Junior Birdman

Shortly after I took my Master’s in Industrial Engineering (Computer Science), the Director of the Computer Services Directorate at Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in Lexington Park Maryland contacted me in Texas by phone and offered me a job sight unseen.  What I mean by that it is that is that I had gotten my name and education posted on the Federal Civil Service Register and the offer was made based on that, which also showed I had taken a Bachelor’s in Anthropology.  But, I insisted on coming up for a tête-à-tête and drove up there in my pick-up.

Aside from having to share the two-lane road between them northern Louisiana ditches with oncoming 18-wheelers in a thunderstorm, it was as pleasant a half-continent’s worth of driving as I had ever done.  And friends of the family were kind enough bunk and feed me for a couple of days as well as give me advice on how best to get from their home in Annandale, Virginia to Lexington Park in southern Maryland some seventy-odd miles to the South and East.

In order to make it to my 9:00 AM appointment with some built-in getting lost time, I had to leave Annandale no later than 6:30 AM, and that’s when everything started to get interesting.

I had first to get on and then off of I-395 to get on I-495 (the beltway) heading East across the Potomac on the Wilson Bridge to reach Branch Avenue (Maryland Route 5) and head South.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Traffic in the D.C. area at 6:30 AM was and remains heavier than anything I ever saw in the Dallas-Fort Worth area even at rush hour.  But once on Route 5, it was easy going through more and more tranquil and lovely southern Maryland farm land until I got near to Leonardtown, where I got my first hint that I might actually be going back in time.

The feeling that I might be going backward started when I passed a cinder block building painted white – The Friendly Tavern – just south of the Amish community of Mechanicsville and which experience told me might be a misnamed with a near mint-condition ’56 Chevy Belair sittin’ in the parking lot and I got further out of the mid ’70s when I went slightly off course by following Route 5 where it branches off MD Route 235, which would have taken me directly into Lexington Park.

I wound up going through Loveville, Leonardtown, Callaway and Great Mills before I got back on track to Lexington Park and along the way I saw several more classic cars and trucks in very good condition.  But the clincher about where I was in time wasn’t the cars, it was a guy with thick dishwater blonde hair done up possibly with Brylcreem in 1950s ducktail and waterfall style climbing into a beat-up ’40s era farm truck.


Since the CSD Director had already decided to hire me, my non-interview interview was just a social event where I met him and my soon-to-be supervisor, Donna _______ whose (eldest, struggling, and unmarried) daughter was studying Anthropology at nearby St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Donna showed me around the office and the Air Station, and then took me to see Marvin _______, a real estate broker who had homes both for sale and rent and he and I agreed on my renting a mobile home on land he owned right under the Air Station’s restricted air lane.

After working at the Directorate for a year, I took another job (with promotion) at the Bureau of Naval Personnel’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation HQ also located on the Air Station and started looking for a better place to live.  And, Man, did I get lucky.

A local gentleman-farmer who owned 300 acres fronting on the Potomac decided, with some trepidation, to put the early twentieth-century farmhouse on his land up for rent and after taking a close look at me and checking my references agreed to let me live in it.  The only stipulations were that I had to get his explicit approval to use the land around the house and under no circumstances was I to be near or in any of the outbuildings, which included two huge and beautiful Maryland timber frame tobacco barns, a large steel building, and a couple of what I thought might be equipment sheds.

When I returned to take possession of  the farmhouse I found out why he was concerned.

At the time I first saw the barns the doors were closed, but they were wide open when I started moving in and I could easily see what was there as I drove past.  Inside each were things I could never have imagined I would come across in a barn of any kind.  In one of them there was an antique 65′ Chris Craft motor yacht hanging from the rafters and several classic and antique cars, including a Stanley Steamer.  In the other were more classic cars and a couple of aircraft hanging from the rafters.


On my second trip in with my stuff my landlord waved me over to the the steel building and took me inside, where there were at least a dozen mint-condition classic and antique cars, including a 1946 Ford Woody station wagon.  Then he took me over to one of the sheds and showed me the disassembled wings, fuselage, and engine of a fabric and wood two-person training aircraft he was going to have restored by an expert coming from California who would be living in a mobile home going in place across the dirt drive from the house I was renting.

Sure enough, within a couple of weeks the trailer was in place and the restorer and his wife2ndStusTruck (whose names I have forgotten) arrived in a near mint-condition 1956 Ford F-100 Custom pick-up, which he put up for sale to recoup his travel expenses.  I jumped on it for $1,700 and spent another $600 to bring it back to it’s original color – Platinum Grey.

The next morning, the restorer moved the pieces of the aircraft into a way-oversized potting shed near the farmhouse and started the restoration.  It was a great experience for me because I could see how it was going every morning before going to work and every afternoon on returning.

I had never been close to a fabric and wood aircraft and he was happy to tell me what he was doing and why, beginning with removal of the existing fabric, then repairing or replacing the wooden airframe components, sewing the new fabric on, putting enough coats of fast-drying lacquer paint on the whole thing that the threads couldn’t be seen or felt, and ending with an engine tune-up.  And the only new-fangled thing he had on hand was a shrink-wrap fabric that would draw up tight against the air frame when heated with a blow-dryer.

Then, a couple of Hampton2days later I learned what was in a shed right next to my landlord’s renovated and expanded 1736 home when he and his family taxied out onto an airstrip I didn’t know was there inTwinBeech a Beechcraft Model 18  “Twin Beech” and headed off to their summer home in Maine.

By then, it was time for the restorer to take the now bright yellow fully-restored trainer up for a test flight to make sure he’d properly tuned the engine and when in the landlord’s absence he offered to take me along I jumped right in.

It was a great low-level flight out over the Potomac down to the confluence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay at Point Lookout on the southern tip of St. Mary’s County and back, until he did something I was absolutely NOT prepared for.

He reached over and turned the engine off and seeing the panic in my eyes just smiled and said something along these lines, “Oh.  I’m sorry.  I forgot to tell you that testing the air-worthiness of a trainer like this means making sure it’ll re-start in the air and in training they shut the engine off for lessons in dead stick landings.  But don’t worry.  She’s not gonna nose over and spud in.  She’ll just glide along losing altitude at a about a hundred feet a minute.  We’ll have plenty of time to re-start and I know how to land without power.  So, enjoy the glide.”

Okay.  Yeah.  Like I had any choice in the matter…