A Break In The Cover

Chum, Derby Winner.

Cloud cover continued to dog the exhausted flyer. Though dawn light saturated the sky, visibility hadn’t improved. 

Whirring through the gauzy gray, he weighed his options. If the weather didn’t improve, he would navigate out over open ocean and look for a break in the misty gloom. This contingency plan set, Chum streamed eastward, nervously checking and rechecking his wristwatch. 

From the corner of his eye, he spied a shifting break in the cover, and Chum didn’t hesitate. He pushed the yoke and slipped through the sudden gap.

A panorama of chalk-gray spindles greeted him. Automobiles the size of insects, inched along among the spires.The Waco soared above the Manhattan skyline.

Exhilarated and exhausted, Chum beelined over the East River, and on to Roosevelt Field.

Thundering down landing strip number 1, Chum slowed his Waco to a full stop, tired but satisfied he had prevailed. 

But the race had not ended.

Officials rushed the tarmac, urgently shouting and waving. Concerned about the commotion, he reached to turn the throttle off, and that was when he heard a chorus of NO above the din. Frantic hands pointed in the direction to another landing strip. If he shut down the motor he would be disqualified. Without a word, Chum promptly taxied to landing strip number 2, then shut down his biplane.

He had won.

Seven planes had ascended into darkening California skies. Of the seven only three found their way to Roosevelt Field. Chum’s Waco cabin had journeyed above the sleeping nation in 24 hours and 26 minutes; two minutes added by his last minute dash across the field. His victory award-$1,500, enough to reimburse the stock broker, and pay off his airplane. Not bad for a young man struggling through the worst year of the Great Depression.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-pat memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

New York’s Lindbergh

Glendale California, October 1933

Building his own charter service at Roosevelt Field, Mont Chumbley got right to work building a clientele. Though 1933 marked the low point of the Great Depression, photographers and reporters from the Associated Press, United Press International, continued to work, beating a path from Manhattan to hire his Waco. Adding student-pilots to his schedule, plus weekends barnstorming around the countryside, Chum made ends meet. 

Friendships with other aviation boosters included Amelia Earhart, Broadway producer Leland Haywood, wealthy philanthropist Harry Guggenheim, and his first sweetheart, pilot Frances Harrel Marsalis. In a later interview Chum referred to a long ago passenger, Katharine Hepburn, as a ‘nice girl.’ 

By Autumn of 1933 Chum unexpectedly found himself a contender in a transcontinental night race, though it hadn’t been his idea. A prominent client who held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange believed Chum was New York’s answer to Lindbergh, funding needed modifications to his Waco C, if only the young man would enter. Chum, weighing his chances. finally agreed. 

His biplane soon readied, Chum winged his way from Long Island to Glendale, California, flying much of the trip west by moonlight for practice. Resting in Los Angeles much of October 2, 1933, Chum was told he was seeded third for take off, and finally lifted his Waco into dusky eastern skies. 

At his first stop, taxiing across a dark air field in Albuquerque, a fueler informed him another plane had already been and gone. A bit panicked, sure he was lagging behind, the young flyer hustled into the night sky, opening the throttle full bore to catch up. Just before dawn, the lights of Wichita appeared, where the spent pilot learned he was, in fact, the first entrant to arrive. 

Weary as Chum felt, he couldn’t sleep. Keyed up by the excitement, he had to wait on those planes yet to arrive. And by late morning only two aircraft had cleared Albuquerque, a Monocoupe and a Stinson. 

This night derby narrowed to a three-man contest.

Awarded 2 hours and 10 minutes for his first place in Wichita, Chum coaxed his Waco upward against the lengthening shadows of a Kansas sky. Hours later, at his last checkpoint in Indianapolis, Chum pushed on for New York. 

However, the weather wasn’t cooperative. 

Through western Pennsylvania, the bi-plane’s windshield began to pierce thickening clouds. Growing anxious, he thought he might be off course, or even worse, lost. But luck remained his co-pilot, when he glimpsed a small break in the inky mist. A lone light flickered below in the blackness, and he slipped down through the pocket.

