A Liberator visits Santa Rosa

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

My photo above shows the last flying Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber, which I’d hoped to be flying in earlier this week. Unfortunately, the flight had to be canceled, due to an engine problem, but nonetheless I had a rare opportunity to examine the aircraft in detail. Alongside several other vintage aircraft, the B-24 was visiting Sonoma County Airport, as part of the annual Wings of Freedom Tour, organized by the Collings Foundation.

My interest in this particular type of aircraft stems from the fact that my father flew in them, as a Wireless Operator (W/O) for the RAF, during World War II. I mentioned in a previous article that he volunteered for the RAF on the outbreak of the war, because somebody had given him a “hot tip” that, by not waiting to be conscripted, he’d be able to choose which service he joined, and where he would serve. Unfortunately, that advice turned out to be only half-right, because he definitely did not want to serve in Aden, which was where he actually spent most of the war.

The Worst Place in the World

As reported in the book Wings of Empire, RAF personnel who served in Aden during the 1920s and 1930s described it as the “most repulsive place in the world”. It was from RAF Khormaksar air base that my father flew offensive missions against Italian forces, and also operated many ferry flights of aircraft being transferred from Britain to the Far East. Most of the ferry missions involved his flying between Aden and Malta.

As the war progressed, Britain took delivery of increasing numbers of American aircraft, under the Lend-Lease program. Thus, having started out flying British types such as the Blenheim and Vincent, he later found himself operating such American types as the Liberator and Hudson. (Incidentally, all the type names of the American aircraft were conferred by the RAF; in the US all the types were officially known only by numbers.)

Inside the B-24

My photo below shows the W/O’s position, behind the flight deck, as seen from the front of the bomb bay. This is where my father would have been sitting on those long flights.

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

The photo below, from a slightly different angle, shows the view through to the flight deck from the W/O station.

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Warbirds Together

The B-24 wasn’t the only vintage aircraft visiting Santa Rosa. As shown below, a North American TF-51 trainer (2-seat version of the P-51 Mustang fighter) was just taxying in while I was inside the B-24.

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

Lined up alongside the B-24 was a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, shown below in front of Sonoma Jet Center, who were hosting the visit.

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

Perhaps the most well-known of the visiting types was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, shown below.

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

Gun Crazy

The US has become notorious for having too many guns, too freely available, but fortunately the realistic-looking machine gun shown below is just a dummy! It’s the waist gunner’s position inside the B-24.

Guns at the Airport!

Guns at the Airport!

As I was leaving, work continued to repair the B-24’s engine, as shown below. The aircraft were scheduled to leave the following day, so they had to get the airplane flying again.

Working on the B-24's Engine

Working on the B-24’s Engine

He Never Went Back

As a postscript to the description of my father’s wartime experience, I should mention that he never went back to Aden again (nor anywhere near it) after his military service, and I don’t think he was sorry about that!

I’ve described in earlier posts how the lives of both my parents were blighted by war, and how fortunate I feel that mine has not (so far). I think it’s important to remind ourselves every so often of the ordeals that our ancestors endured in order to maintain our freedoms.

From Cloughton Station Gates to the World

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Pencil Drawing of Cloughton Station Gates, 1977

I produced the pencil drawing above in March 1977, as one of the regular weekly homework exercises for my Advanced-Level Art qualification.

The (now rather smudged) picture depicts a disused level crossing (grade crossing) gate that protected the tracks near the station at Cloughton. Cloughton was an intermediate stop on the Scarborough-Whitby line, which closed completely in 1965. The closure of that line set off a strange chain of events, which eventually led to worldwide fame for a similar station on a neighboring line.

My 1977 photo below shows a roadside view of the station building and goods shed at Cloughton, in a semi-derelict state.

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Cloughton Station, 1977

These days, although Cloughton Station building still exists at that location, the crossing gate is long gone (as shown in this Google Streetview). On the other hand, thankfully the surviving station premises have been substantially renovated, and are now tea rooms, presenting a much cheerier scene than they did when I took my photographs during the 1970s.

Not Quite What Was There

As I recall, the goal of that homework assignment was to draw an outdoor scene, but I felt that that was a bit too much trouble, so, instead, I based my drawing on my own photograph of that scene! (Unfortunately, I no longer have that photograph.)

However, as you might expect from my approach to such artwork, if you’ve read my earlier posts on the subject, my drawing does not accurately reflect the real scene, because I felt that the composition could be improved, relative to the reality of what was there.

