Don't Throw Your Life Away - Battling Marine Debris from Alaska to Panama


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Another example of a reconfigurable test aircraft. It even had vertical fins on the wings not pictured that could generate side forces and simulate crosswinds. The Convair NC-131H Total In-Flight Simulator (TIFS) first flew in 1970 and was first used to simulate the flying characteristics of the B-1. It has simulated the Tacit Blue, X-40, Space Shuttle, B-2, YF-23, and C-17 and came to the museum in 2008.


Speaking of the YF-23, Northrop/McDonnell Douglas lost out to what would become the F-22 Raptor for the Advanced Tactical Fighter contract. This is the kind of fighters we were dreaming up and building when I was born. It's a far cry from that Peashooter in the first building.



Wanna talk airplanes with prominence?


I'm happy other people were here and enjoying the displays, but all the presidential planes were one way, enter at the front, exit at the back and they are protected off the aisle by plexiglass which is great, but people practically run through them. They just walk through and out like the exhibit was the aisle of an airplane without realizing they walked right past where Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It actually, now that I think about it, like being stuck in the aisle of an airliner holding up people trying to get behind you. It was everything I could do to slow down the flow and appreciate where I was or try to let them by at a wide spot.


Even Ike's Super Connie was there, Columbine III named in honor of his wife Mamie who loved Colorado. Field Marshall Montgomery has even flown in this plane. And I got out of the way and watched a youngish man walk through the whole thing with a camera in front of him filming his walk but hardly even moved it side to side. He walked in, and right out, I hope he at least watched that footage later so he might remember being there. It's a shame, really.







Tail-End Charlie
I worked at LAX in the mid-80's. I worked as a ramp agent crew lead for Butler Aviation, having transferred from DFW. It was a rough schedule though because at LAX, Butler only had one contract, Alitalia Airlines. Alitalia flew a 747 Combi - the main deck was passenger for about the front 2/3 and the rear 1/3 was freight. Had a big freight door in the side and could take 5 pallets (M-6 IIRC, but might have been M-4 ). It had to be loaded/unloaded using both an upper deck loader on the port side as well as the normal lower deck loaders on the starboard side. Being the crew lead, I was the guy who had to operate the main deck loader.

We would load it in the morning and Alitalia would fly it west to east from L.A. to Rome, making several stops along the way. In Rome they would turn it around and send it back. At LAX we would unload it while the cleaning crew cleaned it, park it and shut it down for the night. Next morning we'd open it up, tow it to the terminal and start loading it.

The ramp crew had a high turnover because we had to work what was called a "split shift"; 7am-11am and 7pm-11pm.

I lived more than an hour's drive in L.A. traffic from LAX, so I had bought a camper to put on my 1979 Ford F-250, and since Butler had a whole hangar for our operation and hardly used 1/4 of it, we always parked in the hangar instead of in the parking lot. I had my supervisor's permission to plug in my camper to shore power, and he had even given me a key to a huge shower/locker room that was in the hanger but no one used. So I basically lived in my camper in the hangar instead of going home and back between shifts.

One day in the employee cafeteria, I noticed on the bulletin board a posting that Allied Aviation was hiring fuelers for a 12pm-6pm shift. I figured they probably wouldn't get a lot of interest in a short shift, but it fit perfectly with my schedule at Butler, so I took a shot and applied. I was rather surprised when I got a call from a secretary saying that the station manager (the big boss of an airport FBO) wanted to see me.

So I went there at noon the next day to meet him, and he was very cordial. He told me that he definitely wanted me for the job, but I was not a certified fueler, and Allied doesn't do training at LAX. The nearest Allied FBO with training was at SFO. I told him I couldn't take off from my job at Butler to do it, and he said he realized that, but he had an idea. He then asked me if I knew a guy named so and so at Butler DFW. I said yes, he was one of my supervisors. He said well he had grown up in Grapevine (northern Dallas), and that guy was his neighbor. They had been best friends since grade school. When he saw my application, he called his buddy at Butler who told him I was the best they had and they were grooming me to be a supervisor when I decided to transfer to LAX, and they were very sorry to see me go. His buddy told him that he should absolutely hire me.

So the station manager's idea was this; training at Allied was 2 weeks of classroom instruction, followed by the written exams (FAA, Fire Department and company). Then upon passing the exams, 3 weeks of on the job training, then finally certification. He proposed to have Allied SFO put the training materials in a box and stick them on a plane to LAX. He would then pay me for two weeks 12-6 to sit in a room and study. He had no one available to help me, I would have to learn the material on my own. If I passed, then he'd put me on permanently and start the OTJ training. His buddy at DFW was confident I could do it, but was I? I said absolutely, so that's what we did. I aced the exams. :D So then 3 weeks OTJ training, where I was basically not allowed to touch anything without a supervisor watching over me. Which I passed, no problem, and became a certified fueler.