Executing a bumpy landing on a farm field, the young flyer stumbled through darkness and dirt, making his way toward the light pole, and a modest farmhouse. Urgently thumping on the door, Chum roused a farmer and his wife, breathlessly apologizing for his intrusion. 

Explaining his predicament the bewildered couple kindly let him in. As the wife perked coffee, and laid out food, the farmer got out his maps and showed Chum his location. With heartfelt thanks, he apologized once again, then returned to the night sky, righting his direction toward New York and hopes for victory.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Mr Jefferson, Mr Hamilton

My daughter kissing Alexander in the National Gallery, 2017

The roots of the United States Constitution can be traced back to the glittering salons of Paris and the buzzing intellectual circles of England. The era, called the Age of Enlightenment, bloomed with treatises and essays that would shape the political principles of American law.  

The core question concerned the character of humanity. By virtue of simply breathing was man guaranteed political rights? In that same vein, was every individual by nature good? If left alone could societies peacefully honor the rights of others, and in so doing, protect their own? 

Locke and Montesquieu promoted this notion that the rights of every individual would make for a natural order. Citizens, through mutual agreement, would give authority to a central government, that in turn protected their rights. People are the source of power, government protects rights.   

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson nearly plagiarized Locke, justifying the causes for the break with Great Britain. The Sage of Monticello explained that Parliament had failed to protect colonial rights, and the colonists had a duty to establish a system that would.

Jefferson’s vision of American growth pointed toward a rural future. This interpretation meant free landholders dotting the continent, where no coercion was necessary. Government, in this scenario, dealt with foreign powers and general lawmaking.

James Madison, a protege of Jefferson, also made use of Locke, when he began the Constitution with “We The People.”

Jefferson’s political opponent, Alexander Hamilton held a starkly different view. Having come into the world without any standing, Hamilton rose in society through his own wit, and smarts. For America to gain stability Hamilton championed a strong central government with enough power to control the unruly. 

In practice, by 1781, each state functioned as independent fiefdoms, loosely held together by the Articles of Confederation. Chaos thrived. The various states battled over waterways, currency, and trade. Worse, failure to levy taxes crippled the nation’s ability to function. 

From Hamilton’s perspective the nation would collapse if nothing changed. In Massachusetts, for instance, western farmers stormed foreclosure hearings, demanding justice through the barrel of their guns. State tax collectors found themselves risking life and limb at the hands of angry mobs. And these violent acts were erupting everywhere, not just in New England, but throughout the fledgling nation. 

What good was victory at Yorktown if America failed to get its footing? The British could bide their time and reoccupy when the country collapsed. In fact, war heroes like Ethan Allen were reaching out to the British in Canada, to protect settlers in Vermont, and land promoters in the south opened similar talks with Spanish. 

A worried Hamilton, along with Madison designed a plan that became the Constitution.Their combined work essentially mounted to a rescue operation for the flailing country. With real alarm Hamilton declared to another statesman “your people, sir–your people is a great beast.” 

Young Hamilton too, borrowed liberally from Enlightened philosophers.The theories of Englishman, Thomas Hobbes convinced the New Yorker that people required a strong central authority to maintain order: excesses from individuals and states a far greater threat than the British. A strong central government, with the power to tax would harness control and curb lawless behavior, because to Hamilton, the nature of man meant selfishness, and mindless brutality.

Mr Hamilton focused his energy on economic growth, encouraging industry, invention, and commerce. From credit to taxation, Hamilton understood, without a healthy foundation philosophical differences were moot. 

When the Constitutional Convention finally adjourned in September, 1787, the product of their work, the US Constitution became an amalgam of both Hobbes, Locke, and other philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Upon returning from France, Jefferson flipped out a bit reading the new framework. He argued that the document was limited in scope, strictly interpreted with narrow authority. Hamilton argued for a much broader reading, insisting that ‘implied powers’ made the Constitution flexible. This difference established the first political parties: The Democratic-Republicans under Jefferson, and the Federalists under Hamilton.

 Americans still find a home somewhere in the beliefs of Mr Jefferson and Mr Hamilton. *Except for Mr Trump who has no political beliefs, only a lust for power and money. 

Are people in fact, good? Or are we a beast? We all find a political home somewhere between.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com