Even those latter people still come away from those events with something more than the rest of us, who only experience history at a distance, through books or television. History doesn’t happen in a vacuum (here on Earth, at least) – it’s a sometimes messy affair that involves plenty of people connected to individual events, some of them directly but most of them on a tangential or proximate basis.
Which is all a fancy way of introducing a pair of comments from people who had a little more to do with a couple of our stories from this past week. First, from Vern Westgate,commenting on the Gary Gabelich story:
I worked for North American Aviation with the astronauts on Apollo 1 with Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. I wrote Spacecraft Operating Procedures. Gary was my back-up astronaut when I needed a procedure checked out on our Engineering Evaluator, (a simulator) and the astronauts were not available. He was as good as the astronauts doing simulated landings and such. As I recall, he was driving ‘double A’ fuel dragsters at Lions drag strip (among other strips) at the time. Gary was a nice guy; unassuming, bright, highly skilled, and fast in just about anything he raced. It was a special time. It was one of the best jobs I ever had in terms of the work with interesting guys on a fascinating project. But then the astronauts died in the launchpad fire and Gary went a few years later and that took some of the edge off it all. Looking back at all of that state-of-the-art Apollo stuff, all the stuff that went into the ground-based racing cars and motorcycles, and now it’s all crude and rude technology when compared to cell phones…The world moves on…
And in our second look at a world land-speed record holder this week, Jim Walker remembers meeting Art Arfons:
It’s totally great to see that the old Airport Dragstrip that I went to with my dad in the mid fifties is getting recognition from the Ohio Historical Society. It was an era when regular guys with one-car garages and a few bucks in their pockets (to spend at Otie’s Automotive in the Kenmore section of Akron perhaps) could modify a daily driver, throw on a helmet, and be competitive.
I grew up not far (easy bicycle ride) from the Arfons’ compound on Pickle Road. One day I stopped by when I saw the yet-unpainted nose of what would soon be Art’s LSR vehicle sticking out of the door. Hopping off my bike, I walked in. Art gave me a big smile and asked if I would like to help him sand down some of the fiberglass? And so I spent a half hour or so helping hi … never thinking that I was in the company of a man who would become a legend in the world of competitive auto racing. (I had seen the Green Monster at the Airport Dragway, though.)
Another time I heard a loud roar while at my house a couple of miles from the Arfons’s shops (Art and Walt had separate buildings and work areas.). I rode my bike over to find a surplus J-79 jet engine wiggling around on a wooden cradle, chained to two nearby trees. A pre-installation test no doubt.
Great memories for sure.
Thanks for the stories, guys!