Now gainfully employed, Gurney found love, married, and started a family of his own. While he was in charge of daily operations at Robertson, Gurney left his desk to join desperate aerial attempts to locate missing mail and passenger planes. Flying photographs of the 1928 Democratic Convention, Leslie Smith went down in Missouri during a sudden storm. Joining the search, Gurney identified Smith’s body, found wearing the parachute he had no time to use. So close was he to Smith that a few months later he named his first child, Harlan Leslie Gurney. Gurney’s reliability was legendary. “You could put Slim or my father in any airplane and they could fly it,” says Gurney’s son, also now nicknamed “Bud.” In 1929, dozens of aircraft hired by national news services waited at Louisville to take off with photographs of the Kentucky Derby. The weather was dodgy and only Gurney successfully delivered the scoop to the Chicago Tribune.
Eventually Robertson was absorbed by Universal Air Lines, for which Gurney was district flight manager. He then worked for Transcontinental Air Transport (the “Lindbergh Line”) until signing on as a Captain with United Airlines in 1932. He was 27 years old.
In the years ahead both “Bud” and “Slim” each knew great success as well as personal tragedy. Sometimes far apart both geographically and philosophically, they kept in touch, and even managed to reunite to fly vintage aircraft over the California hills. In his 1927 book, We, Lindbergh wrote, “One of the interesting facts bearing on the life of aviators is that they rarely lose track of one another permanently.”
It would be true for many aviators, although Charles Lindbergh could never have guessed that 30 years later he would again fly a Lincoln Standard which was tuned up by his barnstorming friend, “Bud” Gurney.
To be Continued in Part II – “The Captain is an A&P.”
Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian and author. She was the founder and director of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation and Museum from 1995-2001 (the site of Charles Taylor’s grave in North Hollywood, CA). Giacinta holds a BA in anthropology with a minor in U.S. history. Most recently she has been awarded a partial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund to write her second book, highlighting the life of Amelia Earhart’s mechanic, Ernest Eugene Tissot Sr.