The birth of an airplane, an industry … and Ed

By Johnny Guy


Provided by Paul Strohm, the following is an excerpt from the autobiography of John (Johnny) Guy, "One Guy's Journey,” which highlights TWA’s singular role in the invention and development of the DC-   series of transport aircraft. Widely known and respected, Johnny was a much admired veteran TWA mechanic and aircraft inspector who personally examined and signed off on the vast majority of Douglas and Boeing aircraft delivered to TWA from the 1930s to the jet age.  Johnny “went west” in February 2005, right after his 100th birthday.

 We got settled in our new Kansas City , Kansas home. About the only new furniture we bought was a new radio from Montgomery Ward. The place had a small basement and I fixed my mechanic’s tools at work. Every week or two when I had a day off, Florence and I both enjoyed a trip down to her folk’s farm in Knob Noster. When they knew we were coming for an overnight visit, often before we got there, they would have gone out and caught a nice mess of catfish, and believe me there is no finer eating fish than Missouri catfish particularly if they were cooked by someone who knew what they were doing, and Florence’s mother was an expert. I soon learned where Florence ’s cooking skills came from, she inherited it from her mother.

 Even though we thought we were comfortably located in our new home for some long time to come, certain events were in motion of which we had no knowledge. As you will see as our story unfolds, these events would affect the pattern of our lives and my career with TWA.


In 1933, when FDR took office, we were in the very depth of the depression, business and financial markets could hardly have been worse. Despite these bleak conditions, the airline industry slowly and gradually was developing and gaining ground. This progress was the result of the type of men who headed these fledgling airlines, the main air carriers at the time being TWA, American Airways and United. They were young visionaries and optimists who could see nothing but growth and development for the industry. In 1932 Boeing had developed what might be considered the first modern airline airplane, the Boeing 247. It was a low wing, all metal twin engine 10 passenger airplane and it turned out to be a very good performing airplane and quite a bit faster than the Tri-Motor Fords. At the time Boeing had a financial interest in United and as a result they sold 60 airplanes to United. There was a provision in United’s contract that Boeing had to deliver all sixty of the 247s to United before any other airline could purchase any of the airplanes. While this arrangement was beneficial to United because it gave them a short term competitive advantage, the agreement turned out to be a disaster for the Boeing Company because by the time Boeing had delivered all 60 airplanes to United, Douglas had developed the DC-2 and all the airline customers were down at Douglas buying DC-2s. Since the DC-2 was a much improved airplane over the 247s, Boeing was never able to sell the airplane to any other airline. It would take years for Boeing to recover from this mistake.


As United received delivery of their 247s they began retiring the Tri-Motor Fords and eventually were able to operate 247s exclusively on their system.


In the meantime, TWA and American (American Airlines was called American Airways at that time) were still flying the Tri-Motor Fords and we both had a hard time competing against United with their 247s as they were a much more comfortable airplane from a passenger’s standpoint.


The Ford was a safe, exceptionally well built, reliable airplane, but from a passenger comfort standpoint it left a lot to be desired. The passenger cabin was very noisy since it had no sound proofing. The fact that it had a center engine didn’t help matters any since it transmitted a lot of noise and vibration back through the cabin. It was pretty hard on your ears when the engines got out of synchronization, which they often did.  The airplane’s heating system was rather primitive and inefficient and the same could be said of the lavatory facilities. There was no way we could stay competitive with United’s 247s, we needed a new airplane.


TWA tried to buy into the Boeing 247 program but since Boeing had contracted to deliver all 60 airplanes to United, it would be at least a year or more before we could take delivery of the first 247. TWA decided to approach other aircraft manufacturers.


In the summer of 1932, Jack Frye, then Vice President of TWA, later to become president with the assistance of Charles Lindberg (who at the time was technical advisor to TWA) and Tommy Tomlinson, formed a committee to draw up a set of specifications for the type of airplane we wanted. These specifications were sent to the Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica , California in a letter dated August 2, 1932. It was signed by Jack Frye, asking Donald Douglas if his company would be interested in building such a plane for TWA. Their response was positive and immediate. Within a month’s time a contract was negotiated and signed for an order of twenty aircraft with options for ten additional airplanes.


I might mention that Jack Frye and Charles Lindberg wanted a three engine or Tri-Motor airplane and the design specifications that were sent to Douglas called for such a configuration, but Tommy Tomlinson was dead set against an airplane with an engine in the nose of the fuselage for a number of reasons, the main one being cabin noise. He wanted a twin engine airplane and the other committee members Frye and Lindbergh finally came around to his way of his way of thinking, providing that the twin engine airplane that Douglas developed was capable of flying on one engine over the highest point on our route, the Continental Divide between Winslow, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a distance of some 250 air miles with a full load of passengers.


This new airplane was designated by Douglas as the DC-2 model with a seating capacity for 12 passengers and a crew of two. Douglas built a prototype airplane and it was designated a DC-1. It first flew in the early summer of 1933. After extensive flight testing by Douglas the airplane was turned over to TWA in September 1933.  Tommy Tomlinson started a series of performance tests with the airplane. The airplane, since it was the prototype aircraft, was delivered to TWA without any cabin interior or furnishings, such as seats.


The airplane was flown to Winslow , Arizona from the Douglas factory at Santa Monica . It was then loaded with sandbags to simulate a full passenger load. With Tomlinson at the controls and Eddie Allen, a Douglas test pilot occupying the co-pilot’s seat, the airplane took off for Albuquerque . Immediately after take-off one engine was cut off and the airplane flown to Albuquerque on a single engine. Actually the airplane’s performance on one engine was much better than anyone had expected.  The airplane was flown on a transcontinental flight to check out how it would perform on a passenger schedule.