For example, my drawing shows a grounded railway wagon body on the left, next to the crossing. There was no such object at that crossing, although I’d seen similar carcasses in many other railway locations.

Nonetheless, my depiction of the gate itself is accurate. The North Eastern Railway, whose design it was, adopted a rather unusual practice of using extremely wide single gates to span multiple tracks, unlike most other railways (which would have used multiple gates in these cases). For my Advanced-Level Art architectural study, I eventually created a dimensioned drawing of a smaller gate of the same design at another station on the same line, Fyling Hall, as shown below.

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Crossing Gate at Fyling Hall Station

From Heartbeat to Harry Potter

The Scarborough-Whitby railway was one of many targeted for closure by the notorious Beeching Report. There were many local protests regarding the planned closure of this line, and, during the 1964 national election, Harold Wilson of the Labour Party ran on a platform of promising to halt the Beeching-inspired closures. Unfortunately, it turned out that Wilson was just another lying politician, and after winning the election, he actually accelerated the closure schedule, as described in this post by transport commentator Christian Wolmar.

Following the closure, which took place on 6th March 1965, a fundraising effort began to try to buy up and reopen at least part of the Scarborough-Whitby route. Unfortunately, it appeared that the cost of repairs to structures on the line would exceed any conceivable budget, so the plan came to nothing.

However, the preservation effort then focused instead on another nearby line, which had been closed to passengers on the same day. This was the Whitby-Pickering Railway, which in fact was even more historic (albeit somewhat less scenic) than the Scarborough-Whitby route. The W&PR had originally been engineered by George Stephenson in 1836, and had relied on horse-drawn locomotion until it was connected to the national network in 1845.

As a result of all this, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway was formed, and began running trains in the early 1970s. I first visited the NYMR in 1975, and returned many times after that. The photo below shows Goathland Station on the NYMR in 1976, many years before it became world-famous.

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Before the Days of Fame: Goathland Station in 1976

The preserved NYMR met with great success, and was eventually able to extend its route all the way from Grosmont (junction with BR) to Pickering. I took the photo below of an express hauled by A4 locomotive “Sir Nigel Gresley” in Pickering in 2006.

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A4 “Sir Nigel Gresley” at Pickering, NYMR, 2006

The NYMR hired out its location for filming work, and, as a result, Goathland Station began to achieve recognition far beyond Yorkshire. During the 1990s, Goathland became “Aidensfield” in the TV soap opera Heartbeat, which ran from 1992 to 2010, and was broadcast around the world. The railway station appeared in many episodes.

Then, in 2001, Goathland Station appeared all around the world in movies, as the fictitious Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter films.

When I reluctantly produced that pencil drawing over 40 years ago, I couldn’t possibly have imagined the worldwide fame that was to come to some of those disused and derelict Yorkshire railways!

The Japanese Garden, San Mateo

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Japanese Garden, Central Park, San Mateo

On Sunday morning, I took the photo above of the Japanese Garden in San Mateo’s Central Park. At first glance, it would be easy to think that this garden must be in Japan, but the reality is that we’re fortunate to have it right here in California.

It is perhaps not surprising that the garden looks so authentically Japanese, because it was designed by Nagao Sakurai, who, in his younger days, had been Chief Gardener at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Nonetheless, all gardens require constant maintenance, and the City of San Mateo has done an amazing job in tending to this one since its creation in 1965.

I didn’t notice until I was editing the picture above just how well the trees behind the lake disguise the huge apartment building that would otherwise dominate the view.

The garden also features Japanese-style pavilions, as shown below.

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Pavilion at the Japanese Garden

I suspect that one reason why the garden stays in such pristine condition is because it can only be accessed via locked gates, as shown below from the outside. The gates are opened to the public between 10am and 4pm each day (11am – 4pm at weekends).

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The Gates of the Japanese Garden

When we lived in San Mateo, Mary and I would visit the Japanese Garden whenever we could. The beauty of this garden, along with others that we saw in Japan, inspired us to try to recreate our own much more modest version in our current home.

A Walk in the Park

It was a beautiful morning for a stroll in the park; sunny and calm, but still cool. Outside the walled-off Japanese Garden, wisteria bushes were blooming, as shown below.

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San Mateo Central Park

I also visited the nursery of the San Mateo Arboretum Society, which was holding a plant sale. The photo below is a general view of the nursery.

