Archive for November, 2012

Story in a box.

The picture of the gentleman in the dapper hat (upper left) sat on his wife’s bedside reading lamp table when John Thornton Walker was serving as a liaison pilot with the U.S. Army in Italy.  It had been taken at a Springfield, Illinois studio but had moved with Gerri (Geraldine) Walker when she returned to her home town in Indiana.  It came back to Springfield almost a month ago.

For the better part of the past week, I have engaged what promises to be a long task of transforming the story of a World War II hero from Springfield, Illinois from a box of photographs, newspaper clippings, two pilot’s log books, documents, and certificates into a book which I believe people will purchase and read and cherish. The book will describe the life of Gerri’s husband who attended Springfield High School, whose father was a Springfield firefighter,  who learned how to fly as Springfield Commercial Airport (re-named Southwest Airport in 1947), joined the Illinois Army National Guard before Pearl Harbor was attacked and flew artillery spotting and forward liaison planes (commonly known as “grasshoppers”) . . . . and never came home.

The box of memorabilia and a remarkable, restored, 65 pound brass plaque which used to greet visitors to Walker Army Airstrip, Virginia (dedicated to her husband in 1951)  were donated to AeroKnow Museum by the Walkers’ daughter Connie and her husband Richard Strouse.

Left to right: Richard Strouse, Job Conger, Connie Walker Strouse.

John Thornton Walker seldom signed  his full name or even “J. Thornton.”  As Thornton Walker he wrote aviation column for the Illinois State Journal.  His friends called him T. Through most of the book I’m writing about him and through most of my “Book Reports” here at Honey & Quinine, I will call him “JTW.” Some of JTW’s story was shared in my book Springfield Aviation produced by Arcadia Publishing and available everywhere 

Last week I started transcribing the information he recorded in his two log books: every flight he made that begins with his first flight as a student pilot April 7, 1937 and ends in his second log book, October 11, 1942 when he was training to be a liaison pilot with the US Army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

Here are my transcription from the first flights recorded in his second log book. He was 26 years old when he started it. . . .

11-8 – Decatur to Springfieldd – Taylorcraft BC — NC21221 —  :33 – picked up Dr. Turley’s plane
11-6 – Springfield to Springfield —  Fleet – NC726V —  :16 – took Gerrie for a ride
12-4 –– Springfield to Springfield  — Fleet – NC726V – 21 – vertical turns
12-16 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft BL —  NC21218  —  :05 – hop in new Lycoming 50 craft
12-17 — Springfield to Springfield –  Taylorcraft BL – NC21218 —  :08 – hop in new Lycoming 50 craft
12-24 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft 40  — NC19655 —  :15 – flying from right side
12-24 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft BC – NC21221  —  :04 —  hop with Metz
                                                                                                                  _____ 78:07
We know that he flew hardly at all during November, especially compared with 12 flights in April that year. Weather may have been a problem in November; perhaps a heavy work schedule or busy social life. We do know he was having fun in the air, picking up a friend’s airplane on the 8th, flying with his wife and later with a friend named Metz. He took many friends up for “hops” most lasting 15 minutes or less in the air.  He was also honing his new skills, practicing vertical turns, getting to know the new 50 hp Taylorcraft, but spending most of his time since his first lesson in 40 hp Taylorcraft. Before supper on Christmas Eve, 1938 he had logged 78 hours and seven minutes in control of a flying machine.

I don’t know for sure that I will include this transcription of when and where he flew, often the purpose of each flight, in what airplane and  its registration number, and how long he was in the air each time he flew as a student or pilot in command of the airplane. I believe JTW’s experience is typical of all Americans who learned to fly as civilians before World War II, and that is why I am inclined to include the transcription. I’m already laying it out in an appendix at the end of the book. I know that I will include pictures of most of the airplanes he flew, thanks to him being an avid photographer and to his family donating many pictures to AeroKnow Museum.

Every fact I have today was provided by a member of the Walker family. When Rich and Connie Strouse visited Springfield, they also visited Walker’s former home at 614 1/2 S. Douglas Avenue. I have contacted an employee of the State Journal-Register (modern version of the Illinois State Journal of Walker’s time, but was advised that their preserved newspapers (on microfilm I’m guessing) are not available to the  public at large, of which I am a member.  If  YOU know anything about the family of John Thornton Walker I cordially invite you to contact me by way of AeroKnow Museum or via my home telephone. The number is in the white pages.