In November the company decided to put the airplane on the night mail run between Kansas City and Glendale , California in place of the Northops that normally were used on this run. The purpose was to shake the airplane down for any mechanical malfunctions or weak points in the design so that such defects that developed could be corrected on the production DC-2 airplanes that Douglas was getting ready to build for TWA. Two maintenance inspectors were selected to ride the flight for the purpose of recording and keeping records and details of malfunctions that might develop on the aircraft or its components. The test would run four weeks and terminate sometime in early December. The flight would leave Kansas City at 6:00 p.m. and en route to Glendale would make stops at Wichita , Amarillo , Albuquerque and Winslow.  The flight would arrive in Glendale at approximately 5:00 a.m. PST.  The same stops would be made on eastbound flights.


One of the inspectors selected for the assignment was a chap named Julie Frostrom and the other one was me. I must say I was quite pleased to have been chosen. We would each take turns, each of us riding to Glendale and back to Kansas City for one week at a time. After we finished our week, we would return to our regular inspection duties in the hangar. Our responsibilities were to record all malfunctions or any items of bad order.  This applied both to the airplane and engines and keeping the ship’s log book up to date including arrival and departure times at all stations. Upon arrival at both Glendale and Kansas City we were to confer with the maintenance foreman about any repairs required before the next departure. Since the airplane had to be ready at each end of the line for a 6:00 p.m. departure, it was important that we stay with the aircraft until maintenance had all the information necessary to effect the required repairs. We were to return to the field at least an hour and a half before departure to run a final inspection of the aircraft, check fuel and oil loads, and be sure the airplane was ready for departure on time. I was scheduled to take the first week, Forstrom the second week, then I would take the third, and Forstrom would take the last or the fourth week.


The first flight stands out quite clear in my memory. The airplane was parked at the passenger terminal and the cabin was being loaded with mail pouches and freight and express packages. TWA was getting as much publicity as they could out of the operation. With flood lights mounted on the terminal building, it made a very impressive sight and crowds of people had come to the airport to see this huge new airplane, at least it looked large at that time period. I was running the final inspection.  It was about 15 minutes to departure time and I had been up in the cockpit checking some items and I was walking down the cabin to the rear door to go outside and I met Tommy Tomlinson coming up the aisle on his way to the cockpit. It was the first time I had seen him since the day I fixed the tail light on his car at the Hollywood Mission garage, that was in September 1929, and it was now December 1933. Some four years had passed. He recognized me right away and let out a series of cuss words, I gather that this was the first time he knew I was assigned to the airplane. He expressed his pleasure of having me on board. He said although he hadn’t seen me he had checked on me several times and knew I was getting on okay, that he said justified his confidence in me. At least I got started on this new venture with some degree of confidence.


We departed Kansas City on schedule. It was a clear night and the weather enroute to Glendale was fairly good. No serious mechanical problems developed on this initial flight. Upon arrival I got with the maintenance people and briefed them what had to be done to the airplane. This took a couple of hours. Before I left for the hotel to get some sleep, I met with an old acquaintance, I could hardly call him a friend, “I’ll try you out for a week, and if you can’t cut the mustard I’ll fire you.” Bill Hughes. Bill was maintenance foreman of the Glendale station. I think he was rather surprised to see me, an inspector, riding the test flight with Tommy Tomlinson who was his boss at Maddux. After being up almost around the clock, sleep was something I really needed.  The flight crew and myself were staying at the Glendale Hotel and I left a wake up call for 3:00 p.m., which would give me time to get something to eat and get down to the field by taxi shortly after four o’clock. This would allow me plenty of time to run the final inspection of the airplane to meet the 6:00 p.m. departure time. The flight to Kansas City was routine. The airplane was doing quite well and routine and malfunction items were of a minor nature.


We arrived in Kansas City about 6:30 a.m., and after spending about two hours with the maintenance people, I went home for a few hour’s sleep. Since I had to be back at the field about two hours before the six o’clock departure, I was getting about six hours of sleep at either end of the line. The pilots left for the hotel or home as soon as the airplane landed and they picked up their suitcase and flight kit, while I had to spend about two hours going over work items that had to be done before the airplane could be dispatched on its six o’clock schedule.


The first week passed rather quickly. I made six round trips to Glendale during the week. When I came in on Sunday morning, I had finished my week and Frostrom would take over that Sunday evening, his first trip, and I would go back to work in the hangar on Monday morning to my regular duties until it was time to relieve Frostrom the following Sunday.


Being back home with Florence and sleeping regular hours was almost like having a week’s holiday after riding the DC-1 every night for a week, so a few days off was a good respite from the operation. Frostrom finished his tour and I started my second and final week the following Sunday evening. That night the weather was foul and we encountered severe icing conditions before we got to Amarillo . The deicer boots managed to keep the ice from building up too heavy on the wings. The thing that was serious was the ice accumulation on the propellers that would build up to the point where the engines vibrated, caused by uneven weight of ice on the blades. When enough accumulated, pieces would fly off and we could hear what appeared to be chunks of ice slamming into the sides of the fuselage. When we landed and inspected the fuselage, there were large dents in the skin surface caused by chunks of ice thrown off by the propellers. We encountered this problem several more times before the tests were over and the side of the fuselage in line with the propeller blades were pretty badly dented and beat up. Some of the dents looked like the ice almost fractured the fuselage skin. As a result of this problem, TWA arranged to have Douglas install removeable ice shields on both sides of the fuselage in line with the propeller blades.  These ice shields were attached with machine screws so it was possible to replace them in a very short time if they became dented to where they were unsightly.


