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Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By Budd Davis­son

Con­fes­sions of an Av Hoarder

Ever won­der what an ed­i­tor’s of­fice looks like? Well, as a life­long “ac­cu­mu­la­tor” of neat stuff (as op­posed to a “col­lec­tor” in which a theme or di­rec­tion is con­noted), I whole­heart­edly ad­mit that my larg­erthan-nor­mal of­fice has the moldy am­bi­ence of a hoarder’s di­sheveled liv­ing room. Rather than piles of dis­carded cloth­ing and grandma’s kitchen castoffs, how­ever, ev­ery inch of wall space and half of the floor is given over to ran­dom items that usu­ally have some sort of his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion to avi­a­tion. I have been told it seems like a her­mit’s mu­seum, with the large-screen com­put­ers look­ing out of place.

With half a cen­tury of con­tin­u­ally keep­ing my eyes open for stuff that tick­les me, I’ve per­fected the abil­ity to quickly scan a garage sale, swap-mart ta­ble, or gun show and spot the stuff that be­longs in my of­fice. There is no no­tice­able theme that ties all this stuff to­gether, ex­cept for the fact that none of them were found where you’d ex­pect them to be. They fol­lowed me home be­cause I stum­bled across them and the price was right. Sim­ple as that.

The 250-pound prac­tice bomb in the cor­ner was stand­ing out­side a tiny an­tique store in a tiny town in Kansas. I was roar­ing through on my way home from col­lege, saw it, screeched to a halt, dropped a $10 bill on the owner, bought some rope, tied it to the roof of my highly cus­tom­ized 1950 Ford Club Coupe, and went on my way.

The framed NR869E was ly­ing un­der a ta­ble at a swap meet. I ac­ci­den­tally kicked it, and it fell over, re­veal­ing it­self. My heart stopped when I saw it. “NR” meant it was one of the few li­censed rac­ers of the 1930s. Jimmy Mat­tern’s sig­na­ture on it told me it was part of the rud­der of the Lock­heed Vega he crashed in Siberia in 1933 try­ing for an around-the-world record. $75 well spent.

The NR2Y was given to me at Oshkosh by an old gen­tle­man who thought I should have it be­cause I was build­ing a fly­ing replica of Benny

Howard’s 1929 “Pete” racer, which orig­i­nally wore that num­ber. As a teen, he was stand­ing in the shop when the air­plane was be­ing re­built, and the owner ripped the tail fab­ric off the air­plane and said, “Here, kid. Keep this.” And he did. He was about 85 when he handed it to me. It was one of the big­gest com­pli­ments I’ve re­ceived in my life.

The big Sensenich pro­peller was stand­ing in the cor­ner of a Ne­braska hard­ware store when the owner saw me study­ing it. He said, “That looks like some­thing you should own.” He was right. It was brand new and the num­bers re­vealed it was orig­i­nally de­signed for the UC-78 “Bam­boo Bomber,” but it is doubt­ful many flew with those old clubs. The air­plane wasn’t a stel­lar per­former to be­gin with, but it couldn’t have got­ten out of its own way equipped with wood props.

The gun­sight shelf fea­tures a com­put­ing sight from the ball tur­ret of a B-17. I found it un­der a ta­ble at a gun show. The owner didn’t know what it was and didn’t care. Fifty bucks! The K-14A com­put­ing sight from a Mus­tang was in a pile of mis­cel­la­neous stuff at an an­tique swap meet. Ten bucks! The Mk. 8 Navy sight, pos­si­bly from a Hell­cat, was in a garage sale down the block from my house.

And the beat goes on, from one cor­ner of my of­fice to the other. Wall-to-wall mem­o­ries! Some­times, late at night, I feel as if I can al­most hear some of the pieces telling their tales to me.

The point to all this is that it’s amaz­ing how of­ten lit­tle tid­bits of avi­a­tion his­tory will pop up in our ev­ery­day lives. All it re­quires is that you keep your eyes open for the un­usual and un­ex­pected. It also helps if you marry some­one who can tol­er­ate a hoarder. I have.

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