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-by John Urie-
A Spontoon Island Story
By John Urie
On Your Marks...
“Well, O ‘ COURSE I never thought it’d go this way, young Miss Katie.” Mrs. Fallon told her shortly after she turned nine, “Us Irish are never happy ‘less we’re losing, y’know.”
Indeed, from the moment Katie had stepped off the train platform in Boulder, Colorado, every one of her nanny-goat’s dire predictions of the mournful existence that awaited her came quickly to naught. Katie thrived in her new environment -- no, she flourished. She loved her new school; where her classmates were all the daughters of self-made entrepreneurs like her Grandpa Joe. Here, nobody gave a damn what breed of horse she was. Hell, half the girls in her class were of mixed SPECIES, and of the same rough-and-tumble background as her grandpa. And in Colorado, if a schoolgirl chose to a settle a difference by inviting her antagonist for an ‘interview’ out behind the storage shed, well damn straight, Katie. Welcome to the American west, where we settle our problems straight up, face-to-face.
It had taken her all of three days to gain acceptance in among her peers.
Katie also loved her grandfather’s big, sprawling ranch-house...waking up to magnificent views of the Flatiron Mountains each morning, rambling over the miles of property. She even learned to love the fiery cuisine her father’s cook, Mrs Ramirez always served.
She learned to snowshoe in the winter, she learned to climb rocks in the summer, she learned to swim, she learned to ride a bicycle, she learned to paddle a canoe, and she loved every second of it.
But most of all, she loved her Grandpa Joe.
Joseph Combs was a compact horse, what the British called a ‘punch’, with a short back, chunky legs, a thick, bushy mane, and the same dry muzzle as both Katie and her dam. In his younger days, he had been known as ‘Calico Joe’, a reference to his unusual color pattern -- white, brown, AND black. And though Katie’s parents had never considered it when making their decision to send her to live with him, it had turned out to be as serendipitous for her grandfather as it was for her. A widower for many years who had never remarried, Joe Combs had given his only other child, Jessica, away in marriage six months previously. Now, entirely alone on his estate, he was beginning to slide into the depressed state that would later come to be called ‘empty-nest syndrome’.
With Katie’s arrival, all of that changed. Joe doted on his young granddaughter. He would take her on picnics, he would take her to the movies, and if Katie needed help with something he was always right there, right now. Not that he wasn’t afraid to discipline. Katie found that out the hard way the first time she told him a lie. She was unable to sit down for three whole days, and Grandpa Joe refused to speak to her for three more.
But that instance was the exception to the rule. Katie MacArran would always remember her maternal grandfather as a warm, humorous, loving horse...to say nothing of being highly respected in the community. When they walked the streets of Boulder together, she would see other mels doff their hats to him, or sometimes raise their canes in salute. Occasionally, a fellow stroller would pause to chat with her grandfather...and very often they would address him as ‘Senator’. That was when Katie first learned that Grandpa Joe had served two terms in the United States Senate. (With the death of Katie’s grandmother, he had declined to stand for a third.)
In the evenings after dinner, they would retire to the big living room, where Grandpa Joe would read to aloud to Katie before a crackling fire...a practice that was quickly abolished, for as much as Katie enjoyed hearing her grandfather read stories to her, they were no match for his OWN yarns. (As a storyteller, Mrs. Fallon had nothing on Calico Joe Combs. ) Joe could hold her enthralled for hours with his stories of the Chilkoot Pass, the Comstock Lode, of the time he was trapped for three days by a cave-in up in Montana, of a gun-battle fought with a pair of claim-jumpers in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, of the hunting trip he’d once taken in the company of young red-squirrel from New York named Teddy Roosevelt. Joe had plenty of second-hand stories to relate as well; tales told to him by grizzled veterans of the California Gold Rush...and Katie just ate them up.
But the most endearing thing of all to Katie about her grandfather was that he never talked down to her. One chill night in November, with the two of them bundled up in thick fleece blankets before the fireplace, it had been Katie who took the floor for once, telling her Grandfather all about her love of airplanes in general and the Schneider-Cup in particular. Grandpa Joe listened intently, puffing softly on his big, curved pipe, and then took it from his mouth and posed a question.