On one flight we had a delay of about two hours at Albuquerque caused by the failure of an exhaust collector ring on one of the engines. We had to uncowl the engine and weld the broken exhaust pipe section. This was about the only mechanical delay we had on the entire month’s flying, which spoke well for the reliability of the airplane.


We knew that the company had or was about to sign a contract with the Douglas Company for a number of these airplanes. Frostrom and I thought that there was a possibility that one of us might be chosen to go to the Douglas factory as a TWA inspector on the new airplane contract. Nobody had told us anything about this and it was pure speculation on our part, but the fact that we had become familiar with the airplane knew more about it than any other people in the maintenance department, so it was most likely one of us would be chosen to be assigned to the Douglas factory as an inspector on these new DC-2 aircraft we were about to purchase.


I thought that if it got down to a choice between myself and Frostrom, the company would more than likely select Frostrom. He had slightly more company seniority that I did. He also had been involved in aviation longer than I, having served a few more years in naval aviation before joining TWA. While I would have liked to have had the factory inspector’s job if it had been offered to me, mainly for the experience it offered, I wasn’t all that keen about moving right at that time. Florence and I were nicely settled in our new home and it was a very pleasant time for us both. In any event, I didn’t think I would be offered the job so there was nothing to worry about on my part. I know that Frostrom wanted the job, he told me so and seemed to be quite confident that he could get it.


We were now into the third week of the test program and I finished my second week’s run when the airplane arrived in Kansas City on Sunday morning and Frostrom would take over on the last week of the program that same Sunday evening.


Monday morning I was back in the hangar on my regular inspection assignments when Frank Jacques, the chief inspector, contacted me and said, “Johnny you had better quit what you are doing and go home and pack your bag, you have to go out on 300 tonight” (300 was the TWA number assigned to the DC-1.)  I said, “Frank, I just got off of it last night, this is Frostrom’s week.”  He said, “I know that but flight operations said you have to go back on the airplane and finish the week’s run.”  I asked Frank, “What’s the matter with Frostrom, is he sick?”  Frank said he wasn’t sick, and I asked him why they pulled him off the airplane and he said he did not know why. He said they told me to tell you that you had to go out on the airplane tonight.  The discussion ended and I went home and got ready to be back at the field by four o’clock.


When I got back to Kansas City , which was Tuesday morning, I stayed over for awhile after briefing maintenance on the airplane items, to talk to Frostrom and find out why he was pulled off the airplane. He said he did not know why and he was pretty much upset about the whole matter. I told him of my discussion with Frank Jacques and he claimed he did not know why either. That is where the matter rested and I finished the last few days of the test program. It had been a physically strenuous operation as we were up all night and we had to get by with a few hours sleep in the daytime. The weather was cold and since the airplane had no interior lining or insulation, we had to wear warm clothing when we were flying. Despite the physical discomforts, the experience was well worth it. I learned a great deal about the airplane that would be invaluable later on and flying the line on a schedule added considerably to my knowledge of the general operation of the airline.


I can hardly close out his chapter without talking briefly about that important early day airplane, the Tri-Motor Ford, affectionately known as the Tin Goose. I became acquainted with this engine in the early stages of my career and overhauled, tested and installed many Pratt Whitney 450 HP engines that powered the aircraft. Later on, in Columbus , I got transferred out of engine overhaul to the hangar so I could gain the experience working on aircraft I had to have in order to take an examination for my aircraft mechanic’s license. About six months before the main maintenance base was established in Kansas City , TWA’s first inspection department was formed and I was lucky enough to be one of the three mechanics to be made an aircraft and engine inspector. From that time to the end of 1933, when I left to be TWA factory inspector on the DC-2 airplanes at the Douglas plant, I had been assigned as inspector on the Fords and Northrops, the latter airplanes we used to fly the mail.


By the time I returned to Kansas City from the Douglas factory in Santa Monica , the Ford Tri-Motor airplanes were replaced by the Douglas DC-2s. The Ford was a tough, rugged, reliable piece of aircraft equipment, simple in design and easy to maintain. Of all the Ford airplanes I inspected over a three year period, I never found one major structural defect, nor did I ever hear of any on other TWA airplanes or on the aircraft operated by other airlines flying the Ford Tri-Motors. Since I was the smallest inspector in the department and rather skinny, I was the one whose job it was to do the structural inspection of the interior of the wings. In other words, I was the wing crawler. I would strip off all my clothes, down to my birthday suit, and then put on a tight fitting pair of coveralls. Armed with a safety extension light and a flashlight, I would travel along the front spar, squeezing myself through the fore and aft ribs, inspecting the spar and its vertical and diagonal members until I was almost to the wing tip and then I would move aft and travel back along the rear spar, inspecting it as I pulled myself along. When I got close to the cabin I had to work myself around the fuel tanks that were quite large and pretty well filled the wing cavity leaving very little room for a person to crawl around them. Then I had to repeat the performance on the opposite wing. It was not a pleasant chore, particularly on a hot day with the temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My coveralls would be sopping wet from perspiration, and when I was finished, I always went to the locker room and took a shower donned my skivvies and a dry pair of coveralls.