FINALLY, I invite you who want to know more about JTW and his family — or have information and photos of the old airport, airplanes and pilots who flew from there to visit my AeroKnow Museum blog — http://aeroknow.wordpress.com  and my AeroKnow Museum Gallery of Flight blog — http://akmgallery.wordpress.com

I think when the book now in process comes off the press, we will have a record of a remarkable citizen of Illinois’ capital city who has been unknown or forgotten by almost everyone alive in Springfield today. What do you think?

Live long . . . . . .  . and proper.

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On the Other Hand
by Job Conger

The down side
of living
through a time of travail
is that you
come to learn
how little
those you care about the most
after you’ve gone away.

written 9:33 am, Sunday, November 11, 2012

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DATELINE: Springfield, Illinois

The parking lot at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Walnut at Adams, was so dark when I drove into it at 4:50 am November 6 that even with my vehicle lights on, I could barely see the painted lines on the black asphalt. Parking next to a pickup truck on the far edge ensured that if I stopped close enough that I could open my door and had not feltt my front bumper hit anything, I’d be set for the day. One light over the side entrance to the church, where I had voted two years ago, was good for my pedestrian approach, and after I buzzed the custodian from the vestibule, it soon became apparent we were the only ones there. I understood the importance of the day, having been a  Precinct 50 judge for the previous 6 presidential elections and being pretty sure, this would be this would be history worth engaging for the duration of the day.

The  spacious all -purpose room that would be home to polling places for precincts, 43, 46 and 50 had been set up the night before with voting “booths on the far west wall, and  tables for 43 and 46 judges on the south wall and 50 on the north, next to the kitchen. The acoustics, thanks to the tight-weave “kitchen” carpet would prove superb over the next 16 hours, a major improvement over the previous site of Precinct 50 activity which had a tile floor and what appeared to be painted cinder-block walls. After chatting with the custodian a few minutes, I began removing materials from Precinct 50’s “big grey box” for the next hour’s set up of our part of the venue. Other judges began arriving closer to the designated 5 am, and by 5:20, 14 of the expected 15 judges were occupied in compliance with the election manual which describes, in great detail, what is to be done and in what order. We had all attended three hours of Election  Judge School as recently as two weeks ago, most of us had served during earlier elections, so things went without problems until we discovered that the ballot tabulating machine was not operating as required.  Election Board  technician Jacqui arrived very fast, and fixed the problem 10 minutes before the polls opened at 6:00.

First voters,  a married couple, had arrived about 5:45 and waited patiently in the warm and spacious church lobby until we opened the doors to the all-purpose room. During the previous off-year election, he had been living/voting in New York City, and she had voted in New Jersey across the river.  They were delighted to be in Springfield, and I was delighted to welcome them. 

From my position at the end of the Precinct  50 judges tables, I examined each ballot to be sure it had been initialed in our precinct’s red ballpoint pen. The  ballot handed my way was from judge Dave on my left. I  inserted it into a secrecy sheaf, handed it to the voter, reminded each that the ballot was printed on both sides, and pointed to the ballot box nearby.

Before the voter reached me each  has spoken first with judge Frieda who checked the person’s name and address with her  list recently printed by the election office. Those that were on it took two steps to the next judge who removed a voter application from a binder and asked the potential voter  to sign it. If the signature matched a signature recorded and displayed in that binder and both a Republican judge Dave and Democrat   judge Christy  agreed  that it matched,  Dave initialed the allot and passed it to me. We were short one judge at our precinct, so Dave was doing double duty as signature verifier and ballot initialer.  I kept an hourly tally of voters receiving ballots. Between  6 and 7 we greeted 15.

Those whose names and addresses did not match ours were given  every opportunity to vote. Frieda and Chrisy mad many calls to the election office for clarification and instructions. Several learned they had not come to the right  polling place and were directed to where they could vote. Many provisional ballots were given on site so those requiring them could vote. Later, records would be further cross-checked and vote counted or not.  Those who did not meet residency requirements for county and city candidates and issues were given Federal Ballots that included only candidates for election to federal offices in the D of C.  We issued two November 6.

From 7 to 8, we welcomed 23 voters. . . . .From 8 to 9 — 44 . . . . .From 9 to 10 — 30 . . . .From 10 to 11 — 31 . . . . From 11 to 12 —  38 . . . . From 12 to 1 — 31 . . . .From 1 to 2 — 39 . . . . 2 to 3 — 37 . . . . . 3 to 4 — 24 . . . . . 4 to 5 —  45 . . . . 5 to 6 — 28. Half an hour before the polls closed,  eight more hand voted, and from  6:30 to 7, five more.  I announced to everyone in the polling area at 6:57 tat polls would close in three minutes, and there were no voters and no one waiting to vote  at 6:59.

