New York, 1933


“So you’ve been to see all the big boys, eh?” commented a sales representative from Long Island who was seated behind a battered old desk. Airplane distributor Howard Ailor of Waco Aircraft studied the young man’s face. “And by the looks of you they all turned you down.”
“That is about right, Mr. Ailor.” Chum responded, trying to look confident. “I was hoping you might know of something out here, maybe something at Roosevelt Field.”
“I don’t know you, son, but let me give you some advice. Don’t dawdle around hoping for that phone call. This is no economy to sit by and wait for miracles. You’ll starve first. Push your way into the air business with your own equipment, that‘s what I say, and I can help you with that. We have some beauties right here on site.”
Chum listened to the silver-tongued salesman, surprised that he agreed with all Ailor had to say.
Chum also realized that he had returned to an America deep in the throes of financial depression.
Economic life in the 1920s had played out as a frenzied, unregulated party. By all appearances the country had embraced infinite prosperity. Insider trading and other shady practices reigned on Wall Street, where market manipulators pooled cash and bought up stock, artificially driving up values. Regular folk, believing they were on to something big, bought these tainted stocks as crooked investors dumped them, reaping fabulous profits.
Indiscriminate buying, using easy credit, pumped the overblown Dow Jones to ballooning artificial heights. Even private banks joined the frenzy, wagering the savings of their account holders to increase their own bottom line.
This facade of spreading affluence ensured the “hands off” economic policies accepted in Washington. Then the market imploded. On October 29, 1929, “Black Tuesday,” the savings of a nation disappeared with the steepest financial crash in American history. Thousands upon thousands of people were ruined and the enterprise of a nation dried up.
Young Mont Chumbley had resigned from the Navy without another job, and now found there were none. The pilot’s only and best assets were his optimism, his pluck, and an old Chevy.
“Over here,” Ailor directed Chum, as they walked toward a hangar housing a red-with-black-trim Waco cabin biplane. “This baby’s a real beauty, right? We can take it up for a spin, if you like, but you can’t have this one—it’s spoken for. Still cough up a down payment and we’ll order you a new one. It’d be here in only six weeks.
“I came here looking for a job—and you want to sell me an airplane?” Chum blurted in disbelief.
Ailor continued to rattle on as though the pilot had not spoken. “Hell! I’m feeling generous. I’ll even let you rent office space right here on Roosevelt Field for a percentage of whatever you earn as you get your footing.”
Chum realized he had never encountered such a smooth operator. Ailor finally faced the boy. “Look, you can’t negotiate with reality, son. And the reality is that there are no jobs. The country’s flat busted.”
Chum knew his mouth hung open in reaction to the salesman’s bald audacity. But he also knew he agreed. Ailor was absolutely right.
Chum needed to find a way to buy that airplane. It appeared to be the only real option open to him. With little money left from his dwindling resources, he found a Western Union office and cabled his mother in Pulaski for help. He hadn’t written or visited much since joining the service and felt badly his note only asked her for money. However, Martha didn’t complain or hesitate.
“I’ll run down to our bank in town—still solvent, doors open,” she wired him right away. “A thousand, Mont? Is that enough? Where should I wire it?” Martha would still do anything to help her boy.

River of January by Gail Chumbley available at and

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