The Aeroplane Express or, The Boy Aeronaut's Grit - Ashton Lamar - ebook
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The Aeroplane Express or, The Boy Aeronaut's Grit written by newspaperman and novelist Ashton Lamar. This book is one of many works by him. It has already Published in 1910. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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The Aeroplane Express

or, The Boy Aeronaut's Grit

By

Ashton Lamar

Illustrator: S. H. Riesenberg

Table of Contents

CHAPTER I. A CONDITIONAL BARGAIN

CHAPTER II. AN EXPERIMENTAL FLIGHT

CHAPTER III. LOOKING UP AN ANCESTOR

CHAPTER IV. AN IDEAL OUTFIT

CHAPTER V. THE CONTRACT AND THE CAR

CHAPTER VI. OFF FOR THE WEST

CHAPTER VII. ON THE EDGE OF THE DESERT

CHAPTER VIII. THE TRAIL AT LAST

CHAPTER IX. IN THE CANYON OF THE SAN JUAN

CHAPTER X. THE WHITE GOD OF THE SINK HOLE

CHAPTER XI. THE REAL WEST

CHAPTER XII. ASSEMBLING AN AEROPLANE IN THE DESERT

CHAPTER XIII. WHY MIKE HASSELL HIT THE TRAIL

CHAPTER XIV. THE END OF THE TRAIL

CHAPTER XV. ROY MAKES MR. COOK A PRESENT

CHAPTER XVI. THE AEROPLANE AS AN AMBULANCE

CHAPTER XVII. THE SECRET DECIPHERED

CHAPTER XVIII. THE LAST OF THE LOST INDIANS

Two Pistol Shots Sounded in the Desert.

CHAPTER I.A CONDITIONAL BARGAIN

“Far as we go!”

As the conductor of the trolley made this announcement, the car came to a stop in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. About two blocks beyond the end of the line, and almost on the edge of the salt marshes, rose a new and wide two-story brick building. Even from that distance could be heard the hum of men and machines.

“Much obliged,” answered the man. “That the place?”

The conductor nodded.

“Thanks,” said the passenger, who, although apparently a middle-aged man, sprang lightly to the ground. “Have a cigar?”

“If you don’t mind,” answered the conductor, “I’ll save it until this evening. I don’t often get a smoke like this.”

The man laughed, shoved his hand into the side pocket of his loose coat and drew out two more high-priced cigars.

“Never put off a good thing too long,” he added, “you may lose it. Grab things while they’re in reach. Give one to your friend Bill up there.”

As the man, still smiling, turned to go, the conductor called out:

“Thanks, Colonel, I guess you’re a westerner. Folks ’round here haven’t got sense enough to wear a hat like that.”

“You’re a good guesser,” replied the man; “I’m from Utah. Good bye.”

A few minutes later, the man was standing before a door in the long building, labeled “Office.” Above the entrance was a small, new sign: American Aeroplane Company. It was a hot morning, and, as the man stopped to wipe his perspiring face with a big, white silk handkerchief, he swung a picturesque gray plainsman’s hat before him like a fan. He was without a vest, and wore a narrow, dark belt. But, beyond these, a negligee shirt and a brown flowing neck tie, there was no sign of the westerner about him. His trousers, coat and shoes were all fashionable and apparently of eastern make.

As he stood before the door, he looked at his watch. Then he whistled softly to himself.

“Ten fifteen!” he exclaimed, under his breath. “An hour and a half from the Waldorf. The same goin’ back—that’s a quarter to twelve. An’ I’ve got to catch the limited at two.”

He opened the door and stepped into a large room where two or three girls and a couple of young men were busy at typewriters, file cases and telephones.

“The boss in?” asked the visitor of a young man who greeted him.

“Do you mean the manager, Mr. Atkinson?”

“Like as not! The man who sells airships.”

“Have you a card?”

“Some’eres, I guess. But just tell him there’s man out here wants to talk flyin’-machine if he’s got time.”

