Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

When I was about six years old my dad bought a power lawn mower. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My dad explained to me that one day, I would be able to use the lawn mower and that mowing the lawn would become my responsibility. I was so excited!

Until then, I had to wait. I was given the not so glamorous job of “picking up sticks” as a sort of apprentice level job. Picking up sticks pretty much sucks compared to walking around behind the bright red Toro as it growled and spit out grass clippings on the circuits around the grounds of our palatial estate.

Finally, at some point, I would guess maybe I was ten or eleven, dad told me I was at last big enough to handle the big, now not so shiny, Toro.

I think the feeling of excitement about actually handling the big red machine by myself lasted about twenty minutes. By the second or third time I mowed the lawn, I realized that the thing was a big con job. Mowing the lawn wasn’t fun or cool, it was work. I had been lured into taking a job by promises of glory and wealth and found only boredom and frustration.

The reality of lawn mowing was hard to start machinery, cleaning air filters, adding oil, adding gasoline and pushing the contraption around the yard as the hot sun beat down on my poor little spoiled self. I remember one time attempting to start the machine 104 times before my dad relented and took it in for service.

But, being good son, I did my chores like countless other kids. I grumbled, but mowed.

The worst time in my lawn mowing experience came one summer when I took a job mowing lawns for the Columbia Public School System. Most of my crew was made up of kids I went to high school with or my then current classmates at Mizzou. By the end of the summer, our lawn crew had accomplished the following:

  • wrecked two ½ ton pick trucks
  • destroyed one riding lawn mower (somehow it ran through the front doors of Frederick Douglas School)
  • decapitated one push mower with an out of control riding lawnmower
  • Destroyed too many flower beds and other ornamental plants to recall

For the of rest my life, I have hated the notion of “mowing the lawn” and all its associated activities. I have nightmares and flashbacks from that summer. I’m sure I could benefit from counseling.

Now, decades later, I find I might, at last be able to enjoy mowing the lawn again.

Last weekend, during a brief hiatus from the two month-long drizzle season we call Spring here in Northern Kentucky, my fifteen year old rusted out, broken down, piece of junk lawn mower finally died. The pull-cord snapped one final time; there was simply not enough cord left for yet another square knot to reconnect the cord to the lawn mower.

Reluctantly, I began looking online at lawnmowers at Lowe’s and Home Depot. It was all very depressing. I hate spending money on things that aren’t fun. Then, I saw something intriguing; electric lawnmowers.

All the electric lawn mowers I’d seen in the past were useless. Their fifty foot cords and underpowered motors were a certain recipe for frustration and aggravation. Plus, they just weren’t manly! People would make fun of me I was sure. The only people who used these things were nerds with yards smaller than the average welcome mat.

But, looking online I found something new and different. Electric lawn mowers that were cordless. Lawn mowers that used batteries.

Wow! That’s what I call liberating! No trips to the gas station, so filing the spark plug, no squirting starter fluid into the cylinder, no more cleaning air filters and no more guessing if the damn thing needed oil or not.

But, I was skeptical. How long would the thing run between charges? How much power did it have? Could it handle the jungle of broadleaf weeds that passes for a lawn at my home?

I decided I had nothing to lose, pick one, read the reviews and if no one is hating on that model, buy it.

I selected a model from Greenworks. This mower has a 19” cutting swath and it is powered by a 40 volt Lithium-Ion battery. (Just like the 787!) This particular model comes with two separate battery packs and a charging station. This is important because you can store the lawn mower any where you want and keep the batteries and charging station inside your home.

Greenworks Electric Lawn Mower

Greenworks Cordless Electric Lawn Mower

My lawn mower was delivered on Sunday by Lowe’s and unfortunately the drizzle had started again, so mowing was not going to happen that weekend. I opened up the box and assembled the mower per the instructions included in the box. This took no more than twenty minutes tops.

Next, I set up the charger and placed one of the two included battery packs in the charging cradle. Within one hour, the battery pack was ready to go.

Monday was a total wash out, so I came home from work and watched the grass grow even higher.

Tuesday brought a partly cloudy afternoon, so by the time I got home, the grass was still pretty damp, but I figured if I didn’t mow now, I would need a tractor and Bush-hog.

I rolled the mower out the front door, inserted the battery pack, inserted the safety key and turned the big bright green machine on. What a wonderful surprise, the mower powered right up and I started mowing. After about thirty minutes, I was done.

Greenworks 40V 19" Mower

Greenworks 40V 19″ Mower

The lawnmower was fantastic! It effortlessly handled the 10” tall grass and clover. It was every bit as good as any gasoline powered mower. The first battery pack was still going strong when I finished. So my fear of not being able to complete the job without a re-charge was totally unjustified.

As a push around mower the Greenworks has the added advantage of being on the light weight side compared to gasoline powered machines. But, I would add that the mower is heavy enough to not bounce over rough ground. It keeps the mower at the proper mowing height. But, it is also light weight enough to push and pull with one hand.

The height adjustment is very easy to use. A single lever adjusts the height of the whole mower. You do not have to mess with raising a lowering each wheel be itself.

Electrics are not for everyone. If you have a huge yard, the technology may not be ready for you. But, I did actually see a cordless, battery powered riding mower, so you may want to give the technology a look anyhow.

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Count me as one satisfied customer. I would recommend this product to anyone looking for an alternative to smelly, expensive, time consumptive gasoline powered mowers.

