Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Airlines in 1943

In 1943, my grandfather made a business trip from Rochester, NY to Seattle, WA using the airlines of that time. This is just a diary and not literature, but I find it interesting so see the perspective from 67 years ago. Here is my grandfather's dairy of the trip.

My Trip to Seattle

My good friend, C.S.B., called me by phone Friday night, the 16th of April, incidentally my birthday, and asked me if I had any objection to flying to Seattle. My answer was that I did not object and only for the reasons that I had had one other trip from Syracuse to New York and rather liked it. Within a couple of hours he called again and told me that I would leave Rochester at 2:45 P.M. Saturday.

It was with some misgivings and a lot of excitement that I prepared to leave my newly wedded wife for what may turn out to be the longest voyage through the air that I shall ever take. There were a lot of things I hadn't done,a s for example fix it up so my wife could draw a check, change the mortgage on the house, change the beneficiary on my life insurance, etc. so that in event of an accident my wife and daughter would have the best care I could afford. So I made out my will.

Now that all seem silly perhaps, but I was really embarking on a new adventure and one never should take a chances that are not necessary. As a matter of fact, thus far the odds have been with me (I'm starting this in Wichita, Kansas) and if my luck holds out in getting a priority I'll finish the trip by plane even if is may not be as comfortable on the last end of the journey.

My wife and Sid saw me off. Sid helped matters considerably by telling me about all of the comforts of flying: such as the pleasant effect of dropping into an airpocket and coming out again, the lovely meals that they serve on the ship, the beautiful hostesses who watch over your comfort, ans last but not least the little can or bucket which is supposed to be convenient when you just can't hold it any more. He also said not to try to throw it out the window because it gets all over someone else.

I made three starts to get on the plane but each time they were not ready. Somebody had been air sick on the way into Rochester and possibly attempted to throw it out the window because the porter had a long job with his bucket of water and gremlin gun. Sid said the reason I made so many starts was because I wanted to come back again to kiss my wife goodbye.

At last we started. The sensation at the take off is not thrilling except when you wonder whether you will clear the telephone wires and such at the end of the field. It is really difficult to tell exactly when you leave the ground except for the fact that it is smoother in the air and the motor noise after leveling is less noticeable.

We had to leave our curtains closed till after we had left all the military objectives, such as General Railway Signal Company, so the first chance I had to look out was at Churchville. We were up quite high by then. But I could pick out familiar places quite easily, and it seemed no time at all when the stewardess came through telling us to fasten our seat belts, stop smoking, close the curtains, in preparation to land.

Most landing are not very thrilling unless you wonder whether the plane will hit the runway squarely or whether it will hit soon enough to be stopped before you reach the end of the runway. Of course, there is pressure on your ears coming down from high altitude but you soon get used to swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum if you think about it at all.

We landed at Buffalo and there I waited for another plane. The one out of Rochester was going Southwest and I was going to Chicago. After starting out again we flew, most all the way over Lake Erie to Windsor, Ont. Here we did not have to close the curtains because it was not required in Canada. The trip over the lake was not very interesting because there was little change in scenery. There was ice at the Buffalo end and open water at the Detroit end. After leaving Windsor we stopped at Detroit and South Bend and then Chicago. At Detroit they loaded in a lot of large packages which were placed in the first three double seats thus replacing six passengers. I don't know whether they took off any passengers on account of them but they must have been important packages.

Between South Bend and Chicago I had my first meal in the air. I think it consisted of soup, salad, meat pie, puddings, rolls and coffee. The food was served in individual cups or dishes set in a cardboard try which is like a box with holes cut in the top to receive the dishes. The American Airline has dishes and porcelain cups while the others thus far have paper plates and cups. Coffee does not taste good in paper cups.

I had about two hours wait in Chicago for the plane west, so I called up Carl Henze and chinned with him for a while. He was home with slippers on, sniffling with a cold, but he wanted to be remembered to all the GRS guys anyway.

The planes used by United Air Lines are Douglas, twin engine the same as those on the American Air Lines. The plane leaving Chicago went all the way to Seattle and even beyond to Vancouver, B.C. I had a seat third from the front on the single seat side. The window overlooks the wing but you can see both ahead and back and if you make an effort you can see straight down in back of the wing. I think it is the preferable spot both from the standpoint of view and smooth ride.

