Donald Bedford was interviewed on January 20, 1998 by Charles "Chuck" Mobley at the Bedford's home in Auke Bay, Alaska. Don's wife, Carol Bedford, was also present during the interview. In this interview, Don talks about his experiences flying, working as a mechanic for companies like Lockheed Martin, Alaska Coastal Airlines, and Alaska Airlines, and his knowledge of different airplane engines.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Pioneer Aviators Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jan 20, 1998
Narrator(s): Donald Bedford
Interviewer(s): Charles Mobley
Transcriber: Carol McCue
People Present: Carol Bedford
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Don's family history
Don and his family moved around a lot
Don's family is interested in aviation
The Slate Dirigible Company's failure
The Slate family was full of inventors
Don's uncle Frank
Uncle Porter lost his dry ice company
The Slate dirigible never really had a chance
CA-3 Cubs did not have brakes
FAA training was very stringent
Don began work as a mechanic trainee for Lockheed Martin
Don enjoyed his training experience
Flying in WWII was deadly
Don was an aviation cadet in the US Army
Don talks about different airplanes and their features
The Kinner Aircraft outfit
Don didn't like the tight training requirements
Don liked working on small planes
Things were slowing down for Lockheed
Don wants to move to Alaska
Driving the Alaska Highway was the plan
The Jeep Willys was a great car
Don got to Alaska via Alaska Steamship
Airstrip building and plane landings were done in secrecy during WWII
Don's first glimpse of a Grumman Goose
The problems with the Seabee airplanes
The Alaska Coastal Airlines company
Don worked for Alaska Coastal Airlines
Building models for future airplane changes
Working with others was difficult
The mechanics often had to be engineers
Don talks about the military's huge budget
Alaska Coastal Airlines was able to make their engines last longer
Alaska Coastal Airlines merges with Ellis Airlines
In the old days, repair shops had many parts
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CHUCK MOBLEY: This is Chuck Mobley, and the date is January 20th, 1998, and I'm sitting here in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Don Bedford in Auke Bay, Alaska. And Mr. Bedford is on the other microphone and has agreed to do this interview on tape, and have that tape be donated to the University of Alaska Library, correct? So their release is signed. And if I could ask you -- oh, and Mrs. Bedford's present. And what's your first name?
CAROL BEDFORD: Carol. CHUCK MOBLEY: Carol. Very good. So we've got the three of us. Could you tell me when and where you were born. DON BEDFORD: I was born in Albany, Oregon, September 12th, 1922. CHUCK MOBLEY: How large was your family? DON BEDFORD: Pardon?
CHUCK MOBLEY: How large was your family? Did you have brothers or sisters? DON BEDFORD: Oh, I'll tell a little, my father was a school teacher. I have -- had three sisters and a brother. The brother is the youngest in the family.
And they were born all over. Let's see. My older sister was born in Hawaii. My father was an officer in the -- what did they call it, Coastal Artillery, I think they called it.
And that's in World War I. And -- and let's see. Frances, I think she was born in Escalon, California. That's where my father's first teaching job. My dad was a -- and, well, they called it in those early days I think manual arts. You know, carpentry, auto mechanics, and that time radio was a big thing.
You know, he taught radio. And later, he went to the Glendale, California, school system where he taught wood shop for -- well, I guess he taught everything, but he started as wood shop. And he was -- he was there until he retired. Eventually got a Ph.D. in Psychology,
I guess it was, and he worked with -- at USC where he -- well, he went -- he was an early promoter of counseling. And he wrote several books on -- well, one was a -- what was it.
CAROL BEDFORD: They are over there, Don, on the piano. DON BEDFORD: Vocational Exploration. What this was, counseled high school kids and stuff to determine what they were good at, what they liked, and all that, and direct them in some line of work that they would be happy at.
And he also worked with the Army in designing some of these tests, you know, to determine, you know, put round pegs in square holes. And I remember this was like a lathe, you know what, well, it's a metal lathe, just going around like that, you know, when you're cranking the thing, keep this stylus on that spot, see.
Or other little funny little things like that. But that was his line. And, well, of course, my father believed in this. And he, one time I remember, took a leave of absence from the Glendale City Schools and went back to John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and that was a -- well, it was a -- a work -- what I mean, he -- you went to class, say, from 7:00 in the morning until noon, and then you did your vocational work. Now, I was taking aeronautical engineering, and so I did my vocational work at the airport. The airport was owned by John Brown University. And --
CHUCK MOBLEY: So you were living as -- as a young man in Arkansas? DON BEDFORD: No. No. CHUCK MOBLEY: Or was that at John Brown University? DON BEDFORD: When I was young, my father taught, like I say, in Glendale, but my father owned a farm or a ranch in Oregon;
Tangent, Oregon. That's just south of -- that's the first stop south of Albany. You've got to drive slow or you'll slide through. It's on Highway 99. But anyway, we usually migrated from Glendale to Tangent every year, practically every year, except when my father was taking, you know, to get like his Masters and Ph.D.
We went many places, like he was at Oregon State for some time. And when UCLA was built, he took summer classes there, and he took -- several summers we were in -- my father was from Pittsburgh-- CAROL BEDFORD: Pits. DON BEDFORD: Pittsfield, yeah, Massachusetts. And he would take classes at Harvard.
See, it's not too far, maybe 50 miles, I guess. But he did this practically every summer to get his Ph.D. There were, I don't know when he got his Masters. But anyway, we kind of traveled around a lot. And so I can't say that -- well, we lived in Glendale during the winter months, and there at the ranch in the summer.
DON BEDFORD: But anyway, when I was young, why, I, like a lot of other kids, building model airplanes and that kind of stuff. And I had -- well, there's Uncle Wayne, he was a pilot and a -- not as -- he wasn't a -- well, I don't know whether he had a held -- held a commercial pilot's license or not, but he was interested in flying, had an airplane, that's where I got my first airplane ride. It was in an Aeronca, I think they call it C. But right there --
CHUCK MOBLEY: What year -- what year was that?
DON BEDFORD: Oh, that would have been in 1932, I would say. But he lived in just across the river from Eugene, Springfield. And he worked for -- at that time it was the Mountain States Power Company. It was absorbed into I don't know what other big power company, but he was an electrical engineer.
And he was into airplanes, so he come up with the idea of flying power line patrol with an airplane. He was killed in an airplane accident over at the coast of Winchester Bay, there in Oregon. It wasn't his airplane, it was him and another guy, a bigger airplane.
But that must have been about 1934 maybe. But I have a lot of relatives that are into things like that. My cousin Claude, he was an engineer for Douglas for a long time, then he went to Hughes Aircraft.
And I've got a second uncle who built the -- well, it still is, I don't know if they ever built any like that, a dirigible, Slate Dirigible Company, and it was at Grand Central Airport. And that's in Glendale, it's right on the border of Glendale and Burbank. And that airport was the airport of the Los Angeles area. Anyway, he built this dirigible, and its claim to fame was it was all metal.
CHUCK MOBLEY: It was -- the Slate was the -- DON BEDFORD: Slate. CHUCK MOBLEY: -- the name of the company? DON BEDFORD: Slate Dirigible Company or Corporation. CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay.
