back to the office of Monarch Airlines and got on the company teletype to send a message to Ivan or Dick to see what I should do. They advised me to go to a certain air service company, which I did. [See next paragraph and Footnote 7.]
By the time they found a magneto to fit the craft, dusk had begun setting in, and I was in a hurry to get going before it got dark. I taxied out, checked the mags, and I was ready to take off. I headed directly into the sun with a heading which should have taken me to Green River, my first check point.
As I reached near to the desired elevation, there was a sudden splash of oil all over the cockpit bubble. What had happened, I didn't know; but it later was said the oil seal on the prop had given way and burst!
There are mountains outside of Grand Junction and between there and Price which run up to about 13,000 feet or so, so I pushed the craft to try reaching at least 13,500 feet. As I reached that altitude, I noticed I wasn't making much progress over the ground in spite of my engine RPM. What I didn't know was that I'd encountered a terrific head wind which allowed me to have flight speed, but over the ground I was scarcely making any progress at all. Green River, my first check point, was reached OK, but darkness had nearly set in. Once the sun goes down in the mountains, there's no in between. It's either light or it's dark! And it was now dark!
I'd never been in a plane at night, and I had no idea where the light switches would be. I tried every toggle switch I could fumble to touch, yet nothing turned lights on. It was looking as though I'd taken my last flight, as I tried desperately to find lights. (Later, I learned they work in parallel, you must turn two at the same time!).
By now I gave up on the lights and tried concentrating on staying in as level a flight path as I could. All I had to go on was the sound of the wind passing over the wings. If the sound became too drumlike or "whoofy," I figured I must be in a bank or nose-down position. If the engine sounded strained, to me it meant the nose was up too high or the craft was not level. All kinds of adjustments kept me from going nutty.
You must keep in mind that I'd already determined this was most likely to be my last day on earth, and all these maneuvers would most likely prove of no value in the long run. It was just a matter of time. But with life there was still hope.
As I peered toward where I figured Price had to be, I thought I caught a glimpse of light. "Maybe they've lighted up the whole airport with cars' headlights to lead me in" I hoped. "But that airport still lies on a 500 foot plateau, and if those are lights on it, I've still got to land on it without hitting into the side going in. And if I overfly, I'll end up going over the other side," I reasoned. But I kept flying and hoping.
Soon the lights were as bright as could be, and I was elated! I just about could reach down and touch those lights, when suddenly I found I'd flown right into the midst of a coke oven burning in the side of a mountain! The side of the mountain got so close, I felt I could reach my hand out and scrape it.
Turning the wheel for all I was worth, I made a steep turn and bank away from the side of the mountain. "It's all over now. There's no hope for me now," I resolved in my mind. The only thing left was to think about what death would feel like, at least the impact of the crash which would lead to it.
In that turning bank away from the mountain, all hope now gone, there splashed across the side of the cockpit a light of some kind. "What could that be?" I ventured. As I got closer to where the light seemed to have come from, I noticed there were two such lights. "Cars on the airport! I'm right here a couple of miles from the airport itself! I'm saved!" I cried.
The car had turned to head the lights onto the runway and away from the side of the plateau. That gave me the impression he wanted me to approach the runway from the opposite end, so I headed for that end. By the time I got there I realized they merely wanted me to be able to see the runway ahead of me. The idea of coming in high enough to avoid the side of the plateau and yet not so high as to overshoot the other end of the runway captured much of my thought in landing.
Knowing I'd be able to see nothing with the oil-filled canopy, I reached up and pulled it to the side so I could stick my head out to see better. The only trouble with that was the wind streaming into my eyes caused them to water freely, and I could scarcely see anyway. But that's the way I went in for the landing.
By the grace of God that plane fluttered onto the asphalt runway, and I could hear the small pebbles gently bouncing off the underside of the plane. The best landing I'd ever madeexcept that God made that one, not me!
Taxiing back to the Quonset hut, I was told my wife was on the phone. She'd been listening to the radio where this dramatic undertaking was being portrayed on the local station, and she knew it had to be me who was up there. It must have been something else from her perspectiveeven worse than from mine!
The next day I'd resolved I'd never fly again. That's what I thought! Ivan and Dick began telling me if I didn't get right back into that airplane, I'd never again have any backbone to do anything the rest of the days of my life, and they must have been convincing, for off I went flying again.
Ungrateful (Typically Male) Behavior?
There was a mailman who delivered our mail to the airport. He was a cocky kind of guy who wasn't in my top ten category. One day I dared him to go flying with me, and I was surprised he agreed to do it. We had the Ercoupe which actually was a hotter plane than others in spite of its coordinated controls, so I took it to try scaring him a little.
I got sufficient altitude and began doing whatever stunts one could do with this craft. I tried to take note of what he particularly flinched at so I could enlarge on those maneuvers. He didn't care for "up and down" motions, especially stalls where the bottom literally drops out of the stomach. He turned a couple shades of green, and I finally came back in. I think he may have cooled it a little from that time forward.