Now, at this time Ronald Reagan was President, and spent a lot of time in California, so Air Force One - the 707 - was very often parked in front of a remote hanger way down at the end of LAX.

So I come into work the day after getting certified. It's my first day to solo. I get to the line shack that we worked out of and there's no one there. Very unusual. I grab a radio and call the supervisor to report that I'm on the clock and ready to go...and where is everybody. Well, when fueling, there is an air-powered "deadman" valve (similar to the handle on a gas pump nozzle) that you have to hold continuously while fueling the aircraft. Unlike a gas pump nozzle though, it doesn't have any provision to lock it open - you have to hold it the whole time. And fueling a 747 can take an hour and a half. Anyway, there was this one guy who was known to break off a pencil and stick it in the deadman and then doze off. He'd been busted for it several times. So he'd done that, had not woken up in time, overfilled the tanks which spilled through the wingtip overlfow ports onto the ramp. The rule was, if the spill was less than X (can't recall the exact number offhand) gallons, you didn't have to call the Fire Dept. But this time the joker had spilled like 50 gallons on the ramp. So all hands were out there spreading cat sand and cleaning it up while the Fire Dept. stood watch over the whole show...and the flight was delayed, which is a cardinal sin in airline operations.

So I asked if I should come out there and help clean up. He said no, they had it handled. I should just wait in the line shack and answer the phone. Okay, I can do that. Well a few minutes later, the phone rings and it's "Pad (number redacted for security)". That was the code word for Air Force One. We never called it Air Force One over the radio or on the phone, it was always "Pad XX". And Pad XX never scheduled things ahead of time. They would call when they wanted something. So it's Pad XX and they need 6,000 gallons of Jet A. I said okay when, and was told, now. So I said, okay, we're on it.

So I called the supervisor on the radio and told him, and he said, okay, handle it...

To which I replied, do realize this is my first day solo right? And this is Pad XX we're talking about? And I've never actually fueled a 707? To which he replied, are you a certified fueler or not? I said yes, I am. He said fine, handle it. So I said, okay, I'm on it.

Now we used three sort of trucks. One was just a metering and filtering device that didn't have a tank. It would hook up to a grid of fuel distribution lines in the ground and transfer from the distribution system through the apparatus on the truck and into the plane. That was called a Hydrant Cart and was pretty much all we used at the terminals.

Then we had 8,500 gallon and 10,000 gallon tankers. The 10,000g tankers had dual steering axles and a manlift on the front.

Pad XX didn't have a fuel port (what we called a pit) in the ground, so I'd have to use a tanker. When I went outside to look, there were no 8,500's there, only a couple of 10,000's, so I grabbed one and checked it out. It had less than 2,000 gallons in it, so I'd have to head over to the tank farm and fill it up. We were not allowed to partially fill a tanker. The rule was, if you took it to the tank farm, you filled it all the way. So I filled it up and headed for Pad XX.

(continued in next post)


Tail-End Charlie
So I pull up at Pad XX and a black guy in a suit walks out and holds up his hand, stopping me at the perimeter of the pad. He draws his hand across his throat to indicate I should shut down the truck. So I do and get out. Turns out he's an Air Force Colonel in mufti. So he wants to see my ID. I hand him my company ID which had both my Butler and Allied IDs on the same clip, and he also wants my driver's license and fueler card, so I hand those over as well. I'm confident - I had stopped by the hangar and grabbed my MA1 flight jacket, which was covered in patches. It had gold wings on the right arm from the Civil Air Patrol (California Wing) and Boy Scouts Air Explorers. On the right breast was my silver AOPA wings patch. On the left arm above the pocket was my Skunk Works patch. On the left breast were patches fro Butler Aviation, Allied Aviation and another company I had worked at part-time while I worked for Butler DFW. And the piece de resistance...the giant "blood chit" patch from the Confederate Air Force that covered the whole back of the jacket (original design with the union jack, not the later one with a Texas flag)...

So I'm looking good. I hand over the ID and he takes one look at my Butler ID and immediately gets a look of disapproval on his face. Asks me what is this sticker on my ID? It was little 3D hologram of the Statue of Liberty. I said, oh that, that's my Customs Clearance sticker. He says, custom's clearance, what's that? So I explain that it's a security clearance and there are maybe 5 or 6 guys at LAX who have that. It's impossible to get because no one can pass all the various background checks. It allows me to handle diplomatic bags. No one else is allowed to touch them. I can carry bags from the curb direct to the plane, or from the plane to the curb, right through customs, and customs is not allowed to touch or inspect any bags I'm carrying. Since I work for Butler Aviation, and we handle Alitalia and they send diplomatic bags back and forth on just about every flight, I had to have it for my job. And I was the only one there who was able to pass the background checks and get one.