DON BEDFORD: And the -- all the dirigibles built prior to that were built of aluminum structure and then covered with fabric, like the earlier airplanes. Well, this one was metal. And it was -- as I remember it, it was a flop.
What happened, took it out in the sun, I was there, my dad was there, my dad had money invested in it, and he took it out and the sun somehow, oh, you know, gases warm up, they expand, and the relief valve didn't expand, it had more than one envelope, you know, there's just like a fabric bag inside the metal structure.
And the bag split and lost all the gas. And that was helium, and that was expensive. And they never had the money to -- And it also damaged his -- the side of the dirigible. It was all metal. And he had a system, that was part of the problem, and they are interlocking. They didn't have rivets or anything. I don't know just exactly how they were interlocked but they were a special shape, and that was the --
CHUCK MOBLEY: They were crimped, so to speak? DON BEDFORD: Crimped, yeah. That made that also expensive because it damaged one side there, blew them out, split them, that you would have to tear so much of that off, it wasn't easy to replace just one piece.
You had to go tear off a 10–foot area of it, you know, or -- and the length of the dirigible. See, it -- CHUCK MOBLEY: How big was it? DON BEDFORD: -- or the dirigible. CHUCK MOBLEY: How big was it?
DON BEDFORD: I couldn't tell you. I don't think it was more than about 200 feet, which in those days was a little dinky thing. Because the Army was -- or the Navy it was, was experimenting with things like Macon, I can't remember it, how long they were, 600 feet long, you know.
Big rascals. But they didn't have very good success there, either. They lost them, you know. In fact, one of those or two of those, the Navy dirigibles were taken from Germany's war reparations after World War I. But anyway, this -- that was my Uncle Tom. And to that --
CHUCK MOBLEY: What was his last name?
DON BEDFORD: Tom Slate, S–L–A–T–E. The Slates were -- oh, they were interesting people. They were into it -- in that family, I don't know, there must have been about 15 kids. All of them were boys except one.
But they were all in different businesses like well drilling. In the early days, he built his own well drilling rigs. And he was mostly in the San Joaquin Valley, you know, in California. Well, close to, oh, he -- he drilled wells all over that area.
But others were into road building in the early days of designing their own equipment. You know, see, in those days it was horse -- mostly horses. And at one time, let's see, there's Big John, Little John, I don't know.
This is -- they are all dead now. But they built special rigs for handling -- well, in road building and stuff. In fact, at one time they owned a patent, and they sold it to -- well, for a while they just took royalties of the angle dozer. The first bulldozers were just straight, and you couldn't switch them this way. Well, they came up with that and sold it to Caterpillar.
CHUCK MOBLEY: So a system where you could take a hydraulic and angle the dozer. DON BEDFORD: Yeah. CHUCK MOBLEY: Just angle the blade right or left. DON BEDFORD: Yeah. In other words, instead of being straight, move it like this. CHUCK MOBLEY: Oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, okay. Gotcha.
DON BEDFORD: Yeah. And those early dozers, you could lift them, they were mostly cable in early. Then hydraulic later. But even this Claude, he had a aircraft patent for hydraulically charging a machine gun. He had machine guns out on the wing or something like that, and you know, to fire it you first have to charge it.
That used to put the first bullet in. And then you -- when you touched the trigger, it's automatic from there on. Well, he had that and he had sold it to Vickers. Vickers is a big English, they built airplanes and they built hydraulic components and stuff like that. They are still big. And anyway, they are all -- they all had their thing. One was into -- oh, he was construction. You know what I mean, he was a -- house and stuff like that, ran a business like that.
DON BEDFORD: And one of them, he was into -- Uncle Frank, that's the guy who did the well drilling. And anyway, he was a good guy and everything. Well, pay me when you can. Well, he went broke. But he didn't marry until he was, oh, I guess 50 years of age.
He married a woman from, I think it's Paso Robles, and her family was big into wool -- or almonds. And the first thing he did is, you know, he didn't have anything to do, so to keep out of mischief, why, he had his shop where he was tinkering, and he come up with a rig to -- first take -- you know, almond has a green hide on it.
And then there's that paper kind of shell in there, and then inside that is the pit, the almond, you know. Well, the first thing he did is a rig to -- a lot of them, the shells, that green thing on the outside sticks on it. So he come up with a machine to shuck that, see. And then a year or so later, why, he come up with a machine to take that paper, that kind of woody, the almond is to thing, see.
And his wife was -- her parents are a big stockholder in a -- let's call it Valley Almond Growers Association. But anyway, the last time I saw him, he -- I was on my way up here, driving up here. I thought I was going to drive up here. But he said, Don, I want to show you something. And they lived in a very -- oh, up in the Almond Grove Hill, very plush place, but -- and drove a Cadillac Town Car and had a -- what do you call it, a coupe that he and -- he drove, you know.
And he -- and so he took me up there, and here, oh, there must have been 500 beefs, you know, beef cattle. And he says, look at them damn fools, eating their fool head off and making me rich. What he had done, he had taken these hides, green things, they won't hardly burn. That woody part, it will burn fine. But so what he had done is sent this off to some laboratory and they determined it was very high in food value.
And so they designed a -- oh, I don't know whether it was cottonseed meal or what to go with it, and vitamins and stuff, for cow feed, for fattening cattle. Well, that's the last time I saw him, but I know -- and the unfortunate thing, this woman, she was very nice, this lady he married, very nice woman. But it's sad, in those days, they didn't know how to take care of a hairlip. You know what I'm talking about?
CHUCK MOBLEY: Uh–hum. DON BEDFORD: Well, she didn't look very good. But she had a heart of gold. Anyway, they -- he had a lot of mechanical ingenuity, she had finance, business, and so they went together very good, very well. They bought into a place in Los Angeles that's used to be known as the LA Nut House, it was a big importer and exporter of nuts and they became millionaires.
I'm just telling you this because I had all these interesting relatives that did all these things. They were inventors and stuff. I know my Uncle Porter, he -- he was the father with all these. He tinkered around with an apple peeler, he was always doing something like that. But I don't know, most of those Slates didn't have any finance savvy. Anyway, like Uncle Tom. Down there in the Imperial Valley, they needed -- honey, would you give me a snot rag -- they needed some cool, the --
you know, the vegetables they shipped out of there, and he was down there messing around, and he saw some of these, what do you call it, fumaroles? CHUCK MOBLEY: Oh, yeah. DON BEDFORD: You know what I'm talking about? CHUCK MOBLEY: Yeah. DON BEDFORD: Gas coming out of the ground. CHUCK MOBLEY: Yeah.
DON BEDFORD: So he took a Mason jar and got some and took it home and diagnosed it, very, very high in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is dry ice. All you've got to do is compress it. So he started a ice plant there.
Previously, they used regular ice, you know. Oh, you ought to see that icehouse where it's made, they have a thing that comes out and these refrigerated cars are long, and they slide them along that, and then dump them into the ice chambers of the cars, see. Go out, in those days, it's hot down there and everything, and not only that, but other -- from other areas, this ice has to be replaced every so often.
Well, anyway, he talked them into trying dry ice. Well, that went big. He really -- because dry ice is so much lighter and everything. Well, things go -- went along fine until there's a big ice company in California, Southern California, Crystal Ice Corporation.
