The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Monday, November 11, 2013

The C 141 Starlifter Project

First of all on Veterans Day 2013, I thank all veterans past and present, dead or still living, for their service. I especially thank my son Barry, my Dad, my brother Dave, my grandson Erich, my uncle Leonard, my uncle Sid, my uncle David, my uncle Will, and my great grandpa Hiram. 
I know Veterans Day is meant to honor people who've served in our country's military. This post is about a person who served his country, but it's also about a machine. The two veterans in question are (1) our 35th president, John F. Kennedy, a decorated veteran of WWII, and (2) a magnificent airplane which proceeded through development and many years of service after JFK approved its production.

Although the picture below of JFK with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor is from 1963, it illustrates and underlines the point that John Kennedy, a navy hero in WWII, understood the importance of having a strong military to protect the United States. Throughout his congressional career he portrayed himself as "tough on communism" and in the 1960 campaign blasted the Eisenhower-Nixon administration for losing Cuba to the communists and for allowing the missile gap between the U. S. and the soviets to develop.
So, it was only natural that John Kennedy's first official act after he became president was to order the production of the aircraft that was eventually designated the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. This important military carrier had a distinguished career that lasted over  forty years.

The C-141 was designed and built to replace our aging fleet of troop carriers and cargo planes -- planes such as the C-119 Flying Boxcar...
and a plane known as "old shaky," the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II...

Plans for the C-141 (initially given the factory designation Model 300) were developed by Lockheed and pieces of the plane were produced in plants around the country, including a wing part here in my home town, Nashville, TN...

And the first C-141 prototype rolled out of the plant in Marietta, GA, in August of 1963 and flew in December of that year. The first production run brought the first operational planes to the military in 1965...

The C-141 was huge; it was over 168 feet in length and had a wingspan of 160 feet...

Wiki gives the following stats concerning this important plane:
General characteristics
  • Crew: 5–7: 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers, 1 navigator, 1 loadmaster (a second loadmaster routinely used, in later years navigators were only carried on airdrop missions); 5 medical crew (2 nurse, 3 medical technician) on medevac flights
  • Length: 168 ft 4 in (51.3 m)
  • Wingspan: 160 ft 0 in (48.8 m)
  • Height: 39 ft 3 in (12 m)
  • Wing area: 3,228 ft² (300 m²)
  • Empty weight: 144,492 lb (65,542 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 342,100 lb (147,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-7 turbofans, 20,250 lbf (90.1 kN each) each

The famed "Hanoi Taxi" was a specific C 141, one of the earliest planes to become operational in the '60s. Besides other less glamorous assignments during its early service, this plane (not yet called the Hanoi Taxi) ferried Bob Hope to his USO shows in Vietnam. This C 141 also gained its famous name later when it was selected to ferry the just released POWs (airman and future senator John McCain was among them) from Hanoi to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Some of the returning prisoners left their names on the flight panel and those names inspired the "Hanoi Taxi" nickname.

Sometimes the ordinary day to day actions and signings of U. S. presidents are forgotten by the general public because they don't have a lot of immediate impact on people's lives. President Kennedy's first act, approving production of the C-141, is not one of those actions. This plane has played an important role in American history with its contributions extending to Desert Storm and Desert Shield.  And in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans, a C-141, actually the same C-141 "Hanoi Taxi" mentioned earlier, evacuated hundreds of people before the storm hit.

In the comments to a video on You Tube called the "Mighty C-141," a pilot who identifies himself as John Tompkins has this to say about the plane:
Greatest airplane ever, biggest adventure ever. I thought all airplanes flew like that. Little did I know that they did not. Absolutely the best.
President Kennedy made many important speeches and took several significant actions during his brief tenure in office. Many people, I'm sure, are glad he approved the significant C-141 Starlifter project, a plane that served the nation well during its forty+ year career.

In addition to JFK and the Starlifter, I salute all veterans of the U. S. Armed Forces on this Veterans Day in 2013.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cadillac La Salle, Dusenberg -- Beautiful Design and Great Music from 1927

Have you heard of someone named Harley J. Earl? He was one of my heroes when I was young.

That's him below sitting behind the wheel of one of his most famous creations, the Buick Y-Job.
Born in 1893, Earl became one of the most influential industrial designers in the 20th century. He was a fledgling consultant to Cadillac when designed the beauty in the pic below. It's a 1927 LaSalle.

Lawrence Fisher, General Manager of the Cadillac division of GM, had discovered Earl working in his father's custom body shop and was impressed with his design skill and his use of clay models.  Fisher commissioned Earl to design Cadillac's companion model, the LaSalle, which debuted in 1927.
GM liked the result so much that they made him the first head of GM's Art and Color Division. He eventually became a VP at GM when GM was at its pinnacle, probably because his styling work had helped it reach that pinnacle. Oh yes, I almost forgot, Earl was the guy who pushed GM to develop the Corvette in the early '50s.

