Bob's memories of growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana

(highlighted topics are on this page)

Places I've Lived

Courtland Avenue Greenwood Avenue Ossian, Indiana 1026 Third St Greenwood Avenue 1929 Third Street
  1925 Courtland Avenue 629 Putnam Street Entrepreneurs Drug-Store & Bee Supplies Turkey Lake Grandma Stearns & Great Grandpa

Early Memories

First Love The Altekruse farm Turkey Lake Chicago World's Fair Meeting Jean The 1937 Trip East
NorthSide HS Jean Marriage Early Working Life Mark Purdue and Graduate school Dave's Arrival
Learning to Fly at Smith Field War, University and Flight Instructing The Navy Experience   Education, School & Teaching  

The 1937 Trip East

As mid 30's passed, dad was working only a day or two a week at GE, depression not yet over, and he put new cylinders, rings and ground the valves of the 35 Chev and we loaded it up in summer of ‘37 and headed east. My first big thrill was eating out at a resturant in Toledo, I think lunches were 20cents at this place. Next, and even bigger was the thrill of crossing the Ambassador bridge (just 9 miles west of current spot where I am now). I could not even imagine the immensity of the project, making a bridge that large suspended across the great Detroit river. It was only the beginning of those great engineering feats we were to see on our trip to New York, Washington D.C. and Atlantic City. We camped along the way and saw the sights, but New York was the real treat with the battery, Empire State building, the stores and ethnic areas and statue of liberty. We took in the sights and ate the famous sidewalk hot dogs with saur kraut on a bun with mustard, etc.

We drove down to Atlantic City from New York, where we walked the famous board walk, swam in the ocean and where mom got a very bad sunburn. We drove on to Washington, D.C. and saw the sights, mom and dad wanted to impress on us the glories of the government I suspect. last minute before leaving DC, I hopped a small fence and took a picture of the white house, which was later submitted to the rotagravure section of the News Sentinel (which we called the “brown sheet”) and won an honorable mention in a photo prize.

Back home we had lots of memories of a great trip and always felt we had been privileged beyond normal for those times; I remember making a couple of pen pals along the way and corresponded with a boy for a few years from Erie, Pa. before that too faded.

North Side High School

In 1938, the transition for me was to high school at North Side, more than a mile walk across St. Joe river and a whole new world. I soon found out we were from the wrong side of the river and that those who lived in nicer homes on the east side considered themselves better than those of us from the west side. This resulted in some isolation, which was eased by playing in the band (which both Jim and Marsh also did) and further dreaming about becoming a pilot. My local hero at that time was Burt Benninghoff who already was a pilot and still at N side school. He Soon graduated and went off to South America where he flew on an airline there—actually crashed in Peru, lived through it, came back and flew for many years for American Airlines (I always asked about him whenever I had a chance to talk to AA people; he apparently became famous as a tough pilot instructor for AA.

Smith Field and Learning to Fly

I was not really too much wrapped up in heavy school work, though I did like the latin teacher(Judith Bowen) and a couple of others. In April of 1939, I walked to the airport at Smith Field with $2.50 in my pocket and took my first 15 minute flying lesson from Lloyd Pierce. SmithWe got along very well, in fact he offered me a job when I told him I wanted to fly but would have to earn money. I became quickly ‘the kid’ at the airport and came to know all the principal folks around. I sold rides on weekends ( a fiercely competitive thing as two other operators also sold rides and we all tried to get to newly pulled in cars by the fence first). Plane watching was a cheap and fun thing for lots of folks to do on weekends along Ludwig Road in those times and not all came for plane-watching, though that might have been the excuse. Also, on Sundays, we had a PA system I would use to announce incoming Pierce planes and try to stir up interest, telling folks how wonderful it is from up there and how great the pilots and planes were as well. Johnny Wright and Glenn Hoon (who also worked at GE during week) flew Waco F and F-2 planes while Lloyd flew the yellow five passenger YKC Waco cabin plane which was the real money maker.waco Lloyd encouraged me to fly any of his smaller planes to get time in so I could get my license and I became known as ‘fifteen minute Bobby’ as I did not want to stay out too long at a time to take advantage of Lloyd’s generosity. Lloyd and wife Esther (who kept the office) would often take us all to Gardner’s drive-in late after a good Sunday for treats. Frank Gardner was also one of our flying customers, I liked him a lot; in fact there were many kind, generous and wonderful folks I have memories of during that time. In fact, that seems to be the whole story of my life; lots of really nice folks willing to help and lend a hand wherever needed, so I found no reason to not live up to that for myself, though I obviously have failed on too-numerous occasions.

