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Coast To Coast In 12 Crashes
Only the rudder and a strut or two remained ol his original plane and he was on crutches, but CaI Rodgers flew from sea to sea and lived—just barely
October 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 6
He followed the Erie across the northwest tip of Pennsylvania and on into Ohio and kept going to Akron. “When I got within about three miles of the city and made out hills everywhere in the dusk,” he said later, “I swung about and made for a field. It was so dark then that I could not see whether there were ditches or furrows but I had to take it. I lit on hard, smooth turf and stopped without a single break.” He spent the night in Kent, Ohio, after covering 204 miles since morning. It was his best day’s flight so far.
The following day he was grounded by bad weather, but on Saturday he got an early start and logged another 2OO-mile day. “When I was sailing above Akron it was as enjoyable as any day I have had on the race for the Hearst prize,” CaI said. “I could light cigars with ease at any stage of my flight.” He made stops for rest and fuel at Mansfield and Marion, and then was forced down when his engine quit just across the Indiana line at the little town of Rivare. Cal’s “hoodoo” was still with him.
The weather was threatening the next morning, but CaI took off anyway. He was caught up almost immediately in the roiling fury of a thunderstorm. His account of how he got through it alive appears to be the first recorded report of such an experience: I turned to the northwest pointing along the Erie tracks ready to buck the gale which was steadier up there. I noticed right ahead of me a full-grown rainstorm coming right at me. I saw the milky water falling and the cloud weaving … the only thing left for me was to try and run around it.
I turned and scooted to the east and rounded-to on the outer edge of the cloud outside the rain only to find another one sweeping down on me. I had to turn and run away again, and this time I saw to the northwest a third big cloud bearing down on me. There was a space between the two clouds and I made for it. It was clear enough but I had forgotten the thunder and lightning. That was their little playground.
The first thing I knew I was riding through an electric gridiron. I didn’t know what lightning might do to an aeroplane, but I didn’t like the idea so I swung her and streaked it for the east only to run bang up against a big rain cloud in active operation. I seemed to have run into a cloud convention.
If you have been out in a hail storm you know how that rain cut my face. I had taken off my goggles for fear that I might become blinded by moisture, and I took off my gloves and covered what I could of the vital points of the magneto. It was a cold and painful situation.
I looked for my engine to stop on me any minute and began searching for a place to alight. I couldn’t find one because a big cloud had quietly rolled in under me and the earth had disappeared. It was lonesome. I might be a million miles up in space. I might be a hundred feet from earth. I breathed better when I sailed over the edge of the cloud and saw the misty land beneath me.
It was raining but even that seemed friendly compared with the whirling mists that make up a cloud. I saw a little village off to the right and another just under me. I had to find a windbreak. Luckily I found one, a cup surrounded by woods, and dropped down, landed all right and climbed under my machine to get out of the wet.
I hadn’t more than lighted a cigar when a couple of men came running out of the woods. They said I was near Geneva about 18 or so miles off my course … I got away from there at 3:40.
CaI continued on to Huntington, Indiana, where he met his train and called it a day. The weather next morning, Monday, October 2, was still unsettled, clear but gusty. Accounts of his attempted take-off at Huntington are confused, and CaI himself wasn’t too certain about just what went wrong. Apparently he tried to take off downwind rather than buck the gusts. He couldn’t gain altitude, and he hopped and skipped across the field, then headed toward a group of spectators. Rather than plow into the crowd he slewed his plane to the right, still desperately trying to become air-borne. The Vin Fiz passed between two trees and under some telegraph wires. The left wing snagged on a small rise, the plane crumpled, and CaI was thrown clear. He was uninjured, but it was a bad smash, and his machine had to be rebuilt for the third time.
On Sunday, October 8, CaI finally flew into Chicago, where he exhibited his plane for a few hours at Grant Park on the lake front. He had been en route now for three weeks exactly and had made only a little over 1,000 miles. He estimated he had been in the air for twenty-three hours and thirty-seven minutes in the twenty-one days; at this rate it was obviously impossible for him to reach California before October 10, the end of the thirty-day limit stipulated by Hearst. A Chicago reporter asked Rodgers if he was going to quit. “I am bound for Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean,” CaI replied stubbornly. “Prize or no prize that’s where I am bound and if canvas, steel, and wire together with a little brawn, tendon, and brain stick with me, I mean to get there. The $50,000 prize, however, seems to be practically out of the question. But anyway it doesn’t matter much. I’m going to do this whether I get $50,000 or 50 cents or nothing. I am going to cross this continent simply to be the first to cross in an aeroplane.”