Bringing back memories

By: John R. Johnson

This year, Halloween falls on Friday. It brings to my mind another Friday Halloween, just fifty years ago.

In 1943 my folks decided to move to Los Angeles, California. We were fleeing the cold winters in far northern Minnesota. My father was a Navy veteran, who had been Honorably discharged in 1934. When the war started, Dad tried to reenlist in the Navy. He was told that he was too old, he couldn't go back to active duty.

We stayed in northern Minnesota, in the town of Roseau, for a couple of years after Dad's rejection. We owned a small grocery store in Roseau. After two years, he couldn't take it any longer. He wanted to contribute SOMETHING to the war effort. We moved to Los Angeles and Dad went to work.

He got a job with Henry J. Kaiser, as a ship rigger. At that time, Kaiser had a shipyard operation on Terminal Island, in San Pedro, where he was turning out "Liberty" ships on an assembly line. Dad quickly became a foreman for the shipyard, and had to go out on the initial sea trial of every ship they turned out to check and approve the rigging.

While Dad was working in the shipyard, Kaiser went in with Howard Hughes on a government contract to design and build a very special aircraft that could transport troops and material to the war zones in a way that eliminated the tragic vulnerability of the Liberty ships to submarines. This aircraft became the HK-1, better known as the Spruce Goose, or Hughes Folly.

I was a grade schooler during those busy war years in Los Angeles. We lived in a housing project called "Harbor Hills" that was at the corner of Western Avenue and Palos Verdes Drive. We could look out my bedroom window and see San Pedro Harbor and the shipyard where my father worked. Like every other boy my age, especially in Los Angeles, I was terminally enamored with airplanes. I spent all of my allowance on Comet "Struct-O-Speed" balsa models and flew them until I destroyed them. I remember sitting in the yard and watching flight after flight of Lockheed P-38's blackening the sky as they went off to preserve freedom around the world. I wanted to be the pilot of one of those P-38's more than anything else in the whole world! They were the most beautiful airplane I had ever seen!

In 1947 I was in the fifth grade at Lomita Elementary School, where my Mother was the sixth grade teacher. We had decorated the classroom with all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and skeletons for Halloween. Mother and I got home from school at three in the afternoon and picked my little brother, who was just five years old, up from the day care facility at the office for the housing project. I was excited about "trick or treat" and was waiting impatiently for Dad to get home from work so we could terrorize the neighborhood.

Dad got home about six o clock that evening. I went running out to greet him in the yard. He grabbed me up and said "Howard Hughes is going to fly the airplane Sunday! Would you like to come over to the shipyard with me and watch?"

I forgot all about Halloween. I could go with Dad and actually see Howard Hughes fly the biggest airplane the world has ever seen! I was so excited that all day Saturday I couldn't talk about anything else.

Sunday morning I was all ready to go before Mom even had breakfast ready! Dad was laughing at me, because I was so anxious. I was babbling, "Hurry up Dad, we don't want him to fly before we get there!"

We climbed in our big old family car, a 1930 Franklin AirCooled Sedan, and Dad drove us down to the harbor. We were able to park at the shipyard, and he used his pass so that we were allowed to go right out to the edge of the water, on one of the wharves in the shipyard. The shipyard where Dad worked was right near the huge building where they had the airplane.

The waves looked pretty big to me. I was afraid that they wouldn't bring the airplane out because of the waves. Then there it was. It came nosing out around the buildings next to us. The waves that I thought were so big looked like little ripples on that huge hull! It pulled out into the bay and ran up and down. It was impressive with all of those huge engines roaring. He didn't seem to be going very fast though, I was beginning to think it wouldn't actually fly.

Then it turned and started out right down the bay. You could see the "bone in its teeth" at the bow. It seemed like it didn't change anything. It started out level and just kept going Image:Goose flying-15Kfaster. Suddenly, when it was right in front of us, it just kind of levitated out of the water. All at once I noticed that the bow wave disappeared and I could see clear across to the other side of the bay, right underneath the hull! It was FLYING. It lifted up out of the water so gradually and gracefully that it just seemed to levitate. It lifted up about fifty feet or so, and just kind of stayed there, all the way across the bay. Then it settled gently back down onto the water. It was all so quick, and so smooth and graceful, it was almost unbelievable. If I hadn't been there watching it with my own eyes, I would not of thought it had flown.

They taxied slowly back across the bay and put the airplane away again into the special building around the corner from where we were. We all got back into the old Franklin and headed for home. That happened on Sunday, November 2, 1947. Now, Sunday, November 2, 1997, fifty years later, I will still remember that day that Dad took my little brother and I with him to watch Howard Hughes fly the "Spruce Goose."


John R. Johnson is a pilot and aviation enthusiast. He
read our original "Spruce Goose" article and remembered
his own experience with the plane. We asked if he would
share his memories with our readers. He kindly agreed
to write this story for us. John has a couple of websites you
can visit.
Thanks for Sharing this moment John!!