ChevyCOupe31I soon had money enough to buy my first car, a 1931 Chevy coupe, with rumble seat. I was almost seventeen by then; I paid 15$ hard cash for the car, which smoked a bit, used oil and ran reasonably well otherwise. I would collect a nickel from a couple of friends, buy gas for 15 cents a gallon and go for a ride when there was time, but mostly it was for trips to work at the airport. After driving the car a couple of years, I decided to overhaul the engine to stop smoking and oil use; the engine ended up in a pile in one of the airport shops and I got the car towed home by a friend.......later to be sold when war was upon us—sold it for $35—guy bought it for the tires, which by then were no longer available, at least new ones were not.

I got my private license as soon as I was 18 (minimum age) and soon after had enough hours to take my commercial test–so at 18 I became the youngest commercial pilot and flight instructor in three states (or so I was told). I began training pilots who had some kind of government sponsorship through the civil air patrol, for whom I had also been teaching ground school classes, so I have along history of teaching something or other. I soon learned how awful war was to be as some of my favorite (Joe Martinelli among them) people in the program volunteered to fly P-40's with Claire Chennault over the hump and in the China-India theater had wound up on the missing list. This before war was declared with Japan and Germany, though lots of news had it that we were soon to be in that war.

We were stunned by the news that Lloyd Pierce had died in an airplane accident (April, 1940) with a student–doing spins.....part of the rib on top wing poked through a repair and wing lost lift or could not recover from spin.....man named Smith survived, he jumped out high side of plane and hit chute. Lloyd apparently was followed down by plane too closely and he could not get far enough away to open his chute so died with plane very nearby.

stinson105On one occasion, I was flying a Stinson 105 to somewhere in Ohio to the east of Fort Wayne in February, when I encountered wing icing; I was on the way east to pick up someone to deliver back to Smith Field–the ice kept building up on the wings and I finally decided I must land before having big trouble keeping enough lift to stay aloft. I found an open likely looking field, landed and got out and chopped off ice from leading edges of wings with my gloved hand. Luckily it was just warm enough for ice to be chopped off wings and soon I was on the way again and flying. What could have been disaster was turned into another everyday adventure! Another similar experience, which could easily have turned into a disaster occurred on a winter day when I went to Muskegon, Michigan to pick up a Mooney aircraft, which was there for an engine overhaul. I was to fly it back to Fort Wayne for the owner. A typical winter in Muskegon, with its lake effect snows, the white stuff was piled up about five feet high all along the runway which I was to use for takeoff. There was a crosswind from the left and although I knew the Mooney required a lot of right rudder to keep from wandering left on the runway during initial pick up of speed to fly, (it had a small rudder surface and a lot of torque, which makes plane want to veer to left), I had not reckoned on the wind being so strong. As I picked up speed for takeoff, I soon realized I had best stop while still having time or pray I would get airborne before I hit the snowbank on left side of runway. By the time I had whirled all this around in my head, I felt I could get off the ground before drifting into the snowbank......the fates were with me and I cleared the snowbank by only a few inches and breathed a great sigh of relief that I did not drift into the snowbank which would have caused extensive damage. After that experience, I did fly the Mooney more extensively and came to like it a lot as it performed very well (other than crosswind takeoffs)!