The Boys

AirVenture, 2003
By Jack Welsch


Click on ThumbnailIntroduction

This was my third trip to Oshkosh for EAA’s famous AirVenture. I had gone with my friends Ed and Ron in 2000 and again in 2001. Last year I sat it out because I’d already used up a lot of vacation. I was planning to do the same again until early July when my friend Ed got the bright idea that, though they were leaving the Saturday before the event, I could fly out commercially mid-week and ride back with them. He was willing to drive the motor home the 60 miles or so to Green Bay to pick me up. I was shocked to find an airline ticket not only available but reasonably priced so I jumped on it. I tried to reserve a one-way rental car but wasn't that lucky!

Wednesday, July 30

I’d left my luggage, bike, etc. at Ron’s house the previous week for them to take and had parked my car there on Tuesday. Linda drove me to AVP for my 8:00 UA flight to GRB via ORD. Probably because I had a one-way ticket and no luggage, I got extra special treatment from the nice TSA folks. Actually, they were very pleasant but even went through my wallet! I think I was one step away from a strip search. We were 30 minutes early into ORD but had no gate so most of it was lost. We were about 15 minutes early into GRB and as we were taxiing to the ramp, I turned on my cell and learned that Ed and Ron were walking in the terminal’s front door! When I met up with them, Ron was holding a sign saying “Jack Welsch” and Ed held one saying “Me, too”. These boys are sick. I'm sorry I didn't take a picture.

As we started down the highway, Ed mentioned that they’d had their GPS updated for $35. I’d paid close to $100 two years ago and only fly VFR so I’d left mine at home. The $35 price made me regret having done that. Ed mentioned that he thought Jimmy, our A&P was coming out so I called him, and he said he was leaving in three hours. I asked him to go into my hangar and bring along my GPS.

MustangWe stopped for lunch at a Callahan’s along the highway and arrived at OSH around 1:00. I bought an EAA membership and tickets for 3 days. After parking the motor home in Camp Scholler, we got the bikes and headed for the gate. After a short stop at the exhibit buildings, we were at AeroShell Square when a huge storm threatened so we dashed into the MustangsEAA Countdown to Kitty Hawk Pavilion just as the skies opened up. Actually, it was a nice place to spend some time while we were staying dry. Afterwards, we watched a little of the airshow, including a flight of 11 P-51’s. WOW! After doing a bit of shopping at the fly market, we headed back, showered and prepared the cocktails.

Evil Guys!I’d reported in earlier diaries that these guys were evil. They outdid themselves this time. I drink gin & tonic and both of them prefer vodka and tonic. I prepared mine and Ron theirs. After the toast and a few sips, Ed said, “Ron, this drink is pretty weak!” I said, “Mine is, too” and went to get the bottles. I kept adding to my drink and stirring but still couldn’t taste the gin. Then I noticed them choking on smiles and realized they’d replaced my gin with water. I’m here to report that water and tonic doesn’t have much to recommend it. Friar Tuck'sBastards! You can do a lot to a man but it’s low to mess with his gin! Fortunately (for them) they’d only poured it into another bottle so all was not lost.

Eventually, we took the bikes to Friar Tuck’s where I got my much-anticipated brats & Honey Weiss beer. Friar Tuck’s is a special place and had come to be a bit of a ritual for us. After dinner, we rode the bikes around the approach end of 09 to visit Eddie and Kevin from WBW. The sky started to look pretty scary so we cut through the show grounds and got back “home” just as the downpour started.

Thursday, July 31

Though odds were against it given the incident with the gin, Ed ad Ron lived through the night. We awoke at 6:30, had breakfast and rode the bikes to the gate. We did the exhibit buildings and fly market again, then met Jimmy and his brother Charley at 11:00 so I could get my GPS. I had it quickly updated, then we dropped things at camp and took the bikes to Friar Tucks so we could have lunch while I picked up the hat I’d left behind at dinner.

Corn RoastAfter lunch, we rode the bikes around runway 09 but then had to work our way around the perimeter west of the field. We parked the bikes and saw a bit more of the grounds, then rode them to the Seaplane Pilots Association corn roast near the ultralight area. We were a bit early but knew it would get really crowded and we wanted to get seats near the center of the tent as it was threatening rain. Our friends Ray and Ron drove in and attempted to buy tickets at the door but the event was sold out. They sat with us for a short time and then headed out. The corn roast was quite nice; the brats were a bit bland but the corn was great and I had 5 ears! Ed at KaraokeEventually we bailed out and headed back to camp for cocktails, then climbed back on the bikes once again to ride to the Charcoal Pit for the Karaoke. To my knowledge, this is the first time they’ve done Karaoke during AirVenture; usually they do it only before the event actually opens. In any case, I was delighted as I’d missed Monday night’s festivities. Ed has a great voice and has become very popular at the Char Pit. As soon as we were in sight, people started cheering for him! Ed had some competition, though, from a guy named Dean from the Philippines. Dean was fantastic and did an excellent a capella rendition of “Some Enchanted Evening.” It was a delightful evening, indeed.

