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Not All Launches Are Smooth

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Yet; some are worse than others, and we have to keep things in perspective. I would submit that the January 17, 1997, launch of the Delta II rocket carrying a GPS satellite was one of the worst launches ever.

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As the rocket rose 1,500 feet above the ground, things went bad.

The Air Force announcer gets the Understatement of the Year Award for declaring this gigantic fireball “an anomaly,” and later stating that “a major problem has occurred.”

Over 20 cars were melted, tons of flaming debris rained down from the sky, and poison gas clouds covered the launch area. The clouds of gas shown after the explosion were hydrochloric acid, and residents in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and other towns miles away were ordered to stay inside, close all doors and windows and turn off all air conditioners. The concussion from the blast set off car alarms 20 miles away.

Amazingly, no one was killed or seriously injured in this incident. Now THAT was a bad launch!

Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my Grandfather and Me

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Like a Dickens novel, life is full of surprising associations that best come into focus in hindsight. In today’s exciting blog entry, we explore the relationship between Kaiser Permanente; Popeye’s friend the Eugene the Jeep; my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr.; and me.

Years ago, when we first moved to Maryland, we lived in a suburb of Washington, DC, known as Calverton. Patty and I would drive by the nearby Kaiser Permanente Silver Spring Medical Center and wonder what it was.  At that time, the sign just read “Kaiser Permanente” with no indication of what the purpose was of the site.

Henry J Kaiser

Henry John Kaiser (1882-1967) was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. He established the Kaiser Shipyard which built Liberty ships during World War II, after which he formed Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel. Kaiser organized the Kaiser Permanente health-care system for his workers and their families. He led Kaiser-Frazer followed by Kaiser Motors, automobile companies known for the safety of their designs. (Info swiped from Wikipedia)

The name indicated a relationship with the brilliant industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, of dam-, ship- and auto-building fame, but the Permanente part of the name seemed odd to me. Little did I realize that they would later become our health-care provider or that I would one day be working for the firm. The Permanente part of that name, by the way, comes from the name of a creek that ran by the lodge of Henry and Bess Kaiser in Santa Clara County, California; in 1945, Mrs. Kaiser thought the name would be fitting for the new health system they had started for their shipyard employees. Here’s a recent view of that beautiful creek:

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Probably named Permanente Creek by the early Spanish settlers of California because it didn’t dry up during the year.

So how do Popeye’s friend and my grandfather and I come into this? Kaiser, with his business associate, Joseph Frazer, began making wonderful cars just after World War II. The autos of Kaiser-Frazer, as their company was called, were very innovative and attractive, and they also made cars called Allstates, which were sold by Sears Roebuck in the 1952 and 1953 model years. Yes; you could buy a car (and houses, for that matter; my 1926-built house is an example!) from a Sears catalog in those days.

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Great-looking car; a good many of these were made into hot rods after mom and dad passed them on to the kids!

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This amazing Kaiser car, like the Corvette which came out the same year, was made with a huge engine and a fiberglass body.

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Ahead of its time and still looks stylish 60 years later.

1951 Kaiser Ad

Typical of the innovations that Kaiser-Frazer autos were known for, this Traveler model would be useful for toting things around in the days before SUVs and minivans.

My grandfather, who was never one to ignore a business opportunity when he saw it, opened what was likely the smallest of Kaiser-Frazer dealerships, on U.S. Route One in Callahan, Florida. Here’s a photo of the then-brand-new dealership; my grandfather is second from the right. The little fellow next to him is my Uncle Ronald, who went on to a 35+ year career as a special agent with the FBI and now lives in New Mexico!

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Here’s a recent photo of the Page Building in Callahan, which we still own and rent out to various businesses. To my knowledge, this property has never generated a thin dime in revenue, but there are those in the family who have an emotional attachment to this old building and we guess it pays for its upkeep.

Page Building, Callahan

Until today, I had identified the wrong tacky building as the Page Building. John H, a Callahan historian, kindly pointed out my error. Thanks, John!

