Seaplane Story 6: Seaplane Tenders

The Seaplane Tender that operated in our part of the world was the U.S.S. Pine Island (AV 12). The tenders were designed to be floating maintenance shops that could operate on any ocean and support seaplane squadrons and keep them flying. They carried a full supply of parts including new engines. They were identified by their large afterdeck and two giant cranes, one at the stern and the other amidships. They could pick up a P5M with an empty weight of 50,000 lbs. and place it on the afterdeck for engine swaps or other repairs.

In 1959, a typhoon was headed for Japan and our squadron was ordered to get airborne and head for Sangley Point, the Philippines. We took off and were only about an hour out of Iwakuni when we lost an engine. Sangley Point was a seaplane base but was too far away. We were informed that the Seaplane Tender, U.S.S. Pine Island (AV 12), was operating out of Buckner Bay in Okinawa and they would support us if we diverted to there. We got there ok and landed during a squall. The winds weren’t bad and a single-engine landing was no big deal. We’d been told on the way down that the Pine Island was out to sea for gunnery practice and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. We had a pleasant vacation while we waited. The base assigned a boat and driver to take us ashore for meals and to sleep at night. I slept on the base one night and slept aboard the plane the second. For 2 days we dived off the wings and did a lot of swimming. On top of a wing was a good place to lie around and get a sun tan too. The Pine Island finally showed up. We were getting up-tight about not having our mail or being able to make an international phone call to our wives. The only way a sailor could make an overseas phone call was with the help of Ham Radio Operators. They would pick up your call and patch it through to the person you were calling. Sometimes it took a couple of hours before a connection could be made.

In one of the next stories I will talk about picking up a seaplane and putting it on the deck of the Seaplane Tender.

Dave Thomas
March 9, 2012

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Seaplane Story 6_3

Serving Chili

These last few years I haven’t been in many small-town diners or cafes and I was wondering if they still serve chili like they used to. I’m asking because what I’ve seen lately in these plastic franchise eating places makes me wonder. Have we lost the art of serving chili or do those small-town folks still do it right? I’ll tell you how it used to be done and you can keep your eyes open and make sure it’s done right.

I’d go into the 7th Street Café, by Fowler’s Mobil Station, and sit down at the counter. The waitress would ask me “what’ll you have?” I’d say “chili” and she’d go turn the order in to the cook. Then she would come back and make sure I had everything I would need. First, she would come up with that little jug of vinegar. Next, she would make sure the catsup and mustard was at hand. Then, she’d go away and come back with one of those white bowls full of oyster crackers and set it right close. By now, the cook has got the chili up and she brings it to me with one of those big, round spoons. There it is…its perfect! Can you name a place today that will set you up with the fixin’s like that?

Dave Thomas
December 7, 2014


Izzie 8: Mis-Match

Over the years we had a couple of hummingbird feeders but hadn’t had much luck at attracting the birds. One of the many nice things about retirement is that you have time to try things for a second time if you had no success with them earlier. We had seen some hummingbirds checking out the flowers and bushes in our back yard. Pat was intrigued by them and decided to a buy a feeder and try it again. She went to Home Depot and looked at the units they had on display and asked questions of a lady working there. She received what we both thought was good and thoughtful advice. This lady suggested that Pat buy a feeder with a rim or perch around it so the hummingbirds could light and rest as they got their nectar. “After all”, she said, “the little birds get hot and tired, too”.

Pat bought a feeder and mixed up her first batch of nectar. Meanwhile, I found a couple of interesting web sites on the Internet and learned a few things about caring for the feeders, attracting birds, and other useful items. Pat hung up the feeder and we were in business.

The first three or four days were kind of slow. I guess it took the birds a little time to spot the feeder and spread the word. We had been sitting out on the patio a couple hours a day with our cat, Isabella, to keep her company. Izzie is an indoor cat and has never been outside on her own. To give her some outside time, which she really loves, we put a harness and leash on her and stay with her. We used to stake her out for 30 minutes to an hour at a time and check on her every 10 or 15 minutes to make sure she was okay and hadn’t tangled herself up. However, one day, Pat stepped out on the patio just as a big hawk came swooping over the fence to grab Izzie. If Pat hadn’t screamed and waved her arms we would be without a cat, now.