Well, they says, Tom, you've got a good setup here, we'd like to buy a little stock in your little outfit. Well, so he sold them a little stock. And the first thing you know, they come in and said, move out, Tom, we own this place. Like I say, even Tom, he didn't have a good savvy that way. But during the war, he was at -- because of his experience in fiddling around with dirigibles, he was at this big naval lighter–than–air station back East.
CHUCK MOBLEY: The dirigible, the Slate dirigible, do you think that it would have flown okay if it hadn't ruptured like that? You know, how could it have been fixed to work?
DON BEDFORD: Well, I don't know. It was very different. It didn't have, you know, the outrigger, whatever you want to call it, the control station, that's all there was. It was just for the crew and passengers.
There was no engines mounted on the side. The engines -- in fact, the original design was for a steam engine. But it never got off the ground. It was a aircraft engine. And instead of -- well, for better control, they had on the exterior of the thing right in the nose was this big impeller.
And it blew through these big ducts on the outside, back on the elevators and rudders, see. So give it better control. Well, that was fine. And the fact that if they could have perfected this business of the -- well, there was no reason why it wouldn't work.
This system of aluminum skin, see, look at all the airplanes all started as fabric, now they are all metal, see. So he was going in the right direction. He might have made it, but -- and if he'd have made it, somebody would have swindled it out of the back or something, he would have lost it.
Well anyway, so anyway, where I came from, it set my interest in airplanes. And well, anyway, at John Brown, this was in 1939, and -- no, that was '40. Anyway, they had this, what they called CPT. Civilian Pilot Training. And that was paid for by the Government.
The Government saw the need for a pool of pilots in the United States. So war clouds were getting thicker and thicker over there in Europe. And if you had one year of college and you were enrolled in college, they, the Government, would pay the cost of teaching you to fly. That was to get a private pilots license.
And you could go on if you wanted to, like there as I recall they had each semester 20 -- no, there was the winter semester, they didn't have any because of the weather, but they had 20 primary or, you know, start to private pilot. And they had 10 secondary, which was aerobatics and -- well, flying bigger airplane. They mostly had -- well, it was practically all, was J–3 Cubs. And you know in those days, brakes was optional. You could buy a Cub for about $1500 brand new. But the --
CHUCK MOBLEY: They didn't put brakes in them? DON BEDFORD: Hmm? CHUCK MOBLEY: They didn't put brakes in them? DON BEDFORD: No. That was extra.
Well, there's no brakes on float planes, is there? Well, the thing is, you got -- you got sharp. And when you -- you knew just where to shut the engine off. It's kind of like playing billiards.
You know how hard to hit it and all that, you know. They didn't have no trouble. Airplanes weren't running into each other and all that. There's a certain touch, you know, to it and all that.
But anyway, I was too young. You had to be -- well, you had to be, it seems to me, it was 18 when you -- no, I couldn't have gone there anyway because I didn't have the one year of schooling, see.
So I took -- the school ran a class, it was -- and it was a real -- it was a rough class but it was very thorough in ground school. You know, in ground school, there was nothing about radio or anything like that, but in those days, a pilot, he was pretty sharp, you know, he knew anything about -- he knew weather and, you know, all these things.
Aerodynamics, that was all part of it, you know. Meteorology. Because in those days, like meteorology, there wasn't a telephone at every fence post, you know. Took all that about the weather, you know, the weather, the weather stations were very far apart. They might have one in Seattle, one in San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City.
But you know, like that. So this class was very thorough in meteorology, you know, weather observation. Look at the sky, you know, and figure what's going on. But I took that. And I recall what they did there was I never heard of a form, maybe you have, but say if there was 100 questions and you missed one, that's two off.
If you left it out, that's only one off. See? But anyway, it was very strict, and I'll tell you, when you got through that, you had learned something. It's just like there was 4 or 5 in the class of 40 that flunked the class, you know, F, got a F. The lowest grade when we took the FAA examination was 80 in the group of 40. Well, so I'll tell you, they really trimmed it close. You had to have the exact answer.
You had to know what you were talking about. In those days, too, your FAA tests, a lot of them, a portion of it was written. When you write about something, you've got to know a lot more about the subject than just answer it true and false.
But the next year they raised the age to 19. 19th by the 1st of September. I was 12 days too young. Well, anyway, I saw what was going on and I had the experience because my vocational work at the airport on airplanes and everything. See, you worked on actual flying airplanes there.
CHUCK MOBLEY: That was in addition to your ground class? DON BEDFORD: Pardon? CHUCK MOBLEY: That was in addition to your ground class or your ground --
DON BEDFORD: Oh, yes. Well, anybody, whatever you were taking, course of study, you could take a ground school and this flying, see. You didn't have to be -- take aeronautical engineering. In fact, they didn't teach mechanics actually. You worked at the airport and that's what you worked on is the actual flying airplanes.
You helped overhaul the engines and stuff like that. So I -- while I wasn't originally directed toward a mechanics life, when things got -- I saw, hey, this isn't the time to be going to school. We're on the verge of war. The thing to do, and this is the same because I was kind of brokenhearted because I couldn't -- you know, well, I thought I was -- be flying, and then they notified me they changed the age limit.
And so I made arrangements to quit school at the semester, and at the same time, I took the mechanics examinations. And I quit school and went back to Glendale, California. Well, Lockheed's just on the other side, it's in Burbank, main plant, and sure, boy, they are hiring. In fact, I didn't know it, I was a big wheel.
I had a mechanics license. The other guys, now like the other guys were hired in at 40 cents an hour to rivet, I hired in at 60 cents an hour because I was experienced around airplanes. I didn't know anything about larger airplanes or anything, I just -- I was more familiar with J–3 Cubs and Aeronca Champs and Chiefs and them kind of stuff.
But anyway, I went to work for Lockheed and they signed me up as a -- well, I went to school for about three months as a -- it was actually on–the–job training. And I -- that's the kind of stuff I've always liked. In other words, for, I don't know, what is it, how long, you'd work a week in some department, it might be just measuring out lengths of wires and soldering ends on them, and then they had these plywood things that are mockups that put in nails, and you'd run this wire around and tie it and all this stuff, and then that -- those were assemblies.
And they would start the next -- they deliver them to some other department where they'd actually be working on the airplane. Well anyway, I went through P–38s, they were building P–38s then, and they were building an airplane called the -- well, it was the Hudson. It was a bomber version, or what you want to call it, of the Model 14. You see, Lockheed liked -- you know what a Lockheed Vega is?
CHUCK MOBLEY: Uh–hum. DON BEDFORD: You know, the wooden airplane. CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay.
DON BEDFORD: Well, then there was the 10s and 12s, they are twin engine airplanes, all metal.
And they were called Electras. And you know, after the war, after World War II, they built a big four–engine airplane. It also was called an Electra. But they named their airplanes like constellations, about -- they named them about -- after, oh, like the stars and stuff like that. But -- Click here to view a film of a Lockheed Electra airplane.
CHUCK MOBLEY: So you were at -- in 1940, this is 1940, and you were working in the Lockheed factory -- DON BEDFORD: No, I wasn't working in the Lockheed factory. CHUCK MOBLEY: Oh, okay.
