What’s a Chukker?


I believe it was the spring of 1965. In another month, that will be 50 years ago. I remember a lot of the details but the dates are hard to pin down.

To lay the groundwork for this story, let me say that total employment at Electro Instruments was probably about 250. I was Foreman of the Test Department and had 23 technicians working for me. Our job was to trouble-shoot the instruments coming off the assembly line and fix any wiring errors or cold solder joints and replace any defective electronic components. Once we had the unit running, we calibrated it with precision voltage standards and “sold” it to a Quality Control Inspector and also to a Department of Defense Inspector if it was to be shipped against a government contract. When we presented the unit to the Shipping Department it was the culmination of the efforts of every department in the plant.

One morning, I got a call from my boss, Pete Dreesen, the Director of Manufacturing. Pete said that his boss, Jim Zeigler, the Vice President of Operations had called and invited the two of us to lunch. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Working stiffs like me didn’t ordinarily go to lunch with 2 levels of bosses, but I met Pete and Jim in the lobby at 11:30 and Pete drove us to a nearby restaurant.

I didn’t know Jim well, only having had a few brief conversations with him. It was normally business stuff, where he did the conversing and I did the listening. I knew he lived on some acreage on the outskirts of Alpine, a small town in the foothills east of San Diego. I had also heard that he had 7 kids so that’s probably why he had the big place. He was a nice guy and I liked him.

We were hardly sitting down in the restaurant before Jim announced that he wanted to start a company polo team. The three of us didn’t really know anything about polo so we started listing the things we thought would need to be answered in order to get this project off the ground. Jim mentioned that he had a couple of horses for his kids to ride but doubted they would make very good polo ponies. Jim and Pete both knew that I had a horse and asked about her. I told them that she was coming along but I bought her for her confirmation and sweet disposition and she wouldn’t be good for polo. Polo “ponies” are actually big, strong horses that love to run and are so competitive they will run over anything in their path. Jim said that was ok because he had been talking to the people that own Bright Valley Stables, up in Harbison Canyon, on the way to Alpine, and we might be able to work out a deal to rent horses from them. Also, they would give us lessons on riding English saddles and the fundamentals of polo.

Recruiting a team might be a tough job. We would be taking off work an hour or two before quitting time at least one day a week for English riding lessons. The hourly direct folks wouldn’t want to lose the pay. The salaried people could work extra hours if they needed to in order to stay on top of their jobs. A large percentage of our workforce was women. We had hired quite a few experienced women from the aerospace industry so they were older, more “grandmotherly”, types. Most of the rest of the women were young mothers that had to get home after work and pick up the kids at the baby sitters (Day Care was a term that hadn’t been invented yet). Our pool of riders was shrinking fast. We decided to post the story on the employee bulletin board so that we wouldn’t mistakenly exclude anyone that was interested.

We tried to think of anyone who rode horses for pleasure or knew anything about horses. The only horseman I knew was Steve Scott, a custodian working 2nd shift. Scotty was in his 60’s and his health wasn’t too good. He had come over from Brawley, California in the Imperial Valley where for years he had been the “Hay Boss” for a large cattle feeding outfit. Every year the city of Brawley holds the Brawley Cattle Call, a big western celebration featuring a parade and a rodeo. Scotty was one of the organizers of that annual event and even after moving to San Diego, returned to Brawley to take part in it. Scotty and I were having a cup of coffee one day before he went on shift and I mentioned that I had recently bought a horse but hadn’t saved up enough for a saddle yet. Scotty said he was too old to ride but had brought his saddle with him from Brawley and I was welcome to use it as long as I needed it. He brought the saddle, a fairly new roper, to work with him the next day. I used it for several months and returned it with thanks. I know this paragraph about Scotty hasn’t much to do with the polo story but Scotty was really a “good old boy” and I liked him a lot and enjoyed writing something about him so you could see him.

Getting back to business, our luncheon meeting lasted about 3 hours and we made plans and discussed obstacles until we thought we had covered everything. We knew we were facing an uphill battle but decided to take things in order and go as far as we could.

