In 1911, having tried transportation by motorcycle, horse, Panhard roadster and sailboat, a tough American original found a new way of getting from New York to California.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers went from fall to winter while doing it, stopped in 76 towns, crashed 15 times and his actual time in the air to Long Beach was 82 hours plus change.
Today, knock on wood and winds willing, James Robert Lloyd should be flying a similar bird-cage biplane into Long Beach. His 75th anniversary re-creation of that first hop, skip and continental crossing by Rodgers began in September. Lloyd's flying time to Long Beach will be more than 100 hours.
So much for the progress of modern aviation.
"The problem, in terms of time taken, is that we didn't get the (good) weather," Lloyd said last week. He'd just puttered and flapped and crabbed into a crosswind landing at Deer Valley Airport north of Phoenix. "There were floods in Indiana, Illinois and Oklahoma. Everywhere we went people were saying it was the worst fall in history. In Deming, N.M., where it never rains, it rained for 2 1/2 days.
"So during the first 30 days of the flight there were only four good flying days, which meant we were flying in marginal weather most of the time and living with one weather delay after another."
Additional time was consumed by Lloyd's commitment to pause at the same spots touched by Rodgers, fewer suburbs and hamlets (such as Covina Junction, once somewhere between Pomona and Pasadena) munched by urban encroachment. Then there was Lloyd's obligation to a sponsor to be at certain places by agreed times and for precise ceremonial periods.
"Also, we added a few spots such as the cow pasture in Missouri when I lost a spark plug wire. That's when you start crossing built-up areas by flying from field to field, open lot to open lot, because when your engine has given you the silent treatment twice, you tend to take a different view of routing."
On the other hand, Lloyd has been forced down only a couple of times since leaving Hoboken, N.J., Sept. 17. Rodgers was cut, crushed, concussed and almost crippled by his many crashes. Lloyd's major injury has been a rip in the back of his trousers, a somewhat embarrassing wound when one is flying by the seat of the very same pants.
Rodgers' machine--the Vin Fiz after a grape pop marketed by sponsoring Armour Food Co. of Chicago--reached the West Coast with only the oil drip pan, one strut and the tail section left from the original.
Lloyd's airplane--also the Vin Fiz and still sponsored by Armour Food despite its corporate switch to Omaha and hot dog production--should arrive quite intact.
Rodgers was pursued by a railroad car containing, among others, his wife Mabel and a mechanic named Charles Wiggin. Four months after the transcontinental flight, the pioneer pilot and his Wright Flyer crashed in the ocean off Long Beach. Rodgers was killed and his widow married the mechanic.
Lloyd's chase crew is aboard a van and a rental car containing, among others, his wife Susan and a mechanic named Jack McCornack. But Lloyd, once safely in Long Beach, doesn't intend to risk his life on further joy riding. He's going back to Fishkill, N.Y., and his job as a research engineer for IBM and he's taking Susan with him.
There are limits, said Lloyd, agreed Susan, echoed Jack, on what a team will do as its investment in history and authentic re-creation.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers, 32, tall, good-humored, sensitive, Pittsburgh-born, lived in the humbling shadow of adventuring ancestry.
It included Adm. Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the Battle of Lake Erie and a single but signal entry in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." Cal Perry's father, although killed by lightning, was a U.S. Cavalry officer on Indian patrol in the Wyoming Territory at the time.
Maybe it was a need to emulate his legacy, aviation historians say, that drove Calbraith Rodgers to race horses, yachts, motorcycles, automobiles, and then other pilots daring to be the first to cross the United States by air.
James Robert Lloyd, 38, tall, good-humored, sensitive, also Pittsburgh-born, is the son of Agnes and Bob Lloyd. His dad is a staff announcer for ABC in New York.
Lloyd was a kid model maker who has become a 300-hour private pilot with a passion for aviation lore. One day, while talking about the approaching 75th anniversary of Rodgers' flight, Lloyd decided to re-create it.
Chance for Adventure
"First, it was my chance to have an aeronautical adventure, a full-fledged adventure, the kind that are difficult to have any more," Lloyd explained. "Second, I feel that Cal Rodgers didn't get the full credit he deserved and this (commemorative flight) might help change that.
"And, just like being a kid again, I'd get to dress up and look like Cal Rodgers."