Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ike Meets Hawker and Grieve at Mount Pearl

Thursday April 10 1919

Headlines:- The Sopwith aeroplane Atlantic, Pilot HAWKER and Navigator GRIEVE, makes a successful air - flight from
the Glendeanings farm at Mount Pearl.

Ike wishes that Ed Voisey would lend him one of his horse and carriages to make these long deliveries more pleasant.  He'd set out almost a hour ago on this delivery and it had been up hill almost all of the way.  He had chosen what he thought was the easiest bicycle ride but even so, he was sweating like a pig from the hard peddling. The day was most unusual for this time of the year. It must be 80 degrees he thought. With his red hair and light complexion Ike couldn't stand the heat and he simply hated being in the direct sun; he'd much prefer the normal cool misty weather, the kind that prevailed in early April, when the sealing fleet came home from the hunt and the pack ice clogging the bays and harbors.

His route had taken him up Water street to the Cross Roads, up the Pawk's Hill, and past the fork in Topsail road  where Pawk's Hill divides into two separate paths.  He passed the Jaw Bone Gate which was the entrance to the home one of his bosses, Mr. R. G. Reid who lived at The Avalon House estate.  He had cycled by where Topsail Road met the highway; up the long grade he continued until he got to the Brookfield road. Taking the Brookfield road, he cycled past the woods where he and his friends set snares; hoping to catch a few wild rabbits for some fresh meat for his widowed mother and his three sisters. Ike loved his mother's rabbit pie, made from the rabbits he brought home. He could almost taste the dark gamy meat smothered with gravy and topped with pastry that she made from her famous tea biscuit dough.

He decided to pass on the rabbit runs until after he finished delivering this message that was addressed simply to "Michael H Fenn Chief Mechanic Sopwith Atlantic Team." Pushing past the tall line of red and white painted "Marconi Poles" he finally arrived at the  Glendennings Farm, where The Hawker and Grieve team had set up their flying field.

Riding down the lane Ike did a quick assessment of the site. It was a normal farm yard with barns and milking parlors and beyond the buildings he saw a couple of tents and some makeshift shelters constructed from the giant wooden crates used to transport the Sopwith on her long sea journey from the British Isles.

The Aircraft herself, was standing near by with her tail propped up an a makeshift dolly contraption with two primitive wheels that looked as though they had been removed from some hay wagon. Standing around her were a dozen or so mechanics, airframe fitters and two men who appeared to be the aircrew. "What do you want son?" Shouted one of the airmen. I have a telegraph (8) message addressed to Michael H Fenn" replied Ike! "Over here replied one of the technicians half looking over his shoulder.  He was dressed in work coveralls with the words "Sopwith Atlantic Team" stenciled on the back. 

Reaching with his left hand for the message, while the right was still inserted inside the engine cowl, he read Open Immediately!  "Looks important! Can you open it for me? My hands are all full of oil."  Ike took the envelope back and tore open the flap with his thumb. Holding the single sheet message open for Mike to read. "Mmmmm Bloody hell!  Just listen to this Harry. Headquarters have done some calculations and they say for any chance of success we will have to jettison the under carriage shortly after take-off."

"Do you mean they want us to drop everything like we did in that experiment back in Brooklands? Just for emergencies they said~~ I thought that was to be practiced only to give us the best chance of a successful ditching at sea." answered Harry in an angry tone. "What am I supposed to do if we have a problem shortly after jettisoning the under carriage with close to 300 gallons of fuel on-board?  I have to send them a message right away." He started to storm away, consumed by his obvious frustration. "I need confirmation that they are advising dropping the gear immediately after takeoff, or waiting  for a emergency conditions over water.  I understood that this aircraft in normal configuration had more than enough range to compete this crossing,"

"Are we going to do this test flight today Harry? said Mike, wiping the grease from his hands with the oiler's rag he had pulled from his back pocket.  "I have finished  replacing this magneto and she is all set to go. That is if you are ready to sign her out?"