Flew to Detroit
Ivan and Dick were World War II pilots who had piled up thousands of hours of flying time, and I felt privileged to have been taught to fly by them. When going up with them for dual training, they'd always perform some stunts I'd never try on my own. It oftentimes turned out to be much more than I cared for.
How I got into some of the situations I did, I don't know. But I'd heard about being able to buy a new car in Detroit, picking it up there, and saving thousands of dollars. I eventually arranged for that trip as part of my flight training. We took the Aeronca three place which had a bigger engine. Ivan Broadhead allowed me to fly for hours and hours while he slept. And I employed every visual means on the ground I could to stay on course. Many were the water towers I'd gone down to take a closer look at to make sure I was on course (they used to have the cities' names on the towers).
Our first stop was [in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then] in [Wayne,] Nebraska where Ivan had an old WWII buddy living. He may have been there before. The ranch consisted of horses, cattle, and airplanes.
There we had one of the finest steaks I've ever eaten. It was so tender it could be cut with a fork. And it was as large as the oval plate is was placed on. I have never since come across another like it.
The next a.m. Ivan and I took off again, Ivan taking the controls as the two guys performed some team-type stunts on our departure. It gave me a proud feeling to think I was a part of this!
Going over Iowa no longer presented the easy visuals to go on, as water and rivers and streams were everywhere. I can't tell for sure how many times I looked at water towers to check out my course. I know one time I found I was way off from my estimated course, and I just got back on track when Ivan woke upsaving the embarrassment of admitting I'd been just about lost.
We went to the suburbs of Chicago first to pick up my brother Ed who'd be driving the car back with me from Detroit to Chicago. This was a three place plane so this was no sweat.
In the Detroit area Ivan took over the controls in order to handle all the commercial craft which popped up everywhere. And he knew how to find and land at the airport near to the place we'd be going for the car.
The car deal didn't turn out so sweet after all, as they didn't have models available like the kind we were interested in. I ended up settling for a business coupe with a little room behind the seatbut no back seat. At least it was a new Plymouth. I'd lament over that "deal" in time to come.
Ed and I drove all night to get the car back to the suburbs of Chicago, then Ivan and I headed back for Utah in the plane.
Family Drove it to Utah
Later on Ed, his wife Eve and Dad made the trip all the way out to Utah to deliver the car to us. What a mess!
To get back to Illinois, Dick Peterson was to fly them back in the four place plane. But in Wyoming (I think it was) Dad got stomach problems which made the flight impossible, so they got off the plane and boarded a bus for Chicagoa trip that driver would just as soon never have madefrequent "emergency" stops!
While in Utah, Eleanor worked at J.C. Penney Company in Price. She made some discoveries about Mormons and their lifestyle while there.
From the time Eleanor and I left Illinois I'd been in touch with John O. Sykora Real Estate in Cicero to keep tabs on my pending sales. The manager wrote me one time that they'd lost the records of any such pending sales, but that it didn't matter, for Mr. Sykora had been sent to a Federal Penitentiary for using for his own use escrow monies in his possession. So there ended that real estate career and what cash I thought I might one day still receive.
The winter of 1948-1949 in the Price, Utah, area was one of the harshest in weather bureau history. Snow accumulation reached over 300 inches. Cattle, horses and sheep were stranded and unable to move over the great depths of snow. So bad had it become, that airlifts by the U.S. Army and other military departments of the government made hay and food drops to try rescuing these animals from certain death. As I recall it wasn't overly successful, and many farmers and ranchers lost all they had that winter.
While on the opening shift at 4:00 a.m., we were supposed to run our cars down the runway to give some clue as to where it was located should the need arise to land there. But when the heavy snows together with strong winds prevailed, it was impossible to get through the deep snows, even with heavy duty chains on the car. Whenever I was able to get through, I can assure you I never got overly close to either end of the runway where the plateau dropped off. It seems my night flight and landing there gave me a "thing" about those dropoffs.
Monarch Airlines dealt with this certain bank in town, so Eleanor and I also had our checking account there. In time the branch manager and I became friendly enough to converse about every day things. My 1941 Ford once became the topic of discussion.
For some reason the manager had an interest in the Ford, though I never knew what it was. He offered me a fantastic deal on a 1946 Ford he had with very little money difference for my 1941. The deal was made.
In time I learned the car needed some kind of engine work which began to sound as though it'd be costly. And that's when I made the trip to Detroit to buy the new car, eventually selling the '46 and making out OK. My "deal" wasn't so sweet after all!
Peterson's had a nice family of what may have been three kids (maybe four), and we visited with them fairly often. Dick's wife was real nice and rather toward the shy side, while Dick was an extrovert who sometimes overdid things.
Ivan and his wife Madonna on the other hand had two kids, a boy and a girl. I think the boy [Larry] was about seven and the girl [Connie] maybe five. We had great times when visiting with that family, especially since the kids made us feel as though we were special. The little girl always hung onto me, and I always thought of it as being a cute thing.