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San Mateo Arboretum Society

The Annual Flight Crew Luncheon

The primary reason that Mary and I had traveled to the Peninsula was to attend the annual luncheon for United Airlines flight crew, which took place once again at the Westin Hotel (below) near San Francisco Airport.

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Westin Hotel, San Francisco Airport

While we were parking outside the hotel, the usual lineup of aircraft waiting for takeoff could be seen on the runways of SFO, just across the waters of the bay, as shown below. There are 2 United Airlines aircraft visible, plus an Air China Boeing 747 and a Virgin Airways Airbus.

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Mary had once again volunteered to help organize the reunion luncheon, and she did a great job, which was much appreciated by all the attendees. For both of us, it was very pleasant to be able to meet up once again with old friends.

Thank you once again to all those who continue to make the annual reunion possible!

Return to Croydon Airport

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

The photo above, which I took in 2001, shows a unique building that still survives today, and was, at one time, perhaps among the most familiar structures in the world.

It is the terminal building and control tower of London Airport; the famous Croydon Airport that was the location of so much newsreel footage prior to the Second World War.

The Control Tower at Croydon, built in 1928, was the first at any airport in the world, and Air Traffic Control systems were pioneered there.

The photo below shows a model of Croydon Airport in its pre-WWII heyday, complete with passengers boarding an iconic H.P.42 Heracles class airliner.

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Almost inevitably, the area around Croydon Airport, which had been open fields when the airfield was first opened in 1915, soon became covered with urban development. As a result, postwar expansion of the airport became impossible, so the decision was made to move operations to Heathrow instead. Heathrow replaced Croydon as London Airport in 1946, and then Croydon was gradually run down, finally closing in 1959. The runways at Croydon were all built over, and, in my ignorance, I thought that nothing was left.

Oblivious to the History around Me

During the mid-1980s, I worked for a while as a Technical Sales Engineer for an electronics distributor. An important aspect of my job was to liaise with the company’s Sales Representative for Surrey, and in order to do that, I would arrange to meet with her at a place called the “The Aerodrome” on Purley Way. The building containing the café is shown below, as it appeared during my 2001 revisit.

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

As I recall, my colleague’s primary reason for choosing that café was her enthusiasm for their garlic mushroom appetizer!

It wasn’t until decades later that I realized that this had been the Aerodrome Hotel, purpose-built in 1928 as prestige accommodation for London Airport. In my photo of the model above, you can see the hotel building at the top left.

As the hotel’s own web site shows, since 2001 the building has been renovated, and now proudly shows off the aviation heritage that seemed largely forgotten during the 1980s.

I Should have Looked Round the Back

Next to the building containing the café, there was what appeared to be a nondescript office block, and it never even occurred to me to take the opportunity to look around the back of that structure. Had I done so, I would have immediately recognized the famous apron of the airport.

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

(Since I took the photo above, replicas of the control tower’s masts have been added.)

By 2001, the terminal building had been renovated as the Airport House International Business Centre, so I was able to go inside and eat lunch at the Rayon d’Or Brasserie.

The lobby of the renovated building displayed fascinating relics of its history, as shown below. Several of the items that are visible are original features, such as the “Winged World” sculpture.

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

The display above included the model of the airport in its heyday, as shown in my photo. The Rayon d’Or Brasserie is in the background on the right.

At that time, the aviation memorabilia display was still under construction, as shown by the view below of the rudder of a Swissair DC-3, a model of an SE5a hanging from the ceiling, a Sabena logo, and some period luggage (without wheels, of course).

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Unfortunately, my visit didn’t occur on the first Sunday of the month, so I wasn’t able to avail myself of the tour of the old Control Tower. If you’re in the vicinity on the appropriate day, you may be interested in taking that tour. Full details can be found here, and this is the latest Google Streetview of the location.

A Modern Museum

It’s great to see that efforts are being made to preserve what is left of Croydon Airport. I hope to be able to visit the site again, next time I’m in the area.

Ally Pally

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Alexandra Palace, London, 1982

I took the photo above, of the remains of Alexandra Palace (colloquially known as “Ally Pally”), while I was a student in London in 1982. I’d seen the Palace from a distance many times before I actually visited it, but eventually I was prompted to go there, partly by a connection to my intended future career.