DON BEDFORD: I hired in as a customer service trainee. See, they ran a overhaul repair department for Lockheed aircraft owners, bring it back to the factory and have it rebuilt and all that stuff. I actually did more work on Douglas airplanes than Lockheed airplanes there. But it was good training, it was interesting, and all that.
And like I say, when it -- actually was just being trained. And what you did, the first couple of days are awful boring when you went to a new department, you just watched the guy. And after awhile, you'd finally get to where, why don't you take a walk and let me do it. And so it was quite interesting in that respect.
And this, everything was new to me, I was just a young kid. I got the name as Junior because I was a lot younger than most employees there. But we worked out there at Lockheed Air Terminal. You see, there was -- there was the Grand Central, it was the original center of all the airplanes coming into Los Angeles area, Salt Lake City, wherever it was, came into there. And it got too -- well, actually, during the war it was taken over by a Flying Sergeants group flying P–38s.
Did you know they had Flying Sergeants? CHUCK MOBLEY: What's that? DON BEDFORD: Well, they're just enlisted pilots. They were considered a pretty wild bunch. I don't know why. But yes. They had a lot of accidents.
It didn't make any difference whether you were a Flying Sergeant or if you were a captain, there was lots of accidents. Because in those days, it was a little different. Here's a new airplane, hey, this is called a P–47. Hmm. Well, there's the starter and there's the stick there, here's a fuel gauge -- fuel gauges, and there's where you can -- the fuel valves and stuff like that.
Stand on the wing and help you start the engine, and pat you on the back. God bless you, son, I hope you make it. Around the pattern, because that was it. They poured you in there and you better make it. Or they dug a hole for you. Well, anyway, there was a lot of accidents there, until they start building airplanes that -- well, now, if you have an airplane like that, a fire plane, you have to build so many two seat;
for every so many combat, you use two–seat trainer. Well, I know that -- I finally got -- well, it was interesting but we did a lot of interesting things there. Repair of airplanes that, my golly, you would never think of repairing, but the thing is, you -- it's wartime. You did things differently. It was altogether different. But I enjoyed it. I worked like the dickens. Us single guys, we'd put in a lot more overtime. I know I worked at one time 6 months, 7 days a week, 12 hours a day.
CHUCK MOBLEY: This was, what, 1940? DON BEDFORD: Yes. Well, no, that was after -- after the war started. CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay.
DON BEDFORD: But the thing is, you finish an airplane, there's a lot of pilots standing around, how soon it will be, how soon it will be, airplane's gone. Well, you got a sense of self–satisfaction out of that. I'll tell you this.
Forever the day that I worked at Lockheed I did more good for the war effort than I ever did in the Army. All I ever did in the Army was burn their gasoline,and wear out their airplanes. I just -- I never got into -- I got into the Army as an Aviation Cadet.
That was their training program for pilots. But this was -- oh, it was in November of 1943 and things were pretty much -- well, it was kind of late. Well, the Army started falling apart -- it wasn't -- we flew -- I flew -- well, I was in the Army over two years before I ever saw an airplane. This was -- they had so many pilots they didn't know what to do with you actually. I didn't know it at the time, but they did all kinds of things.
First of all, there was a two physical program, Class I and Class II. Well, Class I was combat and Class II was all else. Well, they limit all the Class II. And this was in preflight, Santa Anna. And then they eliminated, they got enough bombardiers and enough navigators, that no more. Well, all would have to be pilots. You see, if you couldn't make it as a pilot, they, you know, physical and there were some other reason, there was always a bombardier --
CHUCK MOBLEY: Navigator. DON BEDFORD: -- or a program or navigation. They eliminated that. And then even as far as I took primary flight training at Tulare, California. Which is Tex Rankin, Rankin Academy. The primary flight schools were contract, some run by -- well, you had civilian instructors.
The airplanes were owned by the Army, but the contractor hired mechanics and civilian mechanics and civilian instructors to do that part of it.
And then the next phase was basic. And you flew what was known as the Vultee Vibrator. You know, I can't tell you too much about the Vultee Vibrator because I don't know, I never flew one. They had a 985 engine, it was the same engine the Beaver's got.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Yeah. DON BEDFORD: Well, it -- that isn't such a rough–running engine and all that; just why they call it the vibrator, I don't know. But they eliminated that airplane and you went directly from a Stearman to a -- you know, a Stearman didn't have radio but a AT–6 did. The AT–6 is a hot airplane, it's heavy.
Well, that's what they wanted to do. They wanted to speed things up or something, and -- well, part of it was this. They -- they flew a Stearman, a Stearman has kind of a narrow gear, and it's a so–called -- it was easily ground looped, but you got used to that narrow gear. And then you went to a BT, and it's a wide gear, and it's a fixed gear.
CHUCK MOBLEY: What's BT? DON BEDFORD: BT is basic training. CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay. DON BEDFORD: And that was this Vultee Vibrator. It's built by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation.
You know -- you know what Convair is, well, Convair is the -- well, Consolidated Vult -- it was consolidated, and they took over Vultee, which was in the Los Angeles area, and consolidated San Diego. But anyway, airplanes and manufacturers, they have, like everything else, there's a dirge, you know, grandfathers and fathers and great–great grandfathers and all that, but Vultee, well, later Stinson.
Stinson was built for a short while by Vultee. And then some -- well, Stinsons were built by Piper, the 108 series, after the war. But Los Angeles was kind of the nest for airplanes. My earliest recollections, you go down there and see these old biplanes and whatnot, but it is interesting. It's just like, well, Martin, Martin Aircraft Corporation.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Yeah. DON BEDFORD: They -- (audio goes silent for a few moments)
DON BEDFORD: Like there was Kinner Aircraft outfit. Kinner. They built airplanes. Well, they were building them way early, before my time. They are in Glendale. But they didn't -- there wasn't an engine that they were satisfied with, so they started to build an engine of their own. And they eventually got out of there doing business in their Kinner engines.
Well, I don't know as they make them now, but before the war, Kinner was a big -- well, like the -- some of the -- see, the primary flight trainers were either Stearman, the Fairchild PT–19, it was all wood. See, Stearman was a biplane. Fairchild PT–19 was a low–wing monoplane. And the other was Ryan, it used this Kinner engine. And I know right in Visalia, which is -- are you familiar with that country at all?
CHUCK MOBLEY: No, I'm not. DON BEDFORD: Well, Tulare, California, is in the area of Fresno, and just over a little ways is Visalia, there was another flight training school. And, oh, they were all over that country. Lancaster.
Oh, I don't know, I can't recall where they were -- even at Ventura there they had one, primary. But they were all closing when all I got there. In fact, well, at Lancaster was closed because somebody, they weren't telling anybody, they knew, we've got pilots up the yang–yang, but what are we going to do with them all. You know. And so they were slowing down.
But anyway, I -- well, all I ever -- I never flew any heavy airplane except an AT–6. CHUCK MOBLEY: In the service?
DON BEDFORD: I was always in training, you know. CHUCK MOBLEY: But in the service? DON BEDFORD: Yeah. But --
CHUCK MOBLEY: What were they like? DON BEDFORD: Pardon?