The feeder was attracting more visits each day. We found out quickly just how territorial and ornery these little birds are. If two of them show up at the same time, there is no sharing. Each tries to intimidate the other with aggressive moves and bluffing.

One morning Pat was working in the kitchen and heard a commotion at the patio door. Her view of the door was partially blocked by the cabinet so she moved over a little to see what was going on. There was Izzie standing on her hind legs and stretched out to full height with her front paws resting on the screen. On the other side of the screen and hovering nose-to-nose with Izzie was this cocky little humming bird. The point of this encounter seemed to be that the humming bird wanted to tease the cat. The little bird-brain had no idea that this cat dreamed of stalking birds and lizards and had actually backed down two dogs at once that thought they could invade her space. The bird was no piker either, showing no fear at all. He would buzz right up to Izzie’s nose and she would take a swing at him, striking the screen. I don’t know if the air currents generated by Izzie’s swing were pushing the bird back or if the bird’s extraordinary reflexes made it seem that way, but they seemed to be involved in a weird little boxing match. There was a lot of bobbing and weaving going on, with Izzie occasionally throwing an overhand right and the bird slipping it to perfection. They kept this going for a couple of minutes. It was a strange little dance performed by two strange little pugilists. When they got bored, they quit and went away. No harm, no foul, and nobody hurt!

Dave Thomas
September 16, 2014


The Penguin Club



54a Penguin Club Jan. 1stSome cities have Polar Bear Clubs that award memberships on New Year’s morning to those who dive into the Hudson River or Lake Michigan or some other freezing cold body of water. Here in San Diego, we have the Penguin Club. To qualify, you must water ski a couple of laps around Mission Bay and then lie on a block of ice for a pre-determined period of time. I’ve got a couple of stories about Pat and Terri and the Penguin Club but first I’d like to tell you some of the things that transpired and got them to that shivering group.

Pat was working in the Auditing Department at Sears in San Diego. For many years, that was the only Sears store in the county. The first new store was built in the South Bay at Chula Vista though the original store was still the place to be. In the 1960’s, Sears Roebuck was the primo department store in the country. The commissioned sales people and the clerks were all well trained in both product knowledge and customer service. The benefit packages included great insurance and retirement plans.

Pat was working the Payroll desk in Auditing so each month she saw that the commissioned sales people were making a ton of money. More than once, she expressed a wish to have that kind of earning power.

Pat’s supervisor announced that the company making electric knives and fondue pots for Sears was scheduling demonstrations of their products at the Chula Vista store and it would be an opportunity for employees to make some extra money by conducting these demonstrations in their “off” hours. Pat was asked if she would like to take part in this. She acknowledged that she could use the money and though she didn’t know anything about either product, would like to give it a try. She was accepted and worked several shifts at this new job. It turned out that Pat not only enjoyed what she was doing but was very good at it. The story of her success was passed back up to the San Diego store and her supervisor.

Pat continued working the Payroll desk in the Auditing Department. This was the period when computers were being introduced as tools for business use. The computer necessary to do the administrative, book-keeping, and inventory functions of a store the size of Sears required a room larger than the average bedroom. During the infancy of the computer, life was just one mechanical problem or memory or software glitch after another.

The Auditing Department faced some kind of problem constantly with the reports from the computer. Pat’s co-workers became terrified when they heard the word “computer” and they had little success at troubleshooting. Pat had worked every desk in the department, had a solid understanding of them and fortunately had an uncanny knack for solving computer problems. She approached them in a matter-of-fact manner, without hysteria, and solved the problems using good book-keeping practices and common sense. She solved a number of problems that had baffled the “experts”. Her ability raised her profile in the office even higher than where it had been before. At one point, she suspected that an embezzler was at work but hadn’t as yet been able to pin down the department involved and come up with a suspect. She took some print-outs to her boss and explained why she felt something “fishy” was happening. Her boss looked over the reports and agreed that something didn’t feel right. He asked Pat to stay an hour every night, going over the reports, with a person from Security in the room, until she figured out what was going on. She worked at it for several days before turning over her findings. The result was that a man went to jail for embezzlement.