I left Chicago at 9:30 P.M. and, of course, it was dark. There was not much to see but the lights of towns and farm houses and cars on the highway, but for a while, it was interesting. The first stop was at Moline, Ill. and everyone got out to walk around. From there on we stopped at Des Moines, Iowa at 11:40 and at North Platte, Neb. I don't know what time it was because after leaving Des Moines I went to sleep and did not wake up 'til we landed at Cheyenne, Wyoming at 3:00 A.M. I went to sleep again and slept 'til we reached Rock Springs at 4:30 A.M. From there on I stayed awake because there were signs of dawn and I was anxious to see the mountains.

From Rock Springs we flew to the north of Great Salt Lake coming back on the beam at Albion, Idaho and it was then light enough to see the Snake River valley. This was the first of quite a large number of places which looked like deserts except for the long lines of irrigation ditches which reflected the light like bright lines of silver. At first I thought they were roads, they were so straight and laid out in rectangles but I finally decided they were irrigation ditches because they seemed to emanate from one of considerable size.

We arrived at Boise, Idaho (pronounced Boysee) at 7:30 and left at 8:00, so there was plenty of tie to walk around. The airport is located on a high plateau bounded on two sides by ranges of nice snow-capped mountains. It was warm enough to stroll around without an overcoat and the sun was shining brightly. I really enjoyed myself strolling around looking at the mountains and watching Flying Fortresses take off and land. The airport is also used as a Bomber flying school and there were probably 30 Flying Forts based there. It really was a beautiful sight.

The next port of call was Pendleton, Oregon and we arrived at 8:10 and took off at 8:30 for Portland, Oregon. Breakfast was to have been served out of Boise but for some reason the Stewardess was slow and it was 9:00 A.M. before I had anything to eat. Now that does not sound bad until it is recalled that after having dinner between South Bend, Ind. and Chicago, about 6:30 Central time. I had set my watch back two hours which according to my stomach, made it 11:00 A.M. I was hungry and they were running short of food so it was necessary to go to the Airport Cafe in Portland for another breakfast.

There were some very nice mountains in the view between Pendleton and Portland for it is here that the Cascade Mountains are crossed. It was a little cloudy, so the tops of Mr. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood were shrouded in clouds but there was enough of the bases showing to indicate they were high and snow-capped.

The airway follows the Columbia River through the Cascades Mountains and in one place it seemed as though the wing tip would touch a mountain. I was on the wrong side to see the Bonneville Dam but one of the passengers told me it was so "far down" it could not be appreciated. Nor did I see the two water falls, one 620 ft. high. It is very difficult to measure depth with the eye when up so high in a plane.

From Portland, up the coast to Seattle, the Cascade Mountains are on the east and the Pacific on the west. The mountains could be seen very clearly but the Pacific was too far away. I saw M. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens again and just short of Seattle, Mt. Rainier. They were all beautiful but I like Mt. St. Helens the best because it was such a perfect shape. The sides have a smooth slope, unbroken by rocky foothills, and its tip is almost a perfect point. Mt. Rainier is higher and the National Park surrounding it is supposed to be very beautiful but I think it is probably best appreciated by automobile or horseback.

Seattle is a city of 365,000, the same as Rochester, but the business section is considerably larger, and the hotels are better. I stopped at the Olympic Hotel which has 300 rooms. The city is built on hills which lay between Puget Sound and a fresh water lake called Lake Washington. I had a very difficult time getting directions straight because the Olympic Mountains, which can be seen very clearly from the city when weather is clear, are to the west, between Seattle and the Pacific. It seemed to me they should be to the east. It is a busy city and I guess, is the hopping off place for Alaska. On the way back I met a sailor who had flown down from Juneau, Alaska and had spent a hundred dollars on rings, etc. for his wedding. He went on the plane with me to Salt Lake City.

I spent Sunday afternoon with Lt. Godfrey on the business matter and incidentally learned that he is a son of Brig. Gen. Godfrey of the Air Corp. Engineers. He is a nice lad in spite of his connection with the official family. I spent the rest of the time in the Boeing plant, leaving Seattle by plane on Tuesday, 11:00 A.M.

