An Aging Father Shares More Tales From His Early Riding Years

 

*Here’s a few fun tales from Dad’s time in the USAF, specifically when he was stationed at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa in the early 1960s.

The Okinawa Cushman

After high school, I floundered and partied for a year, then my father gave me an ultimatum- “Either get a solid job, go to college, or join the military.” So I decided to enlist in the USAF. I eventually was stationed on Okinawa for a tour. While there, I bought an old Cushman, in 1960 I think. I don’t know how old the Cushman was but I bought it for $50. It wasn’t running too good so I took the Cushman to a little local shop. A bunch of Okinawans were running the shop on the base at Kadena, and I told them I wanted some more horsepower. So they milled the head on it to raise the compression and man, it would run like a scared rabbit! It had a pair of F-101 Voodoo fighter nose tires on it, which were 10-ply tires so when you pumped them up they were as hard as a rock! That thing would absolutely fly, it would go so fast. I had a big Cushman Briggs & Stratton single cylinder engine in it, and after I had it a little while, I took the exhaust to one of the welding shops on base and had a big chrome pipe welded to the exhaust. This big chrome pipe coming back on that Cushman, and it would howl off like you wouldn’t believe! I rode that probably a couple of months until the air police on base stopped me one day and said, “That’s enough of this. You can’t run that thing with no muffler.” So I found an old motorcycle muffler somewhere and just shoved it on the end of it, and that’s the way I rode it.

The motor was a pretty good size engine. It may have been an 8 horsepower. I know I could ride two people on it, and it would absolutely fly. I used to pass motorcycles going up hills with it, the thing was so fast! I rode it all the time I was over there and I think I sold it for $50 when I left. We had a guy in my squadron who was a really good cartoon artist so I had him paint a picture on the side of it, the head of Alfred E Newman, Mad Magazine. Printed it across the top, it said, “What? Me worry?” Down the bottom it said, “Never happened.” It was hilarious looking! Somewhere, I have a picture of that,… (as of this writing, we’ve yet to find it.)

Photos: Dad in dress uniform, studying up on some electronics with a buddy, and the type of Cushman he rode on Okinawa- picture it jet black, with Alfred E. Newman painted on both side panels, F-101 nose tires & that long, loud chrome pipe.

Av Gas and Loud Pipes

Back then I got a pass, and I was able to ride it down onto the flight line. I had a pass mounted on the front like a safety sticker, and I could ride up to the gate and go out onto the flight line because it was all a secured area. They’d wave me through as long as I had my badge on the outside of my uniform and that pass on the scooter. I’d ride right down the dang taxiways right to the hard stand where my airplane was. I was crew chief on an F-100 Super Sabre. They had these ground power units there, powered by either 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder opposed aircraft engines, big power units! They were burning 115 aviation fuel in them, “av-gas” we called it, so every so often I’d get my little hose out and siphon some off (sucking sound) into a little container I had, then pour it in my scooter! I never got caught (laughs).

The guys on the base and people I rode around with they couldn’t believe how dang fast that thing was! I could well exceed the speed limit on the island. I don’t remember what it was back then, but I had to be careful on the base, because you had to keep your speed down for the air police. But I used to ride down to some of the different towns we hung out in off-duty, and I’d go like hell on it! Like I said before, I took a round chrome pipe, I don’t know where I got it, and I welded it to a 45 degree piece of pipe. It was about 15 inches long, and it stuck right down the side. It screwed into the side of the engine. One day I’m riding, and all of a sudden lights and a siren comes on behind me, and I’m thinking, “What the hell’s wrong here? I’m not going fast.” The officer says, “I see you don’t have a muffler on that.” I told him, “No, it’s a straight pipe.” He says, “That’s illegal. It’s too loud, you’re going to have to do something about it.” So I found that old motorcycle muffler somewhere and just jammed it on the end of the pipe. I had to go back to the air police headquarters, let them listen and approve it. Some funny experiences back then.

Photos: The F-100 Dad was crew chief on, a commendation awarded by the famous Col. “Gabby” Gabreski, and the T-38 Talon he crew chiefed back stateside.

