A world-class collection of aircraft towbars once resided there. Lockheed had bought out Willis Rose some years before, and inherited its collection. When a corporate B-25 visited one day and had to be moved, one of the old timers took me back there and pointed out the proper towbar. Of course, no one ever thought of painting the identification on the bars. I asked what some of the others were for. I was impressed with his knowledge as he pointed out the bar for towing B-17 flying Fortresses, another for the B-24 Liberator, and yet another for the Lockheed Lodestar. In passing, he also nodded to the one for the Curtiss C-46 and the DC-3, both of which I knew, as I had used them. The Lord alone knows what else was back there; the collection had come from Roosevelt Field, which itself dates back to 1921. Some towbars were long bridge-truss structures, made to reach back under the rear of tail dragging aircraft to hook onto tailwheels. They had to be long to clear the aircraft horizontal stabilizer and elevators. Some were pairs of long pipes with shackles that spread out to attach to the main landing gear. All, however, were rusty now, unloved and vainly waiting for the return of their probably extinct aircraft.
I scanned around and vainly looked for any sign of the bowsers, engine preoilers, prop dollies, and other equipment that also populated the boneyard behind the auto shop.
Gone were the forest of ladders, engine docks, stands and the like that sat there awaiting repair. Missing was the blower with the towerlike tall pipe sticking straight up from it, which was used to push air through the DC-4 cabin heater for ground testing. All gone, even the oil stains on the ramp from the dripping engines of the Connies and Douglas products that once populated the ramp. Forty years of rain and snow had obliterated them.
There were still aircraft there dotting the ramp, but now all with swept wings. They had their main-deck cargo doors gaping and pallets and containers were nearby waiting for loading.
Gone, too, was the Farmall tractor that was so terrifying to drive. It had no seat; one stood on a rear platform like a Roman chariot driver and tried to gently let in the clutch. Too fast a release and a little rev of the engine caused the front of the tractor to rise off the ground like a rearing horse. The Oliver tractor was gone, too, and so was the Silent Hoist jet tug that resembled an aircraft carrier, complete with its island cab on the starboard side. It, too, had its little quirks like the steering-wheel shaft splines, which would decouple when a sharp turn needed to be made. It happened to one of the auto shop people as he drove some miles from the terminal to the hangar via the service road. He was stopped by the chain-link fence, however.
No use in looking for the Eastern Hangar 9; it has been torn down, as has the Eastern terminal. Both were, in my humble opinion, bad buildings. The hangars suffered from huge settling cracks. The base had apparently not been properly prepared when it was built. In this case, the building sagged and cracked as it settled. This was the opposite of the LaGuardia hangar, where the building did not settle, but the land, and so the ramp and street, did. The terminal was built in the days before security was thought of, and the passenger holding areas at the gates were far too small for the widebody airliners that came along. Because the gates were at ramp level, it was difficult to add loading bridges. In actual fact, you had to climb stairs to get up to the loading bridges themselves. The baggage sorting areas were cramped, too.
Outside, the ramp itself had been designed for maximize drainage. This meant that some parts of it were quite sloped, making it difficult to fuel some aircraft to maximum without suffering overflow from the airplane vents. The employee cafeteria, however, was quite good. For that, I can forgive much.
Also among the landmarks missing from the JFK area appears to be the Airport Diner, which was over on Rockaway Boulevard. I ate a lot of midnight-shift meals there when working at Lockheed. I also find no listing for the Owl Tavern, except historically. It would appear that some of the criminals taking part in a huge gold robbery from an airline frequented the tavern.
This, according to online sources, prompted FBI agents to stop by often, probably not to eat a slice or two of pizza. I am sure it did not encourage business.
Ruminations from the Ramp Towing the Line Tony Vasko ruminates on the evolution of towing equipment By Tony Vasko February 2002 Moving aircraft is one of those routine airport jobs...
Strange items can find a home in dusty corners for many years.