The first day of riding lessons, eight of us showed up, all managers or supervisors and all salaried. We had all ridden “western” but didn’t know one end of an English saddle from the other. The man who owned Bright Valley Stables had an accent and I think he must have been an Aussie rather than an Englishman. He was a good instructor and soon had us all mounted and riding around a ring. The lessons were fun and informative. We all enjoyed them because while riding around in circles in the ring he corrected our “seat” and the way we were posting and also talked to us about the tack and the rules of polo. It would be more exciting to tell you that somebody got thrown or that we had a runaway horse but nothing like that happened. We had a few lessons with most of the guys in attendance. Some weeks, one or the other of us would have to stay in the plant and take care of our department.

Jim knew of a Dr. Herring that lived in Lakeside, a town between our plant and Alpine. This Dr. Herring had a polo team that he sponsored and played on and Jim arranged for us to watch them play one Saturday morning. It was fun to watch the guys play. I don’t know if they were any good but it didn’t make any difference because they were having so much fun. One of the “attack” guys hit a pretty good drive and all of a sudden he and one of the defensive guys were in a mad dash to get to the ball. The collision was like those you hear in the NFL. Ker-Whap!!! The “attack” guy is knocked off his horse and hits the ground, breaking his forearm. Doc Herring took one look at the arm and loaded the guy in his car. He took him to his office in town, x-rayed and set the bone, and put a cast on it. They were back at the game in a little over an hour. The Doc wouldn’t let the guy back in the game. 

This broken arm was hard on our team as two of our members abruptly quit. They said they had come out for fun and that didn’t include broken bones.

Things kind of went downhill after that. It became harder and harder to get the group together. Managers and supervisors are in those positions partly due to a sense of responsibility and that makes it hard to abandon the challenges of the job in the middle of the afternoon and go play. We knew at the outset that it was going to be tough. Besides the other problems, we had no horses, no tack, no horse trailers, no cheap places to board horses, and certainly not enough discretionary income to float the whole thing. It was fun while it lasted.

Dave Thomas
February 6, 2015


Seaplane Story 1


As I was going through some pictures this morning I found this picture I can use in this seaplane story but can also tie to some family history.

The picture I’ve attached is of a Martin Marlin P5M-2 seaplane. The tail identification, “SF”, indicates that it belongs to Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight (VP-48) and the “7” tells you that this plane is #7 of a 12 plane contingency. So, this plane’s call name is “Sugar Fox 7”. I flew in Sugar Fox 7 a number of times but was normally in Sugar Fox 1, the skipper’s plane, as I was the lead technician in that crew.

The P5M-2 was an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft and was packed with sophisticated electronic gear in order to hunt submarines. Once a sub was located, the plane was capable of firing rockets or dropping bombs on the target. The cylinder hanging under the starboard wing, near the pontoon strut, was a 1 million candle-power searchlight that created a lot of excitement when you caught a sub running on the surface at night and illuminated him. The plane normally carried a crew of 10 or 11 men with varying job assignments.

In the picture, the plane is heading west and is flying parallel to the edge of Point Loma, a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific. The water that is shown just above the seaplane, from left to right, is the San Diego Channel, connecting San Diego Bay with the Pacific.

Finally getting to the point of my story, on the ground, below Sugar Fox 7, and located along the hillside, is Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Among the many veterans buried there you will find the gravesite of our cousin, Donald L. Thomas, a WWI veteran. His wife, Loyce, is buried in the same plot. From their resting places there is a beautiful view to the south of the city of San Diego, the San Diego Channel, North Island Naval Air Station, the city of Coronado, and on the horizon, Tijuana, Mexico. Of course, looking to the right, you see the beautiful blue Pacific.


Dave Thomas
March 13, 2012, revised February 15, 2015

Seaplane Story 5: JATO

JATO (J-toe) or Jet Assisted Take Off is a quick way to get some altitude if you are faced with a short space or obstacles in your take off path. If you read the El Paso articles (Seaplane Story 3) you saw that they had to use JATO to get off that tiny lake.

