Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Touching History in a B-17

by Terri Wangard

            When I decided to write a World War II story for the distant German relatives who received care packages from my grandparents after the war, I needed a way to bring an American into their lives. That didn’t require much thought. He’d be an aviator shot down in Germany. That meant he needed to be on the crew of a four-engine, heavy bomber. Either the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-24 Liberator. Easy choice. The Liberator has been called the Flying Boxcar, Flying Coffin, pregnant cow. No thanks. So the B-17 Flying Fortress it is.
            Learning about the Fort is simple enough. They were tough, durable airplanes, capable of bringing their crews safely back to base despite horrific damage from ground antiaircraft fire and from enemy fighter planes. Their wing span stretched 103 feet, and measured 74 feet from nose to tail. The nickname Flying Fortress came from the many machine guns located in the nose, top turret in the roof, ball turret underneath the plane, waist windows, and tail. Their cost varied from nearly $250,000 down to $125,000 as the learning curve improved production.
Ten men, later nine, comprised the crew. The pilot was the plane commander, joined by the copilot, navigator, bombardier, flight engineer/top turret gunner, radio operator, ball turret gunner, one or two waist gunners, and the tail gunner.
If you’ve seen the movie Memphis Belle, you’ll have a Hollywood version of a B-17 crew. The men spoke to one another in normal voices while flying. They appeared unfettered by the extreme cold in the unheated, unpressurized plane with open waist windows. Temperatures of minus thirty were common. And they breathed normally without face masks at altitudes over 10,000 feet.
All wrong.
The best way to experience a B-17 is to fly in one, so I did. Aluminum Overcast was noisy. Standing face to face with someone, I saw his lips move, but couldn’t hear a word he said. No way could the pilot turn to his copilot and say something without using his headphones, and expect the copilot to hear him.
Since we flew in summer, we were grateful for the open window keeping the plane from heating up like an oven. And we didn’t fly high enough to require oxygen. For films and television shows, the actors take dramatic license and go maskless so the audience can read their emotions rather than stare at a face covered with an oxygen mask and not be able to recognize who was who.
Moving around in a B-17 requires one to be a contortionist. The airplane was built as a weapon, not for comfortable flight. Passages are low, narrow, and unpadded. To get out of the nose section, where the bombardier and navigator work, you must get down on your hands and knees to get into the crawl space leading up to the cockpit. And, yes, it is for crawling. I did not duck low enough and banged my head. No blood, fortunately, but it would not have surprised me.

Aluminum Overcast takes off, and I'm inside!

             Aluminum Overcast was delivered to the Army Air Force on May 17, 1945. The war in Europe was over. The war in the Pacific didn’t need B-17s. The new airplane was flown to a storage depot in Syracuse, New York, joining 228 other new unneeded B-17s and 33 combat-weary planes. These surplus warplanes were put up for sale.
            After eighteen months, Aluminum Overcast was sold for $750 to a Texas company that quickly resold it for $1,500 to Universal Aviation Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It changed hands several more times for increasingly higher prices. Several years were spent as a high-altitude camera platform in a photo mapping role. It spent time as a cargo plane hauling dressed beef to Puerto Rico and returning with undressed cowhides. It served as a sprayer and fire eradication bomber.
            In 1978, Dr. William Harrison of Tulsa bought the work-weary plane for $75,000 and began restoring it to its original purpose. He and his partners donated Aluminum Overcast to the Experimental Aircraft Association in 1981 with the provision that the plane would be maintained in an airworthy condition. From its home with the EAA in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Aluminum Overcast now maintains a busy schedule flying around the country to air show and carries passengers for short-duration flights.
            Was the flight worth the ticket? Yes. That’s as close as I’ll come to living history.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Going up?

by Connie Cortright

How many of you have ever ridden in an elevator manned by an operator? I can't remember doing that even when I was a little girl. The days when elevators were manually operated in department stores have long passed into history.

During the 20s and 30s, department stores in the downtown areas of cities catered to the wealthy customers. The floors of the stores, walled off into a myriad of departments, were often crowded and dark, filled with dark furniture holding the products for sale. Today, we'd probably feel like prisoners in a store looking like this.

One sample item would be displayed behind a glass case with the remaining inventory stored in the wooden drawers behind the counters or in a storage room. If the buyer didn't like the pink colored blouse displayed in the cabinet, she'd ask for a green blouse in her size and a clerk would go retrieve the product she requested. How could you decide on which one to buy if you couldn't see all the options?

Can you imagine shopping like that today? I'd probably never buy anything. Waiting for a clerk to help you would be so time consuming. Back then a shopping trip would take an entire day of browsing and searching the department store to see if a customer could find an item to buy. Who has time for that?

During a shopping trip the customer most likely would have to travel between the many floors of the department store in the elevator. The operator in the elevator would ask him what he was looking for and know exactly on which floor that item was located. The operator would then close the outer door of the elevator manually and also the inner mesh door and lock them. Then he would push the elevator handle clockwise slowly to start the elevator rising and announce as each floor passed: "Men's Haberdashery and furnishings, 5th floor, going up, Lingerie 6th floor..."

When the handle would be rotated 90 degrees, it would be going at the maximum speed. As he approached the floor the buyer requested, he'd push the handle forward again to slow it down. He had to gauge where to stop the elevator so that the customer wouldn't have to step up or down to exit the elevator - there were no automatic stopping points for him to use. If he was off by even a half an inch, the misalignment could present a tripping hazard for the customer.

The elevator operators in many department stores were often females during World War I when the lack of available men forced store owners to turn to women. The owners realized that women were cleaner and neater, so continued to hire them even after the war. These women often attended employer-sponsored "charm school" to learn how to keep the clientele happy while operating the elevators. They had to be able to tell customers exactly where each piece of merchandise was kept so the items could be found quickly.

Most elevator operators were uniformed, with some even wearing white gloves while working. Those days of formality have long ago left our culture. Now today, we are usually more concerned about time when we are out shopping. The opulent department stores of the early last century have been replaced by bright, open shopping malls or box stores, where a customer can choose an item in the smallest amount of time and minimal interference of a clerk. Not the good ol' days by a long shot.

Which way would you prefer to shop?

Information taken from: How Efficiency Killed the Department Store and The Vanishing Under Appreciated Elevator Operator

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's Enough to Curl Your Hair

by Connie Cortright

 Since we discussed 1920s hair styles last week, I thought we'd take a look at what the women had to go through back then to get their hair styles. As I mentioned last week, hair salons came about because of the new bobbed and shingled hair styles. Of course all the machines to make these curls and waves last for a time were in the process of being invented.

       Here's a brief description of a new hair salon back in the 20s taken from one of my novels:

"Emma had a chance to study the room. So this is what a beauty salon looked like. She’d never been in one before. The black and white checkered floor appeared uncluttered even though there were several hair cutting areas scattered in the center. The three specialized chairs, each surrounded by two tables holding the hairdressing tools, took up the main section of the salon. Vivi stood by one of the chairs pinning up a French braid. She spun the chair around to be able to see every angle without having to move.
The side wall was lined with a row of sinks. Must be where women get their hair washed. She couldn’t identify the odd-looking machines spread out across the back of the room. They had long hoses attached to a helmet-like center. She smiled. They resembled creatures from a scary movie. What were they?"

Later she learned that the machine was a hair dryer such as the one picture on the right. I guess it was scary looking!!

Serious looking equipment

Then came new equipment to made those waves permanent. Perms were invented. Strange looking machines developed.

How'd you like to be hooked up to this?

I'm glad I didn't experience these new machines. No curls are worth going through this!!

Can't imagine why she's smiling with her hair in this contraption.