Growing Up With Seaboard

by Colin Woodbridge-Turner

I was born and grew up in a place called Twickenham, very close to London (Heathrow) airport - LHR. Once we could ride bikes, my friends and I used to ride over to Heathrow, planespotting.

At the time, in the mid-50s, Heathrow was in its infancy and having advanced from being housed in tents, the passenger terminals and what cargo there was was housed in wooden huts on the north side of the airport. We saw all the airlines of the time and the aircraft were all prop types. One particular outfit stood out for me and one particular occasion. Don't ask me when it was but a Connie arrived - one of the most beautiful aircraft ever flown. On the side was Seaboard & Western. It came off the runway and taxied to the stand, up came the steps and down came the crew. I swear (although after nearly 60 years, I may be wrong!) one of them was wearing a World War II flying jacket. The thing that really struck me though was the hats. You could see where the headphones had pressed them down over the mens' ears - just like in the films we saw at the time. Was I impressed or what. Something about that scene burned itself into my memory and for me that was what airplanes were all about.

At the time, the absolute MUST READ books for plane-mad youngsters were the 'Biggles' books, written by Capt. W.E. Johns about Pilot Officer Bigglesworth who had been a flying corps ace in World War I and were the stories of his exploits with his co-pilot Ginger between the wars mostly in flying boats around the Caribbean and South American Jungles. That Seaboard crew and airplane seemed to my impressionable mind to be the same sort of ramshackle outfit that Biggles flew in and even now I'd give my eye teeth (which I do still have) to be involved with.

Anyway, when I started work, I was actually involved with the auto industry and it was a while before the air cargo industry beckoned me. I worked for a forwarding agent for a while before I got a chance to work for Seaboard as a ground agent. At the time, in the late 60s, the Heathrow station was on the south side in what was known as Field's Hangar, a former aircraft repair facility. To my amazement, it really was a bit of a ramshackle outfit, at least on the ground. Probably to the flight crews and the outside world it was a sharp, efficient airline but to those working at Field's Hangar it was a case of make-do and mend with clapped out machinery. The offices were made of hardboard and freezing in winter. However, I loved it and felt as though I had come home.

The aircraft that came through were DC8-55s and B707s which were state-of-the-art at the time and fine airplanes but when we got the 63s, they looked really beautiful. As a flight dispatcher, I was the one who was really involved with arrivals and departures and I loved it but when the 747 arrived, for me it wasn't a patch on the 63. For the company and no doubt the crew (who got to sit in the seats upstairs), it was a real step forward but to me it was an ugly monster.

Ed. I thought the 747 looked just grand; still do.

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