River of January Book 2 Excerpt

Amelia Earhart Plane Fragment Identified : DNews


Bertha eyed the large box with a wary, but inquisitive gaze. “We got this for you. Merry Christmas Mother,” we both hope you’ll like it,” Helen beamed with pride. “Chum?”
Bertha narrowed her eyes, watching as her son-in-law sliced down a cardboard corner with his pocket knife. Revealed inside, a beautiful new Emerson radio, curved corners, blonde wood, featuring inset vertical columns. Mother’s eyes now grew wide as she took in the gift—this radio was the top of the line, as Bertha well knew.
“Oh my heavens,” she exclaimed. “You two must have spent a pretty penny on this!”
Helen grinned happily, her mother seemed honestly pleased, while Chum, hurried to plug the device in, rapidly turning the dial looking for a Christmas broadcast.
Kneeling at a small end table, he twisted the tuner knob—the frequency tone whined and whistled from fuzzy to piercing. Finally, a clear authoritative voice rose, articulating in a clipped urgent cadence. Nineteen hundred and thirty seven has been an eventful year in American news. It was last spring, in May that the Hindenburg, a German dirigible tragically exploded over New Jersey. Celebrated aviatrix Amelia Earhart was lost in July, along with navigator, Fred Noonan in the uncharted expanses of the South Pacific . . .

“No Christmas music, honey?” Helen asked over the broadcaster’s voice.
“That’s really not a surprise,” Chum mumbled, lost in thought.
Bertha quipped, “No Christmas music on Christmas is a surprise?”
“No. No. Sorry. Amelia Earhart was someone I once knew at the field.
Impressed for once, Helen’s mother pushed for more details. “You knew Amelia Earhart?”
“Oh. Well, yeah I did. She was a friend of a friend.” Suddenly self conscious with all three women staring at him, Chum struggled for words. “You see, Earhart had no training in navigation at all. She could fly just fine, but had to hire navigators to get anywhere. The, eh, other girls—girl-pilots talked about it. They uh, believed it was that husband of hers, George Putnam who inflated her abilities . . . spent money to build up her reputation. Amelia got in over her head on that flight, and the poor kid was killed as a result.
“How do you know this?” This time Eileen piped up, clearly fascinated by his tale.
“Like I said, that Roosevelt Field crew of gals could be a clucky bunch. The other women talked a lot about how shamelessly that husband promoted her career.”
“I’d never heard that before,” Bertha exclaimed, appraising her son-in-law in a new light.
“Me either,” Helen added, not sure she was pleased with his “the other girls at the field” story or not.

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Another New York Story


So caught up in the process of writing River of January I didn’t see much beyond my keyboard and monitor. Focusing intensely on grammar, style, punctuation, research, and every other detail, I failed to see a beautiful New York story take shape before my eyes.

A New York story. The New York of Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, Jimmy Walker, and silent films. The New York of Roosevelt Field–Lindbergh lifting off eastward toward Paris, achieving legendary status, and where Amelia Earhart later trundled down that same runway only to meet her mysterious end in the South Pacific.

Mont Chumbley, one of two central figures in River worked at that same storied airfield, braking down runway #1, arriving first in the 1933 Darkness Derby. He had braved inky night skies in his quest, worsened by wind gusts and growing cloud cover.  Pushing through from Los Angeles to New York, Chum prevailed, victorious, He received honors for his achievement at the Capitol Theater, 1645 Broadway, when Actress Helen Hayes presented him with his cash winnings, and an over sized silver trophy. Becoming something of a local celebrity himself, many from the city sought him out for passenger transport or flying lessons. On one instruction flight,Chum found actress Katharine Hepburn in the cabin of his plane, joining her boyfriend, Broadway producer, Leland Hayward.

