Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Tin Goose

As hard as it is to believe, the annual condition inspection on the airplane is due in January. What?? A year has flown by (heh!) already?? There's no way around it, though. The calendar doesn't lie.  Note that this did not catch me by surprise, but to some degree it caught me unprepared. Here I am with the longest stretch of free time in the entire year, time that's just begging to be spent working on something like that, and I still haven't started on it. It's not a matter of inertia per se, but more of a hope for a better situation. The thing is, the fuel tank has to come out of the plane and it has been somewhat unfortunately encumbered with roughly twelve gallons of fuel. The idea of draining that much fuel into 5 gallon jugs, storing it until it was time to go back in the tank, and the very idea of lifting those heavy jugs and carefully pouring the fuel is, in a word, abhorrent. And really, the solution to that problem is oh so easy: fly the daggone thing.

So I did.

So, where to go?  Lucky for me, I have had the perfect trip on my to-do for ages: I wanted to fly up north to the airport near Port Clinton, OH and have brunch at their new diner, The Tin Goose. Are you wondering how they came up with that name? You are? Good! I was hoping that you would be.

Tin Goose was the endearing moniker applied to one of, if not 'the', commercially viable airliners, the Ford Trimotor. You may remember that name from just a few months ago when I scored a ride in one.  I'm going to just assume that some of you din't bother to chase that link and provide a quick explanation here:
The Ford Trimotor (also called the "Tri-Motor", and nicknamed "The Tin Goose") was an American three-engined transport aircraft that was first produced in 1925 by the companies of Henry Ford and that continued to be produced until June 7, 1933. 
Throughout its time in production, a total of 199 Ford Trimotors were produced. It was designed for the civil aviation market, and was also used by military units and sold all over the world. As of 2012, there are 18 Ford Trimotors in existence, eight of which have current FAA Airworthy Certificates.
So there it is. They named their diner after a venerable antique airplane. Note the corrugation of the panel the sign is attached to: it's significant. Extra credit to non-pilots that can tell me why in the comments section.

Are you wondering why?  Good!

Port Clinton airport is, and always has been, the home base for Island Airlines, a very old micro-regional airline that served Port Clinton, Sandusky, and the collection of Bass islands just offshore in Lake Erie.
Island Airlines, founded in 1930 as Island Airways, used Tri-Motors from 1936 until 1986 and owned several of the planes at a time.
The Tri-Motor, built from 1926 to 1933, was nicknamed the "Tin Goose" for its then-innovative all-metal design.
Tri-Motors became a staple of early airlines because the planes had enclosed cabins, which shielded passengers from the wind, and because their sturdy construction eased fears about the reliability of airplanes. Island Airways used the planes during the summer to carry vacationers to the islands. During the winter, when island residents were hemmed in by frozen Lake Erie, the airline served as a lifeline to the mainland.
Island Airlines flights typically started at the airport in Port Clinton and landed at Kelleys, South Bass, Middle Bass, and North Bass islands. It was dubbed the "World's Shortest Airline" because the round-trip flight was 17 miles and took just 45 minutes.
By the late 1930s, most airlines abandoned the Tri-Motor for faster and larger models. 
Ah, history!  Nothing better than living a small smidgen of history with your brunch.

The timing worked out for my most senior (in flight time, not years, although....) co-pilot to go along, so 10:30 found Co-pilot Rick and I meeting at the hangar under crystal blue skies, moderate temps in the mid-40s, and what I would categorize as "manageable" winds.  Rick and I have an extensive history of flying together which has led to a number of standard practices, chief amongst them being that I fly the outbound leg and he flies us back. Or, as is often the case, I get to fly in the smooth air while he gets to struggle with the bumpy afternoon air. I can't remember if that was a deliberate factor in my planning or not, but it no longer matters: Stare decisis et non quieta movere and all that.  It's tradition, in other words.

The flight up north was indeed quite smooth. I let the autopilot do it.

I have never landed at Port Clinton and really didn't know where the restaurant was located on the field, but it wasn't hard to find. While we were monitoring the Unicom while still a few miles away, a guy in a yellow RV-7 was coordinating with the FBO to have a fuel truck meet him at the restaurant parking lot. I keyed in to tell the fuel guy that I would be parking next to the RV and would need some gas too.  Yes, I would be buying gas - my goal was to land back at Bolton with three or four gallons in the tank, not to glide down to a corn field somewhere. Doing the math, it appeared that five gallons would suffice.