Pat’s supervisor told her that the management team had been considering her for the position as head of the Auditing Department. He said it would take another 2 or 3 years to acquire the experience she would need but they were confident that she could do it. Pat declined and was asked “why?” She said she needed to increase her income sooner than that and besides, wasn’t interested in heading a department of gossipy women.

One day, a problem occurred that the computer people couldn’t find. Auditors were due in from the home office in Chicago in a couple of days. Pat’s supervisor was under the gun and told her that if she could find the problem, he would help her transfer to sales. It took some doing but she found the answer and though he hated to lose her, her boss kept his promise.

Pat got her transfer and became the 4th woman working as a commissioned sales person at Sears Roebuck in San Diego. She was put to work in the Electronics Department selling TV’s, stereo systems, tape recorders, and other electronic items. The first thing she learned was that she had been dumped into the middle of an “old boys club.” The manager didn’t want any women working for him and the salesmen on the floor were sure that no women could possibly do their job. They treated her terribly! The manager withheld information about sales and merchandise and didn’t provide the day-to-day support that would help her learn the business. The salesmen were rude and withheld information and stole deals from her. If a referral or a returning shopper asked for her when she was out to lunch, the men would say it was her day off and would make a deal and write it up in their own names. They pulled every dirty trick you can think of. It was the same as stealing money right out of her pocket. She would come home at night, frustrated and crying and mad. I felt so bad, seeing her this way, I wanted to go to the store and have a little heart-to-heart talk with them. She said no, because that would just make it worse. She had to stand on her own two feet and learn how to out-sell them.

It was tough. Week after week, Pat studied the merchandise and memorized the specifications. Her sales figures started coming up and she was becoming more at ease on the floor. The salesmen started to loosen up, too. The first was the oldest guy in the group. I guess he realized that he had been brought up better than he had been acting and it was time to display some manners. The other guys softened up, too and the working environment became tolerable. Her sales figures steadily increased and she became one of the top salesmen in the store. A couple of times, she was Salesman of the Month at the store and once was 4th on the west coast. She was making a heck of a lot more money than I was as the Manufacturing Manager of an electronics company.

The “big ticket” salesmen, the people who earned the big money, always worked the weekends and took days off in the middle of the week. Several of them liked to water ski and had their own ski boats. They started to gather informally at Ski Beach, on Mission Bay, on Thursdays for a big skiing day. Pat had earned the respect of the group and she was asked if she would like to participate. She told them that she didn’t know how to water ski but would like to give it a try. She started attending the ski parties on Thursdays and loved it and soon discovered that she was good at it. It didn’t take long for her to graduate from two skis to one ski. At this point, she decided that she needed her own ski and soon after that she needed her own boat.

Pat watched the classifieds in the paper and soon located a good ski boat and trailer and we went out and bought it. We both had a lot to learn about the upkeep of boats and trailers when used in a salt water environment. And, since I had to work and wouldn’t be going with her, Pat had to learn how to hitch up the trailer, back it, pull it, gas up the boat, launch and recover it, and a thousand other things. She learned these things along with our daughter, Terri, who Pat was kidnapping from high school on Thursdays.

Pat told me that she and Terri were going to do the Penguin Club stuff on New Year’s morning and earn the shoulder patch and membership card. It sounded like fun so I went along as a spectator. Boats and equipment would be available so we didn’t have to take anything. There was a good crowd there and people were scattered around the parking lot and the beach and a television crew was there from one of the local stations. Pat and Terri went to get in line for their event. I got myself a cup of coffee and milled around while I waited for the girls to have their turn on the skis.

In the crowd, I spotted a guy that I had worked with for several years named Art Ahlquist. Art was waiting for some of his family to take their turn on the skis and ice block so we stood together and watched and talked and drank coffee. This Penguin Club event was at a different part of Ski Beach than where Pat usually skied. At her regular place, when you were done skiing you headed for shore, cast the tow rope aside and coasted right up to the water line and stepped off onto the beach. Here, the water was shallower so you couldn’t ride all the way in and would have to step off your ski earlier. Art and I watched as people glided in and stepped off their ski into the shallow water.