“Hmmm...tell me somethin’, Katie. You think maybe one day airplanes might be used to transport mining equipment?”
Katie had blinked in surprise and looked at him.
“What do you mean, Grandpa?” she asked
“Well,” he said, taking another draw on his pipe, “Minin’s gettin’ into more and more remote areas of the world these days...places where there aren’t a lotta roads, but lots o’ lakes and rivers. All your talk about these waterplanes’s got me thinkin’ maybe I should have Jimmy look into ‘em as a possible future investment for Combs Mining Equipment.
“Uh, Grandpa,” she had responded, slowly, “I-I don’t see how you could carry any of the stuff Combs makes in an airplane. It’s all too big.” She had visited the Combs factory near Chicago and knew what she was talking about.
Grandpa Joe just laughed and pointed at her with the stem of his pipe. “It is NOW, Katie...but don’t think for a minute little girl that airplanes are always gonna be too small to carry mine machinery. What was it, only a couple of years before you were foaled that those Wright boys flew the first one? Look how far airplanes’ve comes since then.” He puffed on his pipe again, then nodded, “And mining equipment’ll change too. Wasn’t that long ago the fanciest mining tools we had were the good old pick and shovel.”
Indeed, it had been the first of these two implements that had started Calico Joe on the road to wealth and power...a miner’s pick that he had fashioned with a serrated tooth on one side, and a smooth one on the other...the better to work through soft and hard stone as the conditions changed underground. Next, he had patented a new type of shovel with holes in the blade; to keep mud from clinging in wet conditions. Soon, he was coming up with ever more sophisticated miner’s implements...rock drills, hopper cars, elevators, conveyors, and rock-crushers, adapting them to run on steam rather than musclepower. Within five years, Combs mining equipment was in use all over the world...and not just for mining. It was also widely employed in tunnel and railroad construction.
But no matter how much success Joe Combs enjoyed, he never stopped looking for ways to improve his company’s products. Five years before Katie’s birth, he had attended the Exposition Universelle in Paris France and seen a new type of engine on exhibit...the Diesel, it was called. He had forthwith canceled the rest of his travel plans and rushed back to America with a directive for his company officers. That had turned out to be the single best business decision of his career. And because of it, Combs Mining Machinery now stood head and shoulders above it’s nearest competitor. Even as Katie sat with sat before the fire with him on that frigid evening, Grandpa Joe’s decision to switch from steam to diesel power was being put to good use in the isthmus of Panama.
Now, he was saying, “I think airplanes’ll be able to carry Combs Mining Gear one of these days, Katie...and that’s why this Schneider Cup race of yours is such a good thing.”
“I’m...not sure what you mean, Grandpa.” Katie had responded, confused but also thoroughly absorbed.
“Well,” he said, fishing in his pocket for another match, “The furs who competed in the 1913 Schneider will come back this year with better planes...and I’ll bet some new racers will show up to try out their designs, too. That’s why your Schneider is such a good idea. Katie. It’ll help make all airplanes better. You understand?”
Katie did understand...and she loved her Grandpa all the more for helping HER to understand. She had never thought about the Schneider Cup that way...until now.
In addition to her grandfather, there also frequent visits from her Aunt Jessica -- and Jessie’s husband, Joshua Willard; a big, strapping Appaloosa with a curly mane and a perpetual twinkle in his eye, who always drove a Stutz Bearcat. Very often, the two of them would arrive on Friday evening and leave after Sunday dinner. Katie got along swimmingly with her aunt, but she wasn’t all that sure about Josh. Then, one Saturday shortly before her ninth birthday. Josh arrived at the house alone. A moment later, her grandfather appeared and announced to Katie that the three of them were going for out for a ride together. Katie’s ears promptly went into a full vertical position. Grandpa Joe never just flatly stated the way things were going to be unless he was angry with her. Nonetheless, she reluctantly followed her Grandfather out to the front, where Uncle Josh was waiting at the wheel of his car.
