Old Mack’s Tales

February 27, 2008

One of Old Mack’s Many Flying Tales

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 6:46 pm
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Koerner’s Flying Field In Kankakee

There’s a large X across too many names in my old address book. The Xes remind me not to call them. Now there’s an X over Dell Koerner’s name. It’s painful just to look at it.Christine, my wife, came home from Office Depot with a new address book. I will not use it. I’m more comfortable with the names of all those friends in my hip pocket; even those no longer able to answer their phones and whose Christmas cards return unopened.This man  lived a long, full life. I doubt that he had much to regret at the end of it. He was one of the early air mail pilots. He built a ham radio station and was issued one of the first licenses to operate it, after the government began to control the air waves, and the airways.Del bought a large tract of pasture land and built his flying field and hangars on it during the Roaring 1920s. His was not the kind of airport with paved runways and a mile of fancy lights to guide you into it; his was a large rectangle of flat, mown grass with some hangars and shops and a warm cozy office. Koerner’s had the smell of machine oil, Egyptian Linen and Butyrated Dope mingled together.Koerner’s flying field is still in operation. It’s run by Dell’s grandson, Steve.There’s another airport in Kankakee, northeast of town, with the fancy lights, navigation aids, paved runways miles long and a tower to control the traffic. But it is not a flying field in the same sense as Koerner’s.If it hadn’t been for that old, Red Stinson Voyager parked facing the road, broadside to my line of flight, I never would have found Koerner’s flying field or met the old man who built the place back in 1927. I would be dead and Xed out of other peoples’ address books.

Very early that morning, I  rolled my boss’s Cessna 172 out of the hangar in Hammond, Indiana. The temperature was six degrees above zero, the wind out of the west and the wind sock full and stiff, indicating a head wind of 15 to 30 knots. I  used a dip-stick heater to turn the sludge in my crank case into something usable to lubricate the Cessna’s Lycoming engine.  I set the chocks and cranked her up. She warmed up while I walked around her, checking the long range tanks for condensate and draining it.  I was wearing a sweat suit under an old Navy flight suit and my leather flight jacket had its fur collar turned up to meet the bottom of the black wool watch cap on my head. I would have given my seat in hell for a Mongolian Pisscutter that day, the kind we were issued in Korea. The cabin heat was on while I did the pre-flight, so it was relatively warm when I climbed into the cockpit. I signaled the line man to pull the chocks, and taxied to the east end of the runway.

The solid overcast bottomed out at around three thousand feet and I could see nearly all the way to Chicago that morning. Chi was forecast to get snow later in the day.

The Explorer Pipeline, which I was going to fly patrol over, cuts the grid squares on the diagonal; so I figured I’d be well to the southwest of the arctic front long before the forecast snow started. Ground control  switched me to the tower’s frequency, and I had the nod to take off when ready.

I’ll interject some science here, if you don’t mind. Cold air is denser than warm air. The denser the air, the more lift you get from your wings and the more thrust you get from your engine and prop. Cold air is good for flying patrol, so long as there’s no ground fog to  obscure the pipeline right of way, and there’s less turbulence. End of lesson.I was airborne using less than half the runway.  I leveled off at three hundred feet on a heading of southwest.

MidwayAirport was under a low, dark cloud; its tower beacon barely visible off my starboard wing tip when it started snowing. fans of ice crystals were building on the upper corners of the Plexiglas windscreen where air from the cabin heater wasn’t reaching. But I could still see the discoloration in the old snow cover where the pipeline lay–the product pumped through the pipe heats it, making it visible from the air even under a blanket of snow. I had the railroad tracks and a highway under my port wing strut as the snow came down in earnest.Just north of Kankakee International, the snow built up on the windscreen completely blocking my forward view. I was flying over the north side of the right-of-way,  keeping my head out  the window in the left door of the plane. I was looking at the rotating beacon on the Kankakee tower and just about to give them a call on the radio, when their beacon turned from green to red, indicating that their airport was closed to all traffic.

That’s when I began talking to myself; when things get hairy, I tend to do that. I glanced at the strip chart on my knee board.  On it was the a street map of Kankakee.  I spotted an airfield labeled “Kankakee, Koerners.” I picked a couple of check points off the map. “If you make a hard left bank at those grain elevators beside the track, and then follow that street to the church steeple, then that road should take you south straight to Koerner’s little airport,” I told myself aloud.  My headache was getting worse all this time, so I turned off the cabin heat. 

The air coming in my open window was  chilling my cheeks; I worried about frost bite for half a minute.

“There are the grain elevators.  Bank this sucker, Mack!” I made a pylon turn around them and then dropped down low enough to read the street signs.  I could make out the church steeple and feel the wind pushing me off my track. I crabbed the plane into the wind. It’s lucky for me I did, or I wouldn’t have spotted that little red tail drager parked by Koerner’s fence.

My altitude was less than 100 feet as I turned into the wind, dropped the flaps and  reduced power.  As soon as I crossed the fence I flared, and eased the main gear into the foot of new snow.  When the nose gear was on the deck I had to add power to keep moving.  I came to a stop thirty feet from Koerner’s hangar and killed the engine. By this time my head is throbbing like someone with a power drill is in there boring through my temples. It was a pretty sure sign that I had Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I no sooner climbed out of the plane when Dell, his son and grandson came out to help push the bird into their hangar.

Dell gave me a look.  “Son, you did that just right,” he said. That’s music to my ears even with a splitting headache.When we had the Cessna inside and the barn doors closed, Steve Koerner and his dad went back to work on the restoration of a Boeing Stearman Kadet. As Dell walked me into his office he told me that Steve’s sixteenth birthday was coming up and they wanted to have the Stearman ready so’s he could solo it and get his private pilot’s license on his birthday. Dell gave me a moving tour of his machine shop and his old ham radio gear as we passed them. But he recognized the symptoms of CO poisoning and walked me out to his car.