“Won’t you sit down?” persisted the clerk. “I’ll see if he’s busy.”

“Just tell him I’m kind o’ busy, too.”

While the clerk disappeared within a room opening out of the main office, the active westerner made a hasty examination of the place. On a table within the railed-off space in which he stood was a tray of business cards. He picked one up and read it:

AMERICAN AEROPLANE COMPANYFactory: Newark, New JerseyOffices: New York, London, Paris, ChicagoMr. Robert T. Atkinson, PresidentCapital Stock $1,000,000Tested Aeroplanes Ready for Delivery

“This Mr. Atkinson?” began the westerner when he had been ushered into that gentleman’s private office.

“I am,” responded the aeroplane company official. “Pretty hot?”

“Hot enough,” smiled back the visitor; “but I don’t mind the heat when I can find a little shade occasionally and a drink of water. Out my way we’re a little shy on shade and water. I’m from Utah. And that ain’t the worst—I’m from southern Utah.”

President Atkinson motioned to a chair next the open window.

“Never been there,” he replied in much the same tone he might have said he had never visited the north pole.

“Few people have,” added the westerner. “Don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”

Before he could find one of his own cigars, the aeroplane manager had thrust at him a box of perfectos. Mr. Atkinson at once saw in the stranger a man of affairs, who had not come all the way out to the aeroplane factory to gossip. He judged correctly.

“I’ve got a card somewhere,” began the westerner briskly, as he closed a pair of white, steel-trap-like teeth on the cigar, “but it don’t say nothin’ but that my name’s Cook—R. C. Cook. I’m from Bluff, Utah.”

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Cook,” politely remarked the easterner, wondering at the same time what possible business Mr. Cook, of Bluff, Utah, could have with the American Aeroplane Company.

“I’m in New York on a quick trip, but I saw one of your circulars last night. I cut this out. It’s yours, ain’t it?”

Mr. Atkinson glanced at the clipping, smiled and nodded.

The circular read:

“The aeroplane is no longer a novelty or a wonder. The American Aeroplane Company, organized with a paid-up capital stock of $1,000,000, is now ready to deliver reliable and tested aeroplanes, standardized in make-up and ready to fly. We offer F. O. B. Newark, New Jersey, a complete car for $5,000. It comprehends every development up to date. The frame is of Oregon spruce and bamboo—the planes of rubberized silk balloon cloth. The power plant is a four-cylinder, gasoline, water-cooled motorcycle engine, 25 H. P., cylinders 3¾ by 4. The control is extremely simple. The elevation is regulated by a steering lever, the balancing planes are specially designed devices controlled by the movement of the feet. The machine starts from the ground without track or outside help, and it can be taken apart in two hours.”

“That’s the price, is it?” added Mr. Cook, taking a long puff at his cigar.

“Just reduced,” explained Mr. Atkinson. “Our first machines sold for seven thousand dollars. But we mean to lead in this business. We have purchased every patent that we believe is needed in making a high-class aeroplane; and with our facilities we mean to popularize aeroplanes until they become as common as automobiles.”

“I want one of ’em,” said Mr. Cook.

The manager nodded his head as if the customer had ordered a bicycle or a buggy.

“That is,” added Mr. Cook, “providin’—”

He took another puff on his cigar, and then added:

“I want one if I can find some one to run the thing.”

Mr. Atkinson shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s the only trouble that confronts us, Mr. Cook. We have as yet developed no training-school for aviators, as we have schools for chauffeurs.”

“Well,” exclaimed Mr. Cook, laughing and shaking his head, “I think one of them flyin’-machines’ll fit in my business all right, but you’ll have to find me a man to work it. I’ve crossed Death’s desert, I’ve gone down the big Canyon, I’ve chased and been chased by the Utes, and I may do all of them things again. But there’s one thing I wouldn’t do—I wouldn’t risk my neck in the best aeroplane ever made.”

Mr. Atkinson smiled.

