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This week’s promotion of “River of January” turned out a glorious success. My central purpose in researching and writing this first installment was to honor what transpired in America before our time. I hope all of the Kindle readers who downloaded the memoir are stirred by this true account, and return for the sequel, “River of January: Figure Eight.”
Excerpt from “River of January.”
Chum glanced up from Ailor’s desk, where he was adding up airtime in his logbook. A well-dressed gentleman, clearly from the city, faced him. The caller had quietly stepped through the door, surprising the pilot, intent on his figures.
“You found him, sir,” Chum smiled warmly.
“My name’s Rosenbaum, Richard Rosenbaum, but I go by Ross. The man extended his hand, as Chum hopped up. “Say, I need a reliable passenger plane for hire, with a good pilot at the helm. Your name was given to me over at the AP office.”
“Uh huh,” Chum answered casually, privately pleased at the referral. “Where exactly would you need me to fly, Mr. Ross?”
But Ross answered something else. “I have a chair on the stock exchange, but don’t hold that against me,” he volunteered—Chum gawked, and Ross laughed, “I know. You’re surprised I have the guts to state my occupation. We Wall Street types aren’t exactly popular with the public these days, are we?”
The flyer chuckled at the businessman’s blunt honesty.
“Well, I won’t crash the plane, if that’s what worries you. The market crashing is enough for now,” Chum joked back.
With the ice broken, Chum and Ross got down to business, discussing rates and various destinations. Sensing Ross could become a first-rate client, he offered, “Would you like to go up for a spin, Mr. Ross or Rosenbaum?”
The client laughed again. “Love to— love flying.”
Twenty minutes later, the plane eased down, trundling to a gentle stop on the airstrip. As he released his safety straps the broker remarked, “Thanks for the test ride. You know, you’re quite the pilot—may I call you Mont?”
“Nooo, sir. My friends call me Chum,” the pilot answered.
“Well, Chum, I’d like you to plan on a pleasure trip next weekend. The boys and I need to get to Havre de Grace in Maryland. And I will stay in touch.”
The two men shook hands again, and Ross, whistling, walked over to his Chrysler Imperial, and motored away.
Promptly a week later, while jiggling his office key into the door, Chum heard Ailor’s phone ringing. He burst in, leaving the keys hanging in the lock, and seized the receiver.
“Hello, Chumbley here—hello?”
“Morning Chum,” flashed an urgent voice. “This is Richard Ross, and I am awfully glad I caught you at the office! We have a horse posted in the third race and need to get to Baltimore, fast.”
“Havre de Grace Race Track?”
“A horse in the third.”
“Wait, where are you calling from?” the young man asked.
“Newark. We’ll be waiting at the airfield for you to arrive.”
“Horse track, huh? Roger that. I’ll gas up the Waco and be over soon.” Jogging to the hangar Chum reflected, “This trip sounds like fun, especially if I make a couple of bucks.”
Taxiing down the runway, the flyer lifted off—his trip was just a short hop west—and Chum presently approached the New Jersey landing strip. From his windshield he could see three figures moving outside an office building near the tarmac.
“Must be Ross,” Chum mumbled. Touching down, the pilot slowed and turned the plane toward his passengers. But he noticed they were running toward the Waco. Ross was shouting something and waving his arms.
“We need to go, now, Chum!” the pilot finally heard above his roaring engine. Chuckling, as they clambered aboard, the flyer again turned and taxied down the same airstrip, quickly lifting off toward the southeast. His three passengers breathlessly discussed the upcoming race card. Thoroughly entertained by their excitement, Chum listened.
“That number six will be tough to beat,” and “I paid a call to those stables and I wasn’t that impressed.”
This flight wasn’t long either, but apparently too lengthy for the impatient stockbrokers. As Chum circled the county airfield, Ross reached up and patted his shoulder. “Not here, Chum. It’s too far from Havre de Grace. Land the plane at the track, put it down on the infield!”