Friday, Aug. 1

We were up early and took the bikes to the ultralight area to see them doing their early morning flying. The fixed wing planes seem to fly only early in the morning and again in the evening. These guys really seem to have a lot of fun and the performance of some of the aircraft is astounding. I think it’d be fun to ride in one. Ed inquired but was told the only way you could get a ride was to express interest to a vendor. None of us wanted to be that dishonest, of course, so we just watched. (Yes, I know you can get a Breezy ride near 18-36 but there’s always been too much of a lineup.) Even though we’d had breakfast at the motor home, we bowed to temptation and had an excellent full breakfast put on by the ultralight pilots’ group.

Songbird IIILeaving the bikes parked at the ultralight camping area, we made our way northward through the classics and on to the warbirds. PropIt was pretty hot and we walked our legs off all over the grounds. Eventually we had to deal with the fact that the bikes were at the other end of the airport. Fortunately, a kind sole in a cart took pity on three old guys and gave us a lift.

Since we’d skipped lunch and wanted to get going towards home in the wee hours, we packed up the bikes, dropped the tanks, picked up water and took the motor home over to the Chinese Buffet near Target. This is a great place. The food is excellent and they go easy on the MSG so it doesn’t mess with my system. We ate ‘til we were stuffed, then headed back for a couple of final cocktails. It threatened rain again so we packed up the rest of the gear and hit the rack around 10:00.

Saturday, Aug. 2

We were up at 1:00 AM and on the road by 2:00. Ed drove and I rode shotgun while Ron slept so he could be ready for the second shift. Somewhere around Chicago we lost a fan belt. Fortunately, Ed caries lots of tools and spare parts but we lost about an hour while he climbed under the vehicle and replaced it. Shortly thereafter, I was driving and going through a toll booth, nervous as hell about threading this monster through when I heard simultaneously a loud, “JACK!” and a loud bang. After I got my heart re-started, I saw Ed laughing. He’d just reached out the window and hit the side of the vehicle with his hand. I used a number of words that are not appropriate to repeat here. The term “cruel and heartless bastard” falls far short! He says I’m a good sport but that’s only because I haven’t yet retaliated! We have a lot of fun together on the drive but, no matter how you cut it, that trip is LONG… especially when your top speed is 65.

We had breakfast in South Bend and an absolutely great lunch in Niles, OH, just short of the PA border. Due to several fortunate coincidences, we narrowly avoided a huge delay on Interstate 80 west of University Park. I was driving and it started to rain. I’m not really comfortable driving the motor home under the best of conditions so when I saw a rest stop, I stopped and requested relief. That was the first good thing. I’d expected to just quickly swap drivers with the engine running but someone suggested we use the facilities. That was the second good thing. As we entered the building, we happened to overhear some truck drivers lamenting the fact that there was a truck jackknifed and totally blocking the road 10 miles ahead. That was the third good thing (the hearing, not the blockage!). The fact that there was an exit 1 mile beyond the rest stop and that we got there before traffic backed up to it was definitely the fourth! The bad news was that we had do endure some tiny, winding roads and by now a thunder storm was sending buckets down. Ron was at the wheel by then and was definitely not having fun. We were able to get back on 80 just beyond the accident and, of course, we had it to ourselves.

Fortunately, the rain had stopped by the time we reached Ron’s house so we were able to unload the gear without trouble. By the time I got in bed, it was midnight. I’d only grabbed two 1-hour naps all day so I really crashed.

Once again, this was a great trip. Reflecting on the whole thing, it occurs to me that there’s nothing in particular at Oshkosh that makes it special. There’s nothing there that I MUST do. However, being totally immersed in aviation and surrounded by zillions of pilots and a couple of wonderful (if slightly demented) friends is what Oshkosh is about to me. Thanks yet again, guys!

BTW, here are the stats for AirVenture as reported by EAA:

"Estimated attendance was 770,000, up from about 750,000 a year ago. Aircraft on the ground, both at Oshkosh and surrounding airports, numbered approximately 11,000. That included a record 2,960 registered showplanes, 200 more than the previous record."