I started to reflect on something after recently retracing the history of an old 1940’s vintage DC-3 I found on display in 1989 when I first arrived in Durham, NC to head up its marketing.
How far back is it that some of us glean sensibilities for authenticity?
Why do some understand the sense of place created around placed-based assets while others so quickly substitute those authenticities with fantasy and simulation?
I’m certain a part of my sensibilities for authenticity traces back to an ancestral horse and cattle ranch, a weave of nature, historic structures, livestock, antique machinery, wildlife and Rocky Mountain culture.
But how far back, for instance, does my connection of places to historic airplanes go?
Did it take root while tossing a toy P-51 “74” glider made by American Junior Classics” around the front yard when I was three or four?
But even so, why was I then drawn even more to the one emulating an historic plane when the company had begun pushing a substitution resembling a then modern Korean War jet.
This sensibility to artifacts and place authenticity probably formed as my parents took turns repeatedly weaving narratives for me around family photos and memorabilia.
In young children, this coupling has been found critical to fostering “executive functions,” part of our brain’s “air traffic control system” that employers rate as most essential.
A memento I still keep was a souvenir ticket shown in this essay dating to 1935 when my rancher dad was a boy and took his first flight up in a Fokker Universal ski plane with Farold H. “Chris” Christensen at the controls.
What inspired his parents to drive him through the Centennial Mountains from the Idaho ranch where both he and I were born up to the airport in West Yellowstone, Montana so he alone could take the flight?
Likely it was to see the start of the nationally-famous 55-mile American Derby sled dog race that ran down the snow covered railroad tracks from West Yellowstone to Ashton, Idaho where the trains stopped during winter months.
Christensen had been the first to land there a few months earlier.
Idaho-based Scenic Airways had formed two years earlier by the pilot and his partners to take visitors flightseeing over the nation’s first national park. They were also outfitted with skis in the winter for my dad’s first flight and delivered mail as well.
Other family heirlooms were photos of my dad’s cousin Edward, shot down in WWII, and another of his cousins, Bill, reloading ammunition into the nose of a real P-51 in Korea.
My two uncles were too young for that war but they would come up to work on our ranch each summer as my maternal grandfather had done when he worked for a time operating the dam a mile away across the famed Henry’s Fork, giving mom and dad a chance meeting.
The youngest, “Ferd” (George,) who was only seven years older than me and more like a brother, would sit around the kitchen table with me at night teaching me to build scale models of Korean War F9F Panther fighters, the Navy’s first carrier jet.
Less than a decade later, he would be flying his first of three consecutive tours over Vietnam in the front seat of an F-4 Phantom jet fighter, including more than 300 especially dangerous missions over North Vietnam.
He received the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, an Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters, plus a Bronze Star. He was later killed flying as a DEA agent.
Disqualified from following him by a high school football injury, my first airplane flight was at age 7 in an old Piper Cub tail-dragger giving rides during the county fair.
It would be nearly 55 years later following a few months of lessons before I would learn just enough to fly myself.
But my connection of sense of place with old airplanes was really fueled in the 1970s during my first community destination marketing startup in Spokane and a chance meeting with Ed “Skeeter” Carlson.
More on that tomorrow.