" Right-o! Come on Grieves lets do our walk round check before I pass out from the heat; hope it's cooler upstairs."

The aircrew started their walk around inspection, checking the control surfaces for free movement, that the gust locks had been removed, noting that the life boat positioned on the turtle deck was firmly attached, checking the propeller was free of cracks and erosion damage, that the engine cowling was properly latched and so on.

When they were satisfied that everything was in order the crew buttoned up the flaps of their flying suits and climbed into their cockpits. Within a few minutes they had the big 12 cylinder Eagle running smoothly and ready for flight.

Mike inquired if Ike knew of anyplace where his men could take a swim to cool down; they had been working hard all day in the direct sun and some of them were near exhaustion including himself.

"Sure I knows just the place and it's not far away-near the place where the train tracks crosses the road coming down from the highway." enthused Ike, who himself could do with some cooling off just now. "They calls it The Twin Falls and it's a perfect place for a swim on a day like this."

"This is only going to be a short half hour flight. Do you mind hanging around for a while, then you could show us where this swimming place is located?"

"Sure!" said Ike, who'd been waiting for an excuse to cool off himself.  Also, there was nothing he'd rather do than spend more time watching the Sopwith take to the sky and ask the young mechanics about aircraft.

He stood in amazement as the Sopwith taxied to the far end of the field and spun around into the wind, with the aid of a burst of power and the crew men positioned at each lower wing tip. Then, with a sudden burst of power the craft slowly gathered speed as she bounced and skipped over the rough ground.  Looming close to where he stood, she made one final bounce, then majestically she rose into the air and climbed out steadily until she was a tiny speck in the blue cloudless sky.

While he waited around Ike, struck up a conversation with a group of Sopwith men.  He was full of questions:  how they got their training to work with aircraft, where they lived, was Hawker a good airman, where was he from, how come he talked so differently than the rest of them and so on. He learned that that most of them got their training in the war with the British Air Service. That Hawker was the very best, the highest paid pilot in the world at this moment. That he hailed from Australia where he started as a bicycle mechanic. That as well as being a talented and fearless pilot, he loved motor racing and he owned his own fleet of expensive racing cars.  That he wasn't married and was still only 31 years old.  Finally Ike asked how the trials were proceeding and learned they were experiencing a little problem with the cooling system and they were still experimenting in order to find the cause and solution.

Ike's mind flashed back to what he had heard at the press conference in Trepassey from the chief mechanic for the Nancy's Expedition~~why does it always come down to overheating~~what is it with these big in-line engines?

Before he realized it, the half hour flight was drawing to a close and the Sopwith was preparing to land.  The aircraft was making a straight in approach on the same heading that she used on the takeoff.  She settled to the ground serenely, touching down no more than 100 feet from the fence and coasting to a stop 150 feet from the buildings.  After a short debriefing session with the  aircrew, Mike approached Ike saying. "Son are you ready to show us where this swimming place is now? We can take the Lorry over there."
"Ready any time you are" replied Ike.

Ike cimbed into the cab of the truck and sat next to Mike who drove. The rest of the workers scrambled into the back. Motoring along, dust rose up from the gravel road through gaping holes in the floorboards and settled everywhere, covering the occupants and interior alike.  They rattled on until they came to a place where the railway tracks intersected the road. "This is it. Stop here!"  Ike bellowed over the roar of the engine and the rumbling and rattling of the body.

Parking near the tracks in an open grassy area they piled out.  Looking around they noticed a scattering of summer homes, a tennis court and pavilion. "This looks interesting." remarked one of the mechanics as he jumped down from back cargo platform.  Ike took the lead as they ambled down a narrow footpath which took them to a wooded area, stretching parallel to the railway.  Another five minutes walk through the woods and they arrived at a 20 foot drop leading down to a 30 foot wide pool in the river.  The pool was fed by 2 streams of water, cascading down from notches in the cliff wall.  Between the twin falls was a ledge  where the young people could dive or cannon ball into the pool below.

