Since early Saturday morning, Roosevelt Field’s aviation personnel were busy preparing for the coming day’s activities. Hangar 7 was occupied by a number of small aviation firms. The small office of Lyons Flying Service was in a corner of Hangar 7. It had a desk, two chairs, a file cabinet, and a phone. Ed called from his office while I was checking the gas and oil on his Curtis Robin. “Lance! Long distance call.”
Wiping my hands, I took the phone. It was from Mr.R in Westerly, Rhode Island. He wanted me to check his repaired Beech, and deliver it to him on the following Saturday. Without asking me what I wanted, or if I would do it, he concluded, “I’ll pay fifty dollars, and return fare to New York.”
That was almost a month’s wages for me. It irked me that I would be taken for granted. However I decided that the reimbursement compensated for my annoyance. I went to look at the Beech in Hanger 4, and to make arrangements to fly it to Rhode Island the following Saturday. Manny, the repair shop owner, let me look at the plane, but said that he was to get paid first, before he would let anyone take the plane on a test flight. “Look, kid,” he smirked, “you may bang it up, or crash it. Where would I be?”
“You are right, Manny. I will only look at it and tell him how it looks I will not fly it, or taxi the plane.” He went about his business, as I looked at the plane. I started the engine, but I stopped it when Manny motioned me to shut off the engine.
“Just look, kid. You may be a pilot, but you’re no mechanic. Don’t handle the merchandise until I get paid.”
“You did a nice job, Manny,” I pacified him by adding, “I’m supposed to call Mr.R. I’ll tell him it looks like nothing ever happened to it. The Beech looks new.”
“Call him now. I got his phone number. Follow me, kid.”
I knew he would take the opportunity to get paid for his work as soon as possible. Following him to his office, I was choosing the proper words to communicate to Mr.R that, before paying the repair bill, he should consult me. Manny told the operator the number. After first talking to a secretary, he spoke to Mr.R, then handed me the phone. “Hello, Mr.R. I looked at your Beech. The engine started right up, and the plane looks like it is new from the factory. It’s beautiful to look at. I have to get back to work at Lyons Flying Service. Here’s Manny.” I gave the phone to Manny, and departed.
While Ed was waiting for passengers to fly, I discussed my reluctance to approve of the repair work, or to pilot the Beech to Westerly, Rhode Island. The phone rang as Ed was finishing giving me advice. It was a call from Mr.R.
“Lance, when you said the Beech looked beautiful to look at, I thought about our Waco experience. I understood that you wanted to tell me something.” His authoritative voice commanded, “What’s wrong?”
“Mr.R, I can’t report on the actual condition of the Beech, except it looks like a new plane. They did a good cosmetic job,” I said meekly, but with predetermined effect, I spoke with strength and assurance, “I could use the money you offered to bring the plane to you next week, but I suggest you get someone else to fly it to you.”
“I’ll pay you for your time today,” he continued in a more gentle tone, “How much do you want?” He was accustomed to being in a command and authoritative position, but he realized that it was not effective in this situation. Money offered was one of his baits.
“You don’t owe me anything. The Beech was repaired in a shop with licensed airframe and engine mechanics. The Beech may be safe to fly, but I suggest that before you take possession of it, have it checked out by a licensed airplane and engine mechanic that you hire. I’m not a licensed A and E, I’m not qualified. I’m just a pilot, Mr.R.” My discussion with Ed, before Mr.R phoned, had firmed up my suspicions of the repair work on the Beech. I also decided on my attitude to use with Mr.R..
“Lance, this is William you’re talking with,” he said softly. “Jane, and I think a lot about you and respect your opinion. What’s wrong, Lance?” he cajoled, speaking on the same level as I was. We were now of the same caste, temporarily.
“I like and respect Jane and you. I don’t want your money for my opinion. I did discuss my findings with my friend, Ed, and this is what is suggested.” In essence, I told him that when I started the engine, it responded quickly, but before Manny let me continue with an engine check, I noticed a slight prop vibration. A new prop had been ordered. The Hamilton propeller on the Beech was not new. It looked new, but the tips had been nicked and reworked. The varnish on the tips were not a factory finish. After one taxi or flight, such damage could not be proven it was not done previously. There was no proof that the spar on the wing that scrapped the runway had been damaged or repaired. A cracked spar could cause the wing to come off during a flight.
“My God,” William’s worried voice asked, “what do you suggest, Lance?”
The advice was terse and concise. While Lyons Flying Service could do the work, I suggested either Rizzo or Quinn be the expert licensed A and E consultant and test pilot for the plane. The factory numbers of a new Hamilton or Hartzel propeller should be checked and listed on the repair bill. The wing spar was to be weighed with sandbags to be checked for strength and rigidity. Only after approval by the consultant, should payment be made for work done, and the delivery of the plane taken.
` “Thank you, Lance. I will follow your advice to the letter.” Sincere appreciation was evident in his voice. “Can I call you and let you know how I am proceeding and succeeding? Where can I reach you during the week?”
“I don’t have a telephone, but the laundry, over which I live, has a phone. They will call me. I live in Brooklyn, New York, and the phone number is, Henry 1924. I can be reached most weekday evenings, Mr.R.”