The JATO containers were referred to as “bottles” (see picture 05a). They are actually solid-fueled rockets. They are not as big in diameter as a 5 gallon can but probably stand 50% taller than a can. On the P5M seaplane 2 bottles were mounted on the rear port hatch and 2 bottles were mounted on the starboard hatch. They were fired as pairs, the lower pair and the upper pair. When airborne and clear of the sea lanes, the bottles were jettisoned.


The most exciting JATO performance I saw was a demonstration piloted by our skipper, Commander “Hap” Hazard. I don’t know what the deal was but there were a lot of Captains and Admirals in the crowd. One of our planes had been stripped of the electronics gear and had a minimum gas load. The only people aboard were the pilot, co-pilot, and a senior mechanic.They started their take off run and almost immediately fired the JATO bottles and I’d swear that plane went almost straight up! You can imagine a fighter plane doing that but to see a giant seaplane was hard to believe.

05b On the step


The most exciting JATO run I was involved in was when we were on the way to Japan. We had flown from Hawaii to Kwajalein Atoll, spent the night, and now were ready to head for Midway Island. There was a small harbor formed by a coral reef that looked like it had been enhanced by man. We carried every ounce of gas we could get aboard and were really heavy. The sky was overcast and the sea was choppy. We started our take off run and at the appropriate time, the pilot fired the JATO bottles. We were rushing toward this coral reef but weren’t lifting off. The pilot finally had to abort. By the time we got more JATO bottles aboard, the sea had settled down a little and the pilot had a better feel for the weight and the conditions and we got airborne. That was the hairiest one I got to enjoy.

I was probably aboard for 10 or 15 JATO take offs and was always amazed at how much power you felt when the bottles ignited.

Dave Thomas
March 6, 2012, revised February 16, 2015 



Seaplane Story 3

Here’s an interesting video lasting only 2 or 3 minutes that outlines the development of the P5M-1.One of the interesting innovations was the incorporation of hydro-flaps. They are hydraulically operated appendages built into the rear of the hull that could be energized separately for steering or could be deployed at the same time and serve as brakes when the aircraft was in the water.

Another interesting part of the video is the take-off. As the plane gets up to speed it creates a “rooster tail” higher than those seen at the thunder boat races. At the tail of the plane is a 50mm machine gun turret that has a spectacular view during take-off. The turret was no longer armed or occupied so, with the pilot’s permission you could sit back there during take-off. You are facing backward and as the speed increases, the walls of water get higher and higher until it feels like you are looking down a canyon. What a ride!


Here’s an interesting thing about water take-offs. Sometimes at dawn and for a short time thereafter, San Diego Bay is as smooth as a sheet of glass. No ships or boats have been moving to cause ripples or waves. It sounds like it would be perfect for take-off but you can’t develop any lift and get airborne. On a morning like this, the pilot calls the tower and tells them to watch out for surface traffic while we tear around the bay in circles and try to develop some waves.

I was doing some research and found a YouTube video about the crash of a Martin P5M-2 seaplane from VP-48, my squadron. It crashed in the Laguna Mountains 1/1/1959 on a flight to the Salton Sea. The pilot and co-pilot were killed but 8 members of the crew bailed out successfully. The 2 men in the crew that I knew best were Allen Van Dyke and William Little. The crew roster appears in the last few seconds of the video. Bill Little was an Aviation Electronics Technician First Class (AT1) and we worked out of the same shop so I saw him every day. Both guys said that bailing out was a hairy experience because the plane was just barely clearing the mountain tops.


Dave Thomas
March 15, 2012. Revised February 20, 2015 


It’s for real: Seaplane ended up in and took off from Ascarate Lake

Trish Long / El Paso Times

POSTED: 05/08/2009 11:31:34 PM MDT

Dear Trish, my name is Eddie Bustamante. I’m not from here. I have heard from people that have lived here all their lives that a seaplane landed on Ascarate Lake many years ago. If it is true, what year? And how was it able to lift off the lake? I keep wondering if people are just pulling my leg. Can you help?