 Helen’s New York consisted of auditions and productions from the Boulevard Theater, to the Roxy, performing for Billy Rose, finally dancing in “The Harry Carroll Revue.” As if a scene from an old movie, she set sail in April, 1932 on the SS Ille de France. This transatlantic voyage carried the girl from New York Harbor for an extended tour across Europe. Two years later, in 1936 she stepped up the passage way of The American Legion, a steamer on the Munson Line destined for Rio de Janeiro. Joining throngs on the top deck Helen gleefully waved goodbye to her family, smiling back from the Brooklyn docks. And speaking of family, Helen’s home address, 325 West 45th Street, was the third floor of the Whitby Hotel smack-dab in the middle of the Theater District. And though refreshed and remodeled today, that apartment building still stands–a direct link to an earlier era, an earlier New York.

Helen and Chum both lived in Manhattan at the same time. But he had his New York story to fulfill, and so did his future bride. That they crossed paths on the sidewalks, subways, theaters, restaurants, and trains before exchanging their first hello is certain. But as proper New Yorkers the two finally met elsewhere, at the Club Copacabana in Rio, a hemisphere away. There these two New Yorkers finally locked eyes, and fell in love.

Eventually, when circumstances allowed, Helen and Chum returned home to exchanged vows at the Church of the Transfiguration, on East 29th and 5th Avenue. This location is better known to New Yorkers as The Little Church Around the Corner.

I’ve finally come to recognize that River of January has become more than the narrative of two lives in the early days of aviation and show business. This story takes place in the magical metropolis of New York–where Helen and Chum found magic of their own.



To my brave colleagues who soldier on.

Gail Chumbley

No doubt that one of the primary reasons I retired was burn out.  I had worked in secondary classrooms the length of my adult life and struggled the last couple years largely due to growing political pressure.  You see, I bought into the idea that hard work paid off and found out that I was dead wrong.  My hard work didn’t matter.  None of my colleagues hard work mattered. My student performance outcomes, though well above the national average didn’t matter.  Nothing moved policy makers except that they could hire two new teachers for the price of me, and many of my fellow staffers.

When the mortgage market imploded in 2008, Southwestern Idaho flat-lined economically.  While teachers, such as myself, fought draconian budget cuts the legislature didn’t listen.  They didn’t care.  The brutal impact on classroom numbers and lack of materials made no difference, their ears were closed.  In fact…

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I Couldn’t Help Myself


River of January

This wasn’t my idea. The completion of River of January has been as much a surprise to me as to anyone. I never presumed to be any kind of writer, ever. In fact, I spent my entire career as an American History teacher who told stories, not wrote them. But when River of January came into my life, the story took root, soon dogging my every step. Forget the fact that I didn’t know how to write, or understand the first thing about publishing–River of January made it clear that those deficiencies were my problem.

This project flowed into motion after meeting and coming to admire my story’s central figure. Mont Chumbley, one of two major characters in the River of January, was a real flesh-and-blood man full of irresistible charm. He was also my father-in-law, and as such generously shared hours of gripping storytelling, regaling tales of his fascinating life. His personal anecdotes exquisitely depicted the golden age of aviation, leaving me humbled and honored—in awe of his singular and astonishing career. Delightful episodes included flyers, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes, among many other colorful characters that populated Roosevelt Field. Chum became my own Peter Pan, guiding me on a magical journey to an America full of promise and opportunity.

Next a treasure trove of Chumbley memorabilia surfaced that verified his stories. This archive touched not only his life, but that of his wife, Helen Thompson Chumbley. An accomplished dancer, Helen preserved every memento related to her equally remarkable career. Steamship tags, playbills, performance reviews, baggage stickers, and photos of an eager, happy girl costumed in an array of attire for stage productions or film sets. Helen too, aimed to preserve her accomplishments saving pictures, lists of business contacts, and letters home to her mother–all depicting a clear narrative of Helen’s own artistic path. Her passport, for example tells of extended junkets to Europe in 1932, London, 1934, and Brazil in 1936. All journeys illustrated with glossies, more letters home, and snapshots of a young dancer having the time of her life.

Their lives unfolded before me only to shift and refocus with each new piece of evidence. This composition grew so immense that only one book became impossible. Inevitably I had to find a fitting close, and then resume the tale in a second volume. Chum’s early years, for example, required a deeper examination of the aviation industry; complete with the serious obstacles he met attaining his wings. It also became crucial to explore the larger story of America, understanding the national barriers Chum overcame to see through his goals.