The yellow RV was easy to see from our lofty perch on a left downwind to runway 27, so we ended up with a pretty good idea where to go once on the ground. That said, it is a strange taxiway layout and I was fortunate to not end up nose-to-nose with a departing airplane as we taxied to the restaurant parking area where, true to my word, I parked next to the yellow RV. Unfortunately, it was not a "legal" parking spot and I would have to move as soon as I had finished getting my gas. The fuel guy pointed over to the edge of the ramp and told me not to worry, there was one spot left.

As the fuel guy was just about finished pumping the gas, a Cessna arrived and made every indication of taking the last remaining spot, which by this point I felt a modicum of ownership over. I quickly handed a pair of chocks to the co-pilot and had him scurry over to the spot to make it apparent to the Cessna driver that the spot was taken. I didn't see just how Rick conveyed the message to the pilot, but I did hear the roar of the engine as he turned around and bolted out of there in a bit of a snit. Or so it seemed.  I probably ought not ascribe petulance without more evidence. In any event, we were parked and ready to eat!

It would be awhile. The place was packed. With the most desirable seat already taken... 

... I went on a walkabout in the lobby. It is very nicely done!

Oddly enough, this chair held no appeal. I kept walking.

Rick caught sight of the 'Save the Willow Run Bomber Plant' and told me that his Dad had worked there building B-24s, I think.

Naturally, this left me curious:
The Willow Run manufacturing complex, located between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan, was constructed in the early years of World War II by Ford Motor Company for the mass production of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. 
The plant was originally meant to produce components for the Liberator, with final assembly by the plane's designer Consolidated Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft, and it began production in summer 1941; the dedication plaque is dated June 16. Remote assembly proved problematic and by October of that year, Ford had received permission to produce complete Liberators. The Liberator production line at Willow Run would run through May 1945 and produce almost half of all the Liberators built.
There is also a little gift shop, but I was able to overcome the desire to go on a buying spree.

I like this picture:

The mural over the service desk depicted the routes the Lilliputian airline flew back in the day:

We were eventually seated at a table positioned right next to a collection of drawings of the very diner we were sitting in, albeit while it was still doing business in Pennsylvania:

Which I only knew because it was printed on the menu:

Yes, I actually did look up the Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company Was there ever any doubt?

The Jerry O'Mahony Diner Company of Elizabeth, New Jersey, whose motto was "In our line, We lead the world", was said to have produced 2,000 diners from 1917 to 1941, and became the largest manufacturer of its period.  The roadside diners referred to are long, narrow, primarily metal buildings, prefabricated in a factory, and trucked to the location. They resemble and are often confused with actual railroad rolling stock removed from their wheels but these buildings were never railroad cars. 

You can find more about these diners at a site called 'Diner Hunter'.

While we were waiting to place our orders, I took a still life picture of the very diner-esque condiments:

The menu is exemplary for two reasons. First, there are quite a few tasty and filling selections to choose from. Second, it completely avoids my current pet peeve with menu writers: it seems these days that you simply cannot find a menu that doesn't describe at least one thing as being prepared "to perfection." Seriously, it's an epidemic. I live for the day when some clever fellow describes soemthing as "grilled to adequacy."

Ah, too bad. Perfection in the menu writing was not to be had today. There it is, my second biggest menu peeve: "hand breaded."  Because, well... so what? Does hand breading enhance flavor in some (kind of stomach curdling) way?  I see this with "hand sliced" too. That's a benefit? Really?

All it means to me is "inconsistent and potentially unsanitary."

So guess what I chose from the menu.

Ha! Trick question. I ordered something that was not on the menu at all, comfortable with my decision to forgo both perfection and hand breading.  I order the special: SOS. 
Chipped beef on toast (or creamed chipped beef on toast) is a culinary dish comprising a white sauce and rehydrated slivers of dried beef, served on toasted bread. Hormel recommends flavoring the dish with Worcestershire sauce and dried parsley.
In military slang it is commonly referred to by the dysphemism "Shit On a Shingle" (SOS)—or, "Stew On a Shingle", "Same Old Stuff", "Something On a Shingle", or occasionally "Save Our Stomachs".
I don't know about this 'Worcestershire sauce and dried parsley' business. My mom always made it with a can of Cream of Celery soup, and the Diner seems to do the same. It was tasty!