Lawn mowing may be fun again after all! Without a doubt it is less of a hassle.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

Most of my contemporary friends don’t know it, but I spent one fall of my young life coaching American football at the collegiate level. I make that statement both honestly and in a spirit of complete sincerity. I was, indeed an assistant college football coach.

You may recall that I grew up in a college town. There are three college level educational institutions located in my home, Columbia Missouri. First we had the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou. Also, we had Columbia College which offers educational opportunities on campus as well as all over the planet through a highly evolved extended campus program. Finally, we had Stephens College.

Stephens was a unique institution. It was a four year, predominately female college.  In those days, Stephens offered excellent programs in music, acting or dramatics, design, art and literature.  Stephens gave Columbia a touch of class. It was small, exclusive and polished. Stephens students came from all over the US and even overseas, but mainly from urban areas in the eastern United States.

So, let me get back to my football coaching career. As you may have already guessed, I did not coach the Mighty Tigers of Ol’ Mizzou. My coaching career began and ended as an intramural coach for the touch football team of Lela Raney Woods Hall at Stephens College.

As a barely post-adolescent male, Stephens College was my idea of Disneyland. So, when my buddy Charlie Utz showed up one day, with a big smile on his face, and asked me if I wanted to be his assistant football coach at Stephens, you know how I answered. I just jumped on that like a big wet dog!

So that’s how Charlie and I befriended about twenty or so co-eds at Stephens College that fall back in 1974.

The ladies making up our football team were smart, dedicated and fearless. I’m proud to say our team was undefeated over their season. We trounced the teams from Wales, Pillsbury, Hillcrest, Tower halls and the rest. It was only natural that Charlie and I would reward the team with a party after each game.

Our games were played on Saturday mornings, so the entire weekend was typically required to get through all the eating and drinking following each victory. We would provide a venue and lots of beer and the rest we just made up as we went. That was pretty much how we coached the team as well.

In fact, now that I think about it, the training and practice sessions were just like the post game parties.

As football season wound down, the holiday season approached. As is customary in college towns, many students forego a trip home for Thanksgiving since Christmas break will begin just a few weeks later.

That fall, my parents were traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday and I was left to watch over the house. This happened occasionally. We would always have a solemn discussion about how the house needed to be carefully watched, how I shouldn’t have large groups over and how I should be mindful to keep things clean, locked up and safe while they were gone. Above all, NO PARTIES!

I always cheerfully agreed to these terms when they left me in charge.

I was also an accomplished liar in those days. As soon as their car was out of driveway, I would be on the phone getting the party machine in motion.

So, for that particular Thanksgiving, Charlie Utz and I decided to host a team thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s house.  This event became known as the Lela Raney Woods Thanksgiving Orphans Holiday Dinner. This was also the dinner which first featured Lou’s Famous Pregnant Turkey.

Most of the ladies on our football team were aces. Great competitors smart and fun to be with. We did have one person who was, frankly, kind of a pain. This lady was a bit self absorbed. She also was a bit picky about things. Above all, she was very open in her distain for Columbia, the Midwest and anything else west of the Hudson River.

Agriculture was not her strong suit.

Charlie and I decided to have a bit fun at her expense.

So, during the morning of Thanksgiving while everyone else was busy watching the Macy’s parade on TV, Utz and I were cooking and getting the beer on ice. We probably were sampling some of the beer as well.

As we got the big bird ready for cooking, I also pulled a Rock Cornish Game Hen out of the fridge. Charlie looked at me quizzically and asked me what in the heck I was planning on doing with the game hen.

I said, “Charlie, when we serve this turkey, it’s going to be preggers.”

So, with that understanding, we cleared big bird’s cavity of giblets and neck. Then, covering the game hen with butter slipped her into the turkey.

Later that evening, the team was assembled around our table, the beer was flowing and the side dishes were in place. The big bird made his entrance to a chorus of oohs, and ahhs. It was a splendid looking bird if there ever was one.

As the host, it was my responsibility to carve the turkey and distribute the first round. The table became quiet as I stood and started to do my job.

Suddenly, I dropped the knife, feigning great surprise. Looking at my guests, I made the announcement, “My friends, I think this turkey is pregnant!”

My guest looked at me with great incredulity. Actually most folks at the table were in on the joke. The object of the prank stared at the bird with her mouth hanging open.

I proceeded to “deliver” the youngster and, with a great flourish, place it on her plate. I explained that this was a rare event indeed and custom dictated that the most honored quest should have the privilege of eating the new born “turkey” pup!

She was, of course flattered. But also you could see she felt she was deserving of this great honor. And a fitting honor indeed it was!

So that is how Lou’s pregnant turkey came to pass. I highly recommend this recipe that combines a truly tasty meal with an exciting lesson in biology!

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

By Lou Washington

If you travel with any frequency, you may have had the experience of finding yourself accidentally standing in the middle of some place that has been associated with some particular historical event. I’m not referring to an intentional trip to some battlefield or monument. I mean the times you are driving or walking along and unexpectedly see something that tells you that you are in a hallowed place.

I remember one such occasion during a business trip to Dallas, Texas. We were driving around downtown Dallas looking for the free way entrance so we could return to our suburban hotel. We pulled around a corner and my first impression was a brief feeling of familiarity, then it struck me that we were in the middle of Dealey Plaza. All the images in my mind of the Kennedy assassination suddenly filled in my view. The overpass, the book depository building and the large Hertz sign were there almost frozen in time.