During the year the La Salle came out, one of the top popular songs was this nice tune by Gene Austin, "Tonight, You Belong to Me." Listen and tell me if you '50s freaks find anything familiar about it.
Yep, you're right. Frankie Laine had a record of it in 1952. But that's not the version I thought of. The version I remember was by Patience and Prudence.

The La Salle was a beautiful car, a real doozy. Which leads to the next beautiful car from 1927...the Dusenberg. I always thought the word "doozy" originated in reference to the beautiful Dusenberg automobile. I was wrong. Follow this link and a helpful young associate editor lady from Merriam Webster will explain that the Dusenberg link to this word is a nice story but not true.
The Dusenberg Brothers were super engineers but not very good business men. August's and Frederick's engineering skill developed the first hydraulic brakes ever and to their production of the first mass produced 8 cylinder engine. The engines and the cars they powered were very fast. Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix in 1921. He was driving a Dusenberg.

Their Model X is very rare and was only built in 1926-27. The pic below shows one of these rare beauties.
Guys and gals from 1927 who weren't filthy rich (and similar guys and gals today) were (and are) probably melancholy that they didn't have the cash to get one of these beautiful automobiles.

"Melancholy Baby" was written in 1912. Gene Austin's version reached #3 on the charts in 1927. From comedian references (Red Skeleton, Milton Berle, etc.), I always associated this song with funny drunks.

Not a bad year to be alive. Good music, great cars. A couple of years before the crash. 1927.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In Class at EKU, 1966.

Lately we've been sifting through old slides, photos, and other mementos from our past.

I finished my M. A. in January of '63 and worked that spring semester at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA. We left there and moved to Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY in the fall of 1963.

Joyce had completed her AA degree at Martin Junior College where we met, and she continued her academic work by taking some more general education courses at Eastern. We bought our first new car ('64 Dodge) and house when we lived in Richmond--I'll show some pics of them in a later post.

We enjoyed our three years there very much and made a lot of friends, most of whom have passed on now. Our dear friend Professor Philip Mankin passed away in the early '70s and Professor James (Jim) Mangus passed away a couple of years ago. Jim and his wife Carol were our closest friends; Jim and I played a lot of tennis (he won most every set) and were on the faculty basketball team together. Joyce and I remember remember a couple of times when the four of us got into long conversations that lasted all night and Carol prepared a great breakfast before we went home.

For the first two years my office and my classes were all in the old Roark Building on campus. In my final year at Eastern ('65-'66), I moved my office into the newly completed Combs building and had all my classes there. I taught Comp I and II, as well as both semesters of World Literature.

Eastern was a great place to work under President Robert Martin. We enjoyed monthly faculty dinners, a Christmas party, departmental "teas," concerts by national artists (like the Rooftop Singers and Ferannte and Teicher) and student dances.

The college was just beginning its Masters program in English and the department was expanding and hiring new teachers, many with doctorates, but most with MA's to free up the doctorates we already had for teaching the graduate classes.

I shared a long office in the new building with two other instructors,  guys about my age (Perebinossof and Whitson). It was a great time to be a college teacher. We enjoyed considerable student respect, just from our position. Students had not yet evolved into the self centered, profane, shrill, abrasive and demanding creatures they became after the '60s. The previous sentence is a general statement; I, of course, had many great students in the '70s and '80s and on into the '90s, but the overall collegiate atmosphere did change.

Here's a pic taken from the Eastern Milestone annual, 1965-66. It's a posed World Lit classroom scene. I remember we all had a good laugh after the photographer left and then got back down to the business of Plato or Sophocles, can't remember which. Those were good times.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Long and Wandering Postmortem

I always advised composition students to focus on a single subject in their essays. But in this long post, I ignore my own advice. I'm really all over the place--music, family, play directing, a specific play, William Gillette, set design, a theater tech issue, incidental music, and even a tornado. I hope I don't lose you along the way.

I've enjoyed music all my life, but early on I wasn't exposed to much of it. A couple of my aunts played the piano really well, but my immediate family was not musical; we never had a record player and the only radio was in the bedroom I shared with my brother. In church, Mom and Dad and my brother and I held the hymnals and mouthed the words but never sang.

When I married, that changed. Joyce was from a very musical family and when we got together she broadened and improved my narrow and restricted musical tastes considerably.

Later, I directed several plays at the college where I worked and one of the things I enjoyed the most was selecting incidental music for the performances.

The last play I directed was Postmortem by Ken Ludwig; this mystery drama was set in the early '20s. It was a really fun play to work on and had as its central character the great American actor William Gillette, who brought Sherlock Holmes (with Sir Conan Doyle's blessing and encouragement) to vibrant and exciting life on the world stage.

William Gillette had a most interesting life and you can read all about him in Wiki. From his inventions and work in theater he made a fortune which allowed him to build a castle-like mansion in Hadlyme, CT.