They’re not pulling your leg, Edward. On April 10, 1960, a U.S. Navy P5M Martin Marlin seaplane was made an emergency landing on the 3,000-foot long Ascarate Lake.

The pilot, Lt. M.T. Burke, said he made the decision to land in the “pond” when the starboard engine began cutting out every few minutes.

“The trouble started around Yuma,” Burke told the El Paso Times at the time. “But it didn’t get serious until we were 50 or 60 miles out of El Paso.” The officer decided to come to El Paso rather than try for Elephant Butte Lake.

Before landing, much of the fuel was dumped from the seaplane, which the El Paso Times article also referred to as a “flying boat.”

Burke and his crew had left San Diego en route to Baltimore, via Pensacola, Fla. The seven people on the flight were members of a ferrying group that transported planes across the nation.

The plane landed from south to north, then was towed with the assistance of a Sheriff’s Department boat piloted by Deputy Charlie Barker, and a County Recreation Department boat, handled by Earl Thurston, to the north end of the lake.

Additional personnel, tools and spare parts were flown in to help get the flying boat ready for takeoff while Burke held an “open house” so that Mayor Raymond Telles, County Judge Woodrow Bean and other City and County officials could inspect the seaplane — “a rarity in El Paso.”

The landing, however, wasn’t as complicated as the takeoff later.

Four rockets were added to the seaplane, it was stripped of all unnecessary equipment, and it carried a minimum load of fuel to make it as light as possible. The trees at the south end of the lake were soaked overnight and pushed over with bulldozers.

In the early morning of April 23, an Air Force helicopter hovered overhead and emergency crash trucks stood ready in case of trouble.

Capt. Ted Vogel of the El Paso Police Department and two members of the Sheriff’s Department Boat Patrol were also on watch, and Mexican police had an ambulance and fire truck ready on the Mexican side.

At 6:13 a.m., the 77,000-pound flying boat, using its extra jets and aided by small motorboats kicking up waves, took off successfully from Ascarate Lake.

The pilot was Lieut. Commander William L. Schad, and his co-pilot was Lieut. Gordon R. Williams. They flew from El Paso to Corpus Christi and then on to Baltimore, Md.

The pilot mentioned in the next-to-last line, Lt. Cdr. William Schad was the plane commander of Crew 4, SF 4, of VP 48. He was a skilled pilot and I flew with him a number of times.
Dave T


Seaplane Story 4: Communicating

When a squadron returned from deployment in WESTPAC, sailors were discharged or transferred and were replaced by new men. Training took place all day, every day. Flight crews were flying almost every day and sometimes flew two or more hops per day. The Navy tries to fit all the activities into a standard day that ends at 4:00 PM. That way everything can be secured and the single men can be ready to hit the mess hall on time. However, with all the training flights going on I was never sure what time my last flight would get in.

For a couple of years, we lived in Navy housing in Coronado that was located right on San Diego Bay. It might have been 10 or 15 yards from our building to the water’s edge. Looking east, we had a great view of the bay and the San Diego skyline behind it.

When the seaplanes landed they came in from the ocean, heading east, and crossed over the Silver Strand which is the name of the isthmus connecting the city of Imperial Beach, on the south, with the city of Coronado, on the north. In some places the Strand is only 200 or 300 yards wide and accommodates the highway and a strip of public beach and that’s it. After crossing the Strand the planes turn to port (north) and fly up the bay. At the point where the plane passes our apartment in Navy Housing, they were probably only 50 or 75 yards off shore. Pat knew the side number of my plane so she recognized it when we flew past. Sometimes we would be shooting touch-and-go landings and would go past the house over and over. Pat would sometimes sit out on the grass and wave when we went by. We were close enough that I could recognize her from the plane. I had a window (or port) beside my position at the radar and one time, as we flew past. I picked up a white rag that I used to clean the radar screen and waved it at the window as we went past Pat. She saw the rag and later that evening we were talking about it and she said “why don’t you wave that rag when you go past for the last time of the day and I’ll know when to start supper?” It sounded great to me so that’s what we did from then on. Of course, it didn’t last long. The novice pilots learned how to land  and take off and the whole training atmosphere evolved and the flights got longer. Pat and I had a good thing going while it lasted.

