It is Cold.
The kind of cold that seeps into your mind and even the flannel-warm bed can’t help you sleep. I leave my wife covered in cats, pull on my heavy boots and take the trek outdoors to our studio: 32 steps into Winter.
The moon blasts a stainless steel shine on the snow. It is so cold you can’t walk quietly. It’s like walking on Styrofoam: as if Hollywood left this impossibly cold scene here and ran off to the Oscars before striking the set.
Despite the freeze, the river runs black on white through the woods. It doesn’t seem to mind the ice setting at its edges. I think it too cold for water to run and for a second in the moonlight, it looks more like liquid obsidian.
The trees creak. They are black barked against the frost. It’s too cold even for color to travel from the woods to my eyes.
But, I’ve braved the chill, left the comfortable bed behind and force my fingers to type. Even the computer is cranky with the cold. There’s a story in my head I have to get out and at midnight it’s only 32 steps back to the warm … a few more to flannel sheets and a wife that heats the night like a coal stove.
I think of the story I promised, deadline passed. It’s about summer flying and should appear in an August issue, the faces of tanned and smiling pilots looking at us all from open cockpits gracing the cover.
I can’t even remember being warm enough to smile.
But that’s the magic of a story: it can take a reader any where, anywhen it likes. So tonight, with the wild mice scratching at the door to get cozy for bit, we’ll go to a hot summer’s day amid tall Iowa corn surrounded by the sound of round engines.
Since I was a boy, the smell of fresh-cut hay and Marvel Mystery Oil, the exhaust of a freshly fired Wright J5 and old leather, of tall rubber wheels and varnish and fuel have seeped into my soul. I can’t ever seem to shake it and my wife has come to know the smell of the hangar even though she rarely goes there.
Strong scent is tied to memory and walking through the annual invitational fly-in at Blakesburg, Iowa is dizzying with the past.
This field I’ve walked so many times, grass stained with heavy weight oil here where a Bamboo Bomber was parked once, there a row of Cabin Wacos, beyond that where I tied my Travel Air down for a week. I know it by paces.
Photo credit: Richard Loftis
Every year I add another memory to the earliest: the first year I came by air after we moved away. I was 11 years old and flew with Dick Denkema in a glorious Stinson Gullwing. The next year I flew in with John Bright in his Tiger Moth, the next all the way from Massachusetts with Mom in her Tiger. It took me a while to fly in with an airplane of my own … nearly 25. I’ve been here with the Travel Air, the Interstate, the Cruisemaster, and our latest rebuild: the Aeronca Sedan. Maybe next year we bring the Pietenpol. I’ve been lucky.
This fly-in is not so much about the airplanes though, at least for me. If there were no fuel left to fly the airplanes here, the people would come anyway, I suppose.
It’s one of those rare places where all the set pieces are in place and we come as the cast with a loose script to follow. Even though I’ll only see some of these folks for a few hours each year, they number among my closest friends. It is the memory of them through the years that keeps me coming back.
When I describe the fly-in to prospective recruits they can’t seem to figure out why I would spend my only vacation for the entire year in IOWA. In AUGUST.
But I tell them about the lemonade in the shade of the main hangar with a view unmatched anywhere else: 250 little old airplanes taxiing by off for a sortie or just back from an ice cream down in Keosaqua. Each plane has a person I know: either just met that morning over coffee or someone that’s known me since I was underfoot trying to look pitiful enough to get a ride up where it might be a little cooler.
I tell them about the new library, the old museum, the parts market, the Iowa porkchops. I tell them about sleeping under the wing with the sound of crickets and laughter coming from the pub across-field. I tell them about the people who go, and the people who’ve long gone.
One in ten might understand, one in a hundred might go next time around. Those that do always go back. Either way, I’ve done my job to spread the Gospel.
Labor Day weekend and the days leading to it are (let me check) … 200 days off. Just about the time everything has thawed out here this February night by the river 32 steps away.
About the Author
After more than 30 years and 15,000 hours in all sorts of flying machines from fiberglass gliders to glass-cockpit jets, Rob Bach has collected a few stories along the way he likes to share when he slows down long enough to write. He lives in southern Wisconsin with the love of his life, Stephanie, a Pietenpol or two, and a Hatz biplane.