Chapter 3:  Daddy Was An Airplane Plumber

In the summer of 1942 after Joann's freshman year at Caldwell High School we moved to 519 North Handley near downtown Wichita. I was nearly 3, and Joann began her sophomore year at Wichita North High School. There are several vague memories I have of our short time in Wichita. Family oral history and photographs have sharpened some memories.

Our house was on a short gravel road near the Wichita Zoo and park. Joann says we could hear the lions roar from our house. Although the area is only about 5 blocks from downtown Wichita, I located the house in 1990 and it is still on a gravel road! Mom took me to the zoo with some regularity since it was an easy walk and good exercise for a 3 year old. The Wichita Zoo at that time was nice, but the animals had very small cages. By modern standards it probably would be considered animal cruelty. I suppose I remember the smell more than anything, and still associate the zoo smell with Wichita. Joann says our house had an outdoor flush toilet.

One incident stands out from my time on North Handley. Our driveway was on the south side of the house with no garage. Dad always parked in the driveway. One day some demon possessed me to remove the gas cap and proceed to spoon gravel into the gas tank of our car. Actually, I believe I had a small scoop shovel and pail. Gratefully, Dad discovered my misdeed before he tried to drive the car again. He then spent several hours removing the gas tank and cleaning it out. Although I have no memory of being punished for that incident, I'm certain that ...

In the summer of '42 we were at war! Some went to Europe to fight. Some went to the Pacific to fight. We went to Wichita. Dad always said he was too young for WWI and too old for WWII. So, instead, he went to work for Beech Aircraft building military airplanes. In later years when I asked Dad what he did specifically, he said, "I was a plumber. I was responsible for installing the hydraulic hoses in the fuselage." As a mechanic at Beech he had to own and use his own tools. One tool he purchased at some expense is a construction protractor of some precision, which he passed to me as a prized possession. It was and is kept in its original wooden box.

To accommodate the thousands of workers needed at Beech for the war effort the company constructed barracks-type housing called Beechwood. This was company subsidized low-rent housing near the plant and we moved there in April 1943. Joann was allowed to continue her year at North High, but the school buses didn't run as far east as Beechwood, so each morning Mom drove her to the school bus stop and always took me along. One of her classes at North was swimming, which she hated. In fact there wasn't much at all that she liked about North High! I remember picking her up at the indoor swimming pool one afternoon as she was practicing diving for a brick at the bottom of the pool. I was fascinated; she was frustrated. She resolved to return to Caldwell High in the fall.

Although Dad helped build airplanes, he never flew in one, ever. He said, "My legs aren't long enough to reach the ground." Even after I became a private pilot he had no interest in flying with me, though I offered several times. I think I could have talked Mom into it, but the timing was never quite right. She was always a bit more adventurous than Dad. It was always an interesting bit of trivia to me that Dad was born the year before the Wright brothers flew the first airplane.


Me at age 3 in Wichita

We lived in Beechwood for only a few months, and I turned 4 just before we moved again. I do have a couple of recollections from that time. Some of the older kids convinced me that there was a monster living in the old metal barrel we used to burn trash. I was terrified! Mom tried to calm me, but I would have none of it. There was a monster in the barrel! That evening Dad calmly carried me out to show me that there was no monster. I think he also had a few words to say to the older kids in the neighborhood. Dad had a few words that he used a lot. I was quite a bit older when I learned that Damn was not God's last name. Dad could turn the air blue about as quickly as anyone I've known, and Mom hated it. Dad's cigarette habit grew to 3 packs a day during those years. Mom hated that, too.

Our apartment had two rooms downstairs, living room and kitchen, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. We were living in luxury with indoor plumbing at the time and didn't know it. Once I remember climbing to the top of our old upright piano to surprise my sister when she came in. I guess I probably surprised everyone.

I love chocolate! Always have. You can hardly imagine my delight when a Beechwood friend and I found a whole box of Ex-Lax chocolate laxative. We ate almost the whole box. He had to be hospitalized for a while. I just spent time in the bathroom, a lot of time. I still love chocolate.

In the fall Joann moved back to Caldwell to live with our grandparents and go to school at Caldwell High. Shortly thereafter Dad quit his job at Beech. I don't remember much of the detail, but something about being bypassed for a promotion or some sort of basic unfairness at the plant. Dad was a very fair-minded person. He knew what was fair and right, and lived his whole life that way. He didn't fuss with management, just wouldn't tolerate unfairness, so he quit. Mom was ready to move, too. Interestingly, Mom & Dad made some lifelong friends in that short stay in Beechwood.


Joann in high school

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