Saturday, 15 December 2012

BOYS WITH APRONS



JC once said that sometimes he would rather forget that he attended school because school didn't hold many fond memories for him. In fact he avoided every class reunion for 30 years for that reason. But that all ended when his class held an impromptu reunion that more commemorated their collective fiftieth birthdays than an actual reunion. He never could figure out what set that reunion apart from what he'd heard about the others but somewhere along the way, his classmates forgot about how well everyone was going, instead being glad everyone was still in relatively good health and carrying on with life. There was a lot of reminiscing and rehashing of events that would remain in their memories for the rest of their lives. JC could finally see that the good outweighed the bad by a long shot. And one of the memories was about an actual experiment that the school board decided to try. It would be better known as the day when the boys turned over their shop coats to the girls who reciprocated by giving the boys their aprons.

For the last four weeks of ninth grade, the boys headed into the Home Economics room and Ms. Dorothy (same Ms. Dorothy as 2nd grade, as well as 7th grade health class) while the girls headed for the Industrial Arts room and Mr. Jim.

Now, had Ms. Dorothy known what she was about to endure she might've had second thoughts but then, she'd raised three boys herself (and mostly by herself) so she had a pretty good idea what she was getting into. So she planned out the course and did her level best to curb those testosterone-charged man-cubs.

The first thing she attempted to teach the class was how to act like gentlemen. They had to learn to sit properly, and how to pull a chair for a lady. She sat herself at the table demonstrating good posture and crossing her ankles while telling them that, contrary to the instructions that the boys had read in Sex to Sexty, a favorite publication at the time, especially for the boys, a real lady crossed only her ankles, revealing nothing to the masculine gender. One by one, the boys had to stand, pull the chair for Ms. Dorothy and in a respectful manner, help her get seated. Then, due to a shortage of time, the boys had to pair off and seat each other whilst pretending that they were seating a lady.

Well, somehow JC and Gord got paired up. That's very interesting as those two were an uncanny comedy duo. They were best friends forever and knew each other so well that they could tell what was on the other's mind; that is as long as it was something devious. Their first comedy routine started a couple of years before during a class that was supervised by a substitute teacher. JC was very talented at making loud flatulating noises by cupping his hand under his armpit and bringing his arm down on it forcing the air out of the little pocket his hand made. Gord sat in front of JC and their act was to have Gord lift his leg right when JC popped one. It was so authentic and timed so perfectly that Ms. Truman, upon hearing that ignorant sound, caught Gord with his leg up and thus sent him out of the room. When the sound persisted Ms. Truman realized that somehow JC had something to do with it and he was sent out of the room with instructions to get to the bathroom. Well, two years later the act made an abrupt change to how they could ham up what Ms. Dorothy told them to do. It wasn't to see just how subtly they could yank the chair out from under the other one; that was so old. They quickly found out that shoving the chair forward knocking the other's legs out thus causing them to drop in a heap on the chair was more fun. That provoked the rest to join in the fracas and a whole lot of adolescents had the time of their lives.

Ms. Dorothy just shook her head.

The boys also learned table manners--as if they weren't taught proper manners at home. They had to sit up straight, use the utensils properly and politely ask for whatever they needed; they could not reach for it, nor could they stand up and reach even further. There was a time they made pancakes. Gord quickly consumed the stack on his plate then called out to JC. 'Hey, JC, toss me a pancake... please?' JC promptly tossed a pancake like a frizbee across the table where it landed almost squarely in Gord's plate.

Bullseye!

Of course Charlie had to get into the act too.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that Charlie was the class whipping boy. He was an only child; kind of spoiled; never had to work; unco-ordinated as he could get. He had a bit of a short fuse too and that made him all the more fun to tease. One time, after cleaning up the kitchen unit, JC was rinsing out the sink with that handy-dandy sprayer that was so popular back in the 50s and 60s. He glanced over the partition into the next unit to see Charlie standing there all alone. JC called out to him and when Charlie turned, JC let fly with a blast from the sprayer.

The spray caught Charlie right in the zipper area of his pants making a wet fan shape that could easily have been mistaken for an accident. That sparked a round of adolescent laughter that subsided only when Charlie asked Ms. Dorothy if he could go home.

'Why do you need to go home?' Ms. Dorothy asked

'To change my pants.' Charlie responded.

'What's wrong with your pants?'

'Can't you see?'

Ms. Dorothy glanced at them and smiled. 'Oh they're just a little wet; they'll dry right out.'

'But everybody is going to tease me; they'll say: "Look at Charlie, he peed his pants!"'

Ms. Dorothy had a hard time keeping a straight face. 'Aw they don't look like you peed 'em; they look like you piddled in 'em.'