Pat’s turn came and I watched as she got up and was skiing around the bay. Art had been talking to someone else but turned back around to watch as Pat headed in and prepared to dismount. We could see that she was heading almost straight in, rather than paralleling the shore. Art, who was familiar with this beach said “Who’s that dumb s—t coming straight in?” About that time, the skag on her ski hits the mud and Pat lands face first in the water. “That dumb s—t is my wife”, I said. Pat got out of the water, freezing, and with a skinned nose from her fall. She sat on the block of ice, shivered until it was over and got her shoulder patch and official ID card.

Terri made it around the bay without incident (except for freezing) and did her time on the block of ice. She received her shoulder patch and card and about that time was approached by a member of the San Diego Water Ski Club. He said they wanted to form a pyramid and make a lap around the bay for the TV camera but one of their team couldn’t be there that morning. He went on to say that they had watched her ski and it appeared that she was good and could help them with their pyramid. She would be the person at the top so she wouldn’t have to worry about supporting any weight. She agreed to give it a try so they started instructing her right there on the beach about how the climbing sequence should work so she could get safely to the top. After a bit, they went down to the water and started off. Terri struggled a little but got to the top of the pyramid and had the tow rope in one hand and a flag raised high in the other. They made a lap around the bay with everyone looking good, and then told Terri it was time to dismount. She started trying to climb down and realized that no one had explained the proper way to get down or told her of the proper sequence for doing so. She soon knocked one of her cohorts off balance and the whole pyramid came tumbling down. It was quite a pile-up and Terri nearly had the earrings jerked from her head. They didn’t tear through the bottom of the ear lobes but they made some nasty looking gashes. She was mad and when they all got to the beach she made them show her the safe and proper way to get down. Terri was asked to join the ski club but she told them she would pass.

Water Ski Pyramid 1

This is a file photo from the Internet, just to refresh your memory on what a pyramid looks like on water skis. Terri said it was quite a thrill.

Dave Thomas
January 16, 2015


Aircraft Spotter Cards


aircraft spotter cards 1

I was five years old, a Kindergarten student, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Naturally, at that age, I had no idea what that meant. As the days, weeks, and months went past, young and old received lessons every day in the meaning of war and the obscene way the young men of our town were called up and then sometimes returned home in caskets to their broken-hearted parents and friends and neighbors. We all learned about the rationing of food and gasoline and bubble gum and about War Bonds and rallies and restrictions of many kinds. As the men went off to war, the women took their places in the factories, war plants, and farms and churned out the goods we needed to support our servicemen and our country.

We all wanted to contribute to the war effort in any way we could and one of the most interesting ways for a kid to do that was to watch out for enemy aircraft. This may sound strange, considering that we lived in Kansas which is located right in the middle of our country. The Japanese flew in and bombed Pearl Harbor and the Germans were shooting rockets and buzz bombs at England so we didn’t know what they would be capable of doing next. Our enemies could possibly build secret air bases in Mexico or Canada or could launch carrier strikes from the Atlantic or Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. We all had black curtains temporarily installed over each window in the house so that when the Civil Defense people conducted black-out drills as part of practice air raid drills we could take cover in our homes and be sure that no lights would give away the location of our town.

We kids were all excited about learning to identify all the aircraft in the skies so that we could sound the alarm in case of attack. The greatest aid in this endeavor was the pack of Aircraft Spotter Cards which were manufactured by the people who make Bicycle Playing Cards. These cards could be used as playing cards but their other purpose, and most important to our point of view, was to help identify the military aircraft of friend and foe. We learned to identify the P-40, the P-38 Lightning, the B-25, and the P-51 Mustang as well as the Jap Zero and the German Messerschmitt. It was comforting as well as fun to know these airplanes. As I said, we lived in Kansas but we were only 15 miles from Wichita, the location of an air base and the Boeing, Cessna, and Beech aircraft plants. For all we knew the enemy was liable to make a bombing run on those places at any time. We didn’t go around wringing our hands and crying out of fear but our resolve to be alert and prepared was great.

