Woodworking again: The Wild Blue Yonder

By Dave Wood
Posted 3/27/24

Recently Ruth and I eschewed the doldrums of automobile trips to the deep South (not enough restrooms with elevated seats we oldsters need) and actually flew on a silver bird, Sun Country’s …

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Woodworking again: The Wild Blue Yonder


Recently Ruth and I eschewed the doldrums of automobile trips to the deep South (not enough restrooms with elevated seats we oldsters need) and actually flew on a silver bird, Sun Country’s 747, to our yearly destination of Sarasota, Fla. We marveled at the smooth flight and the saltiness of the complimentary Dot’s Pretzels, and I reminisced about that day in 1956 when my pals and I caught our first glimpse of an airplane, right down on the ground, right in my hometown, right on Carl Schaefer’s pasture!

It was early spring, and baseball wasn’t underway yet, so things were pretty dull. My pals and I who all lived on Scranton Street were sitting in the rough on the No. 2 fairway, wondering how to waste our time on this pleasant Saturday, and lustily puffing on four packs of Camels that John Berg had lifted from his father’s sock drawer.

“Boy are these cigs STRONG,” said Chuck Pederson, wiping his runny nose on his already crisp shirtsleeve. Soon all 80 cigs had gone up in smoke, and a heavy haze hung over the mighty Trempealeau River – and a heavy malaise hung over all of us.

“Let’s cross number one and climb the junior ski scaffold. When we get to the top, we can see whose spit hits the ground first.”

“I’ll win! Mine’s the heaviest,” said Chuck, who’d been out of school with a head cold and had missed Mrs. Reich’s lecture on Isaac Newton’s principle of gravity. We were halfway up the rickety structure when Worm Olson erupted from Erickson’s pine forest at a dead run shouting: “John Hegge told me an airplane just landed in Schaefer’s pasture on the edge of town. Let’s go!!!”

Not a movie prop, not a Life Magazine picture, not a model with a rubber band through its fuselage, but an honest-to-god real airplane. Like foot soldiers on duty, we denizens of Scranton Street charged east on the No. 1 green with a vigor that would have made the Light Brigade seem like a potato sack race, wondering what kind of plane it would be—a Flying Tiger like the one in “God Is My Co-Pilot?” A captured Jerry Messerschmidt, taken at gunpoint from that jeering Jerry, Helmut Dentine? Maybe a Jap Zero! Nah! Local legend had it that they were made out of Wrigley’s spearmint and rice paper.

And then we were right there in Schaefer’s pasture. And we saw it: Poetry. A Piper Cub; a forest green Piper Cub.

Proceeding cautiously now, we approached the aeronautical marvel, this tribute to man’s ingenuity and to the American way of life. The pilot stood by the plane. Even though he was dressed in street clothes, to us he was Charles Lindbergh arriving at Orly Field; he was Admiral Byrd; he was Van Johnson in “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”

“What mission has brought you into our midst?” asked cousin Billy, who was always reading comic books.

“I have to go to the toilet,” was his straightforward reply. “Is there a toilet around here?” Like all pilots he had a straight smile, but crooked teeth, and he spoke with terse authority.

“Up there,” we said in unison, and pointed to Schaefer’s outhouse.

“Do not touch this craft while I’m gone or you’ll end up in “sh . . creek.”

Soon our own Ace trudged back from his pit stop (that’s why they call it that!) and without further greetings or threats, hopped into his plane and roared down the pasture, bumpety, bumpety, bump.

“Golly, pilots are really witty, aren’t they?” We all agreed, recalling the badinage between co-pilots Pat O’Brien and Chester Morris in “Airmail Daredevils.” And we spent the rest of that Saturday telling anyone who’d listen about our terrific encounter with a real pilot.

It didn’t occur to me until I gave up automobile trips for a reason very similar to this pilot’s that I have, after all, something in common with this hero of my youth.

airplanes, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column