Friday, December 5, 2008

Early Bird, Part 13

On March 29, 1917, DeLloyd Thompson, then in Los Angeles, wrote to his friend, Lawrence Stewart, an editor of the Washington Observer, with a proposal. Thompson wanted to recruit America's greatest automobile drivers, train them to fly, and then form a crack squadron to join the war effort. He had already received commitments from 18 of the top 20 drivers, who would all be assembling in Uniontown, Pa., in May for the first big races of the season.

Thompson wanted to start an aviation school back east, but he needed planes suitable for training. Because both he and Stewart were members of the local Elks lodge, Thompson wondered if the lodge might be able to come up with the $3,000 he would need to build a trainer. He suggested that "Donated by B.P.O.E. Washington, Pa." Could be painted on the machine's wings.

The Elks reacted enthusiastically to the proposal and even offered to raise money for a second plane, but Thompson said that was not necessary because he expected the U.S. government to provide him with one.
Thompson's effort was in response to a complaint the American public had with athletes, celebrities and race-car drivers about their lack of enthusiasm for the war effort. On April 26, Thompson made headlines by proposing to train in Uniontown the great Australian middleweight boxing champion, Les Darcy, right, to fly for the U.S. Darcy had left Australia in a controversy over its draft. But a few days later, Darcy, 21, fell ill. He died of pneumonia on May 24.
At the Uniontown races, Dutch Thompson entertained the crowds with a flying exhibition, and on May 9 narrowly escaped a crash when his engine stalled at 3,000 feet.
The U.S. entered the Great War and established the draft. In the tumult of the war effort, Thompson's flying school never really got off the ground.

Griffith Borgeson, in his book, "The Golden Age of the American Racing Car," writes of another scheme Thompson pursued late that year:
"After the death of Lincoln Beachey, DeLloyd Thompson became America's most glamorous aviator and a very wealthy man. He approached (Harry) Miller in 1917 with the proposal that they pool their talents in the development and promotion of a large and powerful military aircraft engine which, if successful, could make them both immensely rich. He offered Miller a check for $50,000 just to get things off the ground, and a partnership was born."
But after they built a 12-cylinder, 500-horsepower engine and gave it a 100-hour test in Daytona, Fla., Miller walked out on the project to pursue other interests.

Faced with another failure, Thompson turned again to his old friends on the car-racing circuit – Barney Oldfield and Tommy Milton – and starting out in Wheeling, W.Va., returned to the driving thrill of his youth. He would travel around the country for a couple more years, but return home in 1922 and find something that would keep him here for good.

Her name was Naomi.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Naomi. Now there's a perfectly good name that you don't see used much anymore.