Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Unique Way of Chilling Coors . . .

Maggie Flanagan Samson serving up a storm on a TWA Convair 880 in 1965. With her is Brenda Holdsinger.

From time to time Lady Skywriter receives E-mails from blog readers that beg to be shared. Here's one submitted by Maggie Samson of Bellevue WA:

"Back in the mid-1960s I was a flight attendant for TWA, based in New York. One day my roommate Betty Winn and I flew a long, many-stop trip from JFK to ABQ (New York to Albuquerque NM.)
"We arrived after midnight and had the entire next day off. When we got to our room we noticed the toilet was 'running.' I grew up in an older home in N.J. and knew all about those things. I removed the tank top to fix it and discovered a nice 6-pack of Coors beer chilling in the tank!
"What a treat. We enjoyed a couple and went to sleep. The next day while shopping we picked up some more Coors, replaced the ones we had drunk the night before, and flew home the following morning.
"Next time in, we requested the same room. We got our favorite room and sure enough, our cold Coors were waiting. What a wonderful memory from our days in Albuquerque."
It has been great fun to correspond with Maggie, who graciously sent me the photos included here. She worked for TWA for eleven years, starting in the office in New York at the age of 18, then was a stewardess for three years, after which she worked a couple of years at JFK Airfreight.
Maggie's husband also worked for TWA in New York, and eventually worked for Douglas in CA and Boeing in Seattle. Maggie says, "the Stratocruiser is one of the older planes we have always loved . . . how nice and comfortable it was back then."
Maggie is still active in ClippedWings/Silver Wings and maintains contact with her TWA friends. Betty Winn Hersant, Maggie's roommate in the Coors anecdote, recently reminded Maggie that often on layovers in ABQ, they would rent a motor scooter. "Betty the driver, and I the passenger, would fly around the town," Maggie says.
TWA Silver Wings is having their next convention in ABQ and Maggie and Betty plan to attend. I'm pretty sure they will try to check out the hotel where they stayed in 1965.
Maggie says they will probably pass on the motor scooter this time.
I'm not so sure. . .
Maggie Flanagan's 1965 TWA Graduation Photo. Maggie Flanagan Samson today with granddaughter Ryanne.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Baby Had No Wings . . . But She Could Fly!

Lady Skywriter's 1947 Cadillac Series 62 convertible being polished by son Rick
I've been corresponding with two men who are presently engaged in searching out information about their respective father's early careers with Northwest Airlines. Their stories converge in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Rick Seireeni's dad was a Captain for NWA and Peter Jenkins' dad was NWA Director of Operations for Tokyo and Shanghai, and retired as Vice President, Orient Region.
I'd already been engaged in a very small way with Rick's search for information about his dad, Al Johnson, when Peter contacted me seeking information about his father, Reg Jenkins. When it became apparent that both fathers were in Tokyo and Shanghai about the same time, I suggested they talk.
They have, with amazing results. Reg Jenkins knew Al Johnson and their families spent time together in Tokyo.
In their dialog, which they shared with me, one small item that came to the surface triggered this post.
Peter Jenkins recalled seeing Al Johnson driving around Tokyo in a yellow Cadillac convertible. Although he was an impressionable kid at the time, Peter claims that Al Johnson's yellow Caddy convert made a big splash with the locals, too.
This information sent me to my garage, where I had mounted some photos on the wall of my 1947 Series 62 yellow Cadillac convertible. The photos had been on the garage wall for years, gradually fading into the "unseeingness" of things that have been in the same place for a long time.
It has been fun to mentally return to the pleasure owning this terrific car gave me. I removed the photos from their plexiglass frame and promptly scanned them to save for posterity. I was not the original owner, being only 12 when it was manufactured, but bought mine later in life. After enjoying it for a few years, and a harrowing ride up I-35W during which I repeated The Lord's Prayer over and over, I decided I needed to either become an auto mechanic or marry one, and neither option appealed to me. I sold her to another enthusiast.
While I owned her, I had her interior restored with the original upholstery and she won First Place in the only vintage car show I entered her in. Thanks for the memories, guys!
It turns out this was not the model Al Johnson drove, but close. His was a 1950 Series 62 yellow Cadillac convertible.
Very close.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Missing Northwest Airlines

Image created by Lady Skywriter on
Click on image to enlarge. I found this website Tuesday, January 11, while reading the Minneapolis StarTribune. On their Opinion page, where selected letters to the editor are printed, a Wordle image replaced the customary political cartoon. Editorial staff reported that they had taken the words from the many letters they had received relating to the Tucson tragedy last Saturday and created a Wordle image with them.
Check out the free Wordle website and create your own image. If you choose to do one that relates to an airline, please send it on to Lady Skywriter. Have fun!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coffee in the Cockpit? It's an Institution!