Okinawan Gal

I had a little Okinawan gal on the back of the Cushman once before I modified it, and we were climbing a hill outside of the base. It had two seats on it, a front one for me and a passenger seat that was held on by 4 bolts- 2 in the front and 2 in the back. So we’re going up this hill, and it’s slowing down more and more. I feel like it’s going to come to a stop. So I think, “As slow as this thing is going, I can jump off and just grab it, keep the throttle on and run beside it, and make it up this hill.” Without my weight on it, I thought It would make the hill easier. Little did I know that the front bolts holding the whole body on were loose! I jump off it and the whole body pops up, and she slides right off the back onto the ground, the fuel line comes off the dang engine, and I’m thinking, “What a mess.” I managed to get the fuel line back attached, put the body back on, and we turned around then went back. It was after that when I modified it. Never had anymore trouble climbing hills with it, that’s for sure.

T-38 Talon Shenanigans

By 1962 I was back stateside, married to your mom and stationed at Randolph Air Force Base outside San Antonio. We were a trainer base, with a SAC base across the city. You (author) were born while we were at Randolph, which was also my final post before I would discharge in December of ’63. I was crew chief on a line of T-38 Talons. The base had two runways, with the main base buildings in the middle, between them. When we had to do work on any of the planes, to take it to the maintenance department on the other side of the base, I’d just climb in it, we’d fire the engines up, and I’d taxi it all the way down the taxiway, across the back of the base, and back up the other side to the maintenance hangar. When the planes were ready, they’d call over to inform us we could pick them up, and one of my guys would ride me over in a Jeep, I’d fire it up and taxi it back around. One time I got to “hotrodding” it a little too much. Coming down between all the airplanes to my parking spot, but pulling in, I was going too fast (imagine that!), overshooting the stop, so I had to circle the plane back around and pull in slower! I thought for sure I was going to be written up for that, but fortunately no one in authority saw me, and my guys didn’t rat me out, so I was alright.

The T-38 Talon was a great airplane, very fast. The only jet aircraft that could beat it in time-to-climb record was when the F-4 Phantom came online. But the little Talon could really move: It had two General Electric J-85 engines with afterburners in both. Our version was strictly a trainer, a two-seater. The fighter version, a single-seater, was the F-5 Freedom Fighter. Very small, compact, lightweight, maneuverable, and super fast. A forerunner in many ways to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It was quite a plane. I think there are countries that still fly it to this day. I enjoyed working on them, and obviously getting to taxi them around the base!

Photos: Dad reunited with his girl (mom), “going on an elephant safari” with his son (me), and one of two Okinawa jackets he bought abroad. I have both, and like him back on the island, I’ve ridden with them before. 

I know this last story had nothing to do with motorcycles, but Dad enjoyed sharing it with me, and I thought you might enjoy it too. More stories to come? I certainly hope so. When we visit, he’ll occasionally light up while sitting on their back porch and launch into another tale from his/Mom’s youth. I scramble to record these sudden stories, to capture them while he’s still able to tell them. Some I’ve heard before, while others are new to me. Another reason to keep hitting the “record” button.

So yes, hopefully, more to come.

Rob

picture of Pops and Me

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    OK – so how about some detail about the Gabby Gabreski story?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Bob, Gabreski was the colonel of the 44th by the time my dad was stationed there, and of course, anyone who knows American military aviation history knows he was legendary. My dad only met him that one time, when he earned that commendation, but still speaks highly of how loved, admired and respected Gabreski was on the base.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Enjoyed it Rob. Lots of us old guys got started on Cushmans. 😁
    Sam

    Reply
    • Avatar

      And some old guys still enjoy those old Cushmans!

      Reply
  3. Dean A Phelps

    Great story Rob, I remember the Cushmans but I never did get up close or ride one. I think I was too young.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      My dad swears he’s got a photo or two of it somewhere, but we’ve yet to put our hands on any. Been rummaging through boxes and boxes of old photos. Here’s hoping!

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    Very nice tribute to your father. Hope my children will remember their Ole dad as fondly. Loved my 3 yrs at Okinawa. Working with the F15’s as an AGE mech.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      So you’ve been aptly named, “Machine”! The vaunted F-15, beast of a fighter.
      They will, Brotha. Your heart is good.

      Reply

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