This immense building in North London is hardly a major tourist attraction, having had a rather unfortunate history and a wide variety of uses since it was built in 1873 (ostensibly as a counterpoint to South London’s Crystal Palace). Nonetheless, the structure remains usable to some extent, and there are currently plans for a major renovation.

The reason that I’d seen Ally Pally so many times before is because it stands prominently on a hilltop, where it can be seen from the East Coast Main (Railway) Line. When traveling between York and London by train, I frequently caught a glimpse of the structure through the carriage window.

I mentioned that the Palace has had a rather chequered past, having burned down on at least two occasions. In fact, there had been a major fire in 1980, just before the visits during which I took these photos. Despite the partial dereliction of the building itself, the grounds are still worth visiting, because of the spectacular views they offer over much of Central London.

The World’s First HDTV Transmitter

Thanks (presumably) to the building’s prominent position, it was chosen in 1935 by the BBC as the site of their first television transmitter. Studios were inserted into the building immediately below the transmitter tower. When the television service first began in 1936, there were alternate transmissions of Logie Baird’s 240-line system and the Marconi-EMI 405-line “High Definition” system.

At the time of my photograph above, the rooms below the transmitter mast were still in use for the broadcasting of Open University programs. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I was studying Electronic Engineering in London because I wanted to get a job with the BBC (which I eventually did), hence my interest in the history of Ally Pally.

Public Events at the Palace

On another occasion when I visited the Palace in 1982, a public festival was underway, and several historic buses from the London Transport collection were ferrying visitors between the Palace and the nearest railway station.

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

One notable vehicle that was operating that day was RT 1 (shown above), which was the prototype of the highly-successful AEC RT class of London buses that preceded the famous Routemaster. RT 1 was built in 1939, and was the forerunner of what eventually were 4674 buses of that class, some of which continued in service until 1979.

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 is seen again here, hemmed in by cars, and earning its keep by shuttling visitors to the nearest railway station. The TV transmitter and studios are visible in the background.

Rails to the Palace

In earlier days, there had been a much closer railway station. To coincide with the opening of the Palace, a railway branch was built from Highgate to the site, which terminated in a station just north of the palace building. The station building still exists today as a community centre, but should not be confused with the modern Alexandra Palace station on the main line.

The line was built by the Muswell Hill Railway, which was eventually taken over by the Great Northern Railway and finally became part of the London & North Eastern Railway group.

Tubes to the Northern Heights

During the late 1930s, London Transport developed major plans to extend its tube railway services in North London, as the so-called “Northern Heights” extensions  of the Northern Line.

Some portions of these lines were to be entirely new, while others were to be electrified sections of existing steam-operated lines. The Alexandra Palace branch became part of the plan, and work to electrify the line began in 1939.

This excerpt from the published 1937 London Underground diagram shows the planned Northern Line extensions, including the branch from Highgate to Alexandra Palace. The line from Edgware to Elstree was to be entirely new, and I mentioned my visit to the “Arches Field” that formed part of the works for that line in an earlier post.

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Unfortunately, the start of World War II intervened, bringing to a halt all work on the extensions.

After the war, development priorities in Greater London had changed, and it was eventually decided not to complete some of the extensions. British Railways, which had taken over the LNER’s lines, continued to operate passenger trains from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace until 1954, when the service ceased.

Ghost Trains of Highgate

The London Transport station at Highgate has its own unusual history. As shown below, due to the cancellation of the Northern Heights extensions, part of Highgate Station ended up as a “ghost” which is still standing unused today.

Things to Come... But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

Things to Come… But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

The surface-level station was rebuilt in Art Deco style at the same time as the new tube station was constructed beneath it. The tube station remains in use today, which accounts for the bizarre survival of the disused platforms above it.

At the time of my visit to the “ghost” station, it was little known, and was extremely overgrown as shown in my picture, but it has now become quite famous as a “Hidden London” site.

Another Balloon Landing in the Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 9am yesterday morning. Once again, a hot air balloon had just made a forced landing in Village Green Park. When it first came down, the balloon was actually much closer to the trees in the foreground. By the time that I’d fetched my camera, its occupants had maneuvered it to the car park near the church.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that this isn’t the first time this has happened; I reported a similar incident last year. Fortunately, this time they managed to land the balloon without hitting anything, and began deflating it as soon as it had been moved to a recoverable position, as shown below.

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Deflating the Balloon

There was actually a second balloon, which didn’t land, but hovered for a while behind the houses, as shown below.

