Ruminations from the Ramp
By Tony Vasko
It probably comes as no surprise to the folks in Buffalo that driving on a snow covered ramp can lead to some interesting experiences. There was the night where I was driving our GMC Carryall across the ramp at Idlewild. My supervisor and some other mechanics were with me. Although it was about 2:00 a.m., it was brilliant out and the ramp lighting made it easy to see everything in crisp detail. The snow had stopped and there were no airplanes moving as the tarmac was covered with 18-inches of virgin snow. It made me want to get out my Nordic skis and go trekking. In spite of the snow depth, the Carryall was getting along pretty well as long as I kept it moving. The big wheels on it were fitted with chains, which certainly helped. Nevertheless it was not a good idea to slow down and I was traveling at about 35mph.
The major problem was where to make the turnoff from the ramp onto the access road. It was one big white desert, and we had a little debate as to where it was. We guessed wrong however and instead found the railroad ties that lined the edge of the tarmac in that area. They were spiked down and were not going to move. There were some very expensive noises from the front end as the wheels folded underneath like hands in prayer. My supervisor did not appreciate it at all, but I offered silent prayer of my own that he was not only with me but had suggested the spot where he thought the access road lead out. It took some time to live that one down.
Taxiing in the same type of conditions can also lead to some mistakes in location. As a maintenance instructor I was sent to Cleveland in early 1967. I was to run a servicing course on the Lockheed Electra, which at that time was in its declining days at Eastern. It normally only served on the Shuttle but with the oncoming Expo '67 at Montreal (how else do you think I could remember the date?) they put some into the schedule. Since Cleveland hadn't seen an Electra in a good while it was felt that they should at least know where to put the various juices into the engines and aircraft.
I actually arrived in Cleveland late on a Sunday night on, what else, but the Electra. It was naturally snowing. It was always snowing in Cleveland when I visited. It had snowed for days before I arrived, and it snowed for several more after I got there. I staggered off to the hotel still vibrating from the beat of the propellers. About 2:00 a.m. I was awakened by an urgent call. The maintenance manager had gone off on a week's vacation and there was no maintenance management in Cleveland. As an instructor I didn't know I qualified for that lofty term since it was never acknowledged at any other time, but such it was. Get your rear out to the airport and take charge.
Cleveland had a large hangar capable of easily housing DC-8 aircraft. With the snow, it was felt best to hangar the Electra to keep the need for deicing down. Although I had not run my training course there yet, there was a recent mechanic transferee who was current on taxiing the airplane. He set off with another to find the hangar in the swirling snow. The Eastern hangar seemed to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It had its own taxiway that came off at right angles to another. With all the snowfall, the airport plows had not cleaned off the taxiway lights in that area so it became a matter of estimating where the Eastern taxiway lay in the midst of a white plain.
They missed by about 100 feet. They made the left turn onto the presumed taxiway and headed in toward the place where the ramp surely had to be. The Electra was empty and rode over the grass and dirt for more than its own length before it broke through the snow and earthen crust and bogged down - right up to the axles.
I have seen airports change from the times I worked at them or visited as a starry-eyed airplane lover.
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