“I’d like to sell you one of our machines, my friend; but I can’t promise to find you a capable operator. Tell me,” he added, unable to longer restrain his curiosity, “what use do you figure on making of the machine?”

“I ought to told you,” hastened the would-be purchaser in explanation. “We got a company out in Utah—mostly New York people,” he added parenthetically—“the Utah Mining and Development Company. I’m the manager. Mr. F. E. Estebrook, of Hartford, is the president.”

Mr. Cook immediately rose in Mr. Atkinson’s estimation. Mr. Estebrook was one of the wealthy insurance men of Connecticut. No one stood higher in the New York financial world.

“I see,” observed Mr. Atkinson, now glad that he had extended to the westerner his best box of cigars.

“Well,” went on Mr. Cook, “we’ve got a big lot of work cut out down there in the desert—petroleum mainly,” he explained, “but metal, too. And just now it’s all prospecting. Maybe you don’t know southern Utah?”

The aeroplane company manager smiled in the negative.

“When they git done tellin’ you about the plains of Arizona, and New Mexico, just add one hundred per cent and call it Utah,” went on Mr. Cook. “It ain’t sand and bunch grass down there,” he added, with a grim smile. “It’s alkali deserts, borax holes, rotten volcano craters and river beds that ain’t seen water in a thousand years.”

“Don’t the Colorado and Green rivers run through it?” asked Mr. Atkinson, stepping to a large wall map.

Mr. Cook grunted.

“They do,” he explained, “right through it, and they might as well be buried in steel tubes. What you goin’ to do with a river shootin’ along at the bottom of a gash in the ground a half mile deep? Mr. Atkinson,” continued the westerner. “I’ve known many a man to die o’ thirst on the banks of them rivers with the sound o’ gurglin’ water in his ears. As for gettin’ to that water, well you might reach it with a shot gun—nothin’ else.”

Mr. Atkinson turned, ready to hear Mr. Cook’s explanation:

“I went to Utah five years ago—I’m a Pennsylvanian. My hair was black then. It’s gray now. I got that in one week down in the San Juan river canyon. Sailin’ an aeroplane down there ain’t a goin’ to be no county fair job.”

“I don’t quite understand,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson.

“It’s this,” explained Mr. Cook. “We’ve got from four to eight prospectin’ parties out on them deserts all the time. For weeks and months we don’t hear from them. Now and then, with the use of a few hardened plainsmen, we get word to them and reports back. It would be a big help to us if we could keep in touch with them. And, more often, it would be a big help to them. They say an aeroplane can travel forty-five miles an hour. Why can’t I use it to keep track of our prospectors?”

Mr. Atkinson sat up, perplexed and surprised.

“It’s a novel idea,” he said, at last, “but I can’t see why it isn’t just the thing. Looks to me as if it is—” then he stopped. Mr. Atkinson’s business instinct had brought him a sudden idea. “Mr. Cook,” he added, a moment later, “we talk a good deal about the practicability of the aeroplane. This is the first real, business demand I have yet had for an aeroplane. The idea is great. There is no doubt the aeroplane can be utilized in just the way you outline. Within a radius of two hundred and fifty miles it could make daily visits to the remotest of your men, take orders to them, bring back reports, and—if necessary—carry them food and water.”

“Looked that way to me,” interrupted the westerner.

“No question about it. I’m going to make you a proposition. Our machines are selling at five thousand dollars. I’m so sure of the advertising possibilities of your project, that I’m going to make you a price of four thousand dollars. I can’t miss this chance to make a real demonstration of the practicability of the aeroplane.”

“The price ain’t botherin’ me,” commented the westerner. “How about some one to work it? Some one who can stand Utah and borax and alkali—maybe Indians. You can fix his wages.”

Mr. Atkinson’s face lengthened.

“That’s another matter,” he said after a pause.

“Haven’t any one on tap?”

The aeroplane company manager shook his head. Mr. Cook looked at his watch. Then he grunted his disappointment.

