First Pax Flight, September 1947
by Walter "Jorgy" Jorgensen
When Seaboard started out, we were a strictly cargo airline. Our airplanes were surplus C-54s. They were modified to conform to federal regulations and in our case they were set up to carry freight. Everything not needed to haul freight was removed and the aircraft were austere and without much in the way of comforts as a passenger airplane. For one thing, the floor was cold, bare aluminum and for another, the airplanes were drafty and likely to be freezing cold. There were two gasoline-fired cabin heaters, but these cranky units often gave up the ghost and then things would get real cool. The only seats we had were the canvas drop-down seats that ran the full length of both sides of the cabin walls; one continuous long canvas seat. Not very comfortable but we moved a lot of immigrants to South America using these drop down-seats. The best we could offer on these immigrant flights was a pile of G. I. blankets to try to keep warm.
One day the company got all fired up about a charter to haul some passengers out of Geneva back to the States. We were getting ready to leave on our regular cargo flight when this was mentioned. Impossible, we didn't have any seats and we didn't have mounting brackets in the floor. Not to worry. Wally Neth, one of Seaboard's founders flew up to Westover field and "borrowed" a set of seats and the necessary mounting brackets from the Air Corps. We were ordered to land and pick up the seats and brackets as cargo and to continue on to Europe where we made our regular stops, finally terminating in Geneva. In Geneva, a feverish conversion was attempted trying to make the silk purse out of the sow's ear. Each double seat had 6 floor attach brackets and locating these and anchoring them to the aluminum deck was difficult. Four Swiss mechanics and I kept at it all night and finally all the seat brackets were in.
We were working against a deadline. The company had chartered to move a contingent of League of Nations officials from Geneva to the opening of the United Nations in New York I wasn't sure we could make the deadline. Heavy penalties if we failed.
Captain Paul Mlinar went down town and bought some cheap carpet pad to put on the cold, cold aluminum deck. When laid down it looked pretty good. I asked Paul if the pad was fire-proof. We snipped off a small piece and went outside and lit a match. It sizzled and sparkled just like the fuse on a cherry bomb! We removed one-half of the carpet pad aft and painted some signs "SMOKING." In the front half with the carpet pad, we put up other signs, '"NO SMOKING." We spray-painted the entire interior a pleasant cream color to hide the bilious zinc chromate green color of the original. We built a toilet out of plywood paneling (mahogany) and made a honey bucket out of a generator shipping can. We made a small galley for 2 hot cups which is all I felt the electric wiring could stand. We put in some 12 volt fluorescent lights along the center line. The wives of the Swiss mechanics busily stitched curtains for the windows. A small bar was set up and a lot of cold water jugs were set up. At the last minute, hot coffee thermoses and box lunches were placed aboard. No hot food possible due no ovens, Then the booze came aboard. Not the miniatures of today but the full size bottles.
I don't know who called them, but suddenly the passengers started coming aboard. We were still working on the airplane and the Swiss mechanics were trapped aboard. They had to be let out the front in order to get off the airplane. Somehow everything got buttoned up. We got back into uniform, and after the head count and confusion of boarding, we rolled out on the deadline. There were fuel stops at Shannon and Gander. More food, hot coffee and booze at these stops. It seemed to me a happy group that piled out of the airplane in New York. This delegation made the opening of the United Nations in fine "spirits." The company got a letter of commendation thanking Seaboard for the service rendered to the cause of peace.
That was Seaboard's first taste of pax flight using real passenger seats. Who worked the cabin? I don't remember. Maybe somebody remembers that day and can fill in the gaps.
By the way, we flew the airplane to Geneva, worked the conversion and then flew to New York without ever having gotten off the airplane. We babysat the entire round trip nonstop. Some days got pretty long.
Ed. The two flight attendants, Laura Jane Boggess and Janet Breckheimer, were borrowed from Transocean Airlines as it would be another year before Seaboard hired its own flight-attendants. Laura Jane later married the navigator on that trip, Henry Heguy. Jorgy, a flight mechanic at the time of the events described, became the number one flight engineer with the introduction of the Connies.
Originally published in SPAR newsletter, March, 1996
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