CHUCK MOBLEY: What were they like to fly, an AT–6?
DON BEDFORD: Well, I would consider them like a truck until you got in the air, and now -- and then this is an airplane. What I mean is, whew, boy, what you had to do is you had to horse them, keep them running down the runway, you know. And they had a 600–horsepower engine. But when they got in the air, they were reasonable.
But on the ground, they were sluggish. I didn't really think much of them. I don't think much of them today, either. Well, they -- it's just like Stearman, you know, when you think of it. Here's two guys sitting in a Stearman at the most, that great big airplane and two guys. You know, see, well, the same way with an AT–6, here's this big, heavy airplane, 600 horsepower, two guys, or maybe one if you're flying solo.
But anyway, I wasn't happy with the flying in the Army. I didn't like -- I -- I can see now what it is. I -- I didn't like crowds. I didn't like to be elbowed. And the same way, that's the reason I guess I didn't like formation flying. And you know, in the training, they kind of accentuate things much further than they normally should, and you know, when you're flying training, why, they want you to fly close enough to the other airplane that you could step off of one wing tip onto the other wing, you know. Well, that isn't the way it's done in actuality. What I mean is in training, that's what they -- the tighter the better.
I didn't like that. And another thing I didn't like was the number of airplanes. It was like there at Rankin. You -- it was a -- the field was just a great big square, like this. And what you had, in all four directions you had 10 takeoff lanes, left pattern; 10 landing lanes left pattern; 10 takeoff lanes right pattern; 10 takeoff -- or landing lanes, you know, I forgot what it was.
But anyway, takeoff and landing lanes. And you got -- and when your -- your new class comes, they are all shooting landings. And after they solo out, they are still shooting landings. And it was -- it was as a -- there are no radio.
They didn't even have -- well, they did have a tower but they didn't -- they didn't direct airplanes, give you the green blinker that you're okay to land, anything like that. It was playing chicken. If you was -- if you were a dual, you were supposed to call out to the instructor and what you had to -- to communicate with the instructor, you had a gosport.
Well, a gosport is a system of tubes, the thing that goes over your ear, and on the other guy up in the other seat, the instructor, it sets on his chest, and his tube, it's kinds of like, I understand, early steamships had a speaking tube. That's what it was. And you could communicate that way.
But I didn't like that chicken business. And that's why -- well, why did I come to Alaska? It's pretty -- pretty crowded there in California.
When I got out of the Army, I -- I had enough, you know. And so things started slowing down a little bit. I was lucky there, just like the P–80, you know, that's the -- what, they called it the Shooting Star.
And it -- while I was in the Army, they -- Lockheed came out with that. And I always liked small airplanes, small cars. And so I had to have a crack at that. So I -- as a mechanic, I had let it be known I'd like to put in a little time working on P–80s. Oh, they were nice little airplanes. That's the first combat U.S. jet fighter.
Oh, it was a nice little thing. Gosh. Then, too, if you -- like your car, if you want to check the oil, just pull the dipstick, you know. And it didn't have all these fancy things. The rudder wasn't boosted, boosted -- by boost I mean most oil airplanes are hydraulically boost, it's just like they have a power steering for your car. Well, that's what that is. Well, they had it for the aileron only. But it was a nice little airplane. I enjoyed working on it.
But you know, when you were young and all that, you've got to -- something's got to be popping all the time. You can't let it get dull or you get tired. You've got to have action, you know.
Well, things were starting to slow down, this was -- well, I thought just like when I got out of the Army, I thought, well, I'll take it easy for a couple months. And -- and I know, my father, he was into -- he was the head of the Draft Board and he was into a lot of things. He cooperated with Lockheed, you know, on these tests and stuff.
And anyway, I thought I'd have a little vacation, you know. But my dad says, you go down there and sign up. They had this thing, I don't know what, $20 a week for so many weeks for a serviceman, you know, like ex-servicemen. So I went down there and signed up, you know. And when I got home my mother said, here's a phone number that you're to call at Lockheed Aircraft.
And holy smokes, they wanted me to report there in the morning with my lunch box and my tools and ready to go to work. Well, that's the way it was. But like I say, things kind of slowed down. Lockheed was building this Constellation, oh, I don't know. I was -- for a while, I worked on -- worked at Constellation production flight. And I don't know, it's the same old thing.
See, I was spoiled. That's the same way with a P–80. It became -- well, you'll get an airplane and a new airplane, just comes from a factory, and you'd, you know, pour gasoline in it and hydraulic fluid, I guess they already had hydraulic fluid, but then you'd check all this stuff out and then pronounce it ready to fly.
And they had a company of test pilots, they'd fly it and work the bugs off. Then the Army, these were Army pilots, would check it out and accept it, see. And then it was sent to the -- what they called the delivery pool. And every so often they would bring a batch of pilots, you know, and this was a P–80 and there's the start thing there, and all that, and send them on their way, see.
You know, we didn't have two–seaters. But, oh, you know, something interesting. Well, here and then they start laying off married men. Now, here I'm single, that's when I decided there must be greener pastures somewhere else. And I'd always wanted to come to Alaska. I had read books about Alaska and things like that.
And so I went to where they call that office there, told them I'm thinking about quitting. Well, they said, it's up to you, but they said -- and they explained to me, why -- why don't you do this. Why don't you take a leave -- a three months' leave of absence. And that way you can think about it. We'll send you a letter in three months, you send us your reply whether you want to come back to Lockheed or not.
That's it. Well, so I made arrangements for that. I went to Oregon, you know, for a while, did some hunting and fishing, and eventually I was going to drive the highway. And in those days, you had to have all these spare parts. It was the craziest thing, you had to have a -- a rifle, not a -- you know, just -- it was for killing rabbits and stuff like that, to survive.
Part of survival equipment. And you had to have spare points and so many spare tires and brushes for the generator, and I don't know what all. But anyway, I got all that stuff, and I even put in a -- you could buy a lot of this, like you could buy nice down sleeping bags cheap, war surplus, you know. All kinds of fire extinguishers, all every of that stuff. Anyway I got all this stuff. I had a fire extinguisher in the car. I got all that stuff together.
And one of the things I did is I put another heater in the car. So I had two heaters. Well, I got up there, and this was along, I don't know, October. So I took off from my uncle's place there. You had to have chains. Chains were hard to buy, you know. And nobody used chains. And another thing that was hard to get, of course, in Alaska you'd have to have antifreeze.
Well, most cars didn't use antifreeze. And there was two types of antifreeze. There was alcohol, which would boil off in a week or so, we had to keep replacing, then there was -- there was ethylene glycol base, which is permanent, which all it is today.
Well, this was a -- you couldn't find it. You talk -- yeah, I've heard about it. You know. At a garage, you know. But anyway, I got up the Columbia Highway, you know, up there in the Hood River area, and it started to snow a little bit. My feet were cold. I made a U–turn and went back to my uncle's and parked that old Willys. And --
CHUCK MOBLEY: That was what you were trying to drive up in?
DON BEDFORD: Yeah, I was going to drive the highway.
