TY'S TERRIFIC TRIP
By Dorothy O'Leary
THE BIG, silver DC-3 circled over the field, as if saying hello, then came in for an easy, smooth landing at the Howard Hughes airport over on the west side of Los Angeles. At the controls was a dark-haired young man who had taken this converted Dakota off from this very same airstrip three months before.
Now, 32,000 miles, four continents and eighteen countries later, Ty Power, his crew and two friends were back to the spot where they had started. Back after one of the most fascinating flying vacations on record.
As Ty stepped from the plane and waved to waiting friends, one could tell he had had a terrific time. He looked as rested and refreshed as if he had spent the three months just sleeping. And he had done 90 percent of the flying.
Before leaving the field he looked back at the plane, as if saying a silent, "Well done." There on the nose were painted eighteen flags for all the countries that had been visited, and the name ¹"The Geek," which he had given the plane for you-know-what-role. He grinned and said quite simply but succinctly:
"What a wonderful trip!"
When we saw him again a few days later, he had lost none of his enthusiasm.
"I really don't know where to begin describing the trip. All of it was so interesting. Parts were very exciting. We saw some old friends. We had an audience with the Pope and visited Emperor Haile Selassie and General Smuts. Africa was fascinating; we spent two months there as compared with two weeks in Europe. The prettiest girls collectively -- in fact, the best looking people collectively -- were in Iceland," Ty began.
"Just to give you an idea of how terrific the trip was, we planned to be gone six weeks and stayed away three months!
"First, I think I should mention the crew," added Ty, ever the diplomat. "Robert Buck was co-captain; Robert Stevens was navigator; R. L. Ritter, radio operator; William Agner, crew chief and engineer. My secretary, Bill Gallagher, and Jim Denton, the studio representative for 20th, were along for the ride. What a wonderful bunch of guys. Couldn't have been better.
"And 'The Geek' should have credit, too. It performed like a well-oiled clock. It was converted for the trip. Everything was stripped out of the cabin except two seats and some luggage racks and two bunks, to make room for the extra gasoline tanks for the South Atlantic hop -- but that's getting ahead of the story. There is so much to tell, it could fill a book! Why don't we just settle on ten highlights?"
We assured Ty that ten highlights would be just what the editor ordered and invited him to proceed.
The first, it seems, occurred in Dallas, where Ty saw his old friend, Lee Segal, owner and operator of station KIXL. Ty invested some money in the station when Lee was starting it. During the War he went there to do some Marine Corps broadcasts. Lee and Ty have always remained good friends and on this trip Ty did some previously unannounced stunts for Lee that had Dallas popping.
For an hour he turned disc jockey on the station, and the Dallas phone company reported it never had an exchange so jammed with calls! Then later the station's inquiring reporter asked a girl at a main intersection in the city what she would do if Ty Power came up to her and said hello.
"I think I would faint," she replied.
Ty was waiting in a taxicab nearby, listening to the broadcast, and on that cue stepped out, approached the reporter and girl and said hello. The girl didn't faint, but she did let out a ladylike little scream. She asked Ty about Hollywood, he inquired about Dallas. All this was broadcast, of course. The girl told Bill Gallagher later that she'll never forget that day if she lives to be 190!
The second highlight, I'd say, was the 2,000 mile hop across the South Atlantic from Brazil to Africa," Ty went on. "At Natal we loaded our six auxiliary gas tanks, holding 134 gallons each, and with that full load we had our most crucial take-off. But we had a mile and a half runway that was built during the War, and "The Geek" got off in about the first third.
"As the Brazilian coast faded behind us, we settled down for some pleasant flying. The weather was wonderful, we were flying about 10,000 feet and everything was great --- for a few hours. Then Jim Denton came up front to say the left rear auxiliary gas tank had sprung a leak at the valve That was 100 octane gas which would ignite so fast you wouldn't know what happened, and we were 800 miles out of Natal!
"Bill Agner, the engineer, tightened the jam nut on the valve as much as possible; that stopped the flow of gas a little, but not enough. We switched to that tank to use the gas as quickly as possible. When it was half gone and the pressure down, the leak stopped. Meantime Agner covered everything around that tank with pyrene, and the boys took off their shoes so the nails in them couldn't strike a spark. That would have been all we needed! After that we all relaxed enough to notice the moon. The biggest thing you can imagine, and a burnt orange."
The third highlight was another thriller, at the end of that South Atlantic hop. About forty-five minutes off the African coast, "The Geek" ran into a tropical weather front. Rain was so heavy that visibility was absolute zero. They were on instruments. The radio compass was working and picking up the beam from Monrovia Field, Liberia, but Ty couldn't get any response from the field to his radio queries, so he flew on.
"My Irish luck certainly was with me," Ty recalls with a grin. "When we got over Monrovia there suddenly was a hold in the weather. There was a field -- and we did the quickest let-down in history. Two minutes after we landed the ceiling closed in again, and the visibility didn't open up for twenty-four hours. We stayed right there in Monrovia, and just to give you an idea of that storm, there was a thirty-six inch rise in the river recorded in those twenty-four hours!"
Nature furnished the fourth highlight, too, but this time without violence. Ty and his party went to Cape Town's famous Table Mountain far south in the Union of South Africa, and from there enjoyed what he terms "the most spectacular sight I've ever experience." From the summit one can see the Cape of Good Hope, southernmost tip of the continent, the Atlantic and Indian oceans -- all from the same spot.