On another occasion I was in London and was changing buses near a place called Marble Arch. Standing on the sidewalk, I noticed a small sign that was a commemorative plaque for the martyrs of Tyburn. Tyburn was a notorious place of public execution in London for many centuries. It was not difficult of hear the echoes of the mob as they cheered on the executioners as they went about their work.

Several years ago, Barbara and I were on vacation. We had just completed a car show in Myrtle Beach and we wanted to find a nice quiet place to just decompress for a few days. Barb found a wonderful destination for us, Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is the southern most inhabited island in the group making up the Outer Banks just off the Carolinas here in the States.

Most of Ocracoke is deserted. A small village is located on the southern end and is built around a harbor which hosts a ferryboat landing. There are no bridges between the mainland and Ocracoke, you have to travel there by ferry. The village also hosts a number of smallish motels and restaurants. There are numerous shops offering a variety of nautical themed items and local crafts.

For people who are just interested in knocking around for a few days, ignoring the time of day and forgetting about work, Ocracoke is perfect.

Being a history buff, I was intrigued by the fact that Ocracoke was the site of the final act in the illustrious career of Edward Teach, otherwise know as Blackbeard. But, as we found out, Blackbeard was not the islands only claim to maritime fame.

The British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island

As we were exploring during our first morning on the island, we encountered a unassuming sign that pointed us down a lane to the British Cemetery. I had that strange feeling that once again I was going to find myself standing in the middle of a bit history.

Our curiosity was piqued so we headed down the lane. After little more than a couple of hundred yards, we found ourselves standing in front of a small, meticulously maintained cemetery. A Union Jack flew from a mast next to four graves which were located behind a neat white fence.

A small plaque related the story of the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island.

HMT Bedfordshire

On 17 July, 1935 The Smith’s Dock Co. of Middlesbrough, England launched a brand new commercial fishing trawler at Teesside. She was not a large ship, only displacing 443 tons, she measured 162 feet from bow to stern. Her beam was just 27 feet. She was christened Bedfordshire.

Her life as a commercial fisherman was short. In 1939 the British Admiralty knew the world was fast approaching a time of European instability if not outright hostility. They were all to familiar with the effectiveness of German U-boats from the previous world war. To counter this threat they embarked upon an aggressive plan to build out fleet vessels capable of countering the U-boats.

Anti-submarine vessels needed to to be fast, agile and able to carry depth charges. The Bedfordshire may have been designed for commercial fishing, but she was also an ideal platform for anti-submarine warfare. The Admiralty bought her in 1939 and outfitted her with a 4 inch gun, a machine gun and the requisite equipment for hauling and launching depth charges.

It was only a matter of months until His Majesty’s Trawler Bedfordshire was earning her keep in the Royal Navy patrolling British waters, ever vigilant for the hidden menace beneath the waves.

As the war spun up in earnest in Europe, across the Atlantic, the U.S. continued to ponder how they should become involved. There was no question that support for our allies was required in the European theatre of operations. Armament, supplies and other material was shipped across the Atlantic in support of England.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The prospect of fighting a war in both the Pacific and the North Atlantic as part of a general European war effort was not something that the U.S. was immediately prepared to do.

Meanwhile the Kriegsmarine was making its presence known to American shipping. In early 1942 over 30 ships were lost off the American coast to German U-boat actions. The U.S. Navy did not have anything in their inventory to protect our supply ships during their Atlantic transit to England.

The Royal Navy dispatched 24 ships to the U.S. Coastal waters to help defend the commercial fleet from the onslaught of U-Boat attacks. One these 24 ships was HMT Bedfordshire.

The deadly attacks continued with devastating effectiveness. By the end of April, 1942 an additional 45 ships were lost.

Bedfordshire was ported at Morehead City, NC. On May 10th, she was tasked with searching and destroying German submarines believed to be patrolling in the immediate area. She weighed anchor and put to sea in search of her underwater prey. She left port minus one sailor, Sam Nutt.

Sam had been arrested the evening before by the local authorities in Morehead City. After spending the night as a guest of the City of Morehead, Sam was released without being charged with any particular infraction. However, Bedfordshire had long since sailed so he began looking for a “ride” to hopefully meet up with Bedfordshire at sea and re-join his crew.

HMT Bedfordshire was never seen again by friendly forces. Early in the morning, the good ship met her fate.

The U-558, Kapitanleutnant Gunther Krech commanding, was conducting operations in the waters off Ocracoke Island. She had a busy night and had already attempted one strike against the British ship Loman. The Loman managed to escape and evade the U-588.

Kapitan Krech then engaged the Bedfordshire off Ocracoke Island at 5:40 am, May 11th. The initial torpedo was a clean miss. A second shot was taken and the result was a direct hit. The Bedfordshire sank immediately taking her entire crew of 37 men with her to the bottom.

On shore, no one really knew what had happened. Nearly ten days passed and two bodies washed up on the shore of Ocracoke Island. They were identified as crew members of the Bedfordshire. This served to confirm suspicions that the good ship had met her end. After two additional bodies were found later in May, there was no doubt that Bedfordshire had gone down.

Four Markers for Four Sailors

The four bodies were interred on Ocracoke Island in what would be come the British Cemetery. The good folks of Ocracoke Island as well as the U.S. Coast Guard maintain and keep the cemetery. It has been officially transferred to and falls under the auspices of the British government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by means of a lease in perpetuity.