CHUCK MOBLEY: I mean, in a Jeep? What kind --
DON BEDFORD: No. This is a -- this is a -- this is a Willys -- See, it's -- Willys is a Jeep. Yeah. But Jeep was designed by Willys for the Army. CHUCK MOBLEY: Uh–hum. DON BEDFORD: Originally. CAROL BEDFORD: But this was a car.
DON BEDFORD: This was a car. CHUCK MOBLEY: Oh, okay. CAROL BEDFORD: It was a small car, a very small -- narrow gauge.
DON BEDFORD: I always called it the narrow gauge. It wasn't as wide as most cars. And the funny thing in those days, you know, a lot of the cars, the front doors opened from the back; in other words, the hinge is on the back side of the door, you know.
Anyway it was one of those, it was a weird looking thing. But anyway, I needed some transportation there to drive to work at Lockheed. It was about 11 miles. And I wanted a Model A.
Model A is a good car, rugged and everything. But there weren't any for sale. This is right after the war, you know. It's funny, I saw in the newspaper some Willys, and so I called the guy up, and he tried to explain to me what it was. And he said, well, you've got to come see it to know what it is. I can't hardly explain it to you.
And I went down there and looked that thing over, and holy smokes, it was way ahead of the time -- its time. You know, the engine was most mounted on rubber mounts. The Model A was just on the frame, and boy, every time the cylinder fired, you felt it. But anyway, I bought that thing. Had a very simple engine. Four cylinder, you know. And oh, it -- it did the job. And ever after that I had a Willys in the family. You see the -- what do you call that, that's a Cherokee, but it's part of that family.
CAROL BEDFORD: The Jeep family. DON BEDFORD: There was a Willys -- what did we -- CAROL BEDFORD: Yeah, we had Ameri-cars. DON BEDFORD: Yeah, that was another one, that was a Willys. CAROL BEDFORD: Then we had the station wagons.
DON BEDFORD: That was a Nash Rambler, which was the same family. You know, it was like you say, the airplane manufacturers go through the same -- cars have gone through the same thing, it's just right now. Now, what is a Cherokee? Cherokee is a Chrysler now. They manufactured it. CHUCK MOBLEY: I didn't know that.
DON BEDFORD: But you know, the -- the Jeep line is manufactured by and owned by Chrysler now. But anyway, I was going to drive that thing up there, and like I say, I turned chicken. And I bought a bus ticket to Seattle and I got -- you know, I bought an airline ticket on Alaska Airlines to -- you know, in those days, Alaska, oh, you're from Anchorage.
You know, that was the old -- people in the South didn't know there was any other town in the state of Alaska except Anchorage. Well, come today, in those days, Alaska Airlines operated out of Boeing Field. So did Pan Am and PNA later. But there's a couple guys there -- it was foggy. There was a couple guys there and they says, are you going to Alaska? In one hand I had two bucks and the other hand I had a suitcase. And I said, yeah. He said, well, Alaska Steam's got a ship leaving here in a couple hours, and we're going down there, traded in our ticket.
In those days you could do it right then. If you had a ticket, they would hand you back your cash. And anyway, so I rode down there on Alaska Steam. And it wasn't -- I don't quite understand it now, it wasn't really Alaska Steam boat, it was operated by a -- it was an individual air -- an individual boat. A North Star or a North something. But it was a nice boat. And that's how I got to Juneau.
DON BEDFORD: And you know, at Lockheed, we'd worked on a lot of different airplanes. That's what made it interesting. And some of those airplanes, like I say, they were badly mashed. They'd come in on a flat car or something like that, you know.
The one thing I knew about Lockheed, I don't understand it, but they had a -- a wherewithal, it's just like Grumman. If they wanted Grumman parts, boy, just speak up and the next couple of days, they arrived. You take Boeing parts, oh, no, we don't have any parts. Well, we might be able to rustle up a few blueprints to help you rebuild that airplane. But that's the thing, Boeing has come a long ways. But anyway, worked on these Grumman airplanes, the Gooses.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Uh–hum. DON BEDFORD: Well, this outfit, that was an oil company that owned it, owned them, I think they had three of them, and they had a lot of bad luck. I don't understand how they -- why they had a lot of bad luck, too.
In those days they were building runways all over, and no, there was no landing lights, boy. You didn't want to show the Japanese where the airport is. And even if you were riding as a passenger, when you come into a -- before you landed in an airport, day or night, the stewardesses, flight attendant, came around and pulled the shades down. So it wasn't until you got off of the airplane that, well, this is -- look at, daylight.
You know. You couldn't see anything of what was going on at the airport. But the thing is, these airplanes, they didn't put floats on them. And I've one time asked the pilot, and the pilot says, they have got a name, I think it was New Mexico, Condor Oil, or something like that, or Eagle Oil. And I asked them, well, why they didn't put floats on it. Well, they slow you down almost 10 miles an hour.
Besides, if we have to land in the water and we slide up on a beach and nobody's hurt, that's a good landing. They were operating, I don't know where then. I don't know much about that outfit. But when I arrived here and it was in Juneau, the thing was, I was to arrive here in Juneau, stay a couple of days, and here come another Alaska boat that would take me on to Seward, see.
CHUCK MOBLEY: What -- what year was this? DON BEDFORD: That's 1947. CAROL BEDFORD: '47.
DON BEDFORD: And anyway, we were -- it was dark, you know, this was in the fall of the year. And we landed here in Juneau you know, I mean, in the boat, you know, put up the dock in the dark. And when it got daylight, I looked out in front, oh, my God, look at, there's three Gooses floating in the water, they are in the water.
The thing that I didn't realize at that time, they didn't have any wheels either. And that's what we used to do, as soon as we got a new Goose, they were all war surplus, everything was war surplus, why, you take the wheels off of the landing gear and everything, that saved about 500 pounds of weight.
That meant you could load it 5 -- put 500 more pounds of weight aboard the airplane. Well, that turned out that I fell in, and of course, as soon as it got daylight, I had to get off the ship and get over there and take a look at this, you know. And when I got over there, I was just amazed. Wow. How does this thing work?
They had an elevator, you know, and you've got a railroad. Wow. Well, each airplane -- well, type of airplane has a cord. And this railroad went along the dock this way, and then there was rails going into the different slots for different airplanes to go into the hangar. And you know, that is the thing that was -- I was used to everyplace else, you know, you didn't park an airplane or at least you -- unless you had at least 10, 15 feet of clearance.
Well, they thought 6 inches was lots of room, you know. Well, it was, too, and it went on the rails, you know. But anyway, dropped the elevator down, and they float there right over the top of it, and raise it up, bring it forward, and then they had this rail that ran up and down the dock, move it in to wherever you wanted to do, there was the rails, and they had things you was going to flop down, to cover the gap where the doors ran, you know. And pushed the airplane in the hangar. Well, we had a lot of different airplanes.
We had a Seabee. Now, that's a peculiar airplane. Don't ever have one. They are a good airplane, but what it was, what their problem was, one of their problem was they were so inexpensive, a guy that could afford a J–3 Cub, he had to have a Seabee, and the first thing he did was kill himself.
DON BEDFORD: They were well built and stuff like that, they didn't have the best engine, but, well, they had many things. They were the first, what do you want to call it, airplane, a small plane that had reversible fixed prop for maneuvering, you know, at the dock and stuff like that. Back up.