“William! It’s William, not Mr.R. After the repair work is approved, please think about flying the plane to Westerly. Jane and I will be thankful.” He sounded sincere.
William called me twice during the week. He had hired Quinn as his representative and consultant. By Friday, the plane was checked out as safe. The wing spars were sound, and a new propeller had been installed. Quinn test flew and approved the plane.
“Lance, Jane and I thank you for your precautions and advice. The Beech is ready, I released the check for the repairs. Jane and I are anxious to have it in Westerly.” Cautiously he asked, “Can you deliver it to us? Tomorrow?”
“OK, but I have to be back Saturday evening. I have an important appointment.”
“If you come early, you can take us on a short familiarization flight. I’ll pay you your delivery fee, instruction fee, or whatever you want. Call me at the Westerly Airport before you take off. We will be waiting for you. Thanks, Lance.”
The morning fog was dispersing as I took off for Westerly. The flight was smooth and uneventful. As I landed, I saw Jane and William waving. After they examined the Beech, I accepted William’s request to go up with them, and then I took over. “Jane, buckle up in a rear seat. William, take the copilot’s seat. I will take the pilot’s seat. I’ll give you instructions. You have soloed. Let me see how you can handle this plane.”
Cheerfully, they obeyed. William was attentive and he did well as I talked him through the takeoff and a very brief flight. I had him do a few takeoffs and landings, before I was finished. “You did well, William. You have a great plane. I wish Jane and you get a lot of enjoyment from it. Now, I have to get back to New York.”
“How about having lunch with us before you leave?” Jane smiled, “You can have a bite at our house. It’s nearby, and then we will take you to the railroad station.” I nodded a smiling acceptance as she quickly added, “I’ll call the house from here and have lunch ready and waiting.”
William drove me in their Auburn sedan to their home, a sprawling estate, on the Pawcatuck River. William parked in a four-car garage next to the house. I stopped to look at the automobiles: a red Lancia speedster, a twelve-cylinder Pierce Arrow, and the Minerva I saw on that unforgettable castor oil flight. Jane watched as I lifted the hood of the Minerva. I said, “I just wanted to look at the engine. I never saw one before. It’s a sleeve valve design. It has no valves or tappets. It’s similar to the American made Willys, or Stearns Knight engines. It’s an unusual car. I wish I could own something like it.”
“It has not been driven since the accident. It’s Jane car. She had it cleaned, but she doesn’t want to drive it. We are going to sell it,” William said, and added, “Let’s eat.”
A maid served us lunch on the terrace. It was a magnificent home in a lovely setting, yet I was not uncomfortable. “Do you have a train schedule?” I asked.
“We’ll get you to the station shortly. First tell me what I owe you,” William .said.
“I enjoyed flying over here, and the great lunch. Just give me train fare to get home.” I did not want to set a price for my services. I knew they were too proud and grateful to let me go without reimbursing me.
“I thought about it, while you were washing for lunch,” William grinned as he put an envelope in my jacket pocket. “Call me if it is not enough. We appreciate what you have done. We could have had a dangerous experience with the Waco, if it had not been for you. You brought us home safely. The repairs on the Beech could have resulted in a future disaster if you had not cautioned me.”
I forced a sheepish smile. Whatever money he put in the envelope would be much more than I would have dared ask for. “Thank you, both of you,” I said sincerely. As they walked me to the Auburn, I was curious as to what Jane would ask for the Minerva. “What do you expect to get for the Minerva?” I asked.
“I haven’t decided, Lance. It may be worth a few hundred dollars,” was Jane’s quick answer. “William will drive you to the station.” As I seated myself in the Auburn, Jane motioned to her husband, and took him aside. “Wait a few minutes, Lance. I have to get something from the house to give you,” she said as she walked rapidly into the house. William propped himself on the fender while I sat waiting for Jane’s return.
“Jane’s checking the train schedule, and she has a personal gift for you.” William chuckled, “She can be very insistent, when she wants to be.”
When she returned in a few minutes, she motioned me out of the car, and smiled affectionately, “We are uncertain about the weekend train schedule. William and I decided that you can make as good time driving to your home as you could with the train. Take the Minerva. It is my car, and I want you to have it. I won’t take a no from you. Here are the signed ownership transferal papers. It’s yours, Lance.” She gave me a hug, and a peck on the cheek. William smiled approval as he shook my hand.
Proudly, I drove the Minerva home. To this day, I think about the Minerva. When the war started, and gas rationing began, the Minerva, along with many great classic cars of that period, were chopped up for scrap metal in auto junkyards. Before I disposed of the Minerva, I salvaged the radiator cap. It is a magnificent art deco sculpture of the beautiful goddess, Minera. It is on the bookcase shelf in my office, standing as a memento between radiator ornaments of some great cars I owned; the running greyhound of a twelve cylinder 1931 Lincoln, the kneeling archer of a 1931 Pierce Arrow, and the winged Egyptian goddess of a 1934 DV32 Stutz. They are some of my very personal treasures that bring back memories of a very special part of my life.