Senior Moment From Russ Dodge:
Plane Stories Continue With the Wild Man
A read or re-read of the last installment
of Senior Moments is suggested before you begin this edition.
One more Elton Hildreth fact, the "Wild Man" nickname came in 1957 when
Elton bought the 16-J and had it repainted to orange and black, the color
combination of the Williams 717 he drove in 1956. As the sign painter was
applying the brush, it was suggested by the "gang at the garage" to have
"Wild Man" painted over the windshield. The title then appeared on all of
Elton's cars until his career went into a "hiatus", I won't say retired and
catch grief again because at 93 years old Elton, says he never retired but
is just waiting for his next ride to open up!
To pick up where we left off, the question was how did you land an airplane
on a garage roof? Elton's response, "It was easy, all I did was jam the
landing wheels through the roof!" I thought about and said, "It must have
been one heck of a sudden stop!" To which he responded "It was. But what was
harder was landing a plane without any wings!" So at that point I just said
go ahead, this has to be good!
Grahm, a buddy of Elton's had a crop dusting business and had just purchased
a couple older used airplanes which were built mostly from wood but had good
engines he wanted to use as replacement in is other crop dusting planes. He
got the "brain storm" if Elton could land the plane without wings, they
would film it and sell it to T.V. or something and gets some good money for
it. When they agreed how he would do it they went to the airport and
measured the wing span of the plane. They then drove around the wooded
perimeter of the airport landing field and looked at trees until they found
a couple that looked the right distance apart. After careful measuring, they
found a perfect match.
The plan, fly the plane in for a landing between the trees and let the
trunks shear the wings off the airplane, with the plane then dropping the
rest of the distance, landing with no wings!
Well how did it go I asked. "Great, it cut the wings off perfect, just like
you had used a saw and you should have seen the looks on guys faces when I
taxied up to the hanger with the wings off! It never hit the prop of hurt
Obviously my next question was how did you make out with the film they took?
"Oh they were using some kind of movie camera and got the film messed up in
it, never did get it on film!"
From the Old Bridge reunion a few years ago, Ed Duncan remembers in our
comments, the interview of Elton and Pete Frazee together. Pete told of one
of his flying adventures with the "Wild Man". Pete said he had come to
Bridgeton at Elton's request to be a guest speaker at a Kiwanis Organization
luncheon. After the meeting, Elton asked Pete if he had some time he would
take him up flying. Pete having time said that sounded good so off to the
airport they went.
"When we got to the airport Elton got out of the car to go inside the
building and told me to get into his plane" Pete recalled, "I knew I might
be getting into trouble when I asked Elton which plane is that?" To which
Elton replied, "The first one you find that has a key in it!" Pete told the
group at the reunion. He went on to say," I really don't remember a lot
about the flight other than Elton asking me if I wanted to fly over the
Vineland Speedway and I remember us flying so low there were trees tops
brushing the bottom of the plane!
Elton's passion for flying equals his desire to race. I'm jumping over to
one more Fact or Fiction plane question, "Did you really fly under the
Delaware Memorial Bridge?" for a story about a third passion of his,
Motorcycles! Fact of Fiction, did you really tear a porch off of a house
with a motorcycle and side car?
"Well it wasn't exactly a side car but more of a flat platform attached to
the cycle like a sidecar. The cycle was used by an appliance store in town
to make deliveries. My friend wanted to sell it and put it out for sale.
After no movement for a few days I told him he could put it out front of my
garage on Pearl Street where more people would see it. He agreed and I told
him I would run it up to my place."
I'm not familiar with which cycle had what in the 50's but I do remember
that some had gear shift levers on the side of the gas tank. Maybe you can
see where this is going!
"I hit a red light going up Pearl Street and pulled up alongside of my buddy
driving a new Oldsmobile! Well the red light gave us a chance to rev up
things a little waiting for the green. I slid my shifter forward into low
and when the traffic light went green we both took off! Him forward, me
backwards, flipping me over the handlebars as the cycle backed up across the
street, up on a front lawn and came to rest after tearing the heck out of
the front step and porch of the house on the corner!"
Elton hadn't paid attention and forgot the shift reverse position on that
cycle was where 1st gear was on his own cycle.
Sometime I'll come back to Fact or Fiction and find out about riding a
motorcycle non-stop from California to New Jersey or perhaps a few stories
Thanks for listening. Senior Moment by Russ Dodge