Ruminations from the Ramp

The Other Cost of Deicing Cost

I was relatively prudent and thoroughly cleaned off my half of 123 feet of wingspan (no tip tanks on this aircraft). Others on the crew had tossed a clothesline rope over the fuselage and had moved it from nose to tail, sawing it back and forth to get the snow off the fuselage. I remember sober that a year or two later another crew had done that using a very dirty, oily rope and left some interesting patterns of lines on the immaculate white topped fuselage. The customer was not amused.

Back on the tail, they had run the big A-frame ladder up and cleaned the horizontal stabilizer. This could be done right off the stand, which was fortunate as the Connie tail was very high. One step remained and that was to coat the wings and tail with a coat of glycol to the airfoil surfaces. The cart was below me, put-put engine running due to the ministration of ether by Vinnie, our auto shop mechanic. Ralph, the lead mechanic came up the stand between No. 3 and 4 engines and reminded me that I was to pay attention to the aileron gaps and hinges and to evenly coat the whole top surface. He then passed me the spray nozzle and hose. Fortunately, too, he stayed on the stand to feed me hose as I walked and then crept on my knees outboard. The nozzle dispensed a mist of spray with a reach of about three feet so I started outboard and worked my way inboard. Reaching the No. 4 engine, I stood and continued spraying.

I was inboard, aft of No.3 engine when my boots, being on an oily patch, started sliding sideways due to the airfoil’s slope. Bad enough but then the right boot hit a dry spot and stopped sliding and, pop, the right knee came out of joint sideways to the outside. Down I went clinging to the hose as now all of me was heading for the trailing edge. Ralph, though, was quick and held on to the hose and snubbed me short of the big drop. The knee hurt like the dickens, but had straightened out as I went down. I massaged it through the layers of my raingear, overalls, pants and long johns and then gingerly, I stood up. The knee took my weight, and I tested it. Yep, only a bit sore and I went back to spraying the wing and finished my shift.

As it happened, we were scheduled for training after shift-end, and so I cleaned up and changed. The classroom was warm, the atmosphere soporific after working out in the cold all night and people were nodding off as the instructor droned on about the DC-6 cabin temp control system. I wasn’t thinking of sleep, though, as the knee was now aching considerably. I was massaging it some more when the instructor realized what he was fighting and suggested a coffee break. A chorus of “thank gods” arose. When I tried to stand, I found the knee had locked immovably at a near 90-degree angle. I could not straighten it and had to call for aid. I could only hop on the left foot and was assisted out to a carryall and went off to the eminent Dr. Starr’s Airport Medical Clinic, the company’s facility of choice at Idlewild Airport. There I was to be x-rayed, but they couldn’t get the right shot with my knee locked at a sharp angle. A kindly nurse straightened my leg out by applying her considerable weight to a hearty shove down. It was the closest I have ever come to slugging a woman.

Nothing was broken per the x-ray. I got the first of what proved to be an endless series of diathermy treatments, a staple source of income for the good doctor. After broiling for the prescribed time an Ace bandage was tightly wrapped around my now-cooked knee. With a cane, I was then delivered to the bus stop. After that I was on my own to tale the bus to the subway, change trains downtown finally to emerge in Manhattan. I can tell you it took almost an hour to walk the one city block from the subway to the apartment house. I returned to work a couple of days later and the knee finally stopped bothering me, although it was a good weather predictor. I skied on it with no problems, but in late years it has gotten a bit cranky and I do have my little gimp.

What do I feel about all this experience? When I see the latest deicer rigs with enclosed cabs for the operators, the tow-through facilities with computer programs to automatically spray deicer and then anti-icing product, the hangar-like buildings that enclose an aircraft while infra-red deicers clean it and the jet blast units that blast snow off the aircraft, none of them requiring some people to clamber on slippery surfaces with no fall protection, well then I feel pretty good that maybe a few knees will stay whole and some bones remain unbroken and some lungs not inhale some noxious fumes. And yes, when it snows, I still get a sweet taste in my mouth.

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