The caretaker of our little airport had a bad stroke recently. Alan is his name. He's a British guy, a nice guy too, with no relatives in this country. He's also self-employed, and I doubt he has the insurance coverage that will provide for the long-term care that a bad stroke requires. So he's selling off some of his stuff. Turns out Alan is quite the pack-rat and collector of things. Oh boy, does he have things!
I was on my way up to the airport today when the Boss called. "Bob, I'm buying Alan's fire truck," he said. I didn't even know Alan owned a fire truck, but I wasn't the least bit surprised.
"It's sitting in a hangar...has been for some time, I guess. Could you get the battery charged up, get it running and get it cleaned up so we can bring it up to the hunting camp?"
That's actually not a bad idea. There are a dozen or so homes at the camp, and they're all a long way from civilization. If any one of them caught fire they'd burn to the ground. Our ability to put them out would depend entirely on how much beer we'd collectively drank up to that point.
Needless to say the truck would not start despite my best efforts, which consisted of me standing around with my hands in my pockets watching Alan's friend Paul Merritt crank and crank the engine. After a while, the hangar filled up with the unmistakable smell of seriously rotten gasoline. I thought to myself, "This would make a dandy explosion if someone were to so much as, oh, flip a light switch." And what delicious irony that would be: an explosion and fire in a hangar occupied by a fire truck that was incapable of putting itself out.
My expert opinion was that the carburetor is probably gummed up. I had actually come to this opinion while I was still on my way to the airport. Gasoline goes bad, turns to varnish if you leave it long enough. Machines need to be run more than once every three years or so.
The Boss arrived to survey his new purchase. What is it about fire trucks that brings out the kid in grown men? He was acting like it was Christmas morning...excitedly flipping switches and pulling levers, climbed up into the driver's seat and of course we had to blow the siren...the loud siren...in the hangar. Oh wasn't that a treat! (We have a proper mechanic coming to get the truck running.)
Since Alan is out of commission, his friends have been filling in for him, keeping the place running. Mostly Paul. A couple others. It pays to have good friends. Young people sometimes minimize this. "I don't need anybody," they'll proclaim sourly. Oh yes you do, man, yes you do. Or you will.
Our airport normally has a lot of Navy T-34 trainers in the traffic pattern, and today, being beautiful, they were out in force. Dofin Fritts was up in his gyrocopter doing training. Two Beechcraft twin-engine airplanes, a Baron and a King Air arrived simultaneously and disgorged their passengers. Shortly after lunch a woman flying powerline patrol in a Cessna 172 stopped in for fuel. Then a brand spanking-new Robinson R-44 helicopter landed. The two guys flying it were on the last leg of the delivery flight from the factory in Torrance (Los Angeles), California to St. Augustine, Florida (over in the very northeast corner of our state). Then a Piper Cub landed! Our sleepy little Alabama airport had turned into Grand Central Station.
I volunteered my services as "line boy" and gassed-up those who needed gassing-up. Funny, it's where I started in aviation, and it's probably where I'll end up again some day...an airport geezer with stories of back in the day when *I* used to fly those choppers, by cracky... "Yessiree, I used to fly one down in Honduras, an FH1100, I think it was..." And I'll pretend to not notice the glazed-over eyes of my captive audience who'll probably be thinking, "Jeez gramps, will you just pump my goddam fuel and stop with all the yakking?" Ah the young - no respect for age, I tell ya.
We're all hoping and praying that Alan makes a full recovery and returns to work soon. Although things had not been too promising early on, one month later he is up and walking around. The wonderful staff at the West Florida Medical Center have been pushing him hard. Knowing Alan, he's pushing himself just as hard. The human spirit is a wonderful thing.
In the meantime, I don't mind helping out where I can. Especially if it means that I'll get to crank up the fire engine and take it for a "test drive" around the airport runways. With the lights and siren blaring, of course. You know that nobody...and I mean nobody is a bigger kid at heart than I am.