The play by Ludwig, Postmortem, is set in Gillette's elaborate castle which had 24 rooms. On the grounds, the actor built a three mile miniature railway. The place was first turned into an amusement park after Gillette's death, but after a +$10 million upgrade by the state in 2002, it became a state park which entertains about 100,000 visitors annually.

Our version of Postmortem was performed in the spring of 1991. That's our student designed and produced program in my shadowy pic to the left.

Below is an equally dark photo of a ground plan of the set for our production. Unfortunately, I haven't yet located my 3D sketches of the set, nor have I been able to find any pics of the completed set. I always started with a 3D drawing and then eventually worked out a ground plan (see below).

You will notice from the ground plan drawing that our theater had a serious design flaw. (I use the past tense here because the building that housed the theater was almost destroyed in the tornado of 2006.) The proscenium was extremely wide and the stage was not very deep. It was 40' across and only 12' from the curtain line (the dotted line) to the back wall (the top edge of the drawing above). If you wanted a closed curtain to hide something on the set, it couldn't be placed in front or downstage of that line.

I always used a cleaned up version of the ground plan to draw out complex blocking maneuvers for the actors. The numbers on this drawing are numbers of flats that we had in our store room which could be repainted and used in the production. Of course we always had to build a few new flats to fit the special requirements of each production.

The set was quite elaborate for our little 400 seat theater and had several levels and exits. There were also  some special and technical effects in Ludwig's play that involved a seance and a ghostly apparition.

Unfortunately, on opening night we had some difficulty with one of those effects, for which I take responsibility. I had assigned a first time tech guy to the catwalk projector. He got the jitters, forgot to check out the projector which didn't come on during the performance. I should have caught this during our tech check in the hour before the audience arrived. But I didn't.

Anyway, if you can roll with such misfortunes (which are a natural part of live theater), they're usually not as bad as they seem to be on the surface. I always tried to coach student actors and production workers to keep focused and continue. We're learning and we're having fun. Mistakes sometimes happen. Keep your wits about you, keep things moving, and the audience probably won't even notice. 

Everything else worked opening night, and, thanks to some quick thinking on the part of our leading man and leading lady who covered the lapse with improvised dialogue,  I don't think the audience noticed.

Now...about that music. Incidental music is used in different ways in a production. Played for 15 minutes as the audience enters the theater, it can set the mood before the curtain opens. Used between scenes and or acts, it can underscore a theme or emotion or provide transitions. At the end during curtain calls and as the audience is leaving the theater, the music can remind the audience of what was important. In a couple of instances I linked my musical choices to specific characters and let the actors know that the song in question was their "theme" song. They got a kick out of that.

Postmortem was set in 1922 and so locating music was difficult (remember, our production was mounted in 1991, right before A. Gore invented the internet).With limited funds and time, I was able to find some albums with a few early '20s tunes and then cheated just a bit on the rest.

I discovered I liked this old music and it made me realize that a person who sticks only to his own time period for popular music, will miss out on a lot of good stuff.

A few of the songs we used were Paul Whiteman's "Whispering," 1920; Whiteman's "Lonely Melody,"1928; Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin,'" 1929; and this great tune from 1928, sung by "the voice of the Southland" Gene Austin, "My Blue Heaven."
In 1928, "My Blue Heaven" became a huge hit on Victor 20964-A for crooner Gene Austin, accompanied by the VictorOrchestra as directed by Nat Shilkret; it charted for 26 weeks, stayed at #1 for 13, and sold over five million copies becoming one of the best selling singles of all time.[3]
Bing Crosby (whose "White Christmas" broke that best selling singles record years later) was an early admirer of Austin and gave him credit for inspiring his career. If you have time read the wiki entry on Austin--as one of the first "crooners" he had quite a career himself.

Finally here's an artist from that era I did not include in my incidental music selections for Postmortem because I didn't know about him--Russ Columbo. Wiki says Columbo
was an American singer, violinist and actor, most famous for his signature tune "You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love", his compositions "Prisoner of Love" and "Too Beautiful For Words", and the legend surrounding his early death.
Columbo died in an accidental shooting. A friend was playing around with an antique gun, pulling and releasing the hammer and fiddling with a match at the same time. Somehow the match got beneath the hammer just as it fell. It ignited and an old forgotten ball was discharged into Austin's head. He died several hours later.

One of the tunes I like by Columbo is this one, which became Bing Crosby's signature song...

Too bad Gore hadn't invented the internet before '91, because had I known about Columbo's version of this song, I would definitely have put it in the Postmortem playlist.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Passing the Torch

This interesting photo shows President Eisenhower greeting president elect JFK on December 6, 1960. Even though Kennedy spoke of the torch being passed to a new generation in his inaugural address, he was an intelligent man and sought the elder Eisenhower's advice immediately after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and during the Cuban missile crisis. As JFK demonstrated, there is much to be gained by seeking the counsel of older leaders and learning from history.