I have been to many war monuments and seen many military cemeteries during my life. But, this little patch of ground, smaller than our living room, touched me deeply. Four small but immaculate graves. Someone, somewhere no doubt had waited and waited for years on end for a homecoming that never happened.

Most war cemeteries contain hundreds or thousands of markers for the fallen. The scale of the tragedy is so overwhelming that the you become numb to the numbers. It’s almost as if the vast numbers of dead somehow share the weight of the war making it easier for each individual.

But here, on Ocracoke, those four men, were forever removed from their homes and loved ones. On that night, they paid the full price and along with their shipmates bore the entire weight of that war.

This was indeed a hallowed place.

By Lou Washington

In my real job I work with our sales and marketing folks in our enterprise system group. We’ve been selling software for as long as anyone on the planet and after nearly 40 years of selling ERP software, you might be wondering why I would be asking this question at all.

I assure you, I am quite serious about this question. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of software solutions that facilitate the management of a given enterprise. As the words imply, the idea is that resources must be carefully managed to maximize the efficient and profitable use of those resources to achieve the goals of the enterprise.

There was a time when there were maybe 20 vendors in total selling ERP solutions. These companies addressed a market that was made up of 1) giant multi-billion dollar companies with worldwide coverage, 2) medium size companies that were less than a billion dollars in sales but more than 100 million and 3) the rest of the companies making up the lower end of the market with sales under the 100 million dollar threshold.

These companies typically had one thing in common, they made things. They were manufacturers. They maintained plants that transformed raw material or parts into products.

Each year, corporate planners would ask (or tell) the sales group what they were going to sell during the coming year and how much of it they would sell. The answers to these questions drove the purchasing decisions as far as what the company would need to buy in order to fulfill the orders planned by sales.

ERP systems developed to facilitate the efficient management of this deceptively simple process. The systems reinforced the decision-making processes associated with purchasing supplies, scheduling delivery of supplies, production scheduling, staffing and finished goods delivery scheduling. That is essentially how I see ERP in my manufacturing centric view.

ERP beyond Manufacturing

What about other types of businesses? What about retailers, wholesale or distribution businesses? How about services like accounting firms, maintenance providers, transportation services or insurance companies? The more I read about these businesses the more I would see references to their use of ERP. Even churches and governments seem to be in this arena.

Luckily, LinkedIn has a large collection of member communities associated with various aspects of ERP. I find that posing a question in the right LinkedIn Group will usually result in a series of responses and counter responses that offer great insight into how others see things.

So, I put some of my questions to my online friends in one of the LinkedIn ERP groups.

As I suspected, there really is no hard definition of ERP. It means different things to different people. While many of the responses were manufacturing centric, a large number were not. People had no trouble expounding on the benefits of ERP in a pure distribution environment. Services oriented advocates were just as convincing.

But this has negative implications for marketing folks. We spend huge amounts of time trying to establish the identity of our buyers. We look at the market in terms of who influences buying decisions, who chooses and who uses our products. We agonize over the types of businesses, what vertical markets they address, what types of products they make or sell.

When you market a product that “does everything for everybody” it may be a sales persons dream, but, it’s a marketing nightmare.  You can’t focus your message, you can’t isolate a specific group and establish their pain points to address with your strengths and you can’t afford to talk to everybody. Believe me, it’s a challenge.

What you used to be is Important

One of the folks I talked to put me onto a great concept. The vast majority of ERP systems on the market today, started out as something else.

The original product may have been a set of financial reporting tools, perhaps a warehouse management system or a system for handling human resources. Vendors love to build up product features. How many times have you bought something because it “now includes . . . .” whatever?

As the enterprises became more complex, more geographically wide-spread, more diverse in products offered, they drove their suppliers to add functionality to help take them wherever it was they wanted to go. Software vendors responded by pushing out their comfort zones and adding functionality which in turn expanded their own market reach.

Now, here we are with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of software products under the very diverse and increasingly generic ERP banner.

Most of these products were not built from scratch. What was finance/accounting software is now an ERP system. What was a human resources system is now ERP. A product that was formerly used to control inventory in a warehouse setting as evolved into ERP.

Oddly, many of these systems are rather weak in the traditional home of ERP; manufacturing. ERP was born of MRP or Manufacturing Requirements Planning. Software that scheduled production runs, supply of work stations and handled the acquisition of parts and raw material.

So the main message of this piece is to be careful if you are evaluating ERP systems, give strong consideration to what that system evolved from.  Be cognizant of what you really need. In some cases you may not need full-blown ERP, you may need accounting software.

But, if you are a manufacturer and you are looking for real ERP, make sure that is where your vendor came from. Make sure your buying a manufacturing centric system.

By Lou Washington

If you love airplanes, you probably have a personal favorite. For some, the love affair might be based on performance such as the Mach 3+ SR-71. For others, the attachment may be the result of a particularly successful war record like that of the P-51 Mustang or Spitfire.

One Beautiful Airplane

For pure beauty of design I have to go with the Lockheed Constellation, especially the stretched, Super G, variant. The plane looks like it’s in motion even when it is standing still. The fuselage has a stunning aerodynamically curved shape; the trademark triple tail gives this bird an unmistakable silhouette. The huge wings, typically equipped with wingtip mounted range extending fuel tanks gracefully offset the four huge 18 cylinder Wright R-335-DA3 radial compound supercharged engines.

