Orville Wright? He was snotty.

by

The thing about Your Stories–as in your stories–is that they are all good.  Get to be 80, 90 years old and the “live to tell” incidents stack up like cordwood.  Or spent birthday candles. 

In visiting lately with this most distinguished age group, I realize–far too late–that I have a long way to go until I might be considered interesting.  And if 91-year-old A. Russell Maier weren’t so polite and charming, I’d swear he was rubbing my nose in the fact.

It was his wife Virginia who told me about Mr. Maier’s work-related trips to Wright Field and his occasional run-ins with Orville Wright.  Highly charming in her own right, she added that they live in south St. Louis, not far from Ted Drewes.  I told her we’d be right over.

Mr. Maier was a civilian in the Air Force during World War II, chief structures engineer on the CG-10 cargo glider.  Yes, a cargo glider.  A huge thing that suspiciously resembles an oxymoron.  But for nearly three years of his life, for 72 hours a week, Mr. Maier worked and re-worked the nature of a plywood “beast” that, under his unremitting aegis, was eventually capable of transporting forty loaded-down troops and a six-ton half track truck.  Think of the Spruce Goose without the eight engines.  Without any engines.

The thing worked.  It made it as far as the Philippines but the loosing of the A-bomb saved the glider from testing its mostly metal-less mettle in combat by about a week.   Mr. Maier felt spared as well and though he is adamant in stating that he never voted for Harry Truman, he happily credits the man with saving his life.

From his frustrations with the mounting “inspirations” of the Navy as they tacked on bigger and more impossible cargo demands, to the first time he ever heard of a rice paddy, Mr. Maier’s candid accounts were reliably hilarious, albeit with a caustic edge that may or may not predate his encounters with government work.  In the Maiers’ living room, we were a bunch of hypnotised strangers and I almost forgot to ask him about Orville.  

Turns out “Orvy” was not one of his favorite people and Mr. Maier is proof that the slightest slight can thrive for over sixty years.  It was at this point in the interview that Virginia Maier deftly changed the subject by chiding her husband for not telling us about the sewing machine. 

Sewing machine?  Show them, said Mrs. Maier.  He lead us to a sort of study and there it was, a gleaming cabinet made of  mahogany plywood, leftover from a CG-10 glider. 

A. Russell Maier, builder of beasts and sewing machines.  Thanks for having us.  

Kate Shaw  

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