Lunch for the judges was purchased by respective precinct committeemen, or  “committeepersons,” if you prefer. Republican precinct committeeman George Tinkham sent a friend of his  to visit the two Precinct 50 judges who asked for pizza. No one knew the name of the Democrat Precinct 50 committeeman. Tim Moore, Precinct 45 Democrat committeeman generously purchased  sandwiches for the two Democrat Precinct 50 judges. Several of us had brought food which  we placed in the church kitchen, and all judges from all precincts and parties were invited to help themselves. I brought donuts and grapes, Burnel Heineke brought  a crock pot of home-made chilli and an incredible pineapple upside down cake. Another judge from home-made pumpkin bread.  Delicious! No judge ended the day hungry. 

I had brought a book to read during slow times (The West-Going Heart by Eleanor Ruggles, about Vachel Lindsay), but there was absolutely no time to read, and almost no time to eat. There was more than an hour passing between bites of pizza in early afternoon. Absolutely essential for every judge at Precinct 50 was the mandate to be alert, focused on The VOTERS, and dropping everything to greet all comers with a friendly, welciming attitude. We were all amazed and thrilled by the very large response from voters in all precincts.  I was particularly happy to greet many friends who live in our part of Springfield.

Precinct 50 had begun the day with 800 ballots, and at 7:00 pm, we had used 387. Two ballots had been mistakenly been declared SPOILED before they were tabulated (counted) so we know that 385 voters successfully voted in Precinct 50. Total  ballots successfully processed by the three precincts totaled 1,309.

The greatest challenge of the day came after we closed the doors and it was time to process  ballots. A common single ballot box using a wonderful computer that read each ballot inserted presented the judges with 1,309 ballots that had to be sorted by precinct and then verified VALID.  We were looking for ballots that had not been initialed, that were damaged, that kind of thing. Once the sorting was done, each precinct counted ballots. Simply put, the goal — if say 350 Precinct 50 ballots were counted, we would count 450 unused ballots. If we counted 355 ballots and we then had counted 450 unused ballots, we would know “something’s rotten in Denmark, ” so to speak.  A time-consuming hiccup occurred when after counting, we discovered one more ballot than  we should have had.  We also learned that another precinct was short one ballot. All four Precinct 50 judges had counted our ballots twice, and there was no disputing the number. Early into the process of re-examining every ballot we had, we discovered the missing ballot from the other precinct. Despite each precinct initialing its approved ballots  with different-color ink, we had missed it in the separation and counting process!  The  wayfaring ballot  was returned to its rightful “home” across the all-purpose room, and a silent, but palpable YAHOO we felt by the nine judges from precincts 50 and 46!

The rest of the evening was spent putting all ballots into a special ballot box with a  special seal we would  sign and attach to the box. The rest of the materials were returned to be “big grey box” I had opened at the start of the day. The “big  grey” was placed into the trunk of Republican judge Dave’s car, and Democrat judge Christy carried the ballots out to he car. They would receive extra pay for driving to the Sangamon County Building where a hardy team from the election office would remove the “big grey box” from the trunk. They would then park the car near by, and both Republican Dave and Democrat Christy would deliver the  ballots tot he Ejlection Commission Office inside. They  would sign their names as “delivers” of Precinct 50 ballots for processing.   I left the church at about 855 after carrying the “big grey box” to Dave’s trunk.  One precinct was still processing the goods when I departed. The other had exited 10 minutes earlier.  Dave and Christy would likely be home by 9:45, in time for a late dinner and the 10:00 news.

The parking lot lights showed me what I had missed at 5 am. It had been rainy and misty all day, and it was moderately cool, downright refreshing to be outside after 16 hours inside. At home, I enjoyed the dinner I had purchased the night before for this occasion: a store-made chef salad,  fully half of te store-baked apple pie and all the Carlo Rossi Burgundy I cared to quaff. 

When I crawled under the covers about 11:30, Ohio vote counts were still not tallied, but it looked like things were going in favor of the Democrat candidate for president.  When I arose from six good hours of slumber to head out to the airport museum today, the outcome was  no longer in doubt.