“Well,” he said, rising, “it was an idea. If you can’t help me, I guess no one can. I’ve got to go—got to catch the two o’clock limited. Just keep my card. My offer stands. I’ll make it five thousand dollars for a machine if you send a man to do the trick. You can take four thousand dollars if you like and give some one a bonus of the other thousand to take the chance. I’ll pay him what you say and keep him long as he wants to stay.”

Mr. Atkinson was thinking hard.

“I’m trying to think of some one with experience and grit,” he said.

“If you do,” said the westerner, shaking hands with Mr. Atkinson, “nail him, and send him to me. If he wants excitement, I’ll guarantee him the time of his life.”

CHAPTER II.AN EXPERIMENTAL FLIGHT

For some minutes, Mr. Atkinson sat in thought. At last he was interrupted by a man who hurried in from the factory portion of the building. The new arrival was in his shirt sleeves, a mechanic’s cap was far back on his half-bald head, and his hands and face were marked with the smear of machinery.

“Good morning, George,” exclaimed the manager.

“Morning,” responded the man tersely. “Thought you might like to come out. We got that new model ready—the double propeller. Goin’ to try the wheels on a new pitch.”

“Certainly,” responded Mr. Atkinson, placing Mr. Cook’s card in a pigeonhole. “Sold four machines this morning, Osborne,” he added. “Got three orders by mail—two from Paris, one from Chicago. Sold another machine to a man from Utah.”

Mr. Atkinson was full of enthusiasm, but, apparently, the man in his shirt sleeves cared little for this.

“I’m sure we’ve got a better pitch,” the mechanic interrupted. “Anyway, we’ll know in a few minutes.”

Mr. Atkinson only smiled. He made no further attempt to impart his gratification to his companion, and the two men passed out through the business office into the big workroom.

The man wearing the cap was George M. Osborne, skilled mechanic and inventor. In the advertisements of the company, he was known as the “engineer and mechanical director.” Mr. Osborne, the highest paid mechanic in Newark—one of the leading manufacturing cities in America—had only recently been secured by the newly organized aeroplane company. It was his ingenuity and practical methods that had already combined a dozen patents in an ideal flying-machine.

“A one-propeller car will always be popular,” Osborne insisted, “but two propellers are as essential for long distance work as two screws to a steamer. If one gives out, you have the other.”

As the two men made their way through the orderly but humming workroom, Mr. Osborne fell back by Mr. Atkinson’s side, and said:

“I’m trying a new operator, too, this morning.”

“We ought to start a school for them,” answered the manager, thinking of his talk with the western prospector.

“And I’d like to have you give him a job,” added the engineer.

“Certainly,” answered his companion. “Hire all of them you can find that’ll do. Your new man ever had any experience?”

“A little. But he isn’t a man. It’s my own boy, Royce.”

“Roy, your son,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson, as if surprised. “How old is he?”

“Just over seventeen. But I think he’ll do. He’s spent all his Saturdays here since we started up, and now his school’s out, and he’s determined to go to work.”

“And you aren’t afraid to let him take a chance in the new machine?” asked the manager.

“I guess he understands it about as well as any of us.”

“I’ve seen him around here a good deal.”

“It has been his playground,” explained the boy’s father. “He’d rather be alongside my bench than idling away his time. He knows the car and engine all right.”

Passing out of the shop, the men came into the experimenting ground—an enclosed space of perhaps twenty acres. Beneath a shed at the far end of the factory building a half dozen men were standing idly about the delicate and graceful frame of an aeroplane—the “American Aeroplane Model No. 2.” In their midst, stood a light-haired, gray-eyed boy of compact, muscular build and a countenance a little too old, perhaps, for his years.

“Good morning, Roy,” exclaimed Mr. Atkinson. “Your father says you want to turn aviator.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, doffing an absurd little school hat, “I’m looking for the job.”