Lockheed designed the Constellation in response to a concept and rough design from Howard Hughes. The design team for this fantastic aircraft included none other than the famed Kelly Johnson. Johnson was one of the driving forces behind Lockheed’s skunk-works. This was where the U2, the SR-71 and other highly classified aircraft were born. The vision for the Constellation was long range, high capacity and high speed.

It achieved all three objectives. At maximum capacity the Connie could accommodate 109 passengers. The plane had a cruising speed of 340 MPH and a top end of 377 MPH. The maximum range for the Constellation was 5,400 miles making it truly a transcontinental, transoceanic airliner. Lockheed produced these magnificent aircraft until 1958.

The Connie was the last of a breed. The long range airliners, powered by propeller driven engines, were being pushed out of the way by the much faster, more economical and smoother riding pure jets. The De Havilland Comet, the Boeing 707, the Douglas DC-8 and the Convair 880 captured the imagination of the flying public and ultimately made the prop driven birds obsolete. But, during most of the decade of the ‘50s, the Connie still reigned as queen of the sky.

Connie Comes to Columbia

I will always remember the first time I saw one these magnificent airplanes firsthand. I was only eight years old, but the experience left me with a lifelong love of airplanes and flying.

TWA Super G Constellation

At about 10:30 pm on the evening of Wednesday, April 22, 1959, TWA flight 265 lifted off from the airport in St Louis and headed west on the final leg of the Miami to Kansas City flight. Flight 265 was under the command of Captain Ernest Feazel. Initially, everything was working perfectly and the airplane experienced no problems.

At 11:03pm, Captain Feazel notified the Columbia Missouri airport FAA facility that the airplane was experiencing some trouble. The aircraft had developed a condition known as runaway prop on the number one engine located on the outside position of the port or left wing.

The Constellation was powered by four 3,250 HP engines. These were probably the most complicated internal combustion engines ever developed. The propellers used on these engines featured variable pitch control which enabled each propeller blade to turn on its long axis to adjust the angle of attack between the blade and the air.

Imagine a canoe paddle; pulling the paddle through the water with the wide portion of the paddle facing the direction you pull it is considerably more effective then turning the paddle so it slices through the water like a knife. On the airliner, this effect is used to maximize power delivered by the engine and to facilitate acceleration, braking and even thrust reversal in some cases. It also allows the prop to self adjust its pitch to keep the aircraft in power trim.

The runaway prop condition essentially meant that the number one engine was running out of control with the propeller angle pitched in a manner that created significant drag and delivered no thrust. Normally, a pilot would “feather” the engine involved and continue on with three engines.

Captain Feazel attempted to complete this procedure but, the engine did not respond. There was a very real danger that the engine would overheat causing the propeller shaft to fail which in turn would likely result in the engine blowing apart.  The end result would have been catastrophic.

At 11:14pm Captain Feazel notified the airport that he would need to land the plane. He declared an emergency, requested fire equipment and emergency personnel be made ready. At 11:17pm the captain advised that he was making his final turn and would be landing from the north shortly.

Before we continue the story let me tell you a bit about the airport that served Columbia Missouri in 1959.

Columbia Municipal Airport had two runways. One ran north and south and the other east and west. The north/south runway was the longer of the two and it ran out to a little over 4,000 feet. The east/west runway was shorter, running about 3,300 feet and intersecting the north/south runway at the south end. The main hanger and “terminal” was located near the intersection.

The two runways were composed of an asphalt or macadam surface. They were rated to accommodate aircraft with maximum landing weights of 27,000 lbs. Typically the largest airplane you would see at this airport would be the DC-3 Ozark Airlines aircraft serving Columbia with flights to St Louis, Kansas City and other communities in the vicinity.

The Lockheed Super G Constellation on final approach to Columbia Municipal that evening carried a crew of six people and 35 passengers. Adding fuel, mail, freight and luggage brought the gross landing weight for the Connie up to about 100,000 pounds. Typically, this plane would comfortably use a 5,000 to 8,000 foot runway in regular service.

One has to imagine that Captain Feazel had a lot on his mind that evening as the Connie approached the north runway threshold at four times the designed landing weight and half the runway he needed.

Witnesses report that the landing was executed to perfection. The plane came in low and slow, the Connie has a 100 MPH stall speed so slow is a relative term in this context.

Once the plane touched down, the brakes on the main gear locked. The aircraft skidded down the runway; the right wheel truck momentarily skidded off the runway digging up ground before re-attaining the runway surface. The tires on the left wheel truck exploded and the wheels began to dig into the surface of the soft asphalt.

As the plane crossed the intersection of the east/west runway, it spun around a full 180 degrees where it finally came to a full halt facing the direction from which it landed. Flight 265 was safely on the ground with less than 300 feet of runway to spare.

Unfortunately, the shredded tires, the blown number one engine, the locked brakes all added up to a major repair headache for TWA. Initially, there was little to be done because the plane could not be moved. As it set in the middle of the two runways, it slowly sank into the asphalt. A team was dispatched by TWA to Columbia along with a new engine to install and to get the bird ready for a short flight to the TWA Maintenance facility in Kansas City.

The passengers were carried to Kansas City by bus along with the flight crew.