Well, one of their -- another of their problems was they had a big baggage compartment. They had a big gas tank so everybody would fill it up. 75 gallons of gas. That's a lot of weight. And that was its problem. You -- it wouldn't pack that weight.
Well, of course, you know how it is, that's the way it always has been, fill the baggage compartment up, fill the gas tank up, no matter if you're just going 10 miles. Well, that's another thing that ruined it. But anyway, the company had two of them, actually. Shell and -- do you have much information or are you familiar with Alaska Coastal at all?
CHUCK MOBLEY: No. Go ahead.
DON BEDFORD: Alaska Coastal was formed by Alex Hogan and Shell Simmons. They had a -- Shell Simmons' thing, before they merged, was called Patco. In fact, this airplane he flew, the Patco, everybody's the Patco, you know.
The Patco. That Patco stood for Pacific Aircraft Transportation Company. Pacific, is that the word? CAROL BEDFORD: One of them.
DON BEDFORD: Well, anyway. And they formed Coastal. This was right after World War II, or that may be -- that was before my time. See, I didn't go -- come up here until '47, the fall of '47. Anyway, it was very interesting, and being young and everything, I -- I enjoyed all that, yee gads, the things we did were really out of this world, was something.
You know, these -- the military airplanes, they -- they are standard. It's like the Goose. It had one cleat to tie the airplane down. That's on the nose. And it had all this junk in it, 500 pounds of radio gear, and it didn't have any payload at all. But that's the first thing we did is we started tearing off all this military junk and installing all kinds of stuff.
And Alaska Coastal was interesting that they did many things. Like Alaska Coastal, for many, I guess 20 years, they were working on radar. And the type of radar they were working on, you could just stick the thing in there and fly down through the soup, you know, cliffs on this side, trees on the right side. You know. CHUCK MOBLEY: Uh–hum.
DON BEDFORD: Well, I remember they got it approved for lower limits, you know, landing limits and stuff like that, but never did get it. They tried it on Goose, they had it on PBY, you know, just one airplane trying to get it approved, trying to improve it and all that stuff. And it was one of those just like Pan Am. Well, Pan Am went broke eventually, but they did an awful a lot. It wasn't the FAA, it wasn't Government that put in these radio stations. Like Pan Am out here on this island out here, is it Franklin Island, or --
CAROL BEDFORD: I don't remember. DON BEDFORD: They had a radio station. There's no water out there, they had a big reservoir. The last time I recall, well, the dock had all fallen down before, but that reservoir for water was still there, that train water.
CHUCK MOBLEY: If you think about it, I'd be -- I'd like to know what -- what it is. DON BEDFORD: Pardon?
CHUCK MOBLEY: If you think about where that is, what island that would be, I'd like to know. But anyway, did -- DON BEDFORD: Okay.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Did you get a job with Alaska Coastal? DON BEDFORD: Yeah. CAROL BEDFORD: Yeah.
CHUCK MOBLEY: So you just hopped right off the ship and stayed?
DON BEDFORD: Well, I -- I was attracted to -- I'm just like steel is to a magnet. Holy smoke, here's these Gooses over there, look at, they are in the water. They had floats on them. No wheels. But anyway, the -- is -- everything was only -- the wheels for these cars, they were ex–Alaska Juneau mine cars wheels, and the steel came from there, you know. CAROL BEDFORD: And the mine.
CHUCK MOBLEY: So the track for it came off the mine -- mining train? DON BEDFORD: Well, the tracks came from the mine.
CHUCK MOBLEY: And where was this located at, exactly?
DON BEDFORD: Well, you know where the wharf is in town? That's it. CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay.
DON BEDFORD: There were floats out in front for the airplanes. And anyway, yee gads. How does all this work. It worked beautifully. There was a lot of work when you want to switch airplanes around and all that. But it all had been figured out. In fact, what they used to do, when they went to build something, they'd build a model first, you know.
Make sure everything was right. And then they'd start building. The guys that worked, like there was George Clark. He was just a, what do you call it, a maintenance man, you know. He had one arm, he had some kind of accident in the mine. Most all of these guys that worked in the mine, Shell worked in the mine as an electrician, you know. And he got interested in flying and he broke away from that.
But we had a -- and that's Shell's attitude, he -- he's always gears running up there, you know.
There must be a better way. All these things, you know. And --
CHUCK MOBLEY: Were there a lot of other aircraft companies in town?
DON BEDFORD: Well, there was just one.
CAROL BEDFORD: No, two, wasn't there? DON BEDFORD: Two?
CAROL BEDFORD: I was thinking of Kenny Loken had --
DON BEDFORD: Yeah, well, that was later. Channel Flying. No, I'm thinking of Denny Goodwin. That's his name. He was -- as a matter of fact, at one time he worked for Alaska Coastal, Shell and him, I've got to say Shell wasn't the easiest guy to get along with. Boy, oh, Dean Goodwin, he was a hard customer. But Dean Goodwin originally had a couple of Taylorcrafts, like that there, for training.
All these outfits had training, you know. On the site. And he had a Norseman on floats. And his next airplane I think was a Sedan, and then a 180. And that's where he -- but he was -- he was a mechanic and pilot. And he knew, you just ding that float and you think, oh, I can fix that, it will take you 15 minutes. No, it's not going to take you 15 minutes, it's going to take you 15 hours.
So he was very -- you know, I can take you over there but you might drown getting off. He says, I'm going to -- I'm not going to touch the shore. The water's too rough. So he tried to talk him out of it. Now, wait until tomorrow, or something like that. Whereas, you know, like outfits like Kenny Logan or Alaska Coastal, well, I can't wait for the weather. And boy, there's a lot of damage done. We had -- the company employed a lot of sheet metal mechanics. You know, they are the riveters and stuff. Because you were always damaging things. The wind at the float and stuff. I tell you, it was something. But it was interesting to work for an outfit like that.
I'll tell you one. We got the PBY, the first PBY. We got it in the spring, and it wasn't -- it wasn't ready to fly. They ferry it up here, yes. The company was going into IFR, instruments. So you had to have deicer boots. And you know, there is these -- in the FAA, there's these different FAA -- what do they call them, but anyway, Part 121 is air carrier. Click here to view film of a PBY airplane.
And so the PBY had to be air carrier. Well, it wasn't. And air carrier demands so many things, dual everything. Well, the -- the PBYs that we flew were so different from the military, the Navy, the Coast Guard, that there's hardly any comparison. It's like the Navy, they never had any -- they never approached a dock or anything like that. So what are you going to have?
Water rudder. So somebody starts working on a water rudder. Well, get back to that, that's the way it was with the Goose, too. All these things. Water rudder. The way they -- and most aircraft companies say if you don't -- if your airplane doesn't have it, they have -- yeah, your airplane was sold as a standard, it doesn't have that, but you can put this on as an addition. We've got all the engineering done and everything.
CAROL BEDFORD: Don, didn't Alaska Coastal put spray rails on the Gooses also? DON BEDFORD: Yeah. CHUCK MOBLEY: What's a spray rail?
DON BEDFORD: Well, it's to keep the spray from the hull drowning out the engines. They are metal extensions of the side that join.