“Aren’t you afraid?” asked the manager, smiling, however, as he asked it.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” answered the boy. “I’m only wondering if the new pitch is right.”

Mr. Atkinson seemed about to say something, but paused. Finally he remarked:

“All right. But don’t take chances. Make a low flight.”

The attendants at once shouldered the car and carried it out into the open. Roy pulled his little school cap well down on his head, and climbed aboard. Mr. Osborne, who had disappeared for a moment, now returned with a ball of twine. Quickly unrolling about fifty feet of it, he tied an end of the cord to the aeroplane frame. At the other end of the string, he tied his handkerchief.

“Now, young man,” he said with parental sternness to Roy, “no more excuses about not knowing how far above the ground you are. This is a mechanical test, not a circus exhibition. Keep that handkerchief dragging on the ground. D’ye hear?”

“Yes, father,” laughed the boy, “only I don’t want that handkerchief and the knot. It’s all right if I don’t happen to pass over a fence. A little catch in a crack wouldn’t do a thing but upset me.” He untied the handkerchief and handed it back. “I’ll watch the string—this time. But never again.” And he laughed.

“Don’t know but you’re right,” remarked Mr. Osborne.

“Sure he is,” added Mr. Atkinson with a broad smile. “All ready, boys?” he added, turning to the workmen.

“All ready here,” came from the boy.

“Go ahead,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne.

Roy’s eager hands turned on his gasoline. As the two propellers darted into action and the horizontal, spidery planes began to tremble as if semi-buoyant already, the attendants sprang forward.

“Keep away,” exclaimed the boy in the car. “Keep away. Give her a chance.”

The men stepped back again.

“That’s right,” added Mr. Atkinson. “Give it a chance.”

“She don’t need any help,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne, with professional pride. “No startin’ track with this car.”

Even while he spoke, the aeroplane gave a little preliminary bound and then suddenly shot forward, the twine snapping behind it. Mr. Osborne, in developing the flying-machine idea, had used two plane surfaces, but instead of being superimposed, one was behind the other. And, instead of being practically flat surfaces, his two planes were curved, the aft one so markedly so as to resemble a bird’s wing.

“The Boy Has a Steady Hand”

The anxious spectators saw the big, horizontal nine-foot rudder or guiding surface behind the rear plane straighten itself out and the aeroplane settle on its course. Mr. Osborne made an attempt to run forward as if to better observe the working of the propellers on their new pitch. But the car was too fast for him. It was already curving on its first turn and working perfectly. Three times the flying-machine cut around the experiment yard, skimming the ground so closely at times that the observers kept a sharp lookout to save their heads.

“Looks all right, eh?” remarked the engineer, with no little pride.

“The boy has a steady hand,” answered the manager, as if he had forgotten that the flight was a test of the engine and not of the amateur aviator.

“Oh, the boy’s all right,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne. “I don’t know as I like to have him do it, but, as far as ability is concerned, he knows as much as a good many who have been at it longer.”

He had already called out to Roy to come down, and the car, with power shut off, was fluttering to the ground, some yards away.

The two men advanced to the landed machine.

Roy, his sober face showing just a little flush of pride in his first real flight, was attempting to look unconcerned as Mr. Atkinson came up to him and patted him on the back.

“Very well done, my boy,” exclaimed the manager. “Didn’t frighten you, did it?”

“I was only worried about that string,” answered Roy. “It kept snappin’ like the tail of a kite.”

The workmen were already moving the car to the shed, and Mr. Osborne was following them, when the manager called him back.

“Osborne,” he said, laying a hand on Roy’s shoulder, “are you really willing for your boy to turn professional aviator?”

“Seems to have made a pretty good start already,” was the non-committal answer.

“That’ll be all right,” broke in Roy, with a smile. “He’ll be willing. At least, he says it isn’t any more dangerous than runnin’ an automobile. May I have a job, Mr. Atkinson?”

