Rockland recollections: First flight

By Terry Economy | Feb 20, 2012

I can remember my first airplane ride and I was only six years old, but what a ride it was.

The year was 1941.

My neighbor on Prescott Street in Rockland was a gentleman named Clifford Raye, better known as Tete Raye. Tete held two jobs, one as an automobile mechanic at Rockland Garage and the other, as an air craft mechanic at the Curtis-Wright Airport in Rockland. As a little boy I used to spend a lot of early evening time at Tete's workshop at his home. He had many interesting hobbies — wood carving signs, bird houses, and best of all, repairing and restoring bicycles. During World War II, he did a thriving business because new bicycles were scarce to buy. It seemed that during the war years most children in the South End of Rockland owned a repaired or restored bike from Tete Raye.

Tete's expertise at Curtis Wright Airport was repairing and tuning airplane engines. There were times when he had to work at the airport, with my mother's permission, he would take me along, sit me on a stool next to his workbench while he was repairing an engine. During the winter months in the rear workshop of the airport hangar, there was a potbelly stove. On many occasions, former and present pilots were to be found huddled around the stove telling personal.and in-the-news flying stories. While Tete worked, it seems he was always humming a song. His favorite was "Kitty Ka Kattey."

Tete's reputation followed him well. One time, he told me that Charles Lindbergh and his wife had mechanical problems on North Haven and he was called and flown to North Haven to repair Lindbergh's engine.

When Dr. Hermen Weisman bought his new Waco airplane, and brought it to Rockland, he hired Tete to check and tune the engine. Dr. Weisman's new Waco plane was a beauty. It was a double-wing, single-engine, four-passenger, red and white in color.

One summer day, as the Waco was in the Curtis Wright's hangar, Tete was standing on a platform doing an engine inspection. I circled the plane several times, with the help on one of the spectators, I was lifted so to peek inside the cabin.

After the engine inspection, I heard Dr. Weisman talking to Tete about taking the Waco up in flight and going for a ride. The Waco was taken out of the hangar and of course I followed behind. Tete came up beside me, grabbed my arm and said, "Let's go up for a ride." The next thing I knew I was in the back seat with a strap around my waist. Dr. Weisman was the pilot and Tete was sitting next to him. The Waco started taxiing down the runway towards Thomaston. Then we turned around, raced down the runway, and moments later, took off in flight.

You can imagine what a thrill I was experiencing, the sight of Rockland Harbor, then the Rockland Breakwater, ships in the ocean, the islands in the background, as my face was stuck to the window. We flew over the fishing villages of Vinalhaven and North Haven, banked left heading to Camden, and over the Camden Hills, where I spotted the cross on Maiden's Cliff on top of Mount Battie. Once over Union, Tete pointed out the Union fairgrounds. In a few minutes, the smoke stacks of the cement plant came in view and moments later we landed where we took off.

As the Waco came to a stop, Dr. Weisman accelerated the engine and then turned it off. Tete got out and lifted me out of the back seat and asked, "well, did you enjoy the ride?"

I was  all goose bumps with excitement.

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 and we flew over the ocean and the mountains," I said.

She had this horrified look on her face whether to believe me or not.

Suddenly, I saw Tete's car drive into our driveway and he got out and had my cap in his hand. My mother opened the door and Tete said, "Terry left his cap in the back seat of the airplane."

Terry Economy was born in Rockland. He graduated from Rockland High School and has had a long career in broadcasting, and is a member of the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

 

 

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