There'll be more to come about these families in later years, but what I'll have to say won't be pleasant. [Our author is referring to the untimely death of Larry, who also became an Air Force pilot].
John Harrigal and I were given a few days off to attend a weather observation school in Salt Lake City so we'd be government certified. We spent the time with our Monarch crew who flew us there. It gave us an idea of what airline crews do and have to say while off duty. I must say I can see where it could become very easy to live loose lives while in those surroundingsaway from home, beautiful stewardesses also away from home, eating out, living in the same places, etc. The many airline hostess or stewardess stories I've heard over the years don't surprise me at all!
Move Back 'Home'
When the new manager of Monarch Airlines came to Price to replace Jim Cole, I know I wasn't pleased with how "bossy" he was. Here was a new guy who didn't know the town or the people or the station, and yet he acted as though he'd been there for ages and knew everything. It didn't set well with me, nor, as I recall, with John Harrigal, either. I'd wished Jim had been different and stayed on!
I'd written to several major airlines for jobs in the Midwest, and I finally heard from American's air freight division in Chicago (Monarch was only a feeder airline which operated in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico). It became my intention to leave Price and Monarch to see what I could do with American and their offer.
I gave a two week's notice to Monarch in Price, and Eleanor and I began packing again. By this time I think we'd become a little homesick for family and friends back home, too. By talking of packing "again," I forgot to mention we stayed in two motels before finally ending up with our apartment in town.
Another idea I had in the back of my mind was to get my commercial license at Embry Riddle Schools in Florida where I figured I could transfer my G.I. Training easily. I'd received a lot of literature from them, and it looked like a good place for commercial certificationjust in case the American Airlines thing didn't work out.
The trip back was to be something like 1,580 miles, and we planned to travel up to Salt Lake City and then head east from there. We didn't want to go over the mountains in Colorado again after our first experience with the '41 Ford, the brakes and all!
In Wyoming we stopped to visit another guy from the airline training school who was working for Frontier Airlines (forgot his name) in a small city. We had a nice visit with him. It's kind of ironic that in later years Monarch was bought out by Frontier!
Somewhere in Nebraska we stopped for our first rest and sleep. I think we'd gone something like 730 miles or so by the time we got there. It was a long haul, and tiresome. The highways in those days were mostly two lanes with narrower pavement than the highways of today and required more alertness and caused more stress. A car headed toward you and over the line could spell disaster!
Back in Stickney
That meant when we began driving the next a.m., we had another 850 miles or so to go to reach home. "Home," by the way, was temporarily to be at my folks place back [on] the Sanitary District of Chicago [land] where they'd returned after living in Cicero for some time. This was the country setting with outside toilet facilities and no running water. Again, the "beggars can't be choosers" dilemma.
1[Return to Text] Since 1979, motorists on the I-70 have been able to pass about 800 feet lower than the Loveland Pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel. Loveland Pass, as a sign there declares, is of interest, because it sits atop the "Great" Continental Divide which separates the watersheds of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. (Note: Our author's original description was exaggerated by 2,000+ feet: "There's one point where I think the elevation reaches 14,000 feet.")
Text] The Ercoupe was first manufactured by the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO); the right to manufacturer the plane was also sold to Sanders Aviation in 1947. The rights to the design later passed through a number of companies and had other model designations, such as the Forney F-1, before finally going out of production in 1968. Our author originally spelled the name as "Aercoupe" (perhaps because many pronounced it that way?);
the Logo on his plane shows there was no "A" in the name:
6[Return to Text] This must have been on March 19, 1949, since it's the only entry in the author's Pilot Flight Record and Log Book which lists him as flying Solo from Grand Junction to Price. It simply states "Solo Cross Country," for 1 hour 45 minutes in the "Day" column. As a matter of fact, this Log book never lists any night flights, most likely because our author was never qualified to do so.
7[Return to Text] The magnetos ("mags") are two independent ignition systems, as required by FAA regulations, neither of which depend upon a battery like an automobile ignition system does. For redundancy purposes, each magneto supplies power to its own spark plug in every cylinder; thus ensuring the engine will operate if one of the two mag systems fails. The reason magnetos are used in planes is that the engine will still run in spite of a battery or alternator failure.
8[Return to Text] "But not very big overall; instead of the usual 75 horsepower "CONT" engine, it was a 100 HP "LYCOM." This plane was listed as a "Super Cruiser" in our author's Pilot Flight Record and Log Book. The Log book lists these legs of his trip: Price to "Cheyenne" (5-9-1949), then to "Wayne, Nebraska" (5-9), "Sterling, ILL" (5-10), Chicago (5-10), Detroit (5-21), Grand Rapids (MI; 5-21), and back to Chicago (5-22). Then to "Cedar Rapids" (Iowa; 5-22), "Wayne, Neb." (again; 5-22), "Kimball, Neb." (5-23), "Rock Springs, Wyo." (5-23) and Price (5-23).