Photos courtesy the Tony Swain Collection
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Have you noticed how many pilot people like boats? Our Air Force maintenance base at Calgary was a hotbed of guys building little sailing dinghies in the hobby shop in the midst of winter. There was six feet of ice on the dam.
There is something ‘romantic’ about traveling about with the wind. We airplane guys make our own wind. But it’s basically the same. A sail pulls as a wing flies. Simple.
In 1962 Dief shut down our hobby shop, among other things, so I piled all my worldly goods in my little boat and trailered it all to Vancouver seeking water, work, and maidens. I found work and water. The maidens were more coy.
Before long the dinghy was swapped for a classic gaff sloop, The Suzy B, ex Winsome, built in Toronto by the fabled yachtsman Ches Rickard, a then renowned TCA Captain. All this led me to one Bob George, fabled local weekend charter skipper, who lived aboard his magnificent Carol Ketch, the mighty TA-AROA, and in short order me and my accordion were taken on as the entertainment. Bob was the romantic’s romantic.
CAUGHT THE BUG
So it came to pass that when I started mooning on about Doc Pickup’s old WACO Cabin at Pitt Meadows, and the ill conceived rebuild plan I’d gotten into, blinded by the obvious romance of bush flying in old biplanes with BIG round engines, the great Bob George caught ‘The Bug.’
We slaved away on that old Waco. With great effort got it on wheels, and actually taxied it about. From then on it all went down hill. Every bit we pulled off to fix revealed another bit requiring bigger fixing. Sigh. But we soldiered on, slowly but surely dismantling old CCW to rusty component parts.
We even scoured the remote interior around Dog Creek and beyond for usable rusty parts. We found a brand new set of gear at Kamloops, for a Bamboo bomber, but what the hey, the brakes fit.
But Bob was getting antsy. Would this thing ever be done? Why didn’t we just weld things up, hammer it shut, and go fly? We struggled on. Then I met Mary, and the world changed.
Bob turned up one day and announced he was fed up waiting, and gone out and bought a plane. It was at Spanaway, way south of Seattle, and I was to go and get it. "You’re a pilot! What’s the problem?"
Well, it was November 1969, 10 months after getting my civil license, and a mere four months after almost auguring the Dayton Waco with the rampant seat cushion. Of course I’d go.
And so I met Louis Vandercook at Spanaway with his 1934 Standard Cabin Waco YKC-S, and got a type check on the import flight up to Vancouver International. It had real steering wheels.
Three weeks later Bob’s after me to ferry he, and it, to Pitt Meadows, where I would check out his instructor to be, Roy Mulholland of Altair Aviation, and Bob would soon be flying about. And so it came to pass. Though there were exciting moments.
Meanwhile, I was used as a sort of unpaid corporate pilot to fly Bob and his beautiful Carol on sightseeing rides around the valley. So Mary and I bought our Harvard, BESSY.
Anyway, Bob got his ticket, and I was his first passenger and all went well except for an inadvertent near miss of the tower on a hairy overshoot. Some Waco’s have strange brakes.
Winter arrived. Let’s go look about the countryside with all that lovely snow? Way to go. It was fantastical. Vancouver is not noted for its snow, but that year it outdid itself. The stuff was everywhere, and we were privileged to see it from on high.
Some digging out at the hangar was needed first, but still, it was worth it. The clouds packed in over Pitt Lake were awesome.
"Let’s go see my Aunt Polly (not her real name) for tea!" quoth Bob. "Great!" says I. "Is she at Chilliwack?"
"No," says Bob, "That’s her farm down there!" Whoa! "Gotta get permission!" squeaked I. "Done!" says he, and does a kettle alert pass whilst getting set up for a rather rough looking field, that looked knee deep in snow. "Checked it out yesterday!" says he.
Those old Waco Cabins are wonderful. A nice tight circuit, the old Jacobs popping and banging on final, and plunk, we were down, and slithering to a gentle halt in the three inches of snow.
Took quite a bit of power to taxi to the yard. There was Aunt Polly, all smiles. Tea and scones on the table, all nice and cozy.
Now that’s romantic! For a brief magical time it was 1934, and we intrepid bush pilots bringing supplies to a tough pioneer lady way out in the bush. We talked of snow, and coyotes taking chickens, and suchlike.
But the sun was low in the sky. We had to go. Polly admired the plane, and admonished Bob to be careful. I didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to be suddenly in ‘today’ from that tranquil ‘yesterday.’ But sigh! It had to be. Bob’s Carol and My Mary waited. Today was a pretty good place too.
THE REAL ROMANTICS
Bob taxied back and forth a bit to blow down the snow, and we winged away home. Romance bursting from our souls in the approaching twilight. Thank you Bob!
One day in 1973, a vintage biplane slipped down finals into Delta and parked by the coffee shop. Surprise. It was Bob George, flying his newly acquired Waco UPF-7 classic open cockpit biplane, the epitome of aviation romance. We laughed like little kids.
We flew around together and took pictures. It was wonderful. Then he flew away. He and Carol moved on, up into the Big Country. Away to dream of ranchin’ and flyin’ The Bush. Yes, they are the real Romantics. Aren’t we all?
So I guess that’s it… Fly safe!
Tony Swain & The Mary …Retired COPA guys.