The next day, while the repairs were in process, my dad took me to the airport to see the big bird that had dropped in during the previous night. Naturally, this was big news in our little city and many citizens headed to the airport to see the huge airplane. I stood there with my dad looking across the tarmac at this beautiful airplane. It was simply spectacular. I remember thinking that I wanted the plane to “get well” so it could fly again. I’ve been a plane nut ever since.

The rest of the story of flight 265 is boring by comparison with the first act but no less remarkable. The engineers dispatched to fix the plane, under the management of TWA Maintenance Foreman, H. C. Herschel managed to install new brakes, wheels, tires and a new engine in a single day. That is a remarkable feat to accomplish “in the field” if you will. The scarred runway was patched up and people began to think about the departure.

A special flight crew was brought in with a “test pilot” in command. All freight, luggage, excess fuel and other unnecessary weight was removed from the Connie. Again, the short runway presented a challenge. Fully loaded, a Super G required about 6,000 feet of clear runway.

My understanding is the plane was literally backed up as far as possible onto the runway threshold to provide the pilot with as much room as possible for the take off roll. The engines were powered up, the brakes set, the flaps deployed and most likely a short prayer uttered as the throttles were advanced to maximum power.

Then, the brakes were released and the Connie bid Columbia a noisy farewell. She lifted off and banked to the west toward her home in Kansas City.

At that point I couldn’t wait for my first ride in an airplane. I was hooked.

A Few Closing Notes

Much of this story is told from my own personal memory.  I would like to cite a couple of sources for their contributions which were essential for much of the detail used in this piece.

The Missouri State Historical Society maintains digitized newspaper archives in the Ellis Library at the University of Missouri. I was able to gather many of the hard facts in the piece from the contemporary articles published by the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian. One advantage to living in the shadow of the world’s first and oldest journalism school is the availability of abundant and accurate reporting of events.

I would like to thank both newspapers and the society for their hospitality during my research.

The Columbia Municipal Airport has long since closed and been replaced by a newer facility. The old airport site is now the home to a large public park. Portions of the old runway still remain intact and function as somewhat enormous parking lots for patrons using the various ball fields and shelter houses available in the park.

The following photos show the airport in it’s current state as a park.

Looking south on main runway

This photo shows some of the remaining pavement from the original main runway. This was taken from the north end, looking south, roughly where the runway threshold as located.

This round-a-bout marks the center of the intersection of the two runways

This round-a-bout is located where the Connie finally came to rest after her 4,000 foot skid on landing.

Restored airport beacon light from Columbia Municipal

This beacon is “original” airport equipment restored to “like new” condition. Growing up in Columbia in the 1950s and 60s, the light from this beacon was visible after dark all over the city. It would complete a 360 degree sweep roughly once per minute.

Columbia Municipal Airport Main Hanger

The city Parks and Recreation Department uses the remaining main hanger build for storage and as a maintenance shed. Faded airport lettering is still visible at the top of the building.

The photo of the Super G Constellation is courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives. There are no known copyright restrictions on that photo.

By Lou Washington

Yesterday Delta Airlines announced that Comair, one of Delta’s regional feeder subsidiary airlines would cease operations on 29 September of this year.

Here in Cincinnati, Comair is something of a legend. When I moved to Cincinnati in the very early 1980’s, Comair was comprised of a handful of small twin engine prop aircraft. They flew to Cleveland and other nearby cities. Locally, those of us who flew frequently out of CVG knew that flying on Comair was not going to be like taking a wide-body to Hawaii. Flying Comair was for business folks who were getting business done here in the midwest.

Locally the primary carrier was Delta. Both airlines experienced great growth during the 80’s, both airlines upgraded their fleets and expanded their routes. Delta spent tons of money expanding their facilities here in Cincinnati and eventually made this one of their hubs with a wide array of international flights to Europe.

Comair built a new headquarters building and at a point was by some measures one of the largest airlines in the country. They partnered with Delta and began aligning their route structure with Delta to facilitate the classic hub and spoke operation that serves airlines today.

At a point, Delta purchased Comair and for many, I think this was indeed the beginning of the end for the airline.

This story has been repeated with slight variations now for decades.

TWA purchased Ozark Airlines to gain control of one of their primary feeders in St Louis. Soon after that occurred, the level of service extended to smaller markets well served by Ozark for many years began to deteriorate.

My own hometown of Columbia Missouri was a primary example. Ozark provided non-stop DC-9 (Boeing 717) service to St Louis, Denver, Kansas City and one stop service to Chicago, Washington DC and other destinations. After Ozark was swallowed up, local service to Columbia MO was reduced to a couple of daily flights to St Louis using De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft.

It did not take long for TWA to disappear from the scene with rapacious American Airlines gobbling them up a few years later. The details of that horrendous acquisition make for their own story.

50 Seat CRJ200

In the Delta announcement, the reason for the shut down was based on Comair’s use of 50 seat regional jets. Delta suggested these could not be operated profitably. Delta went on to explain that ridding themselves of Comair would allow them to concentrate on their major route structure served by their larger aircraft.

I’m sure TWA and later American had similar feelings about abandoning the small markets served by Ozark.

Some would say this is the fruit of deregulation. I’m not sure it’s that simple.

I do know this. Comair and Ozark operated profitably on their own, they served thousands of passengers in many smaller markets. They employed hundreds of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, ticketing agents baggage handlers and others. In other words they did know what they were doing, they knew how to operate in an environment their larger siblings chose to ignore or avoid.