The Fords came in for complete major overhaul every 3000 flying hours. We removed the wings mainly to inspect wing attach terminals and bolts. But it was mainly a clean and paint operation. One thing we always had to do was replace the fuselage belly skin aft of the toilet discharge ventura . A certain amount of moisture from the toilet would impinge on the fuselage belly and the fluid was highly corrosive to the aluminum skin.


People often wondered how and why Henry Ford became involved in the aviation industry and built the Ford Tri-Motor airplane. It all started in the mid-1920s. The actual designer of the airplane was a fellow named Bill Stout who lived in Detroit . He was not an aeronautical engineer but a person who had a natural ability in designing mechanical devices. As a young lad he used to design simple toys that kids could make from materials they had around the house or farm and he would send the drawings to boys’ magazines. By the time he was in high school he had a very lucrative business, almost a full-time job furnished toy drawings of all sorts to several boys’ magazines.


In the early days of aviation, most airplanes were constructed of wood and fabric almost exclusively. Bill Stout thought of building an all metal aircraft using aluminum material that was becoming available. It would be much stronger and more durable.  The first airplane he built was an all-metal single engine day job. It turned to be a very good flying aircraft. He built and sold a number of these airplanes. By this time he realized that a passenger plane for safety reasons should be multi-engine and this is where he conceived the Tri-Motor airplane. However, he lacked the capital to build such an aircraft, so Bill Stout took a rather novel approach to solve his financial problem. He crafted a letter in which he described in detail the airplane he proposed building. He asked in this letter for a contribution of a thousand dollars to help build this airplane. He said in the letter that they could not expect to receive their money back and pointed out that Detroit was the capital of the world as far as automobiles were concerned and it could become the aviation capital of the world and their contribution of this money could start such a trend.


Bill Stout mailed a copy of this letter to all the top people in the automotive industry in Detroit like Walter Chrysler, Henry Ford, the CEO of General Motors and all other major corporations in Detroit as well as the heads of all the banks and financial institutions.


The response to the letter was quite amazing. They say when Henry Ford read the letter he was so impressed that he called Bill Stout to come to his office and offered to build a new aircraft factory on Ford property. They say that Ford took a personal liking to Bill Stout. Both of them grew up on a farm with not much formal education and both were innovators and natural born mechanics. I had known of Bill Stout and saw him from a distance when he visited TAT people at the Columbus overhaul base.  In a later chapter I tell how I had the pleasure of meeting this pleasant and interesting person.


About a week before Christmas I was offered the job of inspector at the Douglas factory in Santa Monica on the DC-2 airplanes Douglas was building for TWA. I talked it over with Florence and she agreed I should accept the job and I so notified the company. They wanted me to move to Santa Monica and start work right after New Years. So we spent the week before Christmas packing what few belongings we had, storing a few things in Roy and Ella’s garage and generally buttoning up our affairs.


We did not know it at the time, but putting our things in storage and buttoning up our affairs and getting read to move was going to be the story of our life for many years to come.


Christmas was spent at Roy and Ella’s, and Florence ’s dad and mother came up to bid us goodbye. Our Ford sedan was loaded with belongings we wanted to take. Oh yes, we had acquired a dog, “Skipper” we called him and, of course, we took him along.  We left Kansas City the day after Christmas. The weather was cold and an ice storm had moved in and we drove on roads that were almost a sheet of ice until we got as far south as Oklahoma City . We got there in the early evening and checked into a hotel.  After we freshened up, we planned to find a nice restaurant and have dinner. We inquired of the desk clerk of the hotel where a good restaurant was and he told us of one a few blocks away. We went outside intending to walk to this place. It was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing the snow down the street like a blizzard. We saw a small diner right across from the hotel and we agreed that was where we were going to eat, it was just too cold to go looking for a fancy restaurant. I always remember how nice and warm it was in that little old diner and the wonderful dinner we had.


We drove the southern route across Texas , El Paso , Lordsburg, Phoenix , El Centro , into San Diego , and up the coast to Los Angeles . I should mention that Florence was pregnant at this time so it was not all that pleasant a trip for her. I had been in touch with my old friend Julie Mathias from Maddux days and my roommate at Mrs. Waldron’s in Gahana and he wanted us to stay with him in Glendale until we found a place in Santa Monica . Once we got to Los Angeles , we were going to drive out to his place above Glen Oaks Boulevard in Glendale . He still worked for TWA at Glendale .  Unknown to us, Los Angeles had been having torrential rains for several days before our arrival. When we drove through the downtown section of Los Angeles , the water was over the running boards of the Ford. We drove to Glendale and San Fernando Road was under water and it was still pouring down rain. Trees, mud, rocks and all kinds of other trash were washing down the roads from the higher elevations. We made it to Julie’s place just before dark. It was New Year’s Eve and they were planning a party with quite a few invited guests. Florence wasn’t feeling very well and I’m sure could have gotten along nicely without a party, but she was a good sport and took things in stride even if she did not feel like it.


The party was great and we enjoyed it, however when the affair ended about 2:00 a.m. and folks got ready to leave, we found out from radio reports that all roads in and out of Glendale were closed due to flooding and several bridges were out and they heavy downpour of rain continued with no let up. So we wound up the evening with people sleeping all over the house, even on the floors.