(All the guys who had one had to keep Customs notified of our schedule, so they knew who was available if an unscheduled flight came in with diplomatic bags, or if they had to call someone at home. But they knew I lived in the hangar at Butler, so I got called fairly regularly. Every time they called me when I was at work or off duty, whatever company I work for had to let me go handle it. The company got paid for it. At Butler, they'd kick me a $100 bonus every time I had to do it - except of course when doing it for them, no bonus for that.)

So his look of disapproval was replaced by a look of respect. Then he gets on the radio and is calling in my info and also asked them to check with customs. So I waited. While waiting I noticed a black Suburban, with the doors open near the nose of the plane. Four Secret Service looking guys with their hands on the Uzis under their jackets. Standing half behind the doors of the truck for cover. Another Suburban with another four guys stationed at the tail. And lo and behold...a sniper team on the roof of the hanger. Two guys with their hats on backwards and pointing things at me. One a spotting scope, the other a rifle.

Okay, these guys are serious. No worries though, I've had guns pointed at me before and these guys are professionals.

So finally the Col. gets the okay, and we do a walkaround inspection of the truck. No problem, fire it up and pull up to the plane. The Col. moves the yellow ropes out of the way. But there's a problem...the 707 sits lower to the ground and the truck won't fit underneath. And I can't see the leading edge of the wing because that stupid manlift is in the way. So I get about three feet from the leading edge, stop the truck and get out. I grab the hose on the manlift to see if it will reach, and bloody hell - it had been damaged and when they fixed it, they just cut the bad bit out and now the hose is only like two feet long. It's at least a foot too short.

So the Col. sees the problem, and says just pull closer. So I told him I couldn't see past the manlift. He says he'll guide me. Okay. So here I am, idling this 100,000 lb. vehicle up to the wing of Air Force One, and being very careful with the brakes. But the tank is full. Every time I push the brakes, the whole truck rocks forward. Like a foot. And I gotta get to within a foot of the wing. Holy crap. But the Col. is calm cool and collected and guides me in and I finally lock the airbrakes and get out to take a look. I'm about exactly a foot from the wing. The truck must have been rocking to within a couple inches of the leading edge. Good lord. But...the hose reaches so I can go ahead and attach the ground wires and hook up to the plane. Whew!

And then I discovered another problem. I couldn't remember the fueling procedure for a 707. It's a weird older system with these things called "dripsticks" and while it was on the written test, I hadn't actually done one during OTJ training (no one else was still using 707s). And damned if I could remember how to do it. So I took my time. I went real slow and careful. I used a clean rag to wipe off fingerprints. All the while praying that I'd remember before I had to make a fool of myself and admit I needed help.

Fortunately, it came to me, and I used the dripsticks to check the levels in the tanks, I set them correctly, I did the calculations and started pumping fuel. Whew!

When it was over, the Col. shook my hand and said, good job. So I told him I'm an aviation nut (as if it wasn't obvious from my gaudy flight jacket) and also a photographer. Told him I keep a couple cameras in my truck, and would it be okay if I came back and took some pictures. He said yes, but I'd have to bring the camera empty so he could inspect it, and he'd have to watch me load the film. So I went back, dropped off the truck, grabbed one of my handy-dandy 110 Instamatic cameras, burned up about twenty exposures still left on the film cartridge, ran to the gift shop and bought a couple new film cartridges and headed back to Pad XX, where I burned up two rolls of 24 exposures. I got some unbelievable close up shots.

I can tell you this...I doubt if that plane, sitting in the museum, is any cleaner than it was sitting at Pad XX. I couldn't find a spec of dirt anywhere on the thing. Not even the gear, which always has a bit of rubber dust on it.

I'd upload some of the pics, but during a bad breakup, one of my exes took two entire boxes of photos - prints and negatives - thousands of photos - and dumped them in the trash. By the time I found out, the trash had been picked up. Man...women can be downright vicious.
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I worked at LAX in the mid-80's......
That's a great story! Thanks for sharing, sorry about the photos. I'd love to see any that survived. It is pretty clean, as is everything else in here, but I believe that about it always being that way. I think they take a lot of pride in the equipment. Reminds me of our fire engines actually. In a place like the Oregon coast, we did end up washing them a lot, but the public doesn't want dirty trucks.






