Bob's Air Mail Service Station: A Man, a Plan, and a Really Big Fokker

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by Fletch, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

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    Western Air Express was awfully proud of its two new four-engine, 32-passenger Fokker F-32s, as the above pictures from their 1930 roll-out will indicate. But the big planes had been born under a dark star.

    The prototype had crashed during a demo flight. In sleeper berth service on the California coastal route, the F-32's odd engine arrangement meant that the two rear pushers delivered little power and were always overheating.

    A plane lent to the Army Air Corps as a transport failed its tests. Western Air's two F-32s, already the costliest aircraft in the world to maintain, had to have bigger, still costlier engines. And still the problems persisted. As 1932 arrived, and business everywhere slowed to a crawl, the ships were quietly retired.

    Time passed. Somehow or other, word of the white elephants of the air got out to a Mobilgas service station franchisee. In 1934, Bob Spencer was about to open for business on Los Angeles' Miracle Mile with a full-service scheme, including mail-in maintenance reminders for his customers.

    He got the idea to build his new station around one of the grounded Fokkers, under whose 99' wingspan cars could pull in to be refueled, oiled and checked. It was the first "flying canopy" - literally! - in the gas business.

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    Spencer's brainwave was a runaway success. In 1934, Bob's Air Mail Service Station sold more Mobiloil and Mobilgas products than any other dealer on the West Coast.

    Painted white and rechristened The Happy Landing with the company's Flying Red Horse on the wings, the F-32 was illuminated at night. The two forward Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines often roared to life to the astonishment of passing drivers. Neon signs along the wings' leading edges proclaimed: "BOB'S AIR MAIL SERVICE ... IT'S FASTER - IT'S BETTER."

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    The two photos just above date to 1936, but it is not known how long The Happy Landing greeted motorists at Bob's Air Mail Service. Novelty wears off fast in Lotusland, and the scrap drives of World War 2 would surely have claimed the great bird for a more pressing cause.

    These photos remain as testimony to one of the more spectacular everyday sights in a city where spectacle was king.

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    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
  2. Maj.Nick Danger

    Maj.Nick Danger I'll Lock Up

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    Cool. Too bad it's gone. Might have made for a nice diner also.
     
  3. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    Wouldn't it have? Tony Fokker himself had to sell his F-32, which he'd fitted out as luxurious flying living quarters. It ended up scrap, with the fuselage going to West Virginia as a house trailer. That too was destroyed in the historic floods of 1937.
     
  4. 5453 (now 5455) Wilshire Blvd today, The site of Bob's Air Mail Service Station is buried beneath that high rise building. Cochrane Street is between it and the Staples store.

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    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
  5. Stearmen

    Stearmen I'll Lock Up

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    The reason it did not survive was the construction, chrome moly tube fuselage covered in wood, and the wings were all wood. Wooden airplanes do not take kindly to prolonged out door exposure. Thats why there are so few surviving Mosquitos!
     
  6. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    Wooden wings...yup. All Fokker Trimotors were grounded after the Knute Rockne crash in '31. That plane had laminate cracks in the wing spars. Just one more reason for the move to all-metal airliners to continue.
     
  7. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    oops, double posting...
    Good excuse for one last pic of The Happy Landing. The Ford Tudor's license plate dates this to 1938.
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    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
  8. Story

    Story I'll Lock Up

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    Pretty cool thread - where'd you source all the information?
     
  9. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    I saw the first pic on Flickr, then started Googling like crazy. The search took me to Motor magazine (actually a site quoting it), aerofiles.net. airliners.net, some bulletin board that had to do with skyscrapers(!), and several short tidbits here and there.
     
  10. Story

    Story I'll Lock Up

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    I think you should continue to search but in the appropriate German terms, you've got the genesis of a good article there.
     
  11. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    Was Fokker still doing business in Germany this late? Or is this a topic of particular German interest for some other reason?
     
  12. JazzyDame

    JazzyDame One of the Regulars

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    Lovely...thank you for sharing this, Sir. What a brilliant idea...I'm afraid I'd find excuses to fill 'er up often, fond of aviation and aeroplanes as I am.

    It brought to mind another famous service station--Bomber Gas in Milwaukie, Oregon, with a bit of a colorful past, as well. You may read about it here: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2968

    Bests,
    Cate
     
  13. Incredibly, neither Anthony Fokker nor his original chief designer Reinhard Platz (designer of the Fokker Triplane and DVII) had any education or training as engineers. Fokker was essentially a tinker who had learned to fly and Platz was a welder by trade.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  14. Espee

    Espee Practically Family

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    Fokker had moved the company to Holland in 1919, I've read.
     
  15. In 1922 Fokker moved to the US, became a US citizen and established an American branch of his company, the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation which produced the Fokker Universal and Super Universal aircraft as well as the F32. In 1931 he sold the company to General Motors. Fokker died in New York in 1939 of pneumococcal meningitis. He was only 49.

    Fokker Universal
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    Fokker T.2
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    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  16. Fletch

    Fletch I'll Lock Up

    A personal angle...

    December, 1930. Grampa Fletch is in Boone, IA, selling newspaper ads. He has been corresponding for several months with the soon-to-be Gramma Fletch, whom he first met at her parents' home in Des Moines, and they have finally agreed to marry.

    Trouble is, she's teaching school in California, and he's got to get a ring to her somehow. Ideally by Christmas. He decides on an unimaginable extravagance: air mail. Won't that make a statement!

    The ring leaves a Des Moines jeweler's and is put aboard a Western Air Express Fokker Trimotor. At Helena, Montana, the plane comes down to refuel in darkness, snags a power line and slams into a house. No one is badly hurt, but the house, the Fokker and most of the mail burn up.

    Now Grampa is a tight man with a dollar. On learning of the air mail crash, he is NOT about to let his precious cargo be given up for lost. Diamonds don't burn, he tells the postal inspector at Des Moines, and by gum you people better find that ring!

    Happily, inspectors at the crash site do find the ring, and it proceeds on its way to Huntington Beach, some two weeks late.

    The human-interest angle of the frustrated small-town newspaperman and the lost ring makes the Associated Press wire and runs all over the country.

    Epilogue

    April, 1931. All Fokker airliners are grounded after legendary coach Knute Rockne is killed in a crash. The plywood airframes are found to be prone to stress cracking. Federal regulations soon specify all-metal structures for commercial aircraft.

    June, 1931. Gramma & Grampa Fletch marry at her parents' home in Des Moines. They are married for 59 years until her death at age 91. Grampa follows 2 years later, a tightwad to the last.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  17. JazzyDame

    JazzyDame One of the Regulars

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    ^^This is lovely, sir! Gramma Fletch must have been exceedingly impressed by Grampa’s choice of transport for such precious cargo…and equally impressed by his obstinacy and determination to locate the ring in the rubble of the crash. It was worth all the fuss—59 years of marriage…beautiful. Thank you for sharing!
     
  18. Story

    Story I'll Lock Up

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    http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=34201
     
  19. Wow, Fletch. I live near Huntington Beach. Do you know what school your grandmother taught? As Huntington Beach was a small town in 1931 I'm guessing she might have taught at Huntington Beach High School which was built in 1906 but most of its present buildings would have been newly built in the early 1930s.

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  20. dhermann1

    dhermann1 I'll Lock Up

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    Two very cool stories in one thread. :)
     

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