The manager’s answer was to invite the boy and his father into his private office. There, after a little more discussion of the matter of Roy’s engagement, Mr. Atkinson drew out the Utah prospector’s memorandum, and, with a good deal of formality, told the details of his interview with Mr. Cook, and of the latter’s provisional purchase of an aeroplane.

“And now,” he concluded, “of course, the making of that sale or the loss of it don’t mean a great deal. But I’d like to make it. You can guess why?” he added, turning to Mr. Osborne.

“Be a good ad, of course,” answered the engineer.

“Yes, all of that,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne. “But I’ve got just enough interest in Roy to want to have him take the job.”

“I could see that comin’,” exclaimed Mr. Osborne, with a somewhat rueful smile. “We’re much obliged—both of us—but—” and he shook his head slowly in the negative.

“He don’t mean it,” spoke up Roy with alacrity, as he arose and hastened to Mr. Atkinson’s side.

“We’ve only got to persuade mother; then he’ll consent. He’ll be proud to have me go,” he added with a sudden smile.

But Mr. Osborne was still shaking his head.

“I’ll go,” went on the boy, with enthusiasm, “and father’ll tell you so to-morrow. We’ll arrange it with mother this evening, won’t we, Father?” he continued as he good naturedly laid his arm on Mr. Osborne’s shoulders.

“We will not,” spoke up the engineer with apparent determination. “If you’ve got to break your neck, do it here, near home.”

Roy only laughed.

“Father’ll let you know how much obliged he is in the morning,” said the boy. “I accept the offer now. Father can have the bonus, and I’ll take the wages. Be sure and count on me, Mr. Atkinson. I’m jumpin’ at the chance. You can telegraph right now—‘Machine and operator leave tomorrow.’”

CHAPTER III.LOOKING UP AN ANCESTOR

But Mr. Osborne was not as quick to give his consent as Roy predicted. As the boy and his father rode home that evening, Mr. Osborne found many reasons why he did not wish his son to go to Utah to “take a chance of dying of thirst on some desert, or of being scalped by Indians,” as he expressed it. He did not urge very strongly the risk to Roy in skimming over mountains, plains and canyons in an aeroplane. Mr. Osborne being the maker of the airship and having business faith in it, he had to confine his arguments to other reasons.

“The principal reason you’re afraid,” urged Roy, with a laugh, “is that you’ve never been west of Pittsburg. You don’t know any more about Utah than—than—”

“Than you do,” interrupted his father. “Just you wait until you tell your mother.”

The Osbornes lived on the far side of Newark in an attractive suburban house with a yard big enough to include a large flower garden. It was early evening when Mr. Osborne and Roy reached home, and Mrs. Osborne was busy cutting flowers. Roy, waving his straw hat, sprang across the lawn to open up the question at once.

“Mother,” he exclaimed impulsively, “I’ve got a chance to get a good job operating the new aeroplane.”

“So soon?” replied Mrs. Osborne, with a smile. “I supposed you’d have to have a lot of experience before you could do that.”

“Oh, I can do it—now—I know enough. I ain’t afraid of that. But the job’s a long way from here. I’ve got to go to Utah.”

“Utah!” exclaimed his mother, wrinkling her brows. “Why that’s away out west. It’s further than Chicago, isn’t it?”

“A thousand miles,” responded Roy on a guess, and with a smile.

“Yes, certainly,” added Mrs. Osborne. “I know. Just beyond the Rocky Mountains. Utah—Salt Lake City. It’s where the Mormons live.”

“Right,” exclaimed Roy, laughing. “Do you care if I go?—I want to very much.”

“That’s where my Uncle Willard Banks went.”

Roy, who had taken the basket of flowers from his mother’s arm, stopped short.

“I didn’t know that,” he began. “I didn’t know you had an uncle out there. Is he alive?”

His mother shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t even remember him. He was my father’s only brother, and when father came east from Illinois—before he married—my Uncle Willard went west. He was a Mormon,” Mrs. Osborne added. “Or, I think he was.”