First airplane ride

By Terry Economy | Feb 11, 2016
Courtesy of: Terry Economy The former Curtis-Wright Airport in Rockland

There are some things in life as an adult you can remember from when you were a youngster. Like your first something. I can remember my first airplane ride, and I was only 6. But what a ride it was.

The year was 1941. My neighbor on Prescott Street in Rockland was Clifford Raye. Better known as Tete Raye. As a little boy I used to spend a lot of evening time at Tete's workshop. One of his hobbies was to repair and restore bicycles. During World War II, Tete did a thriving business, because new bikes were scarce. It seemed during the war years most boys and girls in the South End owned a repaired or restored bike from Tete Raye.

Tete had two full-time jobs during his adult life besides bicycles. He was an auto mechanic at Rockland Garage on Park Street. And he was best known as an aircraft mechanic at the Curtis Wright Airport in Rockland. Tete considered his aircraft mechanics as a part-time job, repairing and tuning engines evenings and weekends.

During winter months, Tete would take me to the airport, and sit me on a stool next to his workbench while he was repairing or rebuidling airplane engines. There was a pot-bellied stove in the rear workshop of the hangar, and every winter day or evening there would be present and former pilots huddled around the stove telling personal and in-the-news flying stories.

Enough so, at times, while playing outdoors. I would pretend I had wings so I could fly. I did not realize until I was an adult how good a reputation Tete had in the field. One time he told me that Charles Lindbergh and wife had mechanical problems on an island flight to North Haven and he was called and flown to the island to repair Lindbergh's engine.

During the summer of '41, Dr. Herman Weisman of Rockland bought a new Waco airplane. It was a double-wing, four-passenger, single-engine airplane. It was red and white. Dr. Weisman had the airplane flown up from Texas and, upon its arrival, he had Tete Raye check out and tune the engine.

As the plane was in the hangar and Tete was on a platform doing his engine check, I circled the plane several times and, with the help of one of the spectators, I was lifted so as to peek inside. After the engine check, I heard Dr. Weisman and Tete talking about taking the airplane up in flight and "see what it can do."

The Waco was taken out of the hangar and of course I followed, like any other youngster. Then all of a sudden, Tete came up to me, grabbed my arm, and said "Let's go up for a ride." The next thing I knew, I was in the back seat, strapped around my waist, and the Waco started taxiing down the runway toward Thomaston. Then it turned around with Dr. Weisman as the pilot and raced down the runway and took off in flight.

You can imagine what a thrill I was experiencing ... the sight of Rockland breakwater, ships in the ocean, as my face was stuck to the window. The Waco flew out to Vinalhaven, then North Haven, banked left to Rockport and Camden. We flew over Union, where Tete pointed out the Union Fairgrounds.

In a few minutes, the smokestacks of the cement plant came in view and moments later we landed right where we took off. As the Waco taxied to a stop, I was all goosebumps with excitment. I ran all the way home to tell my mother of my first flight.

I can hear her now. "You what!"

"I just had an airplane ride with Tete Raye" I said.

She had this horrified look on her face whether to believe me or not. Finally, I saw Tete drive his car into our driveway and get out. He had my cap in his hand. He yelled out so my mother could hear him. "You left your cap in the back seat of the airplane."

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