Then, they were bought up, integrated into the operations of much larger, more complex and diverse enterprises. When the management of those enterprises decided that flying into smaller markets was not profitable, they abandoned them.

They bought businesses they did not understand and after failing to learn from those businesses they listened to their finance guys and bailed.

Some will call this the free market at work. If that is true, then the free market is not working very well.

By Lou Washington

The Farnborough air show closed recently and we were once again treated to a daily box score of Boeing orders versus Airbus orders.  This year Boeing seemed to emerge as the overall winner.

I believe this ongoing competition is really of more interest to the media than it is to the trade professionals and industry analysts active in the aerospace arena. I think that portion of the plane riding public that actually cares about the kind of airplane they are riding on, tends to select aircraft equipment based on specific models more than the name of the manufacturer.

It is an interesting business study to watch how these two companies behave. There are few industries where there are only two dominant, worldwide vendors that square off against each other over virtually every selling opportunity that arises. As the light or regional jet market shows continued growth and an increasing number of players, the heavyweight division remains the undisputed territory of these two giants.

The flying public is doubtless better off with both of these guys operating in a perpetual dead heat. There is little doubt in my mind that Boeing is a better company because Airbus has forced them to be better via the marketplace.  On the other hand, Airbus has benefited from Boeing breaking ground and setting the bar in commercial aviation over the last 75 years or so. Competition is a beautiful thing when it works.

Consider the more recent past ten years. At the beginning of the century, both companies were considering potential new programs. Both had some form of fuel-efficient new design under consideration. Boeing also had the near mach Sonic Cruiser project. Airbus had the gargantuan A380 model under consideration.

It had to be a tough decision. It had to be a “bet the company” type decision that would doubtless be revisited many, many times over the initial years of development.

In the end, Boeing chose the Dreamliner fuel miser program and Airbus moved ahead with the A380. For consumers it was the best of all possible outcomes. For the two companies, I believe the selection was best of all as well.

Boeing opted for a completely new airplane, built-in a wholly new manner utilizing techniques never before used. Boeing developed a worldwide supply chain and outsourcing process that was far removed from anything they had done prior to the 787 program.

Airbus learned to build the biggest passenger transport aircraft ever flown.

Both companies took up a challenge that would at least teach them how to do something they didn’t already know how to do. This means they made an investment that would pay dividends well beyond the life of the program itself. Even if the programs were not successful, each would come out with a level of expertise in an area previously unknown by them.

For all the publicity about how much of a problem Boeing had with their world-wide supply chain and component manufacturing outsourced to companies half a world away, Boeing now has people successfully working on the 787 in countries all over the planet. All of those countries have national flag carriers and they all buy airplanes.

Additionally, Boeing has learned how to build with rivet-less composites.  This is a radical departure from the construction of traditional aluminum and titanium skinned airframes.  Doubtless the whole area of lightweight, high strength materials will be important to aerospace manufacturers for a long time.

When you look at the A380, you have to be impressed with the sheer size of the thing. I’ve seen the A380 here in Cincinnati. Airbus arranged a fly over at the GE Aircraft Engine plant a couple of years ago during a promotional tour of the new plane. Seeing it during the low-level fly by really gave you some perspective. This airplane is just huge.

Time will tell if Airbus made a smart decision in terms of the market for this plane, but meanwhile, the plane is doing a great job linking up Asia with Europe and North America. So we, the flying public, win because we have two ground breaking aircraft that are there to take us where we want to go.

By Lou Washington

First off, I apologize to all of my readers who have checked in on my site only to find I’ve not taken the time to post anything new. I have heard about, read about and even laughed about writer’s block, but until now, I’ve never experienced it.

Unlike many folks who suffer from this, I actually know why I’m coming up empty when I sit down at the key board. In my case there is a task I’ve been avoiding, a piece unwritten if you will. Actually, an article that I would rather not write at all.

On May 19th of this year my father passed away. It was not a huge surprise, he was suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s, he was 91 years old and had an array of medical challenges that would finally conspire to end his life. My mother was by his side when he went and I was lucky enough to see him for a few minutes before he passed away.

My brother Bill had put together a draft obituary. This was an extremely thoughtful act and he generously asked me to take a look at it and make any changes I felt were necessary. I was glad I had the chance to make a small contribution to our celebration of my father’s life.

But, in the end, it was an obit and as such was just a kind of inventory of significant events in Dad’s life.

Somewhere in my mind I knew I had to write something more evolved than an obit. I had to come to terms about how I felt about this man and what he meant to me. I am not going to turn this piece into a syrupy tribute or provide stories about what a nice guy he was. I would like to share one quick story, which to me, sort of puts things into perspective as far as my feelings about my dad.

When I was a very young person, I mean pre-school age, there was a monster at large. The monster seemed to be particularly fond of children. While adults were not spared, the beast did seem to prefer to target kids.

I have very clear memories of a long hot summer, staying inside, staying away from groups of other kids and of the TV announcements. They were, for me, quite disturbing because they showed the end result of what this monster was capable of.

These ads would feature pictures of large hospital wards with row after row of “Iron Lung” breathing assist devices, each holding a little child who could no longer breath for themselves. I could not imagine a more horrible fate then finding myself confined to one of these machines.

Of course the monster I’m talking about here is Polio. Year after year, summer after summer Polio would visit families and in it’s wake leave a child unable to walk, unable to breath or with minimal use of their legs.