Now, let’s get to Popeye, shall we? In the pre-WWII United States, the newspaper comic strip, Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar, was a big deal. The best-known member of the strip’s zany ensemble, Popeye the Sailor Man, was a stroke of genius, but Segar had many such strokes and his creations caught the country’s imagination in a big way. Another inspired Segar creation was Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep was a made-up word Segar used to describe his little creature, who had the ability to pop through time and space and do wonderful things for his friends.

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The original Jeep!

The Jeep character became a big fad, especially among children, and there were books, stuffed toys and cartoons about this loveable character, as shown by this great movie poster from 1938:

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Moving forward a few years, into the Second World War, the Willis Corporation developed a General Purpose, or GP, vehicle for the U.S. Army. This rugged and unpretentious four-wheel-drive car was manufactured by the hundreds of thousands during the war, and the GIs of the day dubbed it the Jeep, because, as one soldier said, the thing was “small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.” That, plus the GP designation sounded like the word “Jeep.”

Jeeps On A Flatcar, 1944

Sixteen of the over half-million GP vehicles or Jeeps head to war on a railway flatcar in 1944. Legend has it that you could buy a war-surplus Jeep in the late 1940s for $50.

After the war, Willis was not making too many Jeeps and Kaiser’s autos needed engines; Kaiser bought Willis and used their engines in the Kaiser-Frazer autos. Production of the Kaiser-Frazer line stopped for various reasons in 1955, but Kaiser kept making Jeeps of different types and styles until 1970. They sold that part of their empire to American Motors in that year, and American was later purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, who continue making Jeeps today. My grandfather’s Kaiser dealership closed after his death in the mid 1950s.

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The Kaiser line of Willis Jeeps; I’d love to have one of those Utility Wagons.

Kaiser Permanente, of course, has thrived as the nation’s largest, most esteemed and (by my family, at least) best-loved managed-care provider, and I work as manager of marketing and creative operations at their Mid-Atlantic Regional Headquarters. Wonderful place and I’m proud to help in its mission in my small way!

Thus the connection between Kaiser Permanente, Popeye, my grandfather and me!

Kaiser Jeep

One of the last of the Kaiser-built Jeeps romps over rocks.

Dasheen Dreams . . .

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If you’ve never heard of dasheen, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; I hadn’t either. My daughter, Colleen, is the historian of our family and is always finding, archiving and annotating old family photos. Here’s one she found from 1923, showing my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr., and his dad, James Graham Page, at a meeting of the Nassau County (Florida) Dasheen Growers Association in the little town of Callahan:

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My grandfather and his father were very active in that organization, or at least they had leadership roles. My grandfather was a heck of a businessman, and owned a lot of businesses that did well. I can’t say how well he and his dad did with dasheen; it put some of his land holdings to productive use, I suppose.

According to what I’ve been able to find out on the Net, dasheen is another term for a type of taro root, and, in the early 1920s, the Florida Secretary of Agriculture was promoting the cultivation of this plant for areas of Florida with boggy land not suited for growing much else except snakes (this part of Florida has 31 types, including six or seven “hot” ones, as the herpetologists call venomous snakes), alligators and pine trees. Here’s a Google satellite photo pinpointing the town of Callahan in Nassau County; my brother, Jeff, and I were born on Amelia Island, where the town of Fernandina Beach is located:

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The red arrow points to Callahan, Florida. The dark area to the left of Callahan is the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S.; a shallow, 438,000 acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia–Florida border. Okefenokee is an Indian word meaning “trembling earth.”

Since the area our family is from borders the Okefenokee Swamp that hugs the Georgia line, it’s ideal for such an effort. Here’s a photo of a dasheen plant, and also a photo of the edible root.

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Looks like an elephant ear plant, doesn’t it?

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Can these make good French fries? America waits for the answer!

This enterprise probably didn’t amount to much, but it’s kind of a nifty idea. Another Net resource mentions that at the height of the dasheen-growing effort, ten boxcar loads of the roots were shipped from Callahan, where we still have a family farm. I don’t think any dasheen is grown on our farm now, though I did see that someone else has a dasheen farm in the area nowadays. Good luck to them!