Late that fall there had been some real bad brush fires all along the hills back of Burbank , Glendale and Pasadena that had stripped the hills bare of vegetation. We saw this conflagration several nights as we were flying into Glendale on the DC-1 test.  The fires raged out of control for almost a week. With the hills devoid of any underbrush or trees to hold the moisture, the torrential rains caused massive mudslides that destroyed homes and buildings and closed many roads. It turned out to be a major disaster and there were numerous deaths caused by the flooding and mudslides. One of the things that made it particularly bad was that at that time there were no storm drains around Los Angeles and the water had not way to drain off.


A few days later we were able to leave Glendale and drove to Santa Monica to find a place to live.  I drove to the Douglas factory to report to Ralph Ellinger, the TWA representative whom I would work for while at Douglas . I knew Ralph slightly, having met him when he worked in Kansas City . He was a Western Air man and used to work on the F-10 Fokkers. Over the years I would spend a lot time working for Ralph. He was a strict and very disciplined individual, but we always got along well together and I had a great deal of respect for him.


Chapter 8

1934 – 1935

Douglas Factory, Santa Monica


I reported to Ralph Ellinger at the Douglas factory on January 3rd. Ralph was the engineering representative at the factory for TWA. I knew Ralph, having met him briefly when I first moved to Kansas City . He would be my boss during my stay at the factory. Douglas had started some production on the DC-2s. The factory was located at Clover Field a few miles east of Santa Monica proper. The factory itself was small, consisting of a number of metal buildings. Up to this time Douglas had not built that many aircraft and they were mostly for the military. This DC-2 contract with TWA was the largest order they had ever received. It is fair to say that TWA in ordering these airplanes started the Douglas Company on the road to being a very successful aircraft manufacturer. The DC-2 proved such an excellent airplane that within a few months many other airlines were knocking on their door with orders for the DC- 2. In a little over a year after the DC-2s were in service, Douglas started development work on the DC-3 which evolved from the DC-2.


I had been at the Douglas factory a little over a month when what might be called a bombshell hit the airline industry. Suddenly without warning, on February 19, 1934, the Roosevelt Administration notified the airlines that all airmail contracts with the Post Office Department would be canceled and that the U.S. Army Corps would take over the task of flying the airmail. This was a severe financial blow to the fledgling airlines. The airmail contracts were their “bread and butter” and most of them practically stopped operations. TWA operated only one flight a day and furloughed most of their personnel. This included flight crews as well as maintenance personnel throughout the system. The excuse given for this action by the administration was that these airmail contracts that had been negotiated and awarded Postmaster Brown during the Hoover Administration, were obtained by collusion and tainted with suspected fraud. This, however, was not so. Effective on the date of the cancellation, the Army Air Corps would take over the job of flying all U.S. airmail coast to coast. The airline people knew it would wind up in a screwed-up mess. For one thing, the U.S. Army Air Corps did not have suitable aircraft for the task. They were going to use the regularly fighter airplanes. They were taking over the job of flying the mail at the worst possible time, in the depth of winter. The airplanes had no wing or tail surface de-icing equipment and lacked any propeller and engine alcohol deicing systems that was standard equipment on the Northrops that we used to fly the mail. Since the operating involves a lot of night and instrument flying, there was the question as to whether the Army Air Corps had pilots qualified in these areas to handle the operation.


We were right in the very depth of the depression and you could hardly buy a job for love or money, certainly not in the aircraft business. It was pretty rough for all the people who were suddenly out of a job through no fault of their own. There was no such thing as unemployment insurance, if you lost your job you were afloat on your own. All you had was the bread line and the soup kitchens.


Just before the furlough of all the TWA employees was to take place, Jack Frye, President of TWA, came to Santa Monica for a meeting with Donald Douglas. He told Douglas that despite the fact that TWA, as an airline, was practically shut down, they intended to honor the contract for the 20 DC-2s. He told Douglas that he was convinced that within a few months, at the very least, they would regain the airmail contracts. He predicted that the Army Air Corps would make such a mess out of flying the mail that business and the general public would demand that the air mail contracts be restored to the airlines.


Jack Frye told Donald Douglas that the Douglas Company would have to hire many people to build these DC-2 airplanes and as a price for TWA honoring the aircraft purchase contract, Mr. Frye was able to get Douglas to agree to first hire furloughed TWA employees. These TWA employees would work for Douglas until such time as they got the airmail contracts back and the airline was operating. TWA would call the TWA people back to work in an orderly manner so as to allow Douglas time to hire replacements so as not to disrupt aircraft production.  Donald Douglas agreed to Mr. Frye’s proposal. It was a good deal for the Douglas Company.  They would be getting well trained and knowledgeable aviation people, not a bunch of warm bodies.


Under the terms of the DC-2 contract, the purchase price of the airplanes was less engines. Incidentally, the purchase price for the airplanes less engines was $85,000.00.  TWA had made a separate contract with the Wright Aeronautical Company to build and supply the engines to Douglas for installation on our DC-2s. Since the engines were being purchased on a separate contract with the Wright Aeronautical Company, Jack Frye met with the Wright Company management people in Paterson, New Jersey, and explained to them, as he had with Douglas, that TWA intended to honor their contract but if the Wright Company needed to hire people to build those engines, that he expected them to give first priority to furloughed TWA employees. Like Douglas they agreed to the proposition.


With the hiring agreement of TWA, people worked out with both Douglas and the Wright Company. Jack Frye wrote a letter to all TWA furloughed employees advising them that there was a job for them either at the Douglas factory in Santa Monica , California or the Wright Company in Paterson , New Jersey . Furthermore the company would fly them and their families to either location they chose to work at no cost to themselves and that all employees would retain their company seniority as it was at the time they were furloughed.