The Independence was a Douglas VC-118 and was the second aircraft built specifically for the President. The first being the Sacred Cow below, a Douglas VC-54C. The Independence flew Truman, and the Sacred Cow flew Roosevelt.



And the C-141 known as the Hanoi Taxi that flew the first POW's out of Noth Vietnam on Feb. 12, 1973.


The day was almost over, announcements were made over the PA for everyone to kindly leave, so it was time to say goodbye to the Valkyrie.


And before they had to kick me out past 5pm, the volunteer who first told me stories about the Memphis Belle was kind enough to snap one more for me on the way out.


Phew. Finished. Well that was my day at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Thanks for joining me, I love this stuff, so I had to share what about it made it such an amazing day for me. I'm sure I'll be back at some point. It's amazing how much I had to skip for this post, and how much of the stories and artifacts I had to rush by just to see it all. It really is worth the trip, and I hope you all enjoyed it. Now it was time to get back in the Jeep and keep heading south towards Expo.
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Tail-End Charlie
None of my pics survived. A decade of shots. Including me helping do a brake job on a DC-3.

There was another plane that went along with AF1. It was sometimes parked at LAX next to AF1. It was another 707, painted the same, but with like, no windows. I think it was a freight/logistics bird, but was never really sure if it was that or some stealthy EW/decoy thing.


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Ah, they guessed all my excuses.....


I went from Dayton down through Cincinnati to see a friend I hadn't seen since maybe middle school, and then entered Kentucky. And then northern Kentucky became eastern Kentucky and, while there were tortoises around that I had to save from being squished in the road, I pretty easily found the parts forgotten by the rest of the world.



I can hear banjos.....but the people down here are fans of Camaros and Jeeps, so perhaps we're not so different after all.





The other major destination goal of the trip was in sight now, even if it had been an over 18 thousand mile route from Newport, Oregon to Hendersonville, North Carolina. This would be my 5th Overland Expo: one as a civilian, one as a volunteer, one as a Change Your World Fund recipient, and two on staff. I was busy enough that I didn't get too many photos unfortunately, but if anyone told you it was muddy, you should believe them. But I was there early enough that it hadn't been torn up yet.


But it was still a good time and a successful show. People love using their gear and adverse conditions. It's part of the whole point. I really didn't find anyone that wasn't having a good time at the show. Some things we can't control, but we can stay positive and have fun. No Matter Where.

And a small point, too since I also helped tear it down. If anyone is still wondering why the decision was made to get people out early on Sunday afternoon, it poured again on Monday and I promise getting out would have been a huge challenge for everyone if we had waited. Thanks for everyone who came out with a good attitude and a love for getting out with great people to learn more about how to do what we do. See you guys at West in May.


My mom and sister managed to make it to Expo for some of it. My sister lives in Greenville, SC now working as a freshly minted Veterinarian. Perhaps though, I could find some work as a driving instructor down here. All the work I did parking the volunteer campground at Expo to come here and see this shoddy work. Tsk tsk.



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Jenson got to meet his cousin, my sister's dog Kora and they were pretty much immediately friends.


As cities go, Greenville has a lot going for it, and it seems like she likes it.



It's just occurred to me I didn't get any good shots of my sister while I was here, it's like me and wildlife I guess. But it's worth mentioning that she's been riding since she was a toddler and through high school she was bound for the Olympics before a medical issue started to sideline those plans. Her life has been equine, and she might be able to talk to them. She was an eventer, and then did dressage as something a little more restrained. Things change, but she has continued riding as much as doctors will allow, and it's great to see how happy just being on a horse makes her.


We also went to an ECHL hockey game, Greenville Swamp Rabbits vs the Jacksonville Icemen, but sadly we lost 3-4. Still, it was a really fun time. There was even a fire dept vs police halftime broom hockey game where our side of the stadium was told to cheer on the police. I like the police and all, but.....I did not do as I was told.


Not bad seats thanks to sis.


Who's faster, a professional hockey player or this dog?


Dad, you better pick me....


Speaking of speed, when my mom and I left Greenville towards FL we had a chance to drop in on an old friend. He's pretty quick, too.


I first met Randy Pobst way back when High Plains Raceway in Colorado opened, and I had him sign my shoe. I had been wathicBack the I was just some kid who wanted to get back into sports car racing after having done some karting and formula car stuff in Florida. It was only a few years before I was sitting next to him signing the same poster in the Pirelli World Challenge when he was competing in the GT class. I grabbed a couple podium finishes in Touring Car before all the money ran out. That didn't stop him from being excellent to me every time we met. Maybe it's that we both had Florida history, maybe it's that he liked finally meeting someone as tall as him that weighed less.

