Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Column Is A Stretch...

The story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent. You see, we all were guilty. I am referring to the Pipkin Street Gang in 1946. But I should start at the beginning.

Most Saturday afternoons during the 1940s found the Pipkin Street Gang walking eight blocks to the Lamar Theater. I’ll not reintroduce the PSG except to mention that we were playmates growing up in the 1300 block of Pipkin Street in the South Park area of Beaumont.

One Saturday, all of the other PSG members were elsewhere with their families so I decided to walk to the theater alone. As I passed by a vacant lot at the intersection of Pipkin and Chaison Streets I saw what appeared to be a rusty iron box. The box was at least 75 feet from the road and nearly hidden by tall weeds in the field. Curiosity kept asking me what that rusty “thing” was. And really, I did not want to go to the Lamar by myself so I ventured out into the vacant lot.

The rusty object turned out to be the lower portion of an old wood burning heater or stove. There were several little doors. There was the main opening where you insert the wood to burn. Then there were two little doors off to one side. This looked like great fun for an eleven year old boy so I sat down and began opening and closing the doors.

When I opened one of the smaller side doors I noticed a little orange cardboard box. I retrieved the box and read the print on back. It said something about “prophylactics.” I didn’t know what that was so I opened the box. There was a row of little white things. Pulling one out I discovered that it could unroll. This really was weird. It looked like a white balloon but not quite like any balloon I had ever seen. I decided to inflate it. This procedure made the thing inflate to a nice-sized balloon. Then I released it. The escaping air propelled the balloon up in the air. It performed several circles and loops in the process. Wow, that was fun. It dawned on me that there were enough balloons in the box to furnish one to every kid in the PSG. So I pocketed my find and went home.

Later that afternoon most of my playmates were home and they were milling around the neighborhood. I took my box of balloons outside and gave one to each kid. We had great fun blowing up the balloons and letting them go. There was quite a little breeze that helped the balloons go through some neat aerobatics.

Jackie got the great idea to inflate his balloon and tie off the end. He batted the balloon up in the air and the strong breeze took it from there. We never saw it again.

Mr. Heartfield, my next door neighbor came over and asked me if I knew what those things were. I replied, “No, but they make great balloons.” Mr. Heartfield told me to go ask my dad about them. And so I did just that. Dad sat me down and told me some impressive stuff. Also, he told me not to tell the other kids.

I announced to the PSG that my dad told me a big secret about our balloons. I said, “Dad told me that I should not tell you what these are. So go home and ask your mom and dad and let them tell you the secret.”
And so they did just that.

Most probably those parents wished that all of us kids had just gone to the movie.

Winston Hamby

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Where The Water Meets The Shore...

In the past, my columns such as this one have been termed “confession time.” And time dictates that this top-secret memory now be released.

During the summer of 1957 I completed the requirements to become a private pilot. A portion of those requirements called for several hours of solo cross-country flying. This meant that I needed to fly from one town to another town and land at an airport other than the one I left.

So for several weeks, I flew out of Jefferson County Airport located across the highway from Nederland to places such as Lafayette, Kirbyville, Houston, and Galveston. My favorite outing included flying over to Hobby Airport in Houston and then down to the Galveston airport and returning to Jefferson County. I was required to have my logbook signed by someone at each stop to verify the flight.

OK, now for the confession. One sunny morning I rented a green Champion Tri-Traveler from Van’s Flying service at Jefferson County Airport. This plane was very comfortable. It carried a 90 horsepower engine and cruised about 85 mph. I took off and headed toward Houston. Assisting me in my navigation was U.S. highway 90, the Old Spanish Trail. Of course this was before I-10 was anywhere around.

I was flying into a headwind of some 15 mph which meant that my actual groundspeed was only 60 mph. The cars on highway 90 were outrunning me. I preferred flying the more powerful Cessna 172 but it was more expensive to rent so the Tri-Traveler met my needs just fine.

I landed at Hobby Airport. They had an area near the terminal where light aircraft could park (tie down). I went into the control tower to get my logbook signed. After a cup of coffee, I took off and headed down to Galveston. I landed, got the log signed then headed back toward Beaumont. This is where things went a little awry.

The shoreline was beautiful and also served as a reliable navigation tool. My altitude was 1000 feet. There is an interesting phenomenon about the shoreline. Where the water meets the shore, a wall of rough air is created. So when you fly down the beach you need to stay more over the water or more to the land side. That rough air wall in a light airplane feels like riding down a bumpy road in an old car with no shock absorbers.

Just beyond the Gilchrist area I spotted some girls apparently enjoying a beach party. I did a 180 (turned around) and adjusted my altitude to 5 feet and flew toward those girls. Of course I pulled up before I reached them but they scattered in all directions. That was fun so I did it again. This time as I headed at them, a ripple of rough air caused my wheels to bounce off the ground. This startled me so I regained flight altitude and headed on to Jefferson County Airport.

I landed and taxied to the gasoline pump. Van was standing at the pump waiting on me. He told me someone reported that a green airplane with three wheels buzzed a beach party. Then Van asked why there was sand and grass blades in the tire treads. I shrugged and said, “Did they get the registration number of the plane?” Van said that they did not.

Then I told Van, “The weather was beautiful and so were the girls. It was a great day for flying.”

Van’s face showed a slight grin as he said, “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” But his eyes glared as though to say, “Don’t ever do that again.”

So I never again tried such a foolish and dangerous stunt. No one should.

Winston Hamby