Stunned, the pilot clarified, “At the horse track?”
“Yes sir! There’s no one better than you to pull off a landing like this one!”
As he doubtfully turned his plane around, dangerous images passed through Chum’s mind—in particular, the incident in Elmira. He understood, as every pilot understood, that potential disaster rode along with him on every flight.
Chum worried: What are the chances of cart-wheeling the plane? Can I regain lift if I come too close to the viewer stands? Will I be arrested?
Ross read Chum’s alarm and assured the pilot, “I trust you. The field is long enough for a good flyboy like you to manage. And we’ll pay for any mishap or damage.”
“How ’bout my broken neck?” the pilot half-joked.
The broker snickered.
Chum shrugged, lowered the nose of his Waco, and touched down firmly, bouncing on the grass, and smoothing out as the plane slowed. By the end of the infield, the Waco stopped, facing the viewing stands. Safe. No snags. Leaning over the yoke, he inhaled deeply realizing he’d held his breath through the approach, the landing, and the braking.
Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Available on Kindle and at http://www.river-of-january.com
From the advent of aviation to the stages of Vaudeville–spanning continents by air and sea, comes “River of January.” Enjoy this true, epic story.
“River of January,” part one of a two-part memoir is available, free on Kindle, from Sunday, March 31, through Tuesday April 2.
Click the link below.
Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” http://www.river-of-january.com
Oh, Amazon, anarchy is thy name! Part 1 of my two-part memoir is listed on Amazon books for $15.99 plus shipping. But cyber guerilla’s have used copies priced from $40. to $864.00. Can I get a witness?
Dear readers, if you would like a copy of ROJ got to www.river-of-january.com. That’s where gravity still functions. The book is available at a reasonable price. I’ll sign it if you wish.
Also book 2, River of January: Figure Eight is available on Kindle for .99 cents. The sale continues until February 2.
BTW, Amazon says the book price lists fine on their end.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight
Attention Kindle readers! “River of January,” part one of the two-part memoir is going on sale. For only 99 cents relive the thrilling, true adventures of the aviator and the show girl. The offer begins on Saturday, December 29th at 8:00am MDT, ending on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 at midnight MDT.
Check for “River of January: Figure Eight,” part two of the saga, going on sale at the end of January. Stay tuned for details.
By Lex Nelson
An avid history junkie from a young age, Gail Chumbley never meant to be a writer. She spent the first half of her life clocking in 33 years as an American History teacher before retiring from Eagle High School in 2013. Along the way, she married Chad Chumbley, who, she said, told stories about his father the pilot and his mother the showgirl, which were almost too fantastical to be true. Favorite accounts included how Montgomery “Chum” Chumbley and Helen Thompson met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Chum sent a note backstage; the time Helen acted alongside Bela Lugosi before turning her sights to ice skating; and the day when Chum, not yet a World War II pilot, shared his cockpit with Katharine Hepburn. Eventually, Helen’s dancing career and Chum’s military service disrupted their marriage.
The stories were true, confirmed by endless boxes of photographs and papers Chad had saved and an oral history Gail conducted with her father-in-law before he passed away. While Gail found the tale of star-crossed lovers compelling, it wasn’t until Chad was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010 that she decided share it.
Sitting at the kitchen table in her Garden Valley home, Gail opened up about the eight years of writing and research that resulted in two self-published books—River of January (2014) and River of January: Figure Eight (2016)—and a movie script. Chad, largely recovered from his cancer, sat in, and her script writing partner Ray Richmond joined the conversation by phone from Los Angeles.
Ray, let’s start with your role. What got you on board with turning Gail’s books into a script?