Rick had the Philly Cheese Steak.  He was server first and I wasted to no time snagging one of those fries.

I should have waited, as it turns out.

As it turns out, the waitress had brought the wrong order. She picked up the plates and took them to the next table over, where she explained to them that I owed them one french fry.  Given my luck, I just know those people flew arrived in a Cessna that got shooed out of a parking spot.

If I ever go again, I'm sitting at the counter, where I won't be tempted to steal food.

How about that metal tray? Isn't that just the coolest thing!!

It was hard to not watch every plane taxi by.

When we got back to the parking lot, it appeared to be an impromptu RV fly-in. The closest plane is an RV-10, then the yellow RV-7, then my 12, which is parked next to another RV-10.

We would see those RV-10s again later.

As long as we were all the way up on the northern coast, I thought it would be nice to fly around the islands. There is still quite a bit of ice on the lake.

All of the boats have, of course, been put away for the winter.

There's Put-in-Bay, one of the premier flying destinations in Ohio. We took a lap around it.

The ice looks almost like surf, doesn't it?

As we flew back over the Port Clinton airport, traffic had really become an issue. As it was, we had spent a good deal of time at the end of the runway waiting for a gap in arriving traffic so we could depart. Sure enough, a couple of planes ended up node-to-nose. I was able to watch as they very slowly passed each other. I can't be certain, but it sure looked like their wings overlapped as they passed.

A little while later, we heard "CESSNA! STOP!!" come over the frequency. There's a story there, I imagine.

Rick looks right at home flying the plane. It doesn't take long with the RV-12. It's a simple, honest airplane and easy to get to know.

The common frequencies were jammed with pilots out enjoying a rare nice day at the tail end of the year. I had tuned the common frequency used at Marion (KMNN) because they fly gliders out of there, and we would be going right over the top of the airport. That's normally a very safe place to be over an airport, unless they are dropping parachutists, flying gliders, or launching rockets. All three of those tend to happen right over the airport. The radio chatter was so horrible that I told Rick we were unlikely to learn anything of value.  Because I excel at being almost theatrically wrong on a fairly consistent basis, the very next thing came through loud and clear: so-and-so was towing a glider over the airport.

We started looking.

Rick was the one to finally see it:

My job while he was flying was to monitor the traffic scope. It wasn't long after passing Marion that I saw something I had never seen on the scope before. There were three lines absolutely parallel to each other. Just as I took the picture, one broke off to the right and descended. The others kept going.

We eventually figured out that it was the two RV-10s we had seen at Port Clinton returning home to Delaware County (KDLZ).  I'm not sure why the trailing plane isn't showing an altitude.

We know we're getting close to home when we see the Olentangy River.

As we were abeam downtown Columbus, the girl that lives in the Skyview chirped up with a low fuel warning. It looks like my math was off by a gallon, probably because of the sightseeing trip around the islands.

The flashing red '2' sure got our attention. We were only a few miles out and if I was to trust the maths we would be just fine, but... there's just something about a flashing red '2' to get your blood up.

Just to be prudent, I had Rick keep us at our cruising altitude of 3,500' feet and I throttled back to about half throttle, figuring that if the math let me down, at least I'd be able to glide in.

All turned out fine. Visual inspection of the tank showed just shy of four gallons. That Dynon gal is a bit of an alarmist. Oh, and the math was validated, too.  Good things to know.


Scott Kuhar said...

Extra Credit: The Trimotor had corrugated skin.

Chris said...

A rare day for late December! Looks like I have a new place to add to my "to do" list. My last visit to KPCW predated the museum and diner, serving only as a pit stop for my young daughter on her first cross country journey sans diapers (we liked to live on the edge back then). Great post! Glad you validated your math!

Rick Schwandt said...

Actually, it was Dad-in-law that worked at Willow Run. Bro-in-law Bill Boyle's dad.

Rick Schwandt said...

Good flying weather + good destination + good food + good company + fun plane = Great Trip! Thanks, Dave.

Steve said...

Gorgeous. We flew up to Akron and the weather was just perfect. Rare December day, indeed.

...and, though nothing was grilled to perfection, they are the best burgers you'll ever eat. So your hyperbole quota must've still been reached for the day!

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