There were few swimmers there that day, because it was early in the season and school was in session.  Not to mention that the water was very, very cold.  Only the bravest decided to take the plunge; the rest sat around the pool with their feet immersed in the water. "No one knows how deep this pool is. We all try to reach the bottom but no one can go that far down, without drowning." exclaimed Ike in a voice that echoed with pride. "Nonsense!  I'll show you the bottom." proclaimed one of the young Sopwith men as he plunged headlong into the black water from the ledge.  Fully three minutes later the diver surfaced again, all red faced and gasping for breath.

"Show us the bottom Caleb?" shouted Mike in a sarcastic tone.

"Red was right. There is no bottom" Caleb answered, when he had finally finished the spitting and sputtering.

As they lay on the rocks drying in the hot sun the group lit up and had a smoke. "You'll never enjoy a fag as much as the one ya have after a swim at the Twin Falls" exclaimed Ike as he offered a Flag from  his ten pack to Caleb who was sitting next to him.

When they arrived back at the farm Harry Hawker passed Ike a hand written message for transmission to Sopwith's in Brooklands demanding confirmation of the need to drop the landing gear.
"Red! I want you to send this message by Priority Telegraph as soon as you get back to your office." said Harry Hawker, as he walked quickly towards the truck and handed the folded paper to Ike "I have to find out if they mean what they said, in their last message~~this is very urgent, please have it sent tonight."

"Yes Sir! Leave it to me."   Ike placed the note in his leather pouch, quickly picked up his bicycle which was propped up against one of the empty crates, and was off on his way down lane way, in a flash, after performing one of his famous flying mounts.

As he approached the woods on Brookfield road, Ike decided that since the trip home is going to be fast, he can spare a few minutes to check on his traps and is elated when he  finds a brace of rabbits in his snares, but appalled to find a skeleton in a trap that was set by a negligent trapper who, after setting his traps, never bothered to returned.  Such a waste thought Ike, who himself believed that killing of animals could only be justified by necessity. He hated having to kill animals and now that he was the man of the house he was called upon on too many occasions by relatives and neighbours to drown their litters of newly born kittens of which there seemed to be far too many lately.

Coasting down Waterford Bridge road with his prize slung over the handle bars he was glad that the trip back to the office wasn't anything like the long uphill struggle he had to make earlier in the day.  It had been a long day and he was beginning to grow weary.  Only one more thing to do before he was finished for the day.

He parked his bike at the railway station building.  Clutching the precious furry bundle which he knew  there was little chance would still be on his bike when he returned, he mounted the stairs two at a time, to the telegraph (8) office.  Pushing open the swinging door, he exclaimed.  "Got something from the Hawker team that needs immediate attention."

Looking up through his green visor, Micky Flinn the only employee still on duty answered. "We do telegraphy here not, taxidermy.  Don't you remember!~~ Where the hell have you been anyway? The boss bin looking for you all day."

"I'm not talking about them." said Ike, pointing to his rabbits. "That's me supper~~I have an urgent message written by Harry Hawker himself that needs to go out right away."  as he opened his pouch, and handed the hand written message to Micky. 

"I'll get right on it~~ Sir!" quipped Micky
With that Ike was out the door and down over the stairs and free at last, to drag his tired body and his trusty bike up the steep grade to his home at  28 Barter's Hill.

 (8)- Later that same year, the colonial government persuaded Reid's company to take over operation of the bankrupt Newfoundland Railway Company and its sister Harbour Grace Railway, as well as the government-owned Placentia branch, in order to unify the system across the entire island (known as the Railway Contract of '98). The Reid company agreed to operate the lines for 50 years, in exchange for outright ownership and land grants. They also purchased the government drydock in St. John's and the telegraph system. The Reid company purchased eight new steamships to operate as coastal ferries around the island and into Labrador.

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