Dave Thomas
November 27, 2008

aircraft spotter cards 5                                                        aircraft spotter cards 4
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A Shucky-darn Guy

I’ve known this guy for more than 45 years. He’s a quiet, soft-spoken man who never swears regardless of the provocation. If he hits his thumb with a hammer, he says “shucky-darn!” If he cuts his finger with a knife, he says “shucky-darn!” No matter how bad things get, he reacts about the same. You know this isn’t normal…this man has been in the Coast Guard and has been working as a lineman and a foreman for the electric company for forty years. He knows all the words but chooses not to use them..

I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought to myself that this guy is going to pinch his finger or something and then he’ll cuss a blue streak just like the rest of us normal people. I just couldn’t believe that he was actually a real shucky-darn guy. Over the years I kind of kept this in the back of my mind. I didn’t go nuts about this and try to trip him up or cause him to explode over some stressful event. I just noted his reactions like you note what is happening with the weather. For instance, it’s warm today or there’s a nice breeze blowing today.

Meanwhile, this is causing me to pay more attention to the people I come in contact with. Is this woman with the super sweet personality and the honey dripping from her lips a shucky-darn gal and is this man with the over-enthusiastic handshake a shucky-darn guy? Or, are they just blowing smoke at me while they cuss me and call me names under their breath? I don’t want to be cynical but sometimes it’s hard to get a fix on people and know if they are real or not.

My friend stayed the same. I guess it’s been almost 50 years now and he has been true to his principles and remained a Shucky-Darn Guy! Don’t worry, I still use all those bad words myself and if you’re not a shucky darn guy or shucky-darn gal I’ll still love ya’.

Dave Thomas
February 8, 2014


This Is No Bull!

I’m still thinking about animals and their ability to figure things out. I learned early on that even bulls can solve problems and put 2 and 2 together when they have the motivation to do so.

I was 11 or 12 and had spent the night on the farm with my great-great uncle, Will Church, and Aunt Ella. I had breakfast and was in a pen currying Prince, the pinto pony I was going to ride later. Next to the pen I was in, was the corral. I say “corral” but it was sturdy enough to stop an Army tank. The fence poles were at least as big as railroad ties and the fencing itself was 3″ pipe. There were 2 sections of pipe strung between the posts. The lower one was maybe 2 feet above ground and the upper one was maybe 5 feet high. The land naturally fell away to the east toward a spring-fed creek that was 10 or 15 yards east of the fence. You could see that on the east side of the corral the dirt had washed out as a result of many years of run-off from the rains. The distance from the ground to the lower pipe at that point may have been more like 30 “or 36”.

So, there’s this super corral and standing right in the middle of it is Griffin, Uncle Will’s prize shorthorn bull. Griffin is just standing there and staring out into the adjoining pasture. The dairy herd had been milked and turned out and they were strung out in a line across the pasture as they headed for their favorite loafing spot.

I could hardly believe what I saw next. Old Griffin sidles up to that east fence where the wash-out is the greatest. He drops down on his front knees and lowers his body to the ground. Then he starts shoving with his hind legs and wiggling and twists and grunts and kicks until, all of a sudden, he is on the other side of the fence. He slid under it! He gets to his feet and takes off at a fast walk after that bunch of fine-looking cows that are just going over the hill. A little bit of thinking and planning will get you where you want to be.

Dave Thomas
August 19, 2014


The B.N. & S.F.

Gene and Bonnie have a neighbor named “L.J.” who is a dispatcher for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad. I didn’t know it but the two rail lines merged or one acquired the other a few years ago. The corporate headquarters for the company is here in Fort Worth, just off Western Center Boulevard. If you will recall, just after we get on I-35W and head for Fort Worth, you see a Joe’s Crab Shack and it is located on Western Center. The railroad owns several hundred acres there and it looks like a campus with beautiful buildings and beautiful trees and green lawns. There is a large pond where employees can fish if they practice “catch and release” and there are two miles of jogging trails. One of the buildings contains a large weight room.