Charlie spent the rest of the period standing in front of the stove, oven door open, oven on high, in hopes that there would be enough heat to dry out his pants before next period.

Anyways, back to the pancakes and table manners. Charlie asked Don to toss him a pancake. Don responded similarly to the way JC did and frizbee'd a pancake to Charlie. The trouble was, Charlie had such a deep pool of syrup on his plate that the pancake splashed syrup all over the table and Charlie's shirt.

Don wasn't very popular with Charlie but then, he wasn't very popular with Ms. Dorothy either.

Yes, teasing Charlie was fun for the moment but JC and Gord have since had their regrets about all the abuse they heaped upon their classmate.

The Home-Ec room had some unwelcome residents that had moved in and proliferated during the ten years that the room had been there. Those little furry rodents got into the cupboards and cabinets leaving those little black seeds wherever they went. The girls from 11th Grade had their class in the morning just before the noon lunch break, with the uncouth ruffians coming in right after. Consequently, getting near lunchtime they (the girls) were getting hungry and thus looking for something to munch on. One of the girls happened upon a bag of macaroni which she opened and poured into a kettle along with water and set on the stove to boil. The others all chipped in and helped by preparing some cheese and adding just the right amount to make the traditional staple of macaroni and cheese, which they scarfed down as fast as they could.

Ms. Dorothy came in and could immediately tell that the girls had been up to something other than practicing sewing. Of course she asked them what they had cooked. The girls 'fessed right up and told her about the bag of macaroni. Well, Ms. Dorothy made a grimace and told the girls a story:

'I was going to throw that macaroni out. I saw that a hole had been gnawed through the bag and there were a bunch of mouse turds inside.'

She didn't have to say anything more. Let's just say that the girls suddenly lost their appetites...

I think it was the day the boys learned to cook pork and beans in such a way so as to remove the gaseous nature of the dish thus making it totally boring. They were seated at the table munching down the concoction when one of them glanced over to the cabinet under the sink. 'There's a mouse,' he said excitedly, and the whole table vacated, the boys grabbing any kind of bludgeouning device they could get their hands on and joining in the hunt.

The mouse scampered into the broom closet which unbeknown to it was a dead end. Rod opened the door exposing the poor mouse to the ten hunters. It barely made it to the linoleum floor when JC brought his cast iron skillet to bear and slammed it down on the prey. He lifted the pan up to reveal a bloody spot on the floor but no mouse. A close examination of the skillet showed that the carcass was stuck to the bottom.

Yes, he would later develop a method to kill mice by using ether which was somewhat less messy but maybe a little more dangerous. I might add that that story has already been covered in another entry in this blog.

Thus school wasn't all that terrible. There was always something to look back on and be able to laugh about. Interesting enough that JC and his friends now enjoy getting together to rehash some tales from the days when things were slower and simpler, friendships lasted for life, and that some of Ms. Dorothy's efforts to teach them some manners and culinary skills actually paid off.

TEST FLIGHT



Airplanes, like anything else mechanical, require maintenance to keep them in proper flying condition. In reality they don't need a whole lot more than the average family car does but let's just say that if airplanes were maintained the same as the average car, there would be a lot more of them falling out of the sky; it's a lot easier and safer to guide a car to a stop with a dead engine than it is an airplane. One could safely say that if cars were kept up the same way as airplanes they would be a lot more reliable and somewhat safer.

An airplane is required by law to be inspected and overhauled by qualified personnel at specific intervals. If those maintenance schedules are not followed, the pilot/owner can get into a lot of trouble, not to mention losing life and/or limb.

The various airforces throughout the world practice maintenance with military precision. Scheduled maintenance is performed to the letter and when the job is completed, all personnel involved with the work that was done are required to sign off (endorse) on it. Of course the only way to completely accomplish that is to test it under flying conditions. That means everyone involved climbs onboard for a test-flight and evaluation. I might add that it also tends to curtail sabotage should one of the maintenance personnel have a bone to pick with one of the regular flight crew.

Stew was in the Air Force for the duration of WWII and a little beyond. Although he was stationed at several different fields during his career, the type of aircraft he worked on the most was either the twin engined Avro Anson or the Cessna Crane with a dusting of deHavilland Gypsy Moth's thrown in for variety (that's another story). Stew's field of expertise was that of an aircraft electrician which meant that if it generated, used, or conducted electricity, Stew was the one who would be called to fix it. He found himself stuffed into the tightest of places, either an engine nacelle, under the dash, or down the fuselage chasing down a short or an open circuit, or else attempting to connect the wires to the terminals of a component that some engineeer hid behind something major and thus couldn't be reached by anything larger than a gnat.