Jack Frye’s idea of getting Douglas and the Wright Company to hire furloughed TWA people was an indication of the kind of individual he was. He cared about the welfare of his employees and went to bat for them at a time they needed help, when finding employment was almost impossible. It was a wonderful thing he did.


Ralph Ellinger and I were lucky being about the only people on the payroll. We both took a 15% cut in salary and I was then back to a hundred dollars a month. That was not too bad, things were down at rock bottom prices. A person could not carry five dollars worth of groceries. We were renting a nice two bedroom house for twenty-five dollars a month.


Some TWA employees, particularly those from power plant and engine overhaul, by far the most, about two hundred in all, came to the Douglas factory. These TWA employees were scattered throughout the various departments of Douglas , some in final assembly, some in the fuselage, wing center section departments. It was rather odd when I went into the various departments of the plant to inspect or buy off something and find a bunch of old characters that I worked with in Kansas City .


One of the things I found out quite early in my work at Douglas was that factory inspection is considerably different from what is required on in-service aircraft where you concentrate your inspection checking for worn, cracked, corroded and damaged parts and components. Factory inspection, while it involves general workmanship, a large portion of the inspection process requires the use of drawings. It is very important that an inspector understands and is knowledgeable of the manufacturer’s drawing system. I had to do a lot of studying when I first went to Douglas to become familiar with their drawing details and organization.


The Douglas production department was run by a man named George Stromph. His assistant was a chap named Henry Guerin. Neither one were particularly friendly individuals. To them an inspector was about as low down on the social order as one could get because they interfered with their production schedule and a customer’s inspector was several lower on the scale, his presence was absolutely not necessary.  We did not get along too well and had frequent disagreements more often with Guerin since he was more often out on the factory floor.


By early March, DC-2 production was getting into high gear, fuselages, wings and center section assemblies were coming out of the jigs at a fairly good rate and two aircraft were started in the final assembly position.


Aircraft wasn’t the only thing being produced in Santa Monica during early 1934. I swear, half the wives of TWA’ers who came out to work at Douglas were pregnant. I don’t thing it had anything to do with the furlough and the fellows didn’t get up and go to work because Florence was pregnant and so was my boss’s wife, Bee Elllinger.


A lot of us had moved either from Columbus or Los Angeles to Kansas City when TWA had established the overhaul base there. Like myself, a lot of us were single, free and over twenty-one, so to speak. We should have been smarter but those Kansas and Missouri girls “done us in,” they took us like Grant took Richmond .


Giving the task of flying the airmail over to the Army Air Corps turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. General Benjamin Foulois, head of the Army Air Corps, had assured both President Roosevelt and Postmaster Farley that they could handle the operation. Any experienced pilot could have told the President and Farley that this was so much “BS” on the part of Foulois. The first night they took over, they crashed two airplanes, one out of Newark and another on the western run when a pilot in a Boeing F4B fighter aircraft lost his way and crashed in Idaho . The pilot was killed and the mail load destroyed by fire that followed the accident.


The Army Air Corps flew the airmail for a period of about 78 days. During this time, 12 pilots were killed and numerous were injured in the 54 aircraft accidents that occurred during the three months they were flying the mail. The hue and cry from the public and critical newspaper editorials against this senseless operation with the loss of young airmen who had been forced to do a job for which they no training, using aircraft in no way suitable for the task. Public criticism grew so loud and voluminous that the government had to act.  In most of the accidents complete loads of mail were lost by fire.


Jim Farley called heads of the airlines to Washington and the airmail contract was negotiated and the contract to carry the mail was returned to the same airlines that had carried the mail before the cancellation.


On May 13th TWA was awarded the same transcontinental airmail contract it had before. The airline started operation slowly at first as they could recall employees back Douglas and the Wright Company.


At the time the airmail cancellation took place there was talk that FDR did it to pay off a political debt. At the time the airmail contracts were originally awarded during the early days of the Hoover Administration, a wealthy Texas oil man named Tom Braniff had organized a small airline. He bid on an airmail contract to fly the mail between Dallas-Fort Worth to Chicago . Because he did not have the airplanes and the organization, the contract was awarded to American Airlines (then called American Airways). He reportedly was very upset at not getting the contract. During Roosevelt ’s campaign for the presidency, Braniff was said to have contributed very large sums of money to FDR’s election. It was Braniff who had claimed there was collusion and fraud involving in the awarding of these airmail contracts. The theory was that Braniff had persuaded FDR to renegotiate the airmail contracts. Apparently Roosevelt intended to do this. Someone in the administration suggested the airmail be turned over to the Army Air Corps more or less on a temporary basis.


By mid-summer the DC-2s were rolling off the line at three and four a month and we were putting them into service as fast they were being delivered. Public acceptance of the aircraft was far greater than anyone in the industry had ever anticipated. The airplane was also attracting customers to Douglas . Pan American, American KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline and several other carriers placed orders for quite a number of airplanes. Douglas was growing in number of employees and they had to enlarge the factory buildings including a huge new final assembly hangar. There was no question that in initiating the development of the DC-2 to TWA’s detailed specifications, that this was responsible for launching Douglas on a long, successful and profitable growth as a major aircraft manufacturer.


By early fall most TWA employees had left Douglas and returned to Kansas City or other stations along the system where they were originally domiciled. There were a few who liked living in California that did not go back with the airline but stayed on a to work for Douglas .