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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I am not writing poems and songs as frequently as when I was younger, in part because I am spending so much time developing AeroKnow Museum, and in part because I seldom have a reason. There’s no woman in my life (usually the best reason), and there is no call upon me to engage the process. It’s not a matter of having no time. When I have a reason, I make the time. When Springfield Poets and Writers Group (SPW) announced an opportunity for poets inclined to be moved by visual, framed, watercolor paintings created by members of the Sangamon Watercolor Society, and to write a poem that we would read aloud at a gallery reception November 3, I made the time.

Photos of the paintings had been posted at a Facebook site. The implicit hope was that every one of the 10 or so artists who had agreed to paint new works for the project would inspire at least one poet. Poets were to share the painting’s name (or a short description if there was no name) with our poetry coordinator, the current president of SPW. I was happy to learn soon after submitting my choice, that it was available.

Once “the table was set,” that I had seen the painting (or in my case a photograph on which the painting would be based) there was no worry or guilt trip over the first three of four weeks we had to write the poem and put it into a frame we could buy anywhere. A week before the deadline, I was at work when I was hit by an epiphany of words and vision. The words were the first three-line stanza of five I would eventually write, and the visual was the line structure that would be consistent in length and meter throughout. I also had the “voice” which would be one of the two people in the painting. It would not be about “faces” because the painting would show the backs fo two heads facing the other direction in a toy “Jeep” moving toward a simple green horizon under a blue sky.

Saturday morning, poets delivered the framed poems to the gallery site on the 3rd floor at Hoogland Center at the same time the visual artists would be arriving. The gallery hosts would determine how things would be arranged, but we all knew our poems would hang either close below or beside the paintings which had . . . . a  . . . . .mused us!

The event began about 5:30. Event emcee Jan Sorenson was talking to a fellow when I approached and asked if the artist who had created “my” painting had arrived. She said he was the gentleman she was talking to as I approached, and she introduced me to Mike Delaney of Decatur, Illinois. We had a happy intro, and then it was time for some quick pictures where his painting and my poem were hung.

The event went very smoothly, unhurried, and for most of it, sans speeches that began to drone on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on . . . as though some secret patron was paying the speakers not by the minute, but by the hour. At events without microphones and AMPLIFIED speakers, these days — and sometimes even with them —  my hearing is darn near shot to blazes anyway. What I did hear was very educational in the main. The artists spoke first following Jan’s fine introductions of paintings and artists, and then the poets were introduced. We all talked about what we liked about the paintings that had moved us and how we created our poems.

poet Job Conger (left) and painter Mike Delaney (right)

When Jan introduced Mike, his presentation was exemplary: informative, entertaining, and he even remembered how to correctly pronounce my first name!

Mike Delaney

Before I talked about my poem, I took a picture of the audience,

the audience

explaining how they are as important to me as a poet as my poem might be during the few minutes so it would take for me to share it. I said I had correctly anticipated the kids were sisters in the early photo, the basis for the poem I would write, and in the painting. I was delighted with the painting and for the opportunity two write about it. Then I read the poem . . .

We Wander!
                                 by Job Conger

So this will be the way we go:
We go to anywhere I know.
I know because my eager heart has told me so!

My sister is my friend; it’s true.
It’s true that life is all so new,
so new, and there is oh so much for us to see and do!

We’ll take the road less traveled by.
By serendipity we shall fly.
Shall fly so sweetly, fleetly, as we wander far and nigh!

What will Fate choose for us years hence?
Years hence may temper young confidence.
Young confidence shuns grownups’ fussy diligence.

And we shall dream, wandering free,
free, clownish,  cavorting, seekers ’til we . . .
’til we turn ten or maybe, let’s say, seventy-three!

To everyone’s credit none of the poets and artists exited the presentation before it was over. Open microphone nights at other local venues sometimes include “poetry prima donna’s” and “poetry prima daniels” who attend, read their poems and leave early. Not so November 3.

Another poet reads her poem about the nearby painting.

The readings were followed by recognition of the creations of other SWS member painters who had won prize ribbons in a recent annual contest. The event concluded with a “happy trails
from the sympatico emcee, and many of us elevatored down to the Prairie Art Alliances gallery reception on first floor.

Poet Mark Flotow talks about his poem and the colorful abstract painting which inspired it.

One of my favorites at the PAA reception was this by Delinda Chapman.

This photo of purchase information for Delinda’s painting has been slightly color modified.

Mark MacDonald (right), host of the public television program “Illinois Stories” chats with friends at PAA’s reception.

It was an evening well spent. Kudos and thanks to all who attended and participated.

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