CHUCK MOBLEY: I've seen those, I just didn't know what they were.
CAROL BEDFORD: Yeah, the military didn't have them.
DON BEDFORD: No. Well, I tell you the military -- oh. You know, you know what a Widgeon is? CHUCK MOBLEY: Yeah.
DON BEDFORD: Do you realize that the military Widgeon had wooden props? You make a couple of takeoffs on the water and you chewed those wooden props into just splinters. But the military bought -- sure, the military never intended to land the airplane in the water. That's just emergency, more or less. Never operate the airplane in the water -- out in the water.
And you see, that's one of the things, the Widgeon isn't running too good. It had a 200 horsepower, they were made by Fairchild, Ranger engine. It was a Ranger Aircraft Division of Fairchild. They were six cylinder inverted air–cooled engine. And in the -- the -- I told you about this primary flight trainer, the PT–19, it had -- the second engine in it was 165 horsepower.
The 100 -- the 200 horsepower was what was put in the Widgeon. They were different pistons and higher compression, few things like that. They would -- that 165 engine really was fine as a trainer. Part of it is the military doesn't expect the performance out of a piece of equipment that commercial operators.
It's like they are albatross. I was talking to a Navy guy, oh, I never heard of a -- I mean Coast Guard. Oh, we never -- never heard of more than 300 hours out of an engine. Well, yee gads, you can't make any money if you have to change engines every 300 hours. But that's the military. That's why you don't see any of them in private use. They are too expensive to operate.
CAROL BEDFORD: Another thing Alaska Coastal did was come up with a quick–change engine, didn't they?
DON BEDFORD: Well, that's another thing they did. That was the wonderful thing about Alaska Coastal, they were always looking for something better.
CHUCK MOBLEY: What's that? DON BEDFORD: And this, what she was talking about, a quick–change engine. The first -- oh.
CHUCK MOBLEY: All right.
DON BEDFORD: The first engines we changed through the firewall -- or not the firewall, the engine mount. You got the bare engine. And you swung it in, attached to the engine mount and all that stuff, and it might take you a couple of days. Well, there at the last we had gone to a quick change. And what that is, you build up the engine, you put the engine mount on it, you put out all -- on all the accessories and stuff like that, and we even had a run–in car.
It was just another of those railroad thing, and went -- the engine shop was upstairs, and they had -- that's another thing. In those days Alaska Coastal was the only one that overhauled their own engines, their own accessories, generators, starters, instruments, radio gear, everything. They did everything in–house. In fact, the -- you see there at the last, they had 1800–hour overhaul period for the Goose engine, the 985.
Nobody else had anything more than 1500. This -- nobody else had approval to use the engine more than 1500 hours. But because Alaska Coastal was overhauling their own engines, and they more or less closely following the use of the engine and everything, they kept the FAA, the CAA in those days, kept increasing it, letting the company increase it. Anyway, at the last it was 1800 hours.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Alaska Coastal, what was the full name?
DON BEDFORD: Alaska Coastal Airlines.
CAROL BEDFORD: And then it became -- after they merged with Ellis, it was -- DON BEDFORD: It became -- CAROL BEDFORD: Alaska Coastal–Ellis.
DON BEDFORD: -- Ellis. Are you familiar with Ellis? Well, Ellis Airlines was Ketchikan. And in the early days, Ellis sent an airplane up, Ketchikan to Juneau, and in Juneau Alaska Coastal turned it around and sent it back.
Well, the same thing, Alaska Coastal sent an airplane from Juneau to Ketchikan, Ketchikan they turned the airplane around, sent it back each day, see. But any -- this -- QC was the system, you had everything all built up, the oil tank and everything. And they had this Ken Buzzell, he used to live out here, ex–Coastal mechanic.
CHUCK MOBLEY: What's his name?
DON BEDFORD: Ken Buzzell, B–U–Z–Z–E–L. CAROL BEDFORD: B–U–Z–Z–E–L–L. DON BEDFORD: L–L?
CAROL BEDFORD: I'm pretty sure it is.
DON BEDFORD: But he was the man that did most of this engine buildup. Now, the engine shop overhauled the bare engine. Send the engine downstairs to him, and he'd add all these other, and it would wind up with the cowling, you know, whole ball of wax. And so here and there, and there at Alaska, airplane come in, say, nine, ten o'clock at night, be all set up, have the engines down and everything, take those engines off, seven o'clock in the morning it's ready for test op.
Eight o'clock it's flying passengers. But that's what QC would allowed you to do. Oh, the military, you know, what they would have, it was all old–fashioned, you might say. The hard way. Like they would, for a hose, say the oil from the oil tank to the oil pump intake, it would be a aluminum tube, and then at each end there was a short section of rubber with hose, with clamps on it, you know.
Well, during the war, they came out with what it was known as Air Equip. That's a company. Flexible hose. And so instead of having all this baloney and you had the bonding straps and all that stuff on it, you have this flexible hose. Just swinging in there.
And, you know, it's so much easier to put on, so quick and everything. Well, convert everything to Air Equip. And that allowed you to just what we called QC, quick change. And like you say, take that engine and he had this car and he had with it, with that thing, the oil tank and the car had the thing to fit the mounts, just like the duplicate, kind of, of the airplane, the firewall. And hook this stuff up. And they had a fuel tank. And fire up the engine and run it in. You can't just start it up and take off, you've got to run it on the ground so long at so many RPM and everything, and then the last one is full bore, you know.
CHUCK MOBLEY: And so they did this bolted down, outside of the -- outside of the airplane?
CAROL BEDFORD: Yeah. DON BEDFORD: Pardon? CAROL BEDFORD: Yeah.
CHUCK MOBLEY: Okay.
CAROL BEDFORD: They did it like in the -- well, in fact, they put the -- put the engine outside, didn't they, on the rail thing and ran it out there.
DON BEDFORD: Sure. Well, you didn't bring it in the hangar, no, but you bring it in the hangar to work on the -- to install the engine in this car and everything, getting it all ready and everything. We'll run it off the tracks and out of the way, you know, and the prop blasted, would be blasting out over the water. And do this. And then when you've got it all done, remove it, and be sure you drain the oil tank, and that's ready to run. Okay.
You need an engine changed? Swing it in there like that, hook up the -- the oil tank's already hooked up, it's got -- you'd have to hook the straps that hold the oil tank to the engine firewall of the airplane, but that's very simple. And that's why you take it outside, run it up, make sure everything's full bore, bring it back in the hangar, cowl it, everything, ready to push in the water, ready for the pilot for test op. But we had all these things available, and the company -- the company was very good about spare parts.
We had lots of spare parts. No matter what had happened, you couldn't stump the company, you know. It was like the jet, oh, we haven't got this part. Okay. You have to wait until it comes up from Seattle, see. Well, with jets and stuff nowadays, there's so many jets running in and out of here, why, sure, you can get it here quickly. But in those days, it was like a newspaper. If you saw a newspaper less than a week old, you had a hot number.
And if you wanted something by air from Seattle, if it got there a week, in a week's time, oh, boy, that's good service. Now if you don't get it the same day, you're squawking. Yeah. In those days, you want to make a phone call, you went downtown, downtown to the Federal --