Ruminations from the Ramp
A Second Life!
By Tony Vasko
Fuel tenders are sturdy beasts. They spend their lives trundling around the airports going from tank farm to airplane. The trucks range in size from now extinct 500-gallon or so oil trucks for piston-engined airliners to the mammoth sizes at the major airports that would be illegal in over-the-road use. Unlike their highway cousins, the airport tenders spend most of their time moving at relatively low speeds with much idling. They also have the need to pump their contents out unlike many of the local gasoline delivery vehicles that depend on Dr. Newton’s gravity to dump their load.
In time, the trucks that were pristine and new become somewhat worn and old. Many move to refurbishers who blast them down to strip off the old layers of faded yellow and beat out the war wounds from unauthorized contact with objects harder than they. The engines and pumps get reworked and the trucks enter a second life at the secondary airports where the calls for fueling are less strident than at the JFKs and the like.
Some trucks, however, leave the fuel world and go to other careers. I became acquainted with three of them. Two were 4000-gallon units and had been Avgas dispensers at Idlewild Airport in New York that we now call JFK. The other had belonged to Johnson Tanklines and carried god knows what petroleum products in its time. All three were "converted" to deicing duties.
The conversions were rather limited in scope mainly involving removing the meter and replacing it with a pipe. No need to meter deicing fluid. The Tankline unit had a pump-up Aerostand lashed down on top of its platform and a three-quarter inch hose with nozzle. It was the only one of the three intended to actually deice. That truck faded out of use in the early sixties to be replaced with the first wave of John Beans and others. The other two, however, served as tenders to refill the deicing rigs. One was a 1947 Mack, but my real favorite was the 1951 GMC.
One problem with deicing equipment is that it is unwanted for much of the year. It languishes in the yard of the auto shop or gets parked in some remote area until, surprise, it snows because it is winter again. Then there is a burst of resurrection as the long dead are brought to life, and the brew left in the tanks is investigated to see what it is. Every airline has its own winterization program with goals to get everything ready by September (if you are in Minnesota) or December (if you are in North Carolina). But then the company’s president comes out with an edict that all the ground equipment must be repainted in the new corporate colors (selected by his wife) by November 1. GSE managers are smart and know how to prioritize. They paint the vehicles first.
The 1947 Mack went from Avgas to glycol and then was disposed of to the volunteer fire department I belonged to. The big Mack was old and crotchety by 1962 and its red paint covered a lot of body filler. It trundled out of the firehouse on many occasions with only 3,000 gallons of water in its 4,000-gallon tank. Water after all is a lot denser than Avgas. Fortunately, the firehouse was on the highest point of Eaton’s Neck on Long Island so it could go to any emergency but usually had to be dumped to get back to bed. The return trip from beachfront homes to the 90-foot elevation of the firehouse on Long Island’s North Shore was more than it could handle.
In 1966 I took it upon myself to work on Allied Aviation at JFK to get a donation. No luck, for they passed their still valuable equipment off to a broker. My employer, Eastern Air Lines, however, came through. There was no money in the budget for new deicing equipment, but there was a bit in the repair fund. The 4,000-gallon 1952 GMC fueler was procured by the maintenance manager to become a deicing tender. It was very much an informal thing and the vehicle never got onto the company’s roles. It looked ugly, as the yellow was multi-layered and faded. You could still read 115-145 Avgas lettering on its peeling sides. Worse yet the 504 cubic-inch GMC engine was blown and the transmission made loud noises.
How a brainstorm at 2 a.m. ushered in a new level of passenger convenience.
The Other Cost of Deicing Cost