The drive took them outside of town, towards an old abandoned wheat ranch, with Katie riding on her grandfather’s lap All during the journey, Uncle Josh said perhaps two words to her and her grandfather said even less. Though outwardly Katie appeared to be trying to enjoy herself, on inside she was frantic, desperately trying to figure out what she could have down wrong. Finally, when they got to the old ranch, and Josh began to pull through the gate, Katie could pretend no longer. “This...isn’t really much of a fun ride.”she informed her uncle and grandfather, in a small, shaky voice.
To her utter surprise, Josh’s stony expression cracked into a big smile.
“Oh we have gone for our ride yet, Katie” her uncle told her with a puckish wink...and as they pulled around behind the barn, Katie saw what was there and clapped her hooves to her face, shrieking with delight.
“Uncle Josh! Grandpa! It’s an airplane!”
“Yep,” said her grandfather, finally allowing HIS impassive demeanor to break. “A Bleriot XI-B.” and now, for the first time, Katie saw that it had not one, but two seats.
“You’re gonna take me flying?!” she practically screamed.
“Well your Uncle Josh is,” said her Grandfather in that laid back twang of his, “Little early birthday present to ya from him and me.”
Katie threw her arms around both of their necks, smothering them with kisses.
“How come you never told me that Uncle Josh knew how to fly?” she demanded, slightly vexed as her grandfather helped buckled her into her seat.
“And spoil the surprise, Katie?” he said, “Not hardly, little girl.” She would later learn that Josh had only just soloed a week earlier Finally satisfied that she was belted in securely, Joe walked around to the front of the Bleriot and took hold of the propellor.
“Okay,” he called to Josh, “Switches off.”
“Switches off.” Josh answered back, “Contact?”
“Contact!” Joe shouted.
“WAIT!” shouted Katie...and the two of them both looked at her in disbelief. After all her chatter about airplanes and flying, she wasn’t really going to...?
Katie pointed beneath the fuselage.
“You forgot to pull the wheel-chocks.”
There was a quick exchange of sheepish looks on the part of her grandfather and uncle, and then the ritual was repeated a second time.
It was anything but a perfect take-off and far from an eventful flight. The Bleriot bounced not once, but twice before lifting skyward, and then Uncle Josh simply circled the field three times at 200 ft. Nonetheless it was the thrill of a lifetime for Katie, watching the earth fall away beneath her, feeling the wind in her mane, the drone of the engine in her ears...and the sensation of total freedom. By the time Uncle Josh touched down again, (bouncing only once this time) any doubts that Katie would one day become a flier herself were now officially swept away. There was something of a comic aftermath to Katie’s first airplane flight as well. All during the drive home, her grandfather had to several times admonish Uncle Josh not to drive so fast. In response, the big appy just nodded and kept going faster and faster. By the time they pulled up in front of the house, sweat was pouring down Josh’s face, and when he killed the engine and set the brake, he hauled back on the handle so hard, he almost bent it.
Then he leaped from the driver’s seat, and dashed pell-mell for the privy.
It was then that Katie finally remembered something; the Gnome rotary engine, used in the Bleriot was perhaps the most reliable aircraft engine of it’s time...but like all aircraft engines of the day, it was notorious for spouting oil fumes.
And in those days, the most commonly used engine lubricant was CASTOR oil.*
Katie babbled for weeks about her first airplane ride, and soon there was a second....then a third. Her life in Colorado, with her Grandfather, her Aunt and Uncle, and Mrs. Fallon ( who had come to America with her ) seemed as grand an adventure as any filly could have wished for.
But then, 15 months after her arrival in Boulder, Katie’s world, the entire world, changed forever. On June 28th, 1914 in the little town of Sarajevo, Bosnia, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot dead by an assassin. Five weeks later, the Guns of August sounded.