Dave Thomas
Revised February 16, 2015 

Seaplane Story 2

Two of the early seaplanes or “flying boats” used by the U.S. Navy were the PBY and the PBM. Then, from the early 1950’s through 1967 the Glenn L. Martin Company produced the P5M-1, P5M-2, and the Anti-Submarine Warfare version, the P5M-2S. When I joined VP-48 in June of 1958 they were flying the P5M-1 and had just returned two months previously from a 6 month deployment at Naval Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Still flying the P5M-1, we deployed again to Iwakuni in April of 1959 for 6 months and after we returned we started taking delivery of the P5M-2’s. I don’t remember the details but after receiving just a couple of the -2’s we started receiving the P5M-2S, the “S” suffix meaning that the plane was equipped with the jazzy electronic gear of the new Anti-Submarine Warfare package. We had to obtain a “Secret” clearance just to work on the gear.

The first picture shows the difference between the appearance of the P5M-1 and P5M-2. On the “-1”, the horizontal stabilizer on the tail is down low, at the height of the fuselage. On the “-2”, they put the horizontal stabilizer at the top of the tail section and created that “flying tail” or T-tail” effect. Cool!

P5M-1 & P5M-2

The second image is a spec. sheet. It says that the cruising speed was 150 knots but as I recall it was more like 140 knots. We didn’t move too fast.

02b P5M-2 Specs

The third picture was included to show the size of the aircraft. Also, notice the red rectangle above the tires on the port side and the green rectangle above the tires on the starboard side. Those are flotation chambers. After the plane is launched and is in the water, a crew member throws a lever, setting the wheels adrift and they are towed away from the aircraft. This plane can only take off and land on water.

Moving P5M

That bulbous white nose is a radome housing a parabolic dish antenna that was at least 4 feet in diameter. I don’t remember exactly but I do remember that when working on the antenna I could bend a little at the waist and neck and could move clear around the front of the antenna. The radome must have been almost 6 feet at its maximum diameter.

Dave Thomas
February 29, 2012, revised February 16, 2015








Wal-Mart Greeters

Gary Casner sent an e-mail about the Admiral who was a Wal-Mart Greeter. I’ve enjoyed the story a couple of times before and it always reminds me of my own “Greeter” story.

Four or five years ago, Gene Maness and I were drinking coffee at our favorite McDonalds’s in Keller, Texas. We were mouthing off at each other as we usually did and started talking about getting part-time jobs just to keep ourselves busy. We discussed several possibilities and discarded each of them for one reason or another. Finally, we got to Wal-Mart Greeter and things started looking up. A new Wal-Mart Super Center was just opening up a couple of blocks from where we lived. It looked perfect! There would be no commute to speak of and if your wife needed some groceries or something you could pick them up on the way home and save a trip.

As we continued to discuss the benefits of working at Wal-Mart I mentioned that we would get to hug the good-looking girls as they came in, just as they do in the Wal-Mart commercials. Maness, who was always a “the glass is half-empty” kind of guy, says “do we have to hug the ugly ones, too?’ Well, I had no idea but I remembered that we were going to attend a Homeowner’s Association meeting that would be held at a neighborhood school Thursday evening and that the Manager of the new Wal-Mart would be introduced to the community there. This would be a perfect time for us to ask some questions.

We arrived at the meeting a little early and quickly spotted a guy wearing a Wal-Mart ID badge. We went over and introduced ourselves and before I could blink an eye, Maness says” If we went to work as Wal-Mart Greeters we would hug all the good-looking girls that came through the door but we want to know if we would have to hug the ugly ones, too?” The manager who was pretty quick on the uptake (that’s why he was the manager) said “Yes, you would have to hug the ugly ones, too. We are an equal opportunity company and try to treat all our customers in the same way.” That killed the whole deal for us…it was time to go back to square one and think about other opportunities.

