On the Chase: Wherever the Curtiss flies, there is a ground runner behind it. Early on, we joked that the ground crew would always beat the Curtiss from strip to strip, since the Curtiss advances at 55 mph and the RV can run at 65 all day long. That has yet to happen, mainly because the small airstrips we visit are mostly well off the Interstates and four lanes. The Curtiss putts along in more or less straight air lanes, while the road warriors twist and wind along two lane blacktop with constant ‘recalculating’ from the GPS lady. So, the Curtiss lands, makes it to the fuel pit and is ready by the time the relief pilot drives onto the property. Regardless, we still have a very smooth system worked out. The flights are interesting in their way, and we have and will write of these adventures. The ground work is usually a matter of staying between the lines. Some road trips are worth recalling.
From Selingsgrove, PA to State College, the hour’s drive was along narrow Amish farm roads, complete with the iconic black buggies and single horses. The key markers that you’re shortly running up to a buggy are the road apples – there’s a horse clopping ahead somewhere. In a 34 foot RV, there were some interesting overtakes, but the bus and the buggy avoided the ditch. Villages were quaint and Victorian, brick homes close upon Main Street, the porch steps dropping a couple of treads to the sidewalk. Storefronts and homes intermingled in clean and well kept tribute to the values of small town America. Swinging wide around these narrow streets, almost apologetically, moving past as quietly as possible, taking only a pleasant memory of passing images without disturbing too much of the peace. In our Shenandoah Valley backroads, there are a few similar places, old-world, Mennonite precise and well kept. There is hope here, and a true sense of timeliness, that this place and these people will persevere. I note the contrast with some of the desolate, empty main streets in some Midwest towns we’ve passed. On the one hand, the farms and farmers are generational and the towns have constancy. On the other, the kids grow away, with college or trades and dreams of the metropolitan life they see idealized on the telly. Their villages grow small and lonely without the vigor of youth. Neither evolution is right or wrong, but both do leave their marks on the landscape.
Another day, another village, Milan, OH. This is just away from a fueling stop in Norwalk, OH. I had flown the sunrise leg inbound from Akron-Fulton, a very calm and pleasant flight of an hour and eight minutes. Arriving just before 7:30, I was surprised to find a massive drag-strip “L’ed” off the east end of the runway. Cars, campers, tents and trailers were scattered over acres of fields and the race fans were already lining the access roads to the strip. I couldn’t resist a turn about the pattern to look over the campers and allow them the same. A few waved back, most simply stopped in their tracks and stared up. I contemplated the contrast of that moment in time. Here I was at 1000 feet, max’ed out at 55 mph in a 100 year old replica, looking for a gas stop before puttering away on what must be the world’s slowest odyessy. Below, a quarter-mile of asphalt, quiet now, but waiting, like the campers, for the tree to green and the flames and thunder and screaming whine of nitro fuelies in their 4 second explosion. Science then and now. Is there any way those fans could appreciate what this Curtiss meant to their ancestors, the buckboard and Model T crowd? To drop the hammer on several thousand horsepower, sitting between or just ahead of massive smoking slicks, foot welded to the floor and the sounds a deafening mix of rpm, gears, turbos and stacks. Or to climb onto a 12 inch square of wood suspended among sticks and bamboo and linen and climb above the safety of solid ground. Does leave you with interesting thoughts to ponder, possibly made more so because you leave without confronting that other society across the fence separating the landing strip and your world of 1911. Short of a seance, there’s a feeling there is no way these two worlds would touch.
Driving out of Norwalk, the two-lane hits Milan, OH, and its beautiful town square, circled with buildings and homes. The farmers and townsfolk, but mostly older men, were lining up at the corner greasey spoon for breakfast. Talk would probably center on crops and rain and how the kids were doing, much as generations of earlier old boys celebrated the ritual of a Sunday meal. Around the corner, a plaque announcing the town’s pride of place as Thomas A Edison’s birthplace. Milan is a trim and fully functioning village, obviously unaffected by Edison’s abandonment for Newark, NJ and the international acclaim his genius wrought. There’s something about Ohio and turn of the 20th century that grew out-of-the-box genius such as the Wrights and Edison.
And so goes the ride as we chase to Curtiss a few hundred feet and a hundred years apart.