On the way back the route was the same as far as the Idaho-Utah state line and there it turned toward Salt Lake City. The view was different, however, because I was seated on the other side of the airway. I still had my No. 3 single seat.

Between Seattle and Portland we had rain and we were high enough that ice formed on the wings and they used the de-icer. The de-icer is a rubber strip on the leading edge of the wing in which they can build up air pressure and cause it to expand, thus breaking up the ice formation. And it was in this storm that I had my first "bump". Quite a number of times the plane seemed to drop right out from under but it didn't bother a bit. I rather liked it.

We had rain and mist off and on all the way to Pendleton but after that it cleared except for very high clouds. One view proved conclusively to me the color which artists put into their pictures of the western plains is real. After leaving Boise we flew through a snow storm and then it cleared again. Many of these plains looked like desert waste but here and there would be large areas irrigated and cultivated. Boise is the home of the famous Idaho potatoes.

For miles and miles before coming to Great Salt Lake there were great wide plains, part of it cultivated and here and there were mountains of what I thought was sand. They had a different shape compared with the Rockies; they were sort of round and smooth with gullies up and down their sides, but they did not look so much like sand because they were covered with some sort of plant life.

Great Salt Lake is the most peculiar lake I have ever seen. For miles there was nothing but sand beach and then water which did not look like our lake water. It was calm except for the very faint ripple which make it look shallow and it must have been because almost across the center of it is built a railroad, half of it on dirt fill and the center half on trestle.

The mountains around Salt Lake City are beautiful. They seem much closer and intimate than at any other city. They probably are not as high as many other that I saw on the trip but I think I liked them best except for Mt. St. Helens.

We left Salt Lake City at 7:00 P.M. and after passing through a deep gap we flew parallel to a range of mountains for miles, and then the ground seemed to be rough and absolutely unproductive. There were roads ere and there but it was difficult to see where they led to any place in particular and I could not help wondering how anyone could exist in a place like that.

It was dark when we crossed the high mountains and it was 9:15 P.M. when we arrived in Denver. I was much surprised that Denver is built on the plains and that the mountains are only on the west and at that they are from 90 to 100 miles from the city. I had always pictured Denver as being built on a plateau almost surrounded by mountains, so Denver was somewhat a disappointment. Salt Lake City is built more as I expected Denver to be built and I did not expect such a beautiful setting in Salt Lake City.

I stayed all night at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and started out bright and early, 7:15 A.M., on Continental Airway for Wichita, Kansas. The Continental flies the Lockheed Lodestar which is a twin motored low wing monoplane similar to the Douglas but smaller. It carries only 14 passengers compared with 21 in the Douglas, and either it was not as smooth riding or the country was more conducive to rough riding.

We flew south from Denver along the Rockies and two mountains in particular were pointed out to me, Long Mountain near Denver and Pikes Peak between Denver and Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak was a surprise to me because I had pictured it to be a lone mountain towering above the ground like Mt. St. Helens. It really is the highest peak in a range of mountains and there are several other peaks near it which seemed almost as tall. Perhaps it is more impressive from the ground and from the other side of the ridge which lay between us and the mountain. The ridge was like the blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Pikes Peak and its range were snow covered.

We landed about every thirty minutes all the way to Wichita. The first port was Colorado Springs, next Pueblo, then La Junta, Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchenson and Wichita. After leaving Pueblo the country was flat and uninteresting so I read for the first time on the trip. There seemed to be quite a few more bumps on the Continental but I attributed it to the smaller plane. As we got along toward Wichita I noticed a man in No. 2 across the aisle who was using the bucket quite frequently. It had not bothered me any and I was surprised that anyone should be air sick. As I was getting off the ship at Wichita I heard the stewardess ask the other man if he "felt better now" so I began to wonder if the trip had been rough. So I asked the stewardess if she would call it a rough trip and she said yes, and I felt quite good that I had really flown on a rough trip without trouble.