It was the practice of impoverished English nobility, then as ever thus, to send their sons into military service and their daughters into wedlock with military officers...and the MacArrans were no exception. Katie’s Uncle Gordon, her father’s younger brother, was already serving as a captain with The Tyneside Scottish Brigade, his sister Louise’s husband, Richard Bannerman was a major with the 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers. And now her father joined the Royal Navy, serving as a signals officer aboard the battle cruiser, H.M.S. Warrior.
At first, everyone was untroubled by the War. It would all be over in six months, with the Kaiser swinging from the gallows.
No one expected that it would last for almost four long, bitter years.
Or that the first casualty in the MacArran clan would be a non-combatant.
On April 30th, 1915, in defiance of her husband’s wishes, Louise MacArran Bannerman, who had been sent to Canada for the duration, took ship in New York for a return voyage to England, her two young children in tow.
The ship chosen for their journey was the R.M.S. Lusitania.
But the news of Louise and the children’s loss never reached her husband’s ears. On May 05, 1915, two days before the Lusitania had her fateful encounter with the U-20, the Germans unleashed a new and terrible weapon at Hill 60, overlooking Ypres -- chlorine gas. Caught wholly unprepared, the British soldiers defending the hill were quickly overcome and died by the score. Among the names of the fallen was that of Lt. Colonel Richard Bannerman of the 2nd K.O.S.B.
One year later, on July 1, 1916, the British Expeditionary Force opened the Battle of the Somme with an unprecedented artillery barrage and then charged the German lines, only to be met by a hail of withering machine-gun fire. Amongst the more than 19,000 who fell that day was Major Gordon MacArran of the Tyneside Scottish Brigade, killed at Lochnagar Crater.
Katie’s father received the news of his brother’s death in Greenwich Hospital, where he was recuperating a from shrapnel wound suffered during the Battle of Jutland. Though he would later be awarded the George Cross for his gallantry during that action, he would serve out the rest of the war in the Admiralty...and he would walk with a slight limp for the remainder of his days.
In 1917, two more significant events occurred: Ian Jr. turned 18 and was called up for military service, serving as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. On Oct 10, at the terrible battle of Passchendaele, a German artillery shell blew off both his legs. He died a week later from a combination of gangrene and septicemia.
The other significant event was America’s entry into the Great War...and with it came Uncle Josh’s entry into the Army Air Corps, where he served with the 88th Aero Squadron. On April, 12th, 1918, flying a spanking new Nieuport 17, Uncle Josh shot down his fifth enemy plane, a German Pfalz D.12., officially earning the title of ‘ace’. It was to be a short-lived victory for Lieutenant Joshua Willard. No sooner had the Pfalz struck the earth, than a new German fighter appeared...of a type Josh had never encountered before. He later described the encounter in a letter to his family from the military hospital at Souilly:
“He should have been meat on the table, that pilot. I mean...you could tell he was inexperienced. He fired his initial burst at me from much too far away. Only the boys on their first or second missions did that. But that PLANE of his...cripes. It must be the easiest damn thing to fly ever built. When I went to get on his tail, he eased back on the throttle...another big mistake, usually. Only this time, it was lucky mistake because I swear, I’ve never seen a plane with such a low stall speed. I just shot him right over him, and the next thing I knew he was right on MY tail. I tried every trick in the book to get away from him, but he just stuck right with me. I couldn’t shake him, no matter what I did. That plane of his was not only as maneuverable as my Nieuport, it was so damn EASY to maneuver, like I said. Heh, just lucky for me he was a new pilot, or I wouldn’t be here writing you this letter. He kept opening up with his guns either too early or too late. Finally I tried to see if I could get away by outclimbing him. Huge mistake, everyone. I didn’t think anything could outclimb a Nieuport, but this plane could. The Boche fired another burst at me, and this time he hit one of the oil lines. Smoke started pouring from my engine and I started to go down. Fortunately for me, he never fired another shot. Whether it was because he was out of ammo, his guns jammed or he just got nervy, I’ll never know. Whatever the reason, I managed to nurse my plane back to our own lines before I crashed. And the rest of it, you know. The doctors say I’ll be out of action for at least another two months, but you know me...I want a rematch with that joker and right now.