UPDATE:

Thanks to my daughter, Colleen, for finding the letterhead below from the Dasheen Growers Association in a history of Nassau County. There’s also a little paragraph describing the operation. You can see from the annotations that the photo above, showing the intrepid dasheen growers in Callahan, was from this same book, which was published some years ago.

James_Graham_Page_info_on_Dasheen_Growers_Assn__from_WNCPH

RE: My 1960s Naples Mystery Novel

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Mrs. Waples From Naples

The Ill-Fated Mrs. Waples from Naples in his or her prime.

A friend from Naples Before It Was Hip let me know about this earlier today (thanks, Deborah!). It’s a recap of the “Mrs. Waples from Naples” murder. My brother, Jeff, had been on the ambulance crew that worked this incident, and told me– on the QT– that the crew was shocked that Mrs. Waples, a longtime Naples resident and eccentric character, was really a man.

That stuck in my mind, and when I wrote my mid-1960s Naples-based cozy mystery, I used that story as the main element in the plot. Here’s my book, available on Amazon.com, if you care to read it:

http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Sugar-Sand-Beach-Naples-ebook/dp/B007CADRI8

So here’s a recap of the true story of Mrs. Waples from Naples:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151625354205199.1073741831.236706715198&type=3

My First Published Work!

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Sherman, please set the WABAC machine to 1962 and let’s look in on ten-year-old Jimbo Page, who’s family is spending that summer in Apalachicola, Florida.

His dad, who is a stern and unfriendly person, loves airplanes and little Jimbo decides that since his dad’s favorite magazine, Trade-A-Plane, publishes a little one-panel cartoon in the upper-right corner of every cover, he’ll draw something and submit it for their consideration and– maybe– they’ll publish it. They did!

As a fourth-grader, I was amazed to see something I drew in print in a national– if decidedly niche– publication!!! Trade-A-Plane is still being published, though I’m not certain if they still are a tabloid pub printed on canary-yellow newsprint, and I’m not certain they’re still published in Crossville, Tennessee.

My dad seemed astonished when the magazine came in the mail and my cartoon was on the cover. He soon got over that, I suppose.

A very gracious person at Trade-A-Plane was nice enough to find and scan my cartoon and send it to me this afternoon (thanks, Linda!!!). She’s even sending me a collection they published a few years ago of their best cartoons, and mine was one of the ones in the collection.

As I look at this effort now, I see stuff I didn’t see when I drew it. Being a kid, I didn’t realize that printers needed an inked, not pencilled, piece for printing (notice the signature of the person who kindly inked it at the publication for me in the bottom right of the cartoon). Also, I misspelled “Apalachicola.” The two people are drawn (from a World Book photo of Wright and a comic-book drawing as references) in two different styles. The microphone and reporter’s hand are awful. Most absurd is that I accidentally drew Wilbur instead of Orville Wright, which messes up the gag; Orville sported a mustache.

I guess I was just too excited and eager to mail it in to care about niceties, and I was just a ten-year-old kid.

As Conan Doyle once said, when someone pointed out a few mistakes in one of his best-loved Sherlock Holmes stories, “Sometimes one has to be masterful regarding details.”

Anyway, here’s the cartoon:

JamesPageCartoon

The Best-Looking Car I Never Had

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Jaguar XKEOne of the unintended consequences of the gasoline shortages of the early 1970s was that cars with big engines could be had cheap. For those who weren’t around in those days, gas in most localities could only be purchased on the odd/even system based on your auto tag numbers, and that’s if it was available at all.

Dash looked like an airplane cockpit!

In Naples, a few of us found a way to avoid the lines and didn’t suffer too badly. But across the U.S., folks might spend an entire day in line to get five dollars worth of gas, only to be refused at the end of their tedious wait.

In 1974, I had moved to Tampa and had just met my future wife, Patty. A block or so north of where I worked was a used-car lot that sold high-end cars. Having saved up a few thousand dollars and ready to buy a car, I stopped there and fell in love with a 1967 burgundy Jaguar XKE convertible with the enormous gas-guzzling V-12 engine. Hey; this gas crisis can’t last forever, can it?!?!?!

V12 Jaguar E Type

What a plant!!!

What a plant!!!