The center of activity is a large building called the “bunker” because it is built like a wartime bunker with walls that are 3 feet thick to withstand high winds and tornados. There is also an emergency generator in the basement to ensure that there is no power interruption. The reason for all of these precautions is that all of the rolling stock and the rail lines owned by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe are controlled from one room in this building known as Federal Control. It looks like the pictures you see of NASA’s Mission Control or the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with at least 100 cubicles, 400 or 500 people and even more computer monitors. The main room has no supporting columns and we were told that when it was built a few years ago, it was the largest free- standing room ever built. To give you an idea of the scale, one wall contains 9 movie screens and each looks to be as big as what you would see at your favorite AMC. One screen always shows the weather channel and the rest are changing every few minutes with up-to-date graphs and information necessary to run the business. One interesting screen shows the number of coal trains operating at the current moment. The BNSF averages the operation of 45 coal trains per day and the Union Pacific runs about 45 trains a day over track that is owned by the BNSF. The coal is mined in Wyoming and Colorado and shipped to power plants all over the country to generate power. Our host, L.J., was showing us around on his day off. He normally works three 12- hour days in a row and then has three days off. L.J.’s main duty is to supply locomotives to the 45 coal trains and keep track of the status of each. The rest of the screens show on-time performance and stuff like that.

We got to go through some railroad cars that are kept on the property. There is a gift shop and a museum that is quite interesting. The walls of the buildings were hung with southwest art. The whole layout was interesting and quite impressive.

Dave Thomas



She Wanted To Know…

Pat and her group were big-ticket sales people. That meant that they were smart and aggressive and quick with a thought. A new man transferred in named Bill Deem. Bill was a big, nice-looking, guy with an anchor man voice. He was an ex-marine and a gentleman in the finest sense of the word. At first, he was quiet and maybe a little bit stuffy. Associating with a bunch of highly motivated, quick thinking sales people soon loosened him up.

Somehow, Bill developed a hernia and he took a leave of absence to have it repaired. The surgery went well and Bill healed up and returned to work. That first morning, the group gathered around him to welcome him back, ask how he was feeling, and ask what the doctor had said and had he placed any restrictions on him. Bill said that he made his final visit to the doctor the day before and everything went well. After the doctor finished his exam, Bill mentioned that his wife had a question she wanted him to ask of the doctor. The doctor cut in with “Yes, Bill, it’s ok for you to have sex.” “Well”, says Bill…”she really just wanted to know if I could take out the trash.”

Dave and Pat Thomas
March 4, 2015


Grandpa: To Bee…

Grandpa-To Bee Or Not To Bee

I think it was 1925 when they had a flood there in Augusta, Kansas that had the south end of town running-board deep. I remember my folks had pictures of Walnut Street in front of Grandpa’s house showing the old cars plowing through the water. Grandpa’s house, itself, was safe for it had been built with tall footings and the flood water only made it part way up the front steps.

Augusta was in a sensitive location. It had the Walnut River on the east and the Whitewater River on the west. After the flood the townspeople began talking about building a levee or dike that would protect the town on the east, south, and west sides. The higher ground on the north side was no problem. Grandpa, A.A. Thomas, was highly in favor of the protection offered by a dike and attended the City Council meetings where it was discussed. Of course, a project of this size and cost would require interaction with many county, state, and federal departments and agencies. Grandpa attended many meetings and as a homeowner and business owner (an addition to his home had been constructed to house a grocery store) he always put in his two cents worth.

If you were paying attention to him, you would have noticed that during any conversation regarding the levees or dikes, Grandpa would suggest that these ramparts should be protected from erosion and that the very best ground cover for this purpose was clover. Not many people realized that Grandpa was an entrepreneur with a new idea every minute. In this case, he hoped to set himself up as a beekeeper! He planned to place the hives at strategic places along the dikes and the bees could concentrate on the dikes and not waste time flying all over the county to collect the pollen. Thus, the bees could make more honey and Grandpa could prosper.

The dikes were eventually built but were sewn with prairie grass. Well, so much for that dream.

Dave Thomas
April 27, 2013