Finally, it came to pass that a vaccine was developed. My father was a pediatrician so I know he was well aware of the developments in this area. I can well imagine how he must have been heartened by each story of progress and frustrated by each set back.

And then, I can clearly remember him coming home one evening with his medical kit and a small package. I can remember him giving me the shot and telling me I didn’t need to worry anymore about iron lungs, braces or the other artifacts of a life with polio.

My dad slew this monster and he saved my life. From that day on, my dad was my hero.

By the way, he was a really nice guy too!

Postscript: If you would like to read more about the story of Polio in the early fifties, I would recommend Polio –  an American Story by David Oshinsky.

By Lou Washington

Last Saturday I took a trip up to Dayton, Ohio and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Wright-Pat is the home of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. For a fellow like me, one who loves aircraft; this is the ultimate museum experience. If it ever flew, or even if it didn’t fly but was supposed to fly, there is a good chance they have it here at Wright-Pat.

The museum spans virtually the entire history of powered flight. Starting with the Wright Flyer and other examples of those fragile machines that first took people into the sky under the control of the occupant; the displays continue through the years of Worlds War 1 and 2 and finally move into the Cold War era and into present day.

For the most part, each machine is displayed within the context of the world in which it existed. For this reason, the museum offers a vivid history of the assorted conflicts that troubled our world over the last century. Yes, it was a bloody and horrifying century for humanity, but, it was also a century of incredible innovation and technological growth. At least, much of that war inspired innovation also drove vast improvements in the everyday lives of many people.

When you look at the time line that links aviation advancements and innovations together over the course of past 110 years, you can’t help but be amazed at the rapid and dramatic rate that this technology has developed. In less than twenty years, airplanes went from being constructed of wood and fabric to aluminum and sheet steel. It took less than fifty years for airplanes to raise their top speed from less than 10 MPH to exceeding the speed of sound.

Capacity and size also changed with equally dramatic increases.

The museum does not restrict its collection to US Air Force aircraft. You will find a fabulous assortment of aircraft from Germany, France, England, Russia, Japan, Canada and others. There are a few UAVs, missiles and historical spacecraft available for viewing as well.

A museum annex houses some of the more exotic pieces in the collection. One gallery houses aircraft that played an important role in R&D and experimental aircraft. An adjacent hanger house several presidential aircraft from the Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Nixon administrations.

The weight of history is a palpable force felt upon entering almost any of the seven galleries making up the museum. So many of these aircraft became icons associated with the most significant events of the twentieth century.

Viewing the Huey chopper or the F4 Phantom brings the Viet Nam era back to life. One can almost hear the rotors thropping and feel the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. A scarred project Apollo capsule makes you wonder incredulously at the thought that this device actually orbited around the Moon and brought three guys back to their families here on planet Earth.

For me, there are two aircraft that always stand out above the others. In the World War 2 Gallery, the B-29 dominates a substantial percentage of the display. Even more impressive from the stand point of sheer size is the humongous B-36 with its wing span the extends fully from one side of the hanger to the other.

The B-29 will of course forever be associated with the end of the war with Japan. The bomber served as the

B-29

The Boeing B-29

delivery vehicle for the only two atomic weapons ever used in war. In some ways that is too bad because this plane played a huge role in the development of aviation technology.

The B-29 program did not get off to a great start. In Warren Kozak’s excellent biography of Curtis Lemay, the magnitude of the program to develop this airplane is thoroughly examined.

Unlike other bombers, or heavy transports, the B-29 would feature a pressurized cabin. The size of this plane was magnitudes larger than anything currently in service. The plane was designed to operate at much higher altitudes than other aircraft of that era as well. All of that complexity, new technology and the politics of the time combined to make the B-29 program an ongoing, never-ending crisis.

Kozak quotes Army historian Irving Brinton Holley, Jr stating that there were nearly 1,200 engineering changes made to the design before the first plane rolled off the assembly line. The plane was supposed to have something on the order of 55,000 individual parts. All together, the cost of the B-29 program exceeded the cost of the Manhattan Project itself.

In building the B-29, Boeing laid the foundation for the modern airliner. Design elements and techniques developed for the B-29 are found in virtually all heavy transport aircraft flying today.

The other airplane that always takes my breath away is the Convair B-36. This airplane was developed as the first intercontinental bomber. It was deployed early in the cold war years, but, it was initially envisioned for use against Germany in the event that British airfields would not be available to stage bombing missions against the Nazi state.

Convair Vultee B-36

The B-36 was also unconventional. It was, like the B-29 much large than any previous aircraft. It employed six 28 cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engines. These engines were reverse mounted on the trailing side of the wing in a pusher configuration. To provide additional power on take off and during bombing runs, the airplane boosted an additional four pure jet turbine engines from General Electric. All of that power gave the plane an incredible payload capability.

In its final production configuration, the B-36 was a cold war machine. An incredible cruising range, a ceiling making it nearly immune to the threat of fighters and surface to air missiles, a bomb bay capable of handling the huge nuclear age weaponry that was used in that era; the B-36 was truly the first strategic bomber.

There are, of course, other aircraft that are just as fascinating in their own right. These two are the ones I’m always drawn to when I visit.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Dayton, Ohio I hope you will take a day, at least a day, and drop in to this wonderful monument to flight. It is open to the public and admission is free. You really can’t beat that.

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