All my love to everyone,
Ps. One of my mates dropped by just as I was getting ready to seal this envelope and he tells me that the plane that shot me down is a new one the Boches are just bringing into action on The Western Front. It’s called the Fokker D7"
One month later, on his first mission over the trenches following his recovery, Josh’s plane took a direct hit from a German anti-aircraft shell.
In the weeks to come, Katie MacArran would re-read her uncle’s description of his encounter with the D7 -- until she had it memorized by heart.
And she vowed that one day SHE would become a pursuit pilot and avenge her Uncle’s death.
As terrible as all of this was for the MacArran and Combs families, it turned out to be only a curtain-raiser. In the fall of 1918, just as the first horse of the Apocalypse, War, was finally preparing to make his exit from the world stage, the third horse, Pestilence, came out of the wings to take his bow -- bringing with him the most terrible pandemic in modern history, the Spanish Influenza.
Before it was over the Spanish Flu epidemic would kill more furs worldwide than had lost their lives in the Great War. There were more recorded deaths from influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague. And in the cold and damp of the Scottish Highlands, the disease struck with a special virulence. It took Katie’s sisters, Corrine and Rebecca and her baby brother, Malcolm. Then it leaped the Atlantic and repeated the process with the Combs family, sending Katie’s Aunt Jessica and her colt, Little Joe to be re-united with Josh. The day after their funeral, a grim-faced Grandpa Joe packed Katie and Mrs Fallon in his Studebaker touring car and headed south with them to Tucson Arizona for the remainder of the winter and spring. It turned out to be a wise move on the old stallion’s part. Katie and Mary Fallon came down with only relatively mild cases of the flu, and he never caught it at all. Back in Strathdern however, Katie’s mother wasn’t so lucky; waking up with a high fever just when everyone had thought the Spanish Flu epidemic was finally starting to ebb. And in her case, the illness stuck the cruelest blow of all. For although Frances Combs MacArran made an apparent full recovery, she discovered not long afterwards that she was unable to bear any more foals. That, coupled with the loss of three of her children and her sister to the illness -- plus Ian Jr.’s death on the battlefield, was to be the inducement of a long, sad slide into mental unbalance for her.
Finally, with the end of the epidemic, came a ray of sunshine into Katie’s life. Since his semi-retirement, Grandpa Joe had left the running of Combs Mining Machinery to his former assistant, a mountain goat named James Spanaway; a brilliant and shrewd business-fur given to amazingly accurate flights of intuition. A frequent guest at the Combs House, he was also a lifelong bachelor and soon, with each visit, he was spending more and more time with Mary Fallon. And on Katie’s return to Boulder with Grandpa Joe and Mrs. Fallon, he stunned them all by proposing to the nanny goat...herself many years a widow.
They were married on the back porch of the big house two months later, with Katie serving as maid of honor and Grandpa Joe as Best Horse.
Katie was sorry to be losing Mary’s company of course...but who could argue with the happiness she was feeling? Besides, Katie liked ‘Jimbo’ and, truth be told, at 12-going-on-13 she was too old for a nanny anyway...especially here in Boulder, a place nothing like the lonely environment of Strathdern. On top of that, Jim continued with his frequent visits to Boulder, and each time he did, Mary came along. At such times, it was almost as if Mrs. Fallon had never left at all.
One visitor to Boulder whom Katie was NOT so glad to see was her elder brother, Colin...now 17 years old and heir to the family title Almost as soon as he stepped through the front door, he began to demonstrate that in the years since Katie had last seen him, his demeanor had not improved; barking orders to the household like a sergeant-major, and never picking up after himself. He borrowed the car without permission, he sent telegrams to Strathdern on his grandfather’s dime, and he never tired of reminding Katie that one day HE would become the Duke of Strathdern. “Take a good look at this house, Catherine...one day it’s going to be mine.” (It apparently never occurred to Colin that his grandfather, who had no title, no sons, and no regrets, might not feel under any obligation to bequeath his estate to a MALE heir.)
