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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
As if to prove his resolution, he left Chicago in the late afternoon and headed southwest along the Chicago and Alton Railroad tracks. Two days later, having bypassed St. Louis because the city had reneged after offering him $1,000 for an exhibition, Rodgers reached Marshall, Missouri, halfway across the state. He flew over 200 miles that day and at times made a good ground speed of better than seventy miles per hour. CaI had now travelled 1,398 miles and had broken Harry Atwood’s cross-country record. Hearst’s deadline was past, but Rodgers had no thought of giving up.
On Wednesday he flew into Kansas City, Missouri, giving the populace “an aerial thrill the like of which it never had experienced before,” according to the Star . CaI was the first aviator to fly over the city and he did it with verve, proceeding up the Missouri River at 700 to 800 feet, then hedgehopping over the business district. Schools were let out so that children could see him pass. He landed before a crowd of 10,000 at Swope Park shortly before noon.
By the following Monday, October 16, he was in Oklahoma, landing at Muskogee before a crowd of “thousands” at the fairgrounds race track. “To those who saw Rodgers alight and step from his machine,” the local newspaper said, “there came a sensation as if they had just seen a messenger from Mars.”
CaI didn’t tarry in Muskogee. The flight was going well now, and he seemed anxious to push on as fast as he could. He flew from Muskogee to McAlester, Oklahoma, before nightfall, then made it to Fort Worth, Texas, the following day, a record distance for CaI of 265 miles. On Wednesday, October 18, en route to the state fair at Dallas, CaI was alarmed when a curious eagle flew near to inspect the Vin Fiz . The big bird made a head-on run at the plane, then veered off at the last minute. “Amid tumultuous applause from an eager crowd of 75,000 persons, CaI P. Rodgers, seato-sea aviator glided gracefully down the infield of the State Fair race track at 1:50 P.M. ,” reported the Dallas Morning News . “After hovering over the Fair Grounds for fifteen minutes in the most thrilling exhibition of aerial navigation ever seen here, he headed his biplane south and started again on his long journey to the Pacific Coast.”
He flew on to Waco that afternoon, where a purse was made up for him by the Young Men’s Business League. The following day he reached Austin, where he received another purse. He left there around 4 P.M. , after circling the dome of the state capitol. Seventeen miles south of Austin his engine failed, and he glided to a safe landing in a farmer’s field near the town of KyIe: a piston had “crystallized,” and the entire engine had to be taken out and replaced with the spare carried aboard the train.
Sunday, October 22, found CaI at San Antonio. By now the strain of the trip was beginning to tell. He had lost fifteen pounds since leaving New York, and his leathery, wind-burned face was gaunt. Two days later, at tiny Spofford, Texas, he had his fourth serious accident. As he took off, his right propeller struck the ground. The plane swerved out of control and lurched to the left, splintering both props, demolishing the undercarriage, and crumpling the wings. “These wrecks are part of the game and are to be expected,” Rodgers remarked philosophically, “but of course are unwelcome.”
His crew was extremely proficient by this time and had the plane ready to go next morning. By November i he was in Tucson, Arizona, where his approach was watched through a telescope at the University of Arizona by the indomitable Robert Fowler, who had left Los Angeles October 19 for a second west-to-east effort. The two men chatted briefly, then Rodgers was off again.˗
˗ Fowler kept pushing eastward and despite a heartbreaking series of mishaps finally reached the Atlantic Coast at Jacksonville, Florida, on February 8, 1913—149 days after his original start.
After leaving Tucson, he went on to Maricopa, Arizona, and then to Phoenix before running out of gas and being forced to land at Stoval Siding, a small oneman Southern Pacific station sixty miles east of Yuma. When his train caught up with him it was too late to continue, so CaI and his party spent the night on the desert.
By now the end of his odyssey was in sight but, as if in a last effort to thwart him, the troubles that had plagued Rodgers all the way across the continent suddenly seemed to intensify. After leaving Stoval Siding early on the morning of Friday, November 3, he flew on into California. Over the Salton Sea his number one cylinder exploded, driving metal shards into his right arm. He glided down for a perfect landing next to the Southern Pacific station at Imperial Junction. It took a doctor over two hours to remove the cylinder fragments.
The engine was hopelessly wrecked by the explosion; chief mechanic Taylor had no choice but to put in the old one he had removed at KyIe, Texas, and overhauled. CaI set out again on Saturday and got as far as Banning, California, before he gave up. The spark plugs had again come loose and the radiator had begun to leak. It was just like old times.