The same hurdles held true for Helen. Readers had to be reminded that the decades presented in River of January were years of careless economic boom followed by a devastating bust, leaving her path that much more daunting. Moreover, her mother required financial support in an era with no Social Security or Medicare. The burden fell completely on young Helen and her sister. With talent and fortitude, Helen’s grit loomed large in this story, tinged by a real fear of devastating consequences.

This author had formidable obstacles to overcome, too. The most profound drawback, the greatest obstruction–I had absolutely no idea how to write– not in any vibrant or intimate style. If the truth be told, creating River of January felt much like building a car while driving it down the street. River’s first drafts were so awkward and flat, that my first editor fired me as a lost cause. Mortified, I wanted to crawl under my bed, and never write again. And worse, I couldn’t disagree with this editor because I honestly had no idea what I was doing. Still, the book didn’t care. River wasn’t interested in my shortcomings, and the story refused to go away. Despite feeling an amateur fool, I bravely soldiered on.

Every family has a story waiting to be unveiled. In this instance the flow of narrative arrived from three directions. First, and most significantly, was my marriage to Chad Chumbley, the eldest son of Mont and Helen Chumbley. It was he who initially conveyed there was a tale to tell. With what little Chad knew of his father’s career and his mother’s accomplishments, my husband was certain of an epic waiting to appear.

The abundance of primary documents sealed my fate as my in-laws biographer. And again, though I didn’t recognize the forces at work, sifting through each item from that vast collection boosted the project forward. And this couple saved EVERYTHING! Air show tickets, menus from European eateries, pressed flowers, telegrams, his logbook!

By 2005 we coaxed Chum to come west and take up residence in an assisted living facility. He soon became the most popular, most charming tenant in the place. And it was in his room, 18 months later that we sadly attended his death. A mighty Virginia pine had fallen, and the era of his extraordinary life died with him. For me, that could not stand—Chum’s story deserved to be remembered, and no one else was going to see that job through. Nor could Helen be forgotten. Her qualities of greatness cast as large a shadow as her husband’s. I had no choice but to ignore my doubts and get to work piecing together their lives–from youth to marriage.

Not all members of the family were keen with my project. And I am sensitive to their concerns. But, Chum and Helen lead such astonishing lives, and achieved such great accomplishments, that I decided to forge ahead and make River of January a reality.

House Rules


Tass had had a bad night. She hopped up on the hour to meet the demands of cleansing medications, followed by gatorade chasers in preparation for a morning procedure. I wasn’t exactly perky myself, between traveling all day to care for her, and worry over what the morning would bring. Waking and dressing was of little consequence–we were fully alert before 7 AM.

Tass chirped obsessively that she hadn’t properly cleaned her system, and she fretted over controlling herself until we reached the clinic. My ridiculous attempts at small talk proved no distraction to her intensity–she could hardly hear me.

Her summer had been a tough row to hoe. Digestive problems plagued her every step, literally as well as figuratively. Tass had taken up running and was beginning to truly embrace the sport when her insides began to betray her. So now, after fruitless medical appointments, we were off to the digestive health center to literally look up “her old address,” in the words of M*A*S*H’s Captain Henry Blake.

Two receptionists manned the front window. One young lady, a bit stocky in build, with thick, dark, kinky hair greeted us. The other, a tall thin blonde, scurried back and forth, running from this computer to that, a phone clutched to her ear. She paid us no mind.

Behind the glass, their station had been cheerfully decorated with a variety of Fall memorabilia. A yellow duckie with turkey feathers roosted on the computer, while a vampire ladybug observed us as Tass completed reams of paperwork.

Our secretary wore a hippy-print smock, festooned with peace signs, and little faux buttons saying “Love,” “Peace,” and “Happy,” covering the fabric. Her bustling co-worker was clearly an active Utah Jazz fan. A poster bearing #20 decorated her station, with game tickets posted beneath, and her purple and yellow lanyard bore her swaying hospital ID.