That magic word priority. With out it you cannot be too sure of securing passage and if you do you are liable to be taken off to let someone ride who has it. On the entire trip there was only one case where I know of a passenger being taken off. There was a lady with a young baby started out from Seattle and managed to get as far as Boise, Idaho, but was finally bumped by a man with priority. Priority express also can bump a passenger if the weight, including the passenger, exceed the maximum load. So an empty seat may indicate a priority express shipment.

At the Boeing plant in Wichita I was a little concerned about getting a priority because John Newman, the G.E. Co. representative, was so busy I could not get him to line it up and I didn't know the proper people. But finally, he told me to call Maj. Long and state my case and be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Apparently, I stated it so well in the first few sentences the Major didn't have any questions and said he would send through a certificate right away.

I was to leave Wichita on T.W.A. at 7:40 P.M., arrive in Chicago at 11:00 P.M., leave Chicago on American Airline at 12:30 A.M., arrive in Buffalo at 5:45 A.M., leave Buffalo at 7:00 A.M., and arrive in Rochester at 7:35 A.M. The plane into Wichita was two hours late in Wichita but they said they could make up time but it didn't, and I missed the connection in Chicago. At the tick counter they told me I would have passage on the 9:00 A.M. plane and inquired as to where I would stop in Chicago. I decided on the Palmer House at expense of the airline; I don't know which one.

Te plane out of Wichita was a "super-duper", a 24 place ship built by Douglas. Twelve seats were actually filled with priority express. We had to change planes at Kansas City and went back to the 21 place Douglas, the same as the American and United ships. The T.W.A. used to fly the Stratoliner but a pamphlet states that their Stratoliner ships are now in the service of the government in Europe and elsewhere.

I am finishing this report on the plane out of Chicago and I have just finished a cup of coffee, of all thinks, free gratis from the American Airlines. However, I don't think I'll get a second cup since the one I finished was my second for the morning.

I think I would rate American Airlines, 1st for services and attention to passengers comfort; United Airlines, 1st for beautiful scenery, probably because it was the only line traveled over the mountains;T.W.A., 1st for equipment and they really had the most beautiful stewardess out of Wichita although not the best; American 1st and United 2nd for its tasty meals but the United was last as for service because I had to wait too long for breakfast; Continental, 1st for the roughest ride, because of the small plane and the kind of country where updrafts are prevalent. The next time, I go to Seattle, if it ever happens again I'd like to go via the Northwest Airlines because they tell me the planes frequently fly through the narrow passes and high over mountains. The United has the lowest crossing of the Rocky Mountains.

I like the airport at Salt Lake City best from the standpoint of scenery, probably on account of the mountains; the Boise airport for its open approach and good runways; the Wichita port for its design and arrangement of its buildings; and Boise for the cute little girl who runs around checking up on everyone to see that they get on the right plane.

My son, Bob, is in training at Spokane and I would liked to see him but it could not be done because I didn't have time for a side trip. My son, Art, just finished his Air Cadet basic training at Enid, Okla. and I did talk to him by telephone but he could not get leave to come to Wichita to see me.

N.C.L. Brown

Copied by J.L. Brown 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

B-29 Turret Gun Gunsight

While I'm on airlines, one of my favorite family documents is a diary, written by my grandfather, of a cross country trip by airline in 1943. I started out to tell this story in one post, but between the gunsight and the trip, there is too much, so I'll post about the gunsight and, later, copy in the dairy of his trip.

My grandfather, Ned Brown, was a self taught engineer who was an expert in designing railroad sorting yards and the control systems needed make up trains in a switching yard. These railyard controls were very sophisticated for their time. They used electromechanical systems that were controlled by an operator in a tower. Using this control system, the operator could control multiple switches and brakes so that a car that was pushed into the yard at the top of the hill would coast down through the switches onto the right track to make up a new train. Think of it as an early semi-automated computer router, making up a line of train cars instead of a series of information packets.

This kind of technology was useful in other areas, so during WW II, my grandfather's company, General Railway Signal Company in Rochester, NY, manufactured a turret gunsight for the B-29 bomber. This picture shows part of the gunsight upside down from the way it was mounted in the plane.