I drank the stuff - black, no less. Here with Evie Mueller in a Stratocruiser galley

You knew I'd weigh in on this one. Albeit belatedly.
First let me say that coffee has been consumed in cockpits since time immemorial. A reported incident of spilled coffee last week made the news only because airplane cockpits these days are very sleek and filled with chips and keyboards and computer screens instead of toggles and switches and gauges like the olden days. And we've all been indoctrinated to the hazards of having beverages anywhere near our computers.
The cockpit is now off limits to cabin crews. It is an impenetrable sanctum during flight. The folks "up front" are responsible to bring their coffee with them when the enter their inner sanctum and lock the door behind them. This eliminates all sorts of threats, including witnesses to spilled coffee.
A United spokesman said it was turbulence that caused the coffee spill. Personally, I'll put turbulence in a DC-4 in a thunderstorm over North Dakota up against the turbulence encountered by the Boeing B-777 in question, any day. The problem was compounded because this coffee spill caused one of the radio systems to malfunction. While trying to fix the problem, someone mistakenly punched the international distress code (7500) into the transponder instead of the no radio code (7600.) So instead of alerting air traffic controllers there was a radio problem, they alerted the world to a terrorist attack. Now there's a good example of the meaning of the word escalate.
Back to cockpit coffee and the olden days, I think it must have been on a pilot checklist somewhere: call for coffee upon reaching cruising altitude. Just like clockwork, as soon as we leveled off the cockpit light would blink on (with its distinctive buzzing sound) at the stewardess console in the cabin.
"Ahhh, we'd like three coffees, please, (4 if Mr. Nyrop was riding the jump seat that day), one with cream and a half sugar, one with two creams, one black and one with a half cream and two sugars." (Cream and sugar were boarded in single-serving containers.)
A word here about airplane coffee. Stainless steel containers of coffee were boarded an hour before the passengers. Who knows how long it had brewed in the flight kitchens and the food service vehicles before that. And it had anywhere from two to six hours to cook in the galley before being removed at the destination. Cruel jokes were (and still are, I imagine) made about airplane coffee. Back then, words like "sludge" and "crankcase grease" were bandied about. Without adding cream or sugar or both to the coffee, folks feared for their stomach lining.
It was no easy task to keep the cockpit coffee-order straight, and when delivering, be able to sort out which styrofoam cup held what. We'd bring up the tray, distribute them and leave. I don't recall ever witnessing a spilled coffee event, although there had to have been countless "accidents." I suspect that back then there was no harm done, no interrupted flights and no keyboards to be replaced. More likely the consequences would have been limited to a few choice words and a wet pant-leg. The equipment of those days would have allowed the coffee to drip harmlessly through the console to the deck.
Oh, for the good old days!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Donald W. Nyrop 1912-2010

NWA President Donald Nyrop and Board Chairman Croil Hunter symbolically
"burn" the mortgage for 10 Stratocruisers and 10 DC-4s on October 29, 1954,
when the company became debt-free.

Mr. Nyrop's memorial service was today, January 8, 2011, at Colonial Church of Edina, Edina, Minnesota. Several hundred people attended. A few vintage Northwest Airlines uniforms were sprinkled throughout the crowd. Some wore the NWA name tags they once wore, and dozens and dozens of suit jackets and dresses sported NWA service pins, sparkling with diamonds and rubies signifying long years of service. It would have been interesting to tally up the combined years of NWA service in attendance today.
Eulogies were delivered by Mr. Nyrop's three daughters, Kathy, Nancy and Karen, and long-time friend and retired NWA pilot, Norm Midthun.
Stories were abundant, some familiar and some new to me. Among the new ones:
Howard Hughes
One daughter told how Howard Hughes often called Mr. Nyrop at home, late at night, wanting to consult with him about airplanes and airline finance. How I would love to have eavesdropped on these two powerful men of opposite personalities, engaged in shop talk.
The "right" red
Mr. Nyrop loved the color red - the "right" red," he called it. NWA red-tail-red. Another daughter revealed today that one day her Dad took every hand-tool he owned, systematically stripped the finish off the handles, sanded them and carefully painted each one the "right" red.
President Harry Truman
President Truman appointed Mr. Nyrop to lead the Civil Aviation Administration and the Civil Aeronautics Board. This, I knew. But I didn't know that the two met personally over 50 times during that period. More conversations I would have loved to be privvy to.
Grace Nyrop
Mr. Nyrop met his wife-to-be Grace, appropriately, on an airplane. She was an R.N. and a stewardess for American Airlines. They were married for over 50 years.
On the way home just now, I had another wish of the eavesdropping sort. I wished I could have heard all the Donald Nyrop stories being swapped by the hundreds of people in attendance today.
Donald Nyrop was a good man. A man of integrity. And he was undoubtedly the best airline C.E.O. of his time, and maybe even for all time. He was a family man who loved his wife and his kids and shared his values, including the importance of education, with them. His four children completed a total of 27 years in college - each with graduate degrees.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Northwest Airlines Makes Top Ten List!

Alas, not an auspicious way to start the New Year. Google Zeitgeist 2010, where a year of Google searches everywhere are analyzed, puts Northwest Airlines in the list of fastest falling search terms of 2010. Okay, so we're number ten, but remember, this is GOOGLE.
Dinosaurs are better remembered than defunct airlines.
Lest we forget . . .