Ray: I could see [the story] on a screen when I was starting to read it. We have a pioneer aviator, we have a dancer from the golden age of entertainment and vaudeville and, you know, my only questions when I was reading were how [Helen] had managed to avoid murdering her mother, because I thought, this woman is just a natural, wonderful villain … and why this movie wasn’t made 20 years ago. It’s got the war as a backdrop, it’s got Hollywood, it’s got all of these great names in aviation, it’s got a little bit of Amelia Earhart, a little bit of Howard Hughes. It’s like history just jumps off the page.
Was it difficult to combine two books into one script?
Ray: Not really. It’s mostly about the second book … It’s really about their relationship and the whole backdrop [of WWII]. There’s a lot of female empowerment and disempowerment here. And there are so many different tentacles to that, because you’ve got the meddling mother-in-law who knows best, and the problem is, she really does know best, but she’s a harridan and horrible in the way she comes across while she’s conveying it. She did know that her daughter shouldn’t be with this guy who wanted a traditional life, and that [Helen] was destined to be a great dancer.
Gail, how did you make the decision to start writing your in-laws’ love story?
Gail: I’d look at [the photos and papers] and put them back and say, “I’ve got to write this book.” I meant it, and I didn’t mean it. I knew I should, but I didn’t know how. Then Chad got so sick and nearly died—he was in the ICU for eight days. I won’t let him show you his belly, but it just ran out of real estate for all the stuff they had hooked to him … it was horrible. I didn’t know what to do with any of that. Teaching worked to a point, because that’s sort of my living room, and I could really get comfortable, but when it came right down to it, I had all this unvented anxiety and fear and just PTSD. And I knew it. I knew I was crazy, and I knew I was feeling really nuts. When I got home at night, I was just a wreck. So the summer he started chemo and radiation … I was sitting up here every day going through all these letters, trying to make sense of it. [The draft] was horrible, and [my editor] fired me, but I wouldn’t give up because I couldn’t. I had no choice. I read Ron Chernow’s biography of [George] Washington, and there’s a line there he used that really resonated with me. It’s “the clarity of desperation.” I had the clarity of desperation.
You ended up writing the books.
Gail: I wanted someone else to [write Chum and Helen’s story] so badly. I tried to talk a bunch of people into doing it for me that were really good writers, but it’s like, you’re going into labor and no one else is having that baby. You’re going to do it. No one else was going to do this. It fell to me, and in a way that was wonderful, and in a way, it was a sentence.
What was it like transitioning from teaching to being a writer?
Gail: You hear about people who are in the military or the public service, and they retire and decide to teach. And I always thought, ‘Are they crazy? It’s hard work!’ Now, that’s rich. I go from one hard job, thinking writing would be a nice way to pass my job retired—and that’s hard work! I mean, there is no easy cheesy way to go into your retirement.
What was the research process like, going through Helen and Chum’s old papers?
Gail: The history part wasn’t hard for me. What was hard was to give voice to Helen, to give voice to Chum. Now Chum was easier, because I interviewed him. I had like 15 hours of oral history with him, and I knew him. I didn’t know Helen [who died in 1993].
But considering what happens at the end of the books, there must have been some difficulty in talking about Helen and Chum as parents.
Gail: [Chad] didn’t have a very happy childhood in that house … I think there’s something to that, sometimes really famous people are really lousy parents. Chum and Chad ended up very close though, because he died here, he died in Boise in 2006, and Chad was there every day.
Will you ever write another book?
Gail: I’ve thought about writing a book about generals who were very jealous of each other in wartime, and how those personal quirks and jealousies impeded the war effort. Like between Henry Halleck and Ulysses S. Grant … I feel like writing is the most basic form of communication that you can share without speaking, it’s as unique as a person’s fingerprint, and I think it’s really cool to do.
And Ray, what’s next for the script?
Ray: Well, what’s next is that I have some contacts at the Hallmark Channel, and I’m trying to convince them that they don’t need to make every movie about Christmas … But I really feel good about this. If it’s a great story and it’s meant to be, and it’s got so many vivid elements to it and such great characters, it’s going to be done.