August 20, 1932, a trio of young Wedell-Williams mechanics embarked on what they considered the most exciting and important mission of their lives. Palmer Peterson, Ruckus 'Bo' McKneely, and Roy Ross rode two Harley Davidson motorcycles north to Lansing, Illinois to refuel No. 44 and No. 92. Lansing was the second refueling stop for Jimmie Wedell and Jim Haizlip in the 1932 Bendix Trophy Race. Another crew waited for them in Goodland, Kansas.
McKneely drove his bike. Peterson drove the other with Ross sitting on the baggage rack. They stopped that first night near Greenville, Alabamaa, finding a room in a toruist court with showers and an outhouse. An old Nashville theater, converted into a tourist home, provided the next lodging. Somewhere in Kentucky,they took refuge in an all night gas station.
After an overnight stay in Hammond, Indiana, in a real hotel, the three arrived in Lansing and began preparing for the arrival of the two Wedell-Williams racers. They contacted the Shell Oil Company in Chicago to make sure Jim Haizlip notified them to standby for refueling. Through his association with Jimmy Doolittle, Haizlip prearranged for Shell refuelers at both Goodland and Lansing's Ford Airport. The refueling vehicle at Lansing was a hard-tire Mack tanker truck with a powered fuel takeoff. Fence posts and telephone poles were taken down at the end of Goodland's runway to accommodate the racers.
Aa refueling operations were readied, Patterson Airport buzzed with anticipation as the race crews prepared for the departure of the the three racers. Wedell, Haizlip, and Roscoe Turner checked and rechecked their ships. Their mechanics carefully made any adjustments the pilots requested. The entire field felt confident that the three would return home from the National Air Races as bigger winners than the previous year. Recent performances by No. 44 seemed to predict this. At Miami's Fifth All American Air Races in July, Jimmie won the free-for-all. He out distanced his competitors by more than a lap. On August 18, he flew No. 44 from Patterson to New Orleans. News releases claimed he averaged 320 mph. His flight west for the start of the Bendix could not have been any smoother.
Roscoe Turner sent his mechanic Don Young ahead to Burbank to make the necessary preparations for the Bendix. Turner followed cautiously in his new, primered Wedell-Williams racer. A strong crosswind had humbled the experienced pilot as he departed Patterson's 2,500 foot runway. His high-performance racer turned 60 degrees to the left before he could correct his heading. In Burbank, Young painted Turner's plane in Glimore colors, finishing the job a few hours before lift-off. The cream-colored raceer looked spectacular accented with red trim, the Gilmore Oil Company's red lion, and a black race number 121.
Haizlip's flight from Patterson to Burbank was one that he would never forget. The heavy fuel load of No. 92 made its landing gear stability progressively more erratic. Landings were anything but normal. A middday takeoff at Pueblo, Colorado almost became his last. Controlling the racer at the 4,700 foot elevation and with a summer temperature of 110 degrees proved difficult. He managed to hold the plane steady, sacrificing altitude for speed. As a result, the plane scrapped a wingtip on a clump of sagebrush. Haizlip spent the rest of the flight worrying about his landing at Burbank, unsure of the condition of his wing or undercarriage. The damage was minimal. The Wedell-Williams race crew mended the wingtip and beefed up the landing gear in two days.
Excerpted from "The Wedell-Williams Air Service" by Barbara H. Schultz. Copyright © 2001 by Barbara H. Schultz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Barbara H. Schultz
A member of the 99s Museum of Women Pilots, Barbara Schultz is a noted aviation historian and author with four books in print: Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes; Wedell-Williams Air Service; Flying Carpets, Flying Wings: The Biography of Moye W. Stephens; and Endorsed by Earhart: How Amelia Financed her Flying. In addition to her books and AAHS journal articles, she has been a consultant and participant in three aviation documentaries: The Happy Bottom Riding Club, Breaking through the Clouds, and The Katherine Cheung Story. Her projects are well-researched and include many first-person interviews with pioneering pilots. Barbara earned her pilot’s license in 1978, purchased a 1950 Cessna 140A, and married her test pilot husband Phil. They live on their own airport in California’s Antelope Valley and own several classic aircraft.
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