This was a very sophisticated gunsight. Note the picture with the plate showing it was manufactured by General Railway Signal and especially the switch with the label "computer". Now the term "computer" doesn't mean the same thing as it does today. The gunsight was a complicated electromechanical system but was still a combination of gears, levers, mirrors, motors, and switches. According to my father, this was the first gunsight that had would allow the gunner to fire on an enemy fighter, following fighter's path, and when the guns would be crossing his own wing, the gunsight would shut down the gun as it passed your own wing and then start firing on the opposite side of the wing. It also allowed the gunner to be inside the plane, below the guns instead of up in the turret sighting directly down the barrels.

My grandfather was an inspection manager for the gunsight. They tested every gunsight, including hooking it up in the plant and bringing in an inexperienced person who would randomly play with controls and switches to see if he could make it fault. Imagine if Microsoft did that kind of testing with Windows.

In 1943, my grandfather made a trip by commercial airline from Rochester, NY to Seattle, where the B-29 was manufactured, to work with the gunsight as it was installed in the plane. At that time, airliners had unpressurized cabins, had to fly with the weather, and stop often for fuel. An upcoming post will be the diary of his trip.


My friend Corena essentially writes a private blog. She writes things and finds things on the internet and sends them out to a select few by email. Being lucky enough to be on the receiving end of these emails, I occasionally like to pass something along. Like this one for example. Having spent time recently mooing in line at today's airports and being shoved into the cattle shoot (jetway) and onto the crowded airplane, I find this Life magazine story about the way it used to be nostalgic. Hope you enjoy.

The first 747s had a stairway and cocktail lounges.

Dressed to the nines is right, notice the ties.

Quite a change from today.

I went a trip last week and I noticed that only one guy had on a tie...

and he was probably the sky marshall !

I don’t think this is one pendulum that will swing back.


White-Glove Service

Fifty years ago, flying had a certain glamour:

the luxurious seats, the doting (and beautiful) flight attendants, the gourmet meals...

Today, most of the majesty of commercial air travel has been scrapped,

thanks to cutbacks and tight security.

Miss the old days? LIFE looks back at what it used to mean to fly commercially.

More Bubbly, Sir?

This giant double-decker Boeing 747 seems light-years away from,

the cramped, leg-crunching cabins of today.

Pictured: A Pan Am stewardess serves champagne.

A Tempting Third Course

In-flight fare once included gourmet food delivered on fine china and unlimited drinks...

the alcoholic kind, with cutesy names like "Passion Punch" and "Love Potion."

Today, unless you're lucky enough to be in first class, you get a bag of peanuts and/or pretzels,

and one (non-alcoholic) beverage... MAYBE!

Hot on the Job

Women all over the world aspired to be flight attendants

("stewardesses, " as they were once called).

On Southwest Airlines (pictured), the motto was "sex sells seats"...

and, for better or for worse, the attendants' outfits were fully in accordance.

A Proper Goodbye

Dropping a friend or family member off at the airport was an adventure in itself.

People would actually park their cars, escort their traveler to the departure gate,

and watch the plane until it was just a tiny speck in the sky.

Dressed to the Nines

Forget the T-shirt and sweatpants... flying was a formal occasion.

Pictured: Gossip columnist Cindy Adams and her husband, comedian Joey Adams,

are dressed to the nines as they board a flight to Indonesia , 1966.

Going Up

In 1970, an air hostess greets a passenger before heading up to an upper deck lounge.


Customs? Relatively Calm!

No X-ray machines, no metal detectors, no taking off of shoes:

Customs purely served as a luggage check.

Hard to believe, but this is a 1964 photo of the customs area at the

New York International Airport (the madhouse known today as JFK).

From Aisle to Runway

Going through security check in a wedding dress today would prove to be a nightmare,

but back in 1965, a newlywed London couple wastes no time heading off to their honeymoon,

after tying the knot.

Superstars Mingled With Us Common Folk

In the days before the influx of private planes,

even the Beatles traveled on commercial flights.

Plus: fun, unconvincing costumes!

(That's George Harrison pushing John Lennon, in 1965.)


On a Boeing 747, passengers could stand tall without ducking,

have decent legroom,

and sink into plush seats.

A General Excitement About the Future

Way back when... it seemed anything was possible in air travel...

including a superfast transatlantic jet.

Pictured: In '69, a French model

wears a hairstyle and makeup in tribute to the Concorde,

which has now been retired.