Next on his list was his visit with Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts in Pretoria, capital of the Union of South Africa.
"He is one of the world's great leaders, and it was a genuine thrill for me to meet him," says Ty with admiration.
Sixth highlight of the Power trip was Ty's visit to Kruger National Park, which covers 8,800 square miles northeast of Johannesburg, where Africa is in its primitive state, uninhabited except by wild animals. Every type of wild beast native to that area is there, living uncaged. The only caged creatures are people who visit -- who must remain in their cars. If they don't they might not live to tell about it, for law here is solely that of survival of the fittest.
Ty and his party, as guests of park superintendent Colonel J. H. Saunderburgh, were driven many miles through this fascinating veldt terrain, saw elephants, lions, vicious water buffaloes, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, zebras, deer and birds by the thousand.
Traveling north, Ty next visited Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Here his trip reached its next peak when he was entertained by Emperor Haile Selassie, whom he describes as "highly intelligent and vastly interesting."
"The Emperor is doing his best to reconstruct his beautiful but primitive country after the devastation of war and deserves great praise," says Ty. "His people are essentially pastoral, but he is interesting them in new methods needed to revitalize the country. The Emperor is doing his best, is attracting foreign financing and is introducing Western improvements. He is also vitally interested in education. He personally sponsors a large school for boys, and his Empress has one for girls."
The eighth highlight was a trip up the Nile -- which flows North, you know, into the Mediterranean, so although one is going "down" to the mouth of the river, the journey is "up" north. The flight was over one of the oldest centers of civilization and, for that reason, exciting. Ty was fascinated by ancient water wheels and irrigating systems, the odd boats on the Nile, particularly the dhows with triangular lateen sails, the oldest used by man.
A stop was made at Khartoum, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, where the Blue and White Niles converge into the Nile proper. Here Ty and his friends were entertained by the acting Governor General, Sir Thomas Creed, were taken on boat trips on both the Blue and White Niles. Then they visited Amdurman, the native city across the river from Khartoum, where they saw wild tribesmen in from the desert oases, colorful camel trains, Sudanese ivory traders. Because of cholera around Cairo, Ty had to avoid that city and flew on over the Mediterranean to Athens, where he says flying over the Acropolis was nothing short of inspiring.
Next highlight was the visit to Rome and the audience with Pope Pius XII at his Summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, on the bank of a gem-like lake, high on a hill overlooking the Eternal City. The old, mellowed villa, a pale yellow, offers a subtle background for the colorful uniforms of the Swiss guards.
The Pope, in ivory-white robe and cap, was attended by two Cardinals for the audience, which included about twenty people in addition to Ty and his friends -- people from France, Belgium, Australia, Greece, China and the United States, all kneeling in a semi-circle. The names of each were listed, with their homelands, and the Pope addressed each in his own language.
His Holiness asked Ty what part of the United States he was from and, when he heard it was California, said he remembered it well and had traveled there by plane when he was Cardinal Pacelli.
The final highlight of the trip was the flight over the cold, ominous North Atlantic, from Dublin to Goose Bay, Labrador, with a stop in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
Between Ireland and Iceland, "The Geek" ran through weather registering 18 degrees below zero. That was so cold that two air speed indicators on the plane froze and broke; the landing at Reykjavik had to be made without them.
"Iceland seemed fairly mild and warm after that, and it is warmer than one would expect because the Gulf Stream reaches it and tempers the cold," Ty points out. "The most beautiful girls, as a group, that we saw anywhere were there. All the people seem handsome, and they are so hospitable. When authorities learned our indicators were broken and they had no spares to offer us, they grounded one of their own DC-3s, took off the indicators and installed them on our plane. That's real hospitality, because they had to wait until we reached the States to send back two replacements.
"We spent the night there, then took off at 7 in the morning, when it was still dark. In that season the sun isn't up until about 10 and sets again at 4.
"Flying between Iceland and Greenland we ran into a terrific wind, up between 60 and 80 mile gales. We were flying about 12,000 feet but could see the wind was so strong it whipped up waves so huge they completely covered a couple of oil tankers we flew over. One minute we'd see the ships, the next they would be hidden by a blanket of water. It seemed incredible they could stay afloat," Ty continued his narrative.
"We had planned to stop at BW1 -- that stands for Bluey West One -- in Greenland, but there was still a high wind, and the clouds folded in; we went on, trusting that we'd make Goose Bay.
"We did, but not with much to spare. There was a heavy wind there, too, but we had to land by that time. We had only three hours of gasoline left, and our de-icing fluid had just run out!
"That lucky little man that perches on my shoulder was still there!"
And there you have the highlights of Ty's terrific trip. Of course he visited Paris, London and Dublin. He saw many old friends in England, including Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, and the Rex Harrisons. That was lively, of course, but the ten highlights were exciting.
And now Ty is home, redecorating his house and at work on "That Old Magic" for 20th Century-Fox. But every time he mentions his trip there is a gleam in his eye which plainly indicates that, at the first opportunity, he'll be off again, flying to far corners of the globe in search of adventure.
It's plain as plain that this terrific trip of Ty's will not be the last for him!
¹"The Geek" was for one of Ty's favorite roles, Stan Carlisle, in Nightmare Alley, released in 1947.
© 2004-2011 tyrone-power.com
all rights reserved