As we delivered the DC-2s, the Tri-Motor Fords were retired one for one. By the time I would go back to Kansas City , that reliable, sturdy, rugged “Tin Goose” would have passed into history as far as TWA was concerned. Like the old codger said when he got rid of his old Model-T Ford, I can use the same expression goodbye my lovely.


Well the big event of our married live was moving up on us. By early August, Florence ’s doctor had predicted our Ed would be arriving on the scene before many days were over. Sure enough on Saturday evening, August 25th, we checked into the Wilshire Hospital located just off Santa Monica Boulevard where Dr. Lewis, Florence’s physician practiced. I had already told Dr. Lewis that I wanted to be present in the delivery room when Ed was born. He said fine and got me a hat and gown and told me that as long as I was going to be in on the delivery, he’d put me to work as his assistant. So he briefed me on how to operate the anesthetic equipment and when I was to do certain things. I was kind of an amateur anesthetist so to speak.  Everything went well and about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 26th, Edward popped into this world of ours with a good healthy bellow and Dr. Lewis pronounced him perfectly normal and in good condition, something all parents like to hear. Florence was a little woozy when I kissed her and told her we had a son. My next chore was to send telegrams to my mother and Florence ’s dad and mother in Knob Noster announcing Ed’s arrival and that Florence came through in good shape. Ed would the first grandson born in Florence ’s family.


Florence stayed in the hospital about ten days after Ed was born. This was quite normal for women giving birth to a child in those days, they did not discharge them almost overnight as they do today. We brought the little fellow home on the eve of our wedding anniversary, September 5th. This proves that the baby was legitimate or more important, that we were legitimate parents.


I recall one humorous incident that we put Ed to bed the first night home from the hospital. He had been used to sleeping in a nursery in the hospital where they left the lights burning all the time and when we put him in his room and turned out the lights he started to cry. You could turn on the lights and he would quit crying. Florence said he was used to sleeping with the lights on so we were going to have to leave a light burning in his room all night. But his cruel-hearted dad said no soap, we can’t leave light on, he’s going to have to get used to sleeping in the dark. Just let him bellow awhile and he’ll find out what the score is. His mother thought I was a mean man, but it wasn’t long before he piped down and went to sleep. In a couple of nights there was no problem.


One thing I neglected to mention was that Florence ’s Aunt Flo had come to stay with us just before the baby was born and remained with us for about a month after Florence got home from the hospital. She was great with kids and babies and was a tremendous help in guiding and instructing us as young inexperienced parents. She was a wonderful person and our dear friend up until the time she died many years later. Ed was a good baby and a very happy little type, we sure had a lot of fun with him.


Harvey and Alice Vence came to Santa Monica to work at Douglas . He had been a co-pilot operating out of Columbus when the airmail cancellation took place. I had not met Alice since Harvey got married after I left Columbus . Harvey never went back to flying for TWA. In fact, he quit the aviation business completely. It would be several years before we would see them again after Santa Monica .


During the year TWA had signed a contract for 10 additional DC-2s, bringing the total to 30 airplanes. I got along generally quite well with the Douglas production people, although once in a while we would lock horns over some item. Factory inspection differs to some extent from the type of inspection I was used to at TWA. You had to watch installations conform to drawing details on rivet patterns, corrosion protection, make sure parts mate and align properly before they are riveted or fastened together in order to avoid built-in stresses that could cause failures in service. Such items an inspector on the line operation seldom became involved with.


We gave Douglas a list of items or areas that they had to call us to inspect before they proceeded to close the area up. For example we had to inspect all under-floor areas before they could permanently fasten the floors in place, before they installed the fuselage sound-proofing or lining. Douglas required our approval before they could install the wings to the center section. We had to check the interior of the wings and center sections for cleanliness to make sure no tools or bucking bars were left in the wings and that all interior parts were properly protected by anti-corrosion paint. Early on in the airplane production Douglas installed a set of wings on one of our airplanes without our approval. I wrote a squawk to remove both wings for our inspection. This was no small job and the furor that followed involved the top brass of Douglas production people. Wow!  I can remember the superintendent of production, George Stromph, who was kind of a Bull of the Woods type who liked to burst a blood vessel, said there was no way they would remove the wings. I told him that I could not force him to remove the wings, but TWA would not buy the airplane they could peddle it to someone else. I informed Ralph Ellinger about the argument that was taking place. It just happened that Walt Hamilton, superintendent of maintenance for TWA, was visiting the Douglas factory and was in the office when I was telling Ralph about the problem. They both came out on the factory floor and became involved in the controversy. Ralph was always the gentleman, he could be firm but would never utter a cuss word, whereas Walt had no such inhibitions. He told Stromph to pull those God-damned wings off the airplane so I could inspect them or they could sell the airplane to someone else. Stromph was fit to be tied, he sure was mad, but he told the shop to pull the wings which they did. Much to their embarrassment the assembly crew had failed to paint the large intercostals ribs between the wing and the center section with corrosion resistant paint. It was a good thing we made them pull the wings. It also taught the shop a lesson, that we were not just whistling Dixie when we insisted they compiled our inspection call items list.


I had quite a few run ins with the Douglas production foremen which is only par for the course. They had a job to do and an obligation to their company, and I had a job to do which was to see to it that the workmanship on our aircraft conformed to proper standards, to the drawings, and to TWA’s airplane detailed specifications. For these reasons we were often on a collision course. I was never backward in calling them to task if they failed to comply or meet these standards. I tried at all times, however, not to let any disagreement on any item get involved with personalities. I found this very important and I always tried to keep good personal relationships with all the Douglas supervisors. As the old adage goes, “people do things for people they like.”  I found it equally important to have a good, friendly relationship with the people who were actually doing the work in the various shops and those that worked on the airplanes in final assembly.