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The balloon operators are required to report these unplanned landings to the FAA, so I trust that they will be doing so again in this case! Given the number of people who were walking in the park at the time, there were certainly many witnesses to the landing.

I assume that the reason they like to make these landings on Village Green is because there’s a car park next to it, which makes it easy to bring the recovery vehicle up to the balloon. After all, there’s an abandoned Naval Air Station just a few hundred yards away, which would make a much clearer landing ground, but I suspect that access to that is more difficult!

Hot-air balloon rides are a popular attraction in Wine Country, so I’m certainly not against them. However, I am becoming concerned about the number of apparently unplanned landings, such as this one, and the fact that they choose to land so close to buildings (which seems obviously unsafe).

The Invention of Wheeled Luggage

 

Luggage As It Was: Pencil Drawing, 1977

Luggage As It Was: Pencil Drawing, 1977

The pencil drawing above is another example of the weekly homework assignments that I completed when studying for my Advanced-Level Art qualification during the 1970s (as described in a previous post).

It’s obvious that the topic of this particular assignment was “luggage”, and the image would be extremely mundane, but notice something that none of the luggage items in the picture possess: wheels!

In retrospect, it seems incredible that the idea of adding wheels to suitcases took so long to develop. The first patent for the idea wasn’t granted until 1970. These days, most people wouldn’t consider buying a suitcase that did not have wheels and a handle, but, only 40 years ago, the lack of those features went completely unnoticed.

Learning the Hard Way

My family were anything but “seasoned travelers”, so, growing up, I had very little experience of packing and of taking luggage with me on journeys.

My parents also felt that buying new suitcases was an unnecessary extravagance, so they made do with a few decomposing leather examples, most of which probably dated from before World War II. These were typical cases of the time; strong, but with soft sides, one handle on top, and definitely no wheels or even sliders.

On the few occasions when we did pack suitcases to travel somewhere, we typically traveled by car, so loading the packed cases into the car, and unloading them at our destination, didn’t present any serious problems.

Coventry Railway Station 1979; scene of my luggage struggles

Coventry Railway Station 1979; scene of my luggage struggles

When I began attending Warwick University in 1978, therefore, it was effectively my first experience of having to transport myself and any significant amount of belongings from one location to another without benefit of a car. Naturally, we didn’t buy a new suitcase, so I inherited one of my parents’ ancient leather ones.

A few weeks after the start of the Autumn term, I decided that it would be nice to spend the weekend at home, which was only a few hours away by train. I also thought it would be a great idea to bring home with me a few of the new books that I’d purchased in Coventry. So, one Friday morning, I loaded up my suitcase and set off from my room in Coventry towards the railway station.

Needless to say, it was a disaster, because I couldn’t carry the heavy suitcase for more than a few hundred yards without having to stop and rest. Even getting from the University to the bus stop, to catch a bus to the railway station, became a Herculean task. I was saved only when a passing motorist took pity on me and offered me a ride in his car to the station.

Here was a problem that I’d never previously considered, and it became obvious that, as I acquired more possessions, the problem was only going to get worse.

Let’s Add some Wheels

As a result of my journeys, I soon noticed that more seasoned travelers had solved the problem of transporting suitcases by investing in sets of folding, add-on wheels, to which bags could be attached using bungee cords.

I quickly purchased such a set myself, which made a huge difference to the portability of my suitcases. In fact, you can still buy “luggage carts” like these, but the availability of wheeled suitcases means that they are less popular than they once were. I continued to use those wheels, and those suitcases, for many more years. I didn’t buy a suitcase with wheels until after I’d emigrated to California.

The final significant advancement in wheeled luggage, which everyone who flies now takes for granted, was the “Rollaboard”, which wasn’t invented until 1987, by a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 pilot.

Making the Drawing More Interesting

Returning to the details of my drawing above, even at that time, I considered the subject of luggage to be extremely dull. Therefore, although the bags and cases in the drawing are themselves based on real objects, and were drawn from life, most other items in the picture came strictly from my imagination.

For example, the young woman standing behind the suitcases certainly wasn’t anyone known to me, although the clothes she’s wearing are quite typical of those worn in those days by the girls at the Scarborough Sixth Form College.

The man walking by in the background is also pure invention. I’m not sure whether my art teacher realized that I had actually invented much of the drawing, but I didn’t really care!