Their cheerful surroundings and attire did not reach the region of their faces. Not a smile could be detected behind that glass window–nothing but purposeful business. Only the plush lady-bug smiled, and she wanted to drink our blood.

In a no-nonsense fashion the receptionist requested Tass’ deductible payment. A sign next to her desk echoed the demand. Payment Due On Day Of Service. That’s code for “cash on the barrel-head,” or we would proceed no further into the facility. Exhausted from the restless night, Tass handed over her payment, then miserably darted to the restroom.

Combining worry and sleep deprivation we had no smiles to compensate for any lack in the receptionist. Tass’ registration process became a mutual, somber wash.

Staking chairs in the waiting room, we were now at the mercy of the clinic’s time table, trapped in the belly of a whale.

Fox news narrated our anxious wait time–time that permitted a more in-depth appraisal of the office suite. There were paintings hanging on the walls, and they were lovely, too. Scenes of Canyonland National Park–Zion, Moab, etc . . . But strangely they only rendered some others as distinctly odd.

Enclosed in black frames were official disclosure documents, about four in all. Enumerated were lists of office policies dotted behind glass, all absolving the clinic of any responsibility for this or that unforeseen outcome. Costs may vary from quotes, Payment due prior to services, Physicians may or may not claim financial interests in this clinic, and other arcane declarations.

“Man,oh man,” these dudes have it all covered,” crossed my thoughts.

The medical staff, in contrast to the muscle in the front office, were all beyond wonderful and compassionate. We couldn’t help but adore Tass’ nurse from the get-go. The doctor was nothing if not an angel sent from above. Her care was superlative from pre to post treatment. And Tass came out with with a good result.

But still, the duality of healthcare is troublesome. The icy chill of the relentless business angle where there is no personal concern, can not help but eclipse the heartfelt goodness of skilled providers.

Whether outcomes are good or bad, diagnosis positive or negative, the house wins.

Oh, That’s Today!


There were times when I’d be blathering along on some historical subject, and in a sudden epiphany realize, “and it happened today!” One time, displaying a before-and-after photo of the USS Maine in a lecture on the Spanish-American War, it dawned on me that the date was February 15, 1898–that very day. “Oh, that’s today!” sprang from my mouth. Various reactions crossed the many faces of my students. Ranging from, “she really needs a life,” to “that might be mildly interesting, but it’s not.” My kids seemed to exude more sympathy than interest in my sudden, self-induced enthusiasm. “Geez, don’t all hop up all at once,” was my usual sardonic response. Then they would laugh.

December 7th got a nod, September 17th, Constitution Day, and my personal favorite, “The Seventh of March Speech.” That one you ought to look up. Finest speech made in the Senate to my way of thinking. I made a practice of asking a baritone-voiced student to read Daniel Webster’s words if March 7th fell on a school day. There’s May 8th, V-E Day, September 11th, March 5th, Boston Massacre–all acknowledged and more to boot.

Today I presented a book talk on River of January for a local service club. I shared the story of Chum’s epic, 1933 air race, (that he won) soaring through the night sky from Los Angeles to New York. Chattering happily I flipped to the slide pictured above. This is the actress Helen Hayes awarding Chum his first place trophy at the Capitol Theater on October 4, 1933. The Capitol was premiering Miss Hayes’ new film, Night Flight, and the race was somehow wound up with the movie. Well, that was 81 years ago today. So of course, I grew just as ridiculously excited as I used to in my history classes. “Oh. My. Gosh. That’s today!” And I will commend this group of adults for not judging me as harshly as my eye-rolling students. These fine people laughed–as happy as I felt with the coincidence.

So there it is. Chum won the “Darkness Derby” on October 3, 1933 and Miss Hayes handed over cash and a trophy the following evening in New York.

It was a Wednesday night, October 4th, that Chum’s life dramatically changed exiting that theater. He now had award money, and a trophy that proved his merit as an up-and-coming pilot holding his own in the Golden Era of Aviation.