I took Patty by the lot to show it to her, and she immediately balked, saying she wouldn’t be seen in such an ugly car. I was astonished; the Jag was gorgeous but so was Patty and I made the obvious choice.

Still needing a car, I bought one of the worst ones I ever owned; a brand-new Dodge Charger Special Edition. What a lousy car that was; a real POS. It also had a huge engine (a hemi, for you motor-heads), but it ate fan belts three at a time, constantly overheated and to top it all off, wasn’t very quick. I drove that bomb for two years, buying fan belts every month (you had to replace all three if one failed) and thinking of that Jag engine that had metal chains instead of rubber belts.

Here’s exactly what my Charger looked like:

Yuch!

Yuch!

A couple of weeks after buying the Charger, Patty, her younger brother Billy and I were going somewhere and an XKE Jag went by us. Patty remarked, “What a beautiful car!”

WHAT?!?!?!? I slammed on the brakes so hard the Charger did a 180 on Busch Boulevard, and asked, “What did you say?!?!” She meekly replied, “I said ‘What a pretty car.’ ”

I was frosted. “Just two weeks ago you stopped me from buying one of those because you said it was so ugly!!!”

Patty burst into tears and said, “You are such a terrible driver; if you drove a car like that Jaguar you’d kill yourself in a week.”

As we sat in that horrible Dodge Charger facing the wrong way on Busch Boulevard,  traffic beeping and honking as it passed us, I had to admit that Patty was correct.

I still wish I had bought that Jag, though!

Jaguar XKE Comin' At Ya

The Monkees Were Cool Then and Still Are Today!

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Many folks in the late 1960s slammed the Monkees because the band was formed for a TV show, obviously patterned after the Hard Day’s Night-era Beatles. They were snidely called The Pre-Fab Four and worse. Be that as it may, I loved the songs they did, even though studio musicians played the instruments on their first couple of albums.

Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith

I can remember on my 15th birthday, Saturday, January 14, 1967, getting my dad to accompany me as I drove, on my learner’s permit, to a music store in Marathon, Florida, where we then lived.

I spent my hard-earned $12 on the first two Monkees singles (Last Train to Clarksville/Take a Giant Step and I’m a Believer/(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone and albums (The Monkees and More of the Monkees). I even had enough left over to buy my first guitar capo; one of those stretchy elastic ones.

I was so excited that I accidentally locked the keys in the car and my dad had to break one of the the little side-vent windows that cars had back in those days to get us back in.

Of course, I spent the next few weeks sitting on the side of my bed trying to learn to play the songs on my Silvertone guitar and never getting close.

It wasn’t long before the Monkees (Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork) asserted themselves and began writing and playing the music on their TV show and records. When they toured in 1967, they got Jimi Hendrix to be their opening act, at least for a couple of weeks before he bailed, and when they made a movie, called Head, they had Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson assist. So these young men weren’t as uncool as some insisted. They were fun, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously.

One major thing they had going for them on their show was a great-looking car, based on a ’66 Pontiac GTO, called the Monkeemobile:

After the show ended in 1968, the group fractured as far as playing live was concerned. Mike Nesmith’s mom, Bette Nesmith Graham, had made a fortune after inventing the typewriter-correction fluid Liquid Paper or White Out, and he had no financial incentive to join Dolenz, Jones and Turk (real name Peter Thorkelson) on tours. Last February, at age 66, Davy Jones died of a heart attack.

Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz

Strangely enough, after getting together at a tribute show to honor Jones, the three remaining Monkees decided to do a full-blown tour, and they’ve done it in style. Rather than try to sing the hit song most associated with Davy Jones (Daydream Believer), they’ve chosen to ask an audience member to come on stage and sing the lead vocal. There are several videos on YouTube of the various folks doing this; here are a couple:

From a concert in Cupertino, California; these two young ladies do what I consider a great job:

Here’s a rehearsal concert in Escondido, California, with audience member Mike Ackerman filling in for Davy; he does fine:

It’s a nice, fitting and fun idea and even though some of the audience members sing wildly off-key, one has to respect their courage to get up on stage in front of thousands and have a go.

So The Monkees are still making music and having fun, and that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

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