Then, one afternoon while her grandfather was in Boulder on business, Katie had just finished up her bath and wrapped herself in towel. Suddenly, the door opened, and there was Colin.
For a second, he was as surprised as she was, and then a new expression slithered it’s way across his features...one that made her skin crawl and her nostrils flare.
“I say,” he said, “You’ve gotten quite lovely as you’ve grown haven’t you? Let’s have a look, shall we?”
He reached for the towel., but before he could get his hooves on it, Katie let it drop away. For a second, Colin was staring at her goggle-eyed, and then his eyes bulged out even further as Katie slammed her knee into his groin and her fist into the underside of his jaw. Then she fled down the hall to her room and bolted herself inside. She expected the door to crash open at any second, but there was never so much as a rattling of the knob. Coolly and calmly, Katie dressed herself...and curled up on her bed in a fetal position and had herself a good cry. It was several hours later that someone finally did knock...but she immediately heard the voice of her grandfather.
Grandpa Joe listened to her account of what had happened with a sphinx-like expression on his face ...but Katie could see his ears trying to lay back. When she finished, he said just three words. “Wait here, Katie.” and disappeared down the hall. A few seconds later, she heard him pounding on a door...and then the sound she had been expecting earlier, the sound of a door crashing open. It was followed by an equine scream of terror...and then another much louder one of pain...then several more, each one punctuated by a protest of, “I’ll tell mother!” Then she heard a scuffling in the hallway...and the sound of something being hauled down the stairs. She ran to her window, and looked out just in time to see Grandpa Joe come bolting out of the front, clutching Colin by the nose in a vicious, twist. At the bottom step of the porch, he swung his arm in wide arc and literally hurled Colin through the air and into the thorns of a rosebush.
“Get out of my house!” Katie heard him bellow...and then he stormed back inside, slamming the front door behind him.
In a heartbeat, Colin was on his hooves, belling in outrage.
“Just wait till mum hears you filthy sod! Just wait! She’ll never speak t’you again. The only child you’ve got left will never speak to you again!”
He was answered by a deluge of his belongings, being hurled from an upstairs window.
Then Grandpa Joe came back to Katie’s room and held her while she cried...and then he began to cry as well. For he knew that Colin was right. When she heard about what had happened, Katie’s mother never spoke to him again.
As for Katie’s father, he was about to realize an unexpected reversal of fortune. At the stroke of midnight, January 16, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, took effect, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of all intoxicating beverages. Shortly thereafter, it was followed by the Volstead Act, otherwise known as the National Prohibition Enforcement Act. America was now officially dry.
Unofficially, America continued to imbibe...and soon developed a taste for Scotch, a liquor most Americans had never even heard of before liquor was banned.
And it so happened that the MacArran family’s one steady source of income was a mid-size Scotch distillery.
The Duke of Strathdern didn’t hesitate...he jumped in with both hooves. Before long, the demand for the family product had far outstripped the supply. So Ian bought another distillery...and another and another. Within two years, he’d also acquired the third largest Gin distillery in England...and the largest Irish Whiskey distillery in Ulster.