Spending a few minutes getting acquainted with them as you go about your duties in the factory often pays dividends. You can sometimes discover in talking to shop people problems that you otherwise might not have been aware. In most instances the worker down on the shop floor knows more about what is going on and what is screwed up than the supervisor.


Several months after I had been at Douglas , Tommy Tomlinson visited the factory.  I had the opportunity to talk to him on a tour of the operation. During the time we were together, I raised the question about Frostrom and why he was pulled from the test program on the DC-1. He said that he and John Collings, head of TWA’s operations, was standing beside the airplane which was parked in front of the terminal building in Kansas City , when Frostrom, who was making his final check of the airplane just prior to departure, walked in front of Tomilinson and Collings. Collings noticed that Frostrom was wearing what appeared to be a pair of bedroom slippers. Being an ex-military man, this lack of what he considered to be a proper dress code, Collings told Tomlinson to pull him off the airplane, saying that he didn’t want anyone associated with the airplane who used so little judgement was to go around in a pair of bedroom slippers in front of all the spectators who were watching the operation. Tommy told him he could not pull him off the flight as they were ready to leave and Guy was home and to get him would cause a departure delay. Collings agreed but told Tommy, Frostrom was to be removed from the project as soon as he returned from L.A. This was the reason I finished the week of the proving flight program instead of Frostrom.  It also explained perhaps why I was selected for the factory inspection job. So far as I know Frostrom was never told why he was pulled off the flight program. I never raised the subject with Frostrom, even though I worked with and around him when I went back to Kansas City after my assignment at the Douglas factory was finished.  I knew Tomlinson was or had been a Navy Commander. I knew this and assumed he was the used to spit and polish so I always made it a point to be sure my shoes were shined, wore a clean blue shirt with a tie and a clean pair of white coveralls when assigned to this test program. Here again circumstances over which I had control moved in such a manner as to give me a boost in my career, all on account of a pair of bedroom slippers.


Sometime in November we gave up the cottage type house on 4th Street , Santa Monica and moved into a very nice apartment in the same area but back further up the hill from the beach on 7th or 8th Street .  About the time we moved, we had my mother come down from Vancouver and stay with us for about six weeks. It was the first time she had met Florence and of course her new grandson Ed.


It was now well into November and getting near the end of the DC-2 contract. We had taken delivery of some 25 airplanes and had only about five more to deliver. TWA had entered into an agreement with KLM, the Royal Dutch Airlines, who had purchased six DC-2s to handle the factory inspection and acceptance of these six airplanes. It was a little extra work for me since I had to handle the inspection details on their airplanes as well as TWA.


Just before Christmas we delivered the last of TWA DC-2s and the KLM aircraft. Our year at Santa Monica and the Douglas factory was drawing to a close and we were getting ready to head back to Kansas City . It had been a very interesting year for me.  I had increased my knowledge of aircraft and learned quite a good deal about airplane construction and fabrication. I now had a little over five years of aviation experience under my belt.


Coming out there was only two us, Florence and I now we were going home and there were three of us, Florence , Ed and I.  Florence was anxious to get home to show off her new offspring and see her family.


So right after Christmas as we had done the year before we packed our belongings in our Model A Ford Tudor sedan, fixed a bed in the back seat for Edward and headed east via the southern route. About the only difference with this journey was we were traveling into the Midwest winter weather, while this time last year, we were leaving the snow and ice and moving to sunny California .


Our journey back to Kansas City was made with no problems. The old Model A ran like a well oiled sewing machine. In those days the company paid us $4.00 per diem for expenses and five cents a mile for the car. This doesn’t sound like very much in today’s world but back then in the middle of the depression, you could buy a first class full course meal for 35 cents and gasoline was around 15 cents a gallon. A room in a fairly decent hotel would cost about $2.00 a night, leaving you $2.00 for meals – not a lot but you could get by on it.


One incident happened en route that Florence and I have often laughed about. We were driving across Arizona and Ed was asleep on the back seat in the bed we had fixed for him. I was moving along fairly fast and there was a sharp dip in the road that came up rather suddenly and the car bounced up rather violently. As the car pitched up, I glanced in the rear view mirror and looked right under Ed for that instant, he was up against the ceiling of the car. He went kerplunk back down on the bed and the ride up in the air never even woke him up.


We arrived back in Kansas City just about New Years as I recall.  Roy and Ella were expecting us and we stayed with them for about a week until we found a place to rent.  Ed was quite an attraction and Florence ’s dad and mother were delighted with their first grandson and as for Roy and Ella, Ed was something special.  Thus ended the year 1934.

 In his job in Engineering/Research & Development, Paul Strohm (1940-1981) worked closely with Johnny Guy in Aircraft Acceptance and Factory Inspection. Paul adds this interesting postscript:  "The outstanding performance of the DC-1 and conformance to  TWA's difficult performance requirements, was the heart of this design. It made Douglas a major Player in transport aircraft design, with the DC-3 becoming an operations stalwart before and during WW-II.  Incidentally, the original DC-1 eventually was sold to Spain and subsequently crashed on a high plateau. The only remaining piece is a cargo door which, when I checked some years ago, was used by a local church as a platform for religious processions.”