5 years ago, almost exactly I ended up in Georgia for a fantastically confusing heartbreak, that's a longer story. But, Randy took me in for a week and even let my Ducati 916 live in his garage while I went on a long road trip up the North East and then went to live with family and friends in Florida over the winter. Wait a minute, heartbreak, selling everything, living out of a car, long road trip with Jenson, passing through N Georgia, spending the winter in Florida with family and friends.......spooky.

He also lent me the gear that kept me from freezing to death when a friend helped me drive the '74 Dart I ended up with back to Colorado while I rode the 916 2000 miles from S. Florida to Colorado over 3 January nights. Yeah, all you ADV riders, I get it. The 916 isn't a touring bike. I know that now. But the lesson took a while to stick, because later that year I rode it from Denver to Vegas in a day for 3 nights of my best friend's bachelor party shenanigans and back.

And yes, he let me drive the Z28. It's even green like the V6 Camaro I won my divisional championship with in a past life. I let him drive my GTV6 years ago in Colorado. Anyway, I hope it's not another 5 years between visits. He's as warm and kind as you've heard from other people.

Merry Christmas Travis and Jensen! Hope you have an awesome new year. And it's cool to hear the stories of Randy! I've always heard he's a nice guy.and i had no idea you used to race! What was your favorite series to run?? I tried getting into racing for years but was never able to make it anywhere cause of where I lived. But I dirt track race now as a hobby.
Very cool stuff young man. Love the aviation stuff, I'm so glad so much history is being preserved. I earned my Airframe license In 1989. I've had the opportunity to tour the inside of a B-17 and a B-25. I was shocked at how small they actually were. I'm broad shouldered and I took up half of the cockpit of the B-25. The men flying those machines had balls of steel.


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Wow, six weeks without an update. Maybe Travis is on vacation.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas and pray all is well.

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Hello there,

Thank you all for the kind words. And for CanucksRedRocket, I had a shot at World Challenge back in 2012 and managed to grab a podium at both events I could make it to, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, before the money ran out. I've sprayed the champagne at a professional event and had TV coverage. I really liked that, but my last race was a class win at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill with a team out of Georgia. Someday I might be back behind the wheel in a competition setting again. Anyway...

I don't know if what I've been doing here in FL qualifies as a vacation or not. I arrived safely for Thanksgiving with the intention of staying down in Stuart for the holidays with family. Well New Years has come and gone, and I'm still here. I've been to the Kennedy Space Center, saw a Falcon 9 launch from the good seats, been taking Black and White Dog to the beach, finding what friends are still in the area, but really I've spent about all the time I can down here. Being in Florida for 2 months is driving me nuts, but it has allowed me to more carefully calculate my next move. Not too much ;)

The short version is I'm not continuing south from here to Central America. Not this time at least. So I guess that means an official "Don't Throw Your Life Away" trip is over. I think I can say it was successful. It was certainly one of the best things I've ever done. I would love to take what I've written and photographed into something more condensed someday. At the very least take my favorite photos and get myself a coffee table book.

The plan as it swirls around in my head is to go back to Colorado as early as late Feb, maybe later in the spring to focus again on being with friends and getting back into the kinds of cars I sold off to do the bus that led to all this. I still want to live simply, and I'm not repeating the same cycle I may have mentioned because every time I've learned new things, and I'm a different person going back to Colorado this time. I'm evolving. When I left on this trip last summer I was in quite a state. I was hurt and confused, on the road with no real plan but to keep moving. I'm better now, really I am. Mostly.

Will I do overlandy things still? Sure. On smaller scales. I still like wheeling and camping and exploring and leaving the world slightly better than I found it. The Jeep With No Name is still running, closing in on 350k. I'll be back in the American West I love so dearly and will be getting out plenty. I can't say for sure if I'll take another crack at Central America in winter of 2019. Like always, there are so many other things I like to do and want to get done.

I do think I'll be working Overland Expo West again this year since it's close. As much as I enjoy the wandering, I am very much looking forward to getting back to a place where I feel at home for a little while and writing whatever the next chapter is.

I noticed a lot of vague wording there. Don't know. Maybe. I think. I guess. And that's okay. I'm uncertain of many things and certain of one. It's time to get on with living my life, whatever that means this time.

Whatever the next trip is, I'd love to share it with you fine folks if you'd be interested in reading it. I hope to see you all out there. Thank you for letting me share this all here, I appreciate all your comments and hope that we can all keep taking care of where we are and who we're with. No Matter Where.