Dave Thomas
November 12, 2012


Cattle Drives

When we lived in Keller, Texas one of the things I enjoyed most was driving down to Old Fort Worth to watch the cattle drive. Fort Worth is the only city in the world with its own herd of longhorns. Twice a day, at 11:30 and 4:00, they have a cattle drive. There are 4 or 5 cowboys driving the cattle up 2 blocks of Exposition Avenue just to honor the city’s tradition of being Cow Town USA. They use 15 head of longhorns of various colors and horn configurations to make up their trail herd.We’ve talked to the cowboys many times and found that half of them work for the Fort Worth Parks Department and the other half are police officers.


Brindle Lhorn


Over in Dallas there is a big concourse known as Pioneer Plaza. It features a static cattle drive with 15 sculptured longhorns and 2 cowboys on horseback. The figures are 25% larger than life. and show amazing detail. The herd is winding around a small knoll and down a slope and fording a creek.

Longhorn 2

Longhorn 3

Longhorn 1

There is a large, bronze plaque in the sidewalk that shows the trail brands and gives the name of the trail bosses or ranches they come from.

Dave Thomas
July 23, 2014


Old Mrs. Coates

It was about 8:00 AM on one of those joyous summer mornings with the sun shining and heavy dew glistening on the leaves and grass. I had just finished my third grade year and was thankful to be free. I was on the way to visit my Great-grandma Minnie, who lived several blocks from us. It was always a special treat to be invited to breakfast with Grandma Minnie because she always fixed me her special bread pudding with raisins in it.

As I got closer to Grandma’s I could see that her across-the-street neighbor, old Mrs. Coates, was out on her front porch enjoying her morning tea. I yelled, “Good morning, Mrs. Coates!” She yelled back, “Good morning, David, how are you this morning?” (I should explain that Mrs. Coates had a voice that was loud and clear and you could hear her clear to the end of the block.) I responded “I’m OK, how are you?” She bellows back, “Well, David, I had a wonderful bowel movement this morning so I know it will be a great day!” This was more information than a little kid could handle and I felt my face turning red as I ran for Grandma’s door and a chance to get out of sight.

Dave Thomas
March 31, 2012


Grandpa and Billy the Goat

Grandpa, A.A. Thomas, always had something interesting going on. One day I rode my bike down to visit Grandpa and Grandma. I might have been 11 or 12 years old and Grandpa was at least 80. When I got to the house, Grandma said Grandpa was out in the back yard so I went on out there. It turned out that Grandpa had bought himself a cute little billy goat. He was putting the finishing touches on a pen he had built for it. He told me he had named the little critter, Billy, and that I could get in the pen and play with him. Billy was a friendly little guy and enjoyed being petted and fussed over so I played with him that day and pretty often in the days that followed.

Then, for some reason I didn’t get down to see Billy for quite a spell and when I did go to visit, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cute little Billy, the kid goat, had turned into a full-sized ram with a fine set of horns. Grandpa said he was still just a playful little guy and I should just go on in and give him some attention. Well, Billy was glad to see me and I enjoyed petting him and messing with him. I noticed that he had tipped over his water bucket so I thought I would refill it. I stooped over to pick it up and wham… I got knocked flat when Billy charged up and butted me in the behind. It turns out that “little” Billy had learned how to use those horns and loved butting anyone dumb enough to turn their back on him. Grandpa was laughing so I knew I had been set up. Grandma heard the commotion and came out and chewed on Grandpa and told him  he should be ashamed of himself. Grandpa just laughed more and said “that darned Billy has got me a dozen times!”

I saw Billy a few more times but one day I got there and Billy’s pen was empty. When I asked Grandpa of Billy’s whereabouts, he just said “he got me one time too many!”

Dave Thomas
April 26, 2013