Fancy over Indian River Merritt Island, FL

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Courtesy car at Smoketown

Courtesy car #2

One Saturday afternoon sometime during the late 80s or early 90s bride and I decided to go to Lancaster, Pa for a family style dinner at a place called Good and Plenty. (G&P) We landed at an airport called Smoketown, a small airport which just happened to be close to the restaurant in Pennslyvania Amish country. I remember seeing Amish farmers working the fields with work horses around the parking lot of the place.

Anyway this is the very short story about the courtesy car. We landed and had the plane topped off with gas. Then when I went in to pay I asked about getting a cab to G&P. This is a good way to find out about the courtesy car without actually asking to borrow one! As is usually the case a man there said take the car that’s here for that. Here are the keys, it’s that blue Oldsmobile out back, then he gave us directions to G&P. It just so happened that it was only about ½ mile from there.

The 20 yr old car started right up and off we started for G&P. It was a hundred or so yards to the first stop sign. Approaching the stop I applied the brakes and the car seemed to accelerate as we sailed right through the intersection. Bride had tried to push her feet through the firewall of the old car as if she could stop us from that side. If you’re anywhere near my age you probably remember dealing with vehicles like that. I pumped the brake pedal and got some back pressure and just like in the old days with my first cars if you plan your stops and pump the brakes as you approach them you can handle this. NO such thing as hitting the binders and locking her up in a panic stop. You always leave a ridiculous amount of space between you and the car in front of you in case their brakes work better than yours. You treat all traffic lights as if they are turning red until you’re into the intersection because you've got to keep pumping in case it turns red and you have to stop. Those behind you think you’re an idiot with your brake light flashing but you don’t care! We saw the entrance to the parking lot and started to plan our entrance from way back and we were successful parking the car. We had a belly busting meal, paid the bill and headed for the Oldsmobile. There she was waiting out there in the parking lot just weeping brake fluid on the ground. The big V8 started right up so I pumped the brake till I got some pressure and headed out of the parking lot, the challenge was to get her back to Smoketown Airport without hitting something. It was tense but we made it and managed to park her right over the wet spot where we found her. We went in to give the keys back and before I could say anything about the brakes the guy slapped himself on the forehead and said, “oh, I meant to tell you that you have to pump the brakes.” I asked him not to forget tell the next person.

Flew back to Blue Knob Valley Airport, Duncansville, Pa……. Life is good!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Courtesy Cars

Courtesy Cars

During the course of my flying I’ve landed at a lot of small airports. Sometimes it is because I want to visit someone nearby or take wifey to a nice place to have lunch or a stop on a long cross country or maybe forced down due to weather. Most small airports are kind of out in the country unless urban sprawl has encroached upon them. What this means is unless you know someone who can pick you up or the restaurant or hotel is within walking distance, you have to get transportation of some kind to get to where you want to go. The FBOs at these airports know this and sometimes they keep an old car around to loan to fly in pilots. It’s a very handy thing to have access to a car for a couple of hours or even over night! All they usually ask is that you put gasoline in it before you bring it back. I’ve borrowed quite a few of these cars without ever even showing any ID. Of course they have your airplane if you don’t come back! Anyway this has been an interesting aspect of my visits to these places and I like to tell about a few of these experiences.

Experience #1

My child bride and I flew our 172 from Pa. down to Florida to visit my parents one year and on the way home we encountered a line of thunderstorms that we couldn’t penetrate. We tried scud running for a while and had to turn back and find a place to land. We were over one of the Carolinas and found an airport called Wadesboro and landed. I noticed as we taxied in that there were weeds growing up around the few planes parked there and the buildings looked sort of rough. There was a piece of tin on the roof of one of the hangars that was flapping in the wind. The place looked kind of spooky! We stopped at a block building that had a pay phone attached to the side of it. This was good because I needed to terminate my flight plan. As I was looking on the building wall for the phone number for the closest FSS, ( in the old days it was always scribbled somewhere on the wall) a man startled me as he came around the corner of the building. He had a ball hat on with the bill kind of aimed away at a 45 deg. Angle, he was smiling and his teeth were stained like a tobacco chewers might be. He said, “how ya’ll doing?” I told him that we landed because of the storms and I was trying to get FSS on the phone to cancel my flight plan. He said to come on in the building and use the phone in there. We did and made the call. Then he said why don’t you and the misses take the loaner car in town for lunch and maybe it would be clear enough for us to be on our way again. We told him we’d appreciate that. He handed us the keys and pointed to an old beige colored Chevrolet station wagon with the county logo on the front doors and said, “the air conditioner works too.” We got in the car and started for town Loretta said it must be a work car because there were remnants of hay and a couple of soda cans rolling around on the floor. Thankfully the air did work! As we were driving down a road that looked like something out of “Thunder Alley,” a 60s movie about moonshine runners, I said to the child bride, ya know I have a feeling like a Jackie Gleason type of cop with the big sunglasses and the Smoky Bear hat is going to jump out of the bushes and stop us and find some wacky weed in this wagon and say, “you in a heap of trouble boy” and off we’ll go to jail. Didn’t happen! We got to town, had lunch, and headed back to the airport. I called FSS for a weather briefing and the outlook was dismal for our direction of flight. The man at the airport said “there ain’t but two motels in town and one is a flea bag joint, I’ll be happy to call the other one for you and make arrangements if you want to stay.” He said we could have the car over night too. He called and found there was a room available for us. Bride and I got the luggage out of the plane and into the county station wagon and headed out again. I was over my fear abut the Gleason type of cop! We found the motel (would have loved to see the one he called flea bag!) The bride rejected it right away and said that I had to be kidding about staying there. It was kind of shabby and every door was painted purple and there was a plastic chair by every door. I would have had to stay there by myself. After considering this for about ¾ of a second I wheeled the big wagon around in the parking lot and headed back for the airplane. The place we had driven to was west of the airport and the skies looked OK in that direction so I checked the weather again and sure enough we could go west as far as Charlotte, NC. Back at the airport I handed the guy the keys and told him the gas tank was full and thanked him and told him we were going to try to get to Munroe county airport near Charlotte. No gas available there but we had plenty to get to Munroe. We landed at Munroe just ahead of a whopper of a thunderstorm. We made arrangements for a tie down and called the local Ford dealer to rent a car. We spent three enjoyable days there driving around in a very small Ford. Weather cleared and we drove the car back to the dealer and the owner of the dealership saw us and talked to us and told us he’d personally drive us back to the airport. It was a pleasant ride with him and he was interested in talking about our flying adventure. He was a pilot but inactive for some reason but loved the talking about it. Oh yeah, we had the car three days and he told the secretary at the dealership to only charge us for one day! About $30.00.

This post is a bit long so I’ll write more later about a couple of other loaner car experiences.

My friend Ben, with me on our way to Sun n Fun Lakeland, FL