We drove to his house, where he put me to bed in a room with the window open to clear my head and warm quilts to prevent a chill. When I woke up the next morning, Dell drove me to his airport. Our talk was easy, respectful and about things we had done, places that were good and of airplanes. While I slept, Dell’s son had welded a patch on the exhaust pipe and replaced the heater muff; there would be no more Carbon Monoxide entering the cabin when I left Koerner’s Korner of Kankakee.

Someone had plowed the snow off the turf and I had a full belly and a thermos filled with Koerner’s coffee as I made my take off. Three generations of Koerners were standing in the open hangar doorway to wave me off. As my wheels cleared the trees, I waggled my wings goodbye and continued my patrol to St. Louis in clear weather.



Cool Today but Cold Tomorrow

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:44 pm

This is not the sort of weather we enjoy; there are no mountains or snow down here on the Sun Coast of Florida; we can’t go skiing.  When the wind blows, as it’s blowing now, I worry about the boat flipping its trailer again; I still haven’t patched the hole in its hull from the last time it capsized.

The tent over my old 1972 Ford camper van is flapping so hard the noise drowns out the thunder; it is straining the guy ropes and bungee cords.  I went out back to double up some lines and replace a few frayed bungees, but felt too unsteady on the ladder, so I gave it up. I was out there only long enough to get chilled.

When I came back in the house, I had to take a hot shower to warm up.  We have no central heating system in the house. Chris was still in bed, curled up in a ball and hugging the thin covers, so I tossed a quilt over her and tucked it in.  She grinned like the Cheshire, murmured thanks and suggested that I come back to bed.  I was tempted, but I had dogs to feed.

I warmed up a pot of veggies—left over cauliflower, carrots and Brussels sprouts which I over cooked last night.  The dogs don’t mind smooshy vegetables, but I do; I prefer mine crunchy.

If it gets any colder in here I may write a story about skiing.  A friend clipped and sent a page from USA TODAY containing an article about Lindsey Vonn. There’s a lovely 6 X 8 photo of Lindsey going like a bat outta hell in the World Cup meet; her skis are perpendicular to the fall line, edges cutting ice, her shapely rump only inches from hitting the slope and her left glove touching it; that rooster tail of powder in her wake is crisply clear against the cobalt sky.

Ah yes, how well I remember the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina, Italy when Austria’s Tony Sailor won all three gold medals (downhill, slalom and giant slalom).  The Swiss women haven’t had it that good since Madeleine Berthod left the game.  I feel a story percolating.  Maybe later I’ll write it.

February 25, 2008

Losing My Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:27 pm


Some men, I’m told, remain sexually active well into their eighties or longer.  Not me.  I gave that up long ago, or it gave me up.  It is truly liberating not to have sex on my mind all the time.  I think about all the money I spent buying girls presents, taking them to movies, plays, dinners at fancy restaurants, listening to their banal chatter just to get in their pants and frankly, I don’t miss it.  I also recall those who hopped in bed with me without so much as a how’d you do, and then phoned to tell me how much their abortion was going to cost me.  Yes, sex was good, but it was not only expensive, it also took a toll on the mind; I regret the time wasted in pursuit of nookie, the care and maintenance of sweethearts and wives who couldn’t go the distance, who let cancer shorten their lives, who gave up without a struggle.

 I count myself lucky to have found a young wife just as I was turning forty; she gave us a daughter who has kept us in touch with the weird generation of born in the 1970s and converted us from Jazz aficionados and Blues devotees to Metallic and Punk Rock—well, at least her mom could dig that noise.  Furthermore, our daughter introduced me and her mom to computers, to the Internet and to this wide world of Web Logs.  That was a boon, I think.   

What I miss most is my mind.  I’m losing it rapidly now.  Now, what was once a veritable sponge is being wrung day.  As a lad my thirst for knowledge was unquenchable.  I read anything I could get my hands on.  I even read the textbooks and the manuals.  I read both fiction and nonfiction books, and pamphlets, when I had nothing better to do.  Alas senile dementia is not so gradually eroding my memory; I’m forgetting all that I learned. 

 Another aspect of aging is the loss of friends and relatives, wives and lovers have been dropping off with astonishing regularity during the past decade.  But there comes a time when one stops grieving the losses and begins to think: Well, they don’t have to worry about bills, mortgages, the price of gasoline, milk, bread, etc., and how they’re going to cover the basic cost of living with their meager Social Security checks.  Yes, Virginia, we do have to worry about making ends meet when we get old, just as we had to do in our youth and all those years in between. So what am I doing here?  Before my memory began to fail, I wrote a lot of stories.  Some of those tales may be of interest or have entertainment value.  I’ll paste them up here for you to judge their merit.   

February 24, 2008

Who is OldMack?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 6:40 pm

For sure he’s old.  How old?  More than the allotted three score years and ten, which is far more years than he expected.  OldMack has led what might be called an interesting life.  Or it might be called by some as an insane life.

Before he became OldMack the story teller, he pursued occupations and sports which are considered by some as risky.  He was, of course, aware of the element of danger in those pursuits, but he took precautions to minimize the real danger and maximize his pleasure.  Of course he ran the risk of becoming addicted to the Adrenalin rush associated with most of the endeavors which gave him pleasure, such as flying, diving and mountaineering.

Now that he’s retired from those activities, he remains a spectator in the comfort of his home.  And he reminisces about some of his adventures, reliving them so to speak, by writing them down as best he can. 

OldMack has a wife, three dogs and a cat to keep him company and entertained.  So some of his tales are about them.  How he got his pets, gave them names, and their entertaining behavior will become stories in time.

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