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Chicago u Liners

Chicago u Liners

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Published by John Brandt
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Published by: John Brandt on Apr 25, 2013
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04/25/2013

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This is from the “My Life in Vignettes” series No. 5Chicago U-Liners Club1953Just the year before 1952, we left our apartment building on 110
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and Vernon, Chicagofor the last time. Everything packed in Grandpa’s big truck, and all of us in the front seat.We head south on Halsted, across the three big bridges to our new home in Riverdale.We can see from our house Kickapoo Woods, and open fields. And hear Bobwhite Quailsinging, “Bobwhite, Bobwhite.”I was primed and set for adventure here. All new stuff, this is not Chicago. Nope, we’reon 144
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and Halsted now.And what is that sound all day on Sunday from Kickapoo? YEOWWW, YEOWWW,YEOWWW. This I got to find out, because my mother is having migraines and it’s nothelping matters.As it turned out, at Washington school I was to make a lot of friends. Fred Duerr wasone, who would explain to me the fine points of flying model airplanes. The best hecould. Now because Fred’s last name is Duerr, and mine’s Brandt, and everything wentalphabetically in class seating. I always sat in front of him. That was of course until yougot in trouble for talking. Then it’s the front row. “So I can keep an eye on you.”Phonics was the new foreign language being taught at the time. And even if I knew whereit was, it was not a place I would ever want to visit. Now I’m old enough to adventure to those flying fields in Kickapoo Woods, and sit in thegrass and watch. All the flyers were very skilled at flying the u-line planes. Two controlcables keep the plane from flying away. And you went in circles. Sometimes three or four guys flying combat. You’d attach a piece of paper ribbon to your tail, trying to clip theother guy’s off with your prop. Planes would tangle and engines would get buried in theground.They all belonged to a club in Riverdale, The Chicago U-Liners. The green shirts withthe club logo meant you were a real pilot to me.That fall in 1953 I built my first balsa wood plane, a ‘Stunt-Master.” I had retrieved anengine from a plane that was crashed and actually thrown in the garbage. Cleaning thedirt out of it was another matter. But I didn’t care, I had my plane and a motor; but couldI fly it?
 
Fred couldn’t fly either, so we decided to test our wings early on a Saturday morningwhen we knew no one would be out there to witness it. Flip, flip, flip, the engine won’tstart. So it’s flip, flip, flip of the prop a hundred times more. Now I’m beginning tounderstand the engine in the garbage can a little better.What do you know, who pulls up, none other than the flying club president, DonWinslow and his daughter Sue Ann. “We’re just going to cut the grass.” “How you boy’sdoing?” ”Oh we’re just great. Ya, we’re just getting started here for a long day of flying.” “Say, that engine looks familiar for some reason or another. Did you, paint thathead yellow like that?” ”Oh sure, yellow is my favorite color, use it on everything.”“Why haven’t you boys joined the U-Liners yet? How old are you?” “I’m nine.” “Getyourself to next Friday nights annual membership meeting and see if you can get votedin. I can tell you this; you’ll be the youngest club members. And bring two dollars in caseyou need it for dues.”“Fred, we could be wearing the shirts!” “Not me, I don’t like clubs. My dad says clubslead to tattoos, motorcycles, and then cigarettes. And then God knows what.”The U-Liners clubhouse is where I bought my Stunt-Master. It was in a garage behind president Don’s house, and across 138
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street from my Open Bible Church. And on theother side of the IC tracks was the Riverdale Bowl. So, it was centrally located. I loved itthere. Models, kits, the smell of drying airplane dope, and glue. Lighted work tablescovered with planes in various stages of construction. And everything you needed to be building aircraft for flight.I had five dollars left from working at my grandpa’s and buying school clothes. So Ifigured two dollars spent for dues and I was a bona fide U-Liner. And the other three for an engine, maybe, if there was one that cheap. It would be the smallest, a Cox .049.That’s all I needed to get the Stunt-Master in the air.I couldn’t sleep the night before the meeting.The meeting starts at 7: PM, I’m there at 6:30, the doors locked so I wait in the alley. At6:59, like locusts from some biblical story, I get swept in with sixty other members whodescend from what seems like nowhere.“I’ll call the meeting to order, and read the minutes from last years meeting,” says Don.Other than Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts this is the most official sounding ceremony I canever remember being at. I see the shirts stacked up on a shelf. I’m the only one notwearing one. And I’m trying to smile at everyone, like a toy Nodder in the back windowof a car, with a spring for a neck.“We have tonight, someone wanting membership, what’s your name over there son?”“John Brandt, president Don.” ”OK, John, stand up please. All in favor say aye.” And
 
one by one, everyone says aye. I’m ready to scream and grab a U-Line shirt right off theshelf all at the same time.And I know that with all this official business, there has to be a secret club handshake.“Congratulations from all of us, and welcome to the U-Liners, I’m sure you’ll make a bigcontribution to the club over the years.” “Thank you very much president Don, “I say.“Now for the much anticipated 1954 Chicago U-Liners raffle,” says Don. Raffle? There’sa raffle? “Tonight we have the new Fox-29 R engine on our raffle. Tickets everybody,three bucks, line up.” I’m thinking, holy cow, there’s a Fox-29R engine somebody’sgonna take home. I had never actually seen one in real life, only magazine pictures. Themost expensive used car we ever owned, wouldn’t cost as much.So there goes my last three dollars, down the drain.“John, since your our new member would you mind reaching into the jar and pull thewinning ticket for us tonight? Sure I will, and may the best man win to.”“Well, what does it say?” I’m looking at the ticket in my hand.You know there are times in everybody’s life, sooner or later, if you had the power towill yourself somewhere else, you would. Well here it is, the Holy Grail of airplaneengines, the Rolls-Royce, the Piece de Resistance.And the winning ticket I have to pull has MY name on it. Now, I’ve been a new club member here for ten maybe fifteen minutes. And I just wonthe airplane engine everybody is salivating over.You could hear a pin drop. There was this collective groan as if the air had been suckedout of the room.” I can’t be the winner. Honest guys; it’s so big it will pull the wingsright off my little Stunt-Master anyway.” The word embarrassment took on new meaningright then.And I want to put that ticket in my mouth, chew it up, and swallow it.“I can’t accept this.”“Are you sure son? says Don.” Am I sure? Does a bear sleep in the woods? There are alot of shades of red in the spectrum of light, and I went through all of them right there,I’m sure.But I made a lot of new friends that night. And somebody named Ralph Gault was thewinner, finally, unofficially.

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