Stew once told JC about such an incident where a generator failed on a radial engine on one of the Ansons and one of the other electricians removed it for repairs. Stew performed the actual repairs to the generator and handed it back. The electrician who removed it was rather small in stature but he discovered that reinstalling it was next to impossible as it was stuffed way up inside the engine cowling and one could either fit his hand in the opening, or the generator but not both--how he even got it out of there would forever be a mystery. Somehow the electrician managed to get the generator maneuvered into place and even properly secured to the gearcase but he still had to connect the wires to the terminals. He slid the eyes of the wires where they belonged but then the lock washers and securing nuts had to be attached and that's where everything fell apart.

He tried his best but failed; his sergeant tried but failed. With the two of them about to give up, the sergeant summoned Stew to see if he could manage. Stew came out, took a look at that tiny crevice then, without comment, smeared a bit of good old spit onto his index finger then pressed the first washer into the fleshy part of his fingertip. The washer sort of stuck there and Stew gingerly slid his hand up around the bulk of the generator and managed to set the washer onto the terminal. He followed with the nut. It took a great deal of effort but he was able to not only attach all the wires but also thread the weatherproof harness over them and finish the job.

Trainer planes got a lot of (more often than not) hard hours added up in a very short time. Consequently there came several times in the service life of an airplane when major work was needed. All jobs were broken down into intervals based on a specified number of flight hours. Different components needed attention at different times but there came the time when everything needed to be rebuilt at the same time; the engines, electrical components, radios, instruments, air frame and skin all came apart. The different components each got shuttled off to the various shops where the specialists quickly overhauled them.

This particular Anson went through such an excercise. The airplane was completely dismantled and the components stripped down, examined, evaluated, overhauled, put back together and certified. All components were reinstalled on the airplance where they awaited the final endorsement, the actual test flight. The job was completed in true, proficient, orderly, military manner, and in good time at that. Nothing was allowed to slip past, even with a trainer, because training aircraft often endured more abuse than those in combat--listening to JC recount his own experiences of his flying lessons gave testament to that. The job completed, the flight crew, and the maintenance crew wedged themselves on board and the tests began.

The engines were started and warmed up. Everything OK. The charging and lighting systems were all functioning properly, so Stew could relax a bit. The engines showed proper oil pressure and the mixture and throttle controls were funcitioning properly--so far, so good. One by one, the systems were checked off; the airplane was allowed to taxi, during which more checks and rechecks were performed, showing everything well within limits. Finally they were given clearance to take off.

The Anson left the ground and headed for the clouds. Further checks were conducted, all showing business as usual. The airplane flew straight and level, the elevators, ailerons and vertical stabilizer all doing what they were supposed to. The trim controls were also functioning the way they should. In fact the airplane was flying so well, the pilot decided to perform a climb at full power.

He firewalled the throttles and eased back on the column, guiding the aircraft upwards at twenty-plus degrees. The occupants all had to find something to hang onto to keep themselves from sliding towards the tail and possibly causing a sudden unbalance of the plane. All they could see ahead of them was sky.

There was no warning that something could be wrong; it happened so suddenly. A loud thump and a crash on the port side, accompanied by a ball of flame from the engine nacelle and the aircraft lurched to port. Those who saw anything caught a glimpse as the port-side prop and crankshaft exited the crankcase trailing a shower of debris and oil. Fortunately the pilot was experienced and immediately shut off the fuel to that engine while simultanteously bringing the Anson back to level flight.

Most twin-engine aircraft are designed to fly on one engine. They won't be able to take off but they can fly straight and level, and land with little difficulty. The trim tabs are designed to help the pilot hold the plane in control without too much strain. In this case the Anson flew with few problems other than having more than twice the normal number of passengers jammed into the fuselage like so many sardines. Luckily this incident occured over the vast prairies of Southwestern Alberta so all they had to do was head back to base and land--hoping that the wind wasn't blowing at gale force (common to the region) making landing with one engine very tricky.

Luck would be with them this day because they made it down in one piece, except the airplane, of course. An initial check proved that the front crankcase half, the part that bears all the thrust from the propeller, had given way (probably due to a tiny flaw that managed to escape detection despite the rigorous testing when the engine was apart) and the spinning prop just took off with the crankshaft and many other pieces, leaving a couple of cyliners and the gearcase attached to the airframe. Of course there was a complete investigation, part of which required a scavanging crew to be sent out along the flight path to retrieve the propeller, the crankshaft and all the pieces that came out with them.

That venerable Anson was once again restored to flight status and trained many more crews who would be deployed to the European Theater to man the likes of Wellington, Halifax and Lancaster bombers, amongst other heavy aircraft. Stew would remain in the Air Force until his discharge in 1946. He would then farm for a few years then move on to various jobs, eventually ending up as the setup man/delivery truck driver for the dealership where JC worked.