And the money began to roll in. Good Lord, how it did roll in. Ian had the family estate in Strathdern completely refurbished and bought back most of the surrounding property as well. He bought a house in the fashionable Kensington district of London, and villa in the south of France. He purchased a swanky new Bentley Brougham touring car, and a membership in the exclusive Boodle’s Mel’s Club
But bold though Ian MarArran may have been, he was never, never reckless in his business dealings. Like Samuel Bronfman of Canada, who would one day found the giant Seagram’s Corporation, Ian always kept his own hooves clean; never conducting business directly with his American clientele. All money transactions had to be carried out in Britain, not America, and in Pounds Sterling, never American dollars. As for the product itself, Ian’s employees never saw it loaded onto a ship for America. The liquor would be delivered to a warehouse in Aberdeen, or Liverpool, or Belfast, or Southampton...and where it went from there, take it up with the shipping company, why don’t you? As a result, Ian never had trouble with the law. For although the statutes against importing alcoholic beverages into America were both harsh and severe, there were no equivalent laws in Britain forbidding the EXPORT of alcohol to American. In fact Britons of all classes mostly regarded America’s ‘Noble Experiment’ as sheer lunacy. ( Ian also wisely made a point of paying his taxes both in full and on time. )
At the same time all of this was happening. Katie MacArran’s fortunes were also on the rise. One of the few good effects of the Great War had been a great leap forward in aircraft design...and a large surplus of aircraft and pilots afterwards. Almost anyone with a few dollars in their pocket could manage flying lessons and get their hands on a decent airplane. And when she turned 16, with her Grandfather’s blessing that was exactly what Katie MacArran did, learning to fly from a Woodchuck named Jimmy Angel, an American who had served in the Royal Flying Corps during the war and flown in the service of Lawrence of Arabia. ( And who one day, as a bush pilot in South America, would discover the world’s tallest waterfall and see it bestowed with his name. )
Within five weeks of starting her lessons, Katie soloed for the first time. For her birthday that year, her Grandfather offered to buy her a plane of her own. Her choice was surprising. Instead of the Curtiss Jenny that he’d expected, she asked for an AVRO 504K, it’s British counterpart. At first, Joe had winced at the prospect ( and expense ) of importing his promise to Katie all the way from the U.K....until he made the fortuitous discovery that there were plenty of surplus 504K’s for sale up in Canada, at dirt-cheap prices, along with all the spare parts that his granddaughter could ever need.
On her 17th birthday, Grandpa Joe happily presented Katie with her new aircraft...and it soon began to pay him ( and her ) an unexpected dividend. The previous year, in her spare time, Katie had been monkeying around with some of the Combs Mining Equipment’s prospecting gear, trying to figure out how to make the company’s sluice-boxes, pumps, small-dredges, and highbankers collapsible for storage and transportation aboard aircraft. It was a difficult process of trial and error for Katie...and she was never quite certain how effective her ideas were. But now with an aircraft of her own, she could put them to an actual test. By the time she finished high-school, ( a year early, no less ) she had created an entire series of prospecting equipment, all of it easily broken down for transport and then re-assembled at the destination. She even came up with an entirely new type of rotary dredge, which she named the Combs Twister. With Jim Spanaway’s help, she quickly obtained patents for her innovations, and her grandfather cheerfully paid her a royalty on each one sold. And they sold briskly, for there was one thing Katie had not considered. A dredge that could be broken down for transport by air was also that much easier to haul by pack-train.
In the meantime, Katie enrolled as an Aeronautics major at Purdue University, the first and only female in her class. She was popular among her fellow students, possessing that rare combination of talent and absolute dedication that rarely engenders jealousy in one’s fellows. Not that she was a stick in the mud...not hardly, as she herself put it. She joined a sorority, she went on dates, she never missed a Boilermakers home football game...and she even managed something close to a romance.
And on Sundays after church services, she and her fellow Aeronautics students, all of whom were also pilots, would gather at nearby Smith Airfield for impromptu air-meets. Katie was far from the best pilot in this group...but she had an iron-willed determination and an unquenchable desire to be first among equals that would not leave her alone. By the end of her sophomore year she could outfly every one of her classmates...and yet she still retained her popularity, for it was plain to all how doggedly Katie MacArran had worked to improve her flying skills. ( She also wisely made a point of never bragging about her abilities. )
Katie’s efforts in her studies were equally resolute. She made the Dean’s list every semester, and for her senior thesis, she came up with an aircraft cowling that not only reduced drag, but increased the airflow to the engine. In 1925, Katie MacArran graduated from Purdue at the top of her class. There, in attendance, only the second time she had seen him in more than ten years, was her father.
Her mother however, was nowhere to be seen...and it would be several weeks before Katie would learn the reason why.
But when the family returned to Boulder, an incident occurred that would forever alter Katie’s relationship with her sire...and have a profound impact upon her life ever after.
*This is how Castrol Motor Oil got it’s name.