Stories need telling

I posted this on a message board and then thought I’d expand on it a bit, so here it is, modified slightly with a bit of editing for clarity. My original was in response to someone who suggested that some stories shouldn’t be told. Of course, I took exception, as evidenced by my follow-up post, edited below.

Again — Maybe some stories don’t need to be told???

Actually, the stories do need to be told.

A lot of the stories are the background and history of some great helicopter companies that operated in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that are no longer around today. They and their employees pioneered inventions, techniques, operating standards and working conditions, some of which weren’t perhaps the greatest.

Some of the engineers went on to the early DOT and helped to eliminate hazardous and dangerous working conditions. Some pilots became fantastic flight instructors who had learned the hard way what worked and what didn’t work in a bush or mountain environment. They then did their best to pass on their accumulated first-hand experience and knowledge to student pilots. Many of us were trained by those guys and we’re alive today because of them.

I know for a fact I am.

The old apprentice engineer method would never have survived for so long had not experienced, dedicated maintenance people passed on the kind of knowledge that could never be picked up by attending a classroom and reading a book. Tom Murray comes immediately to mind, as do Ray Coursol, John Juke and Lloyd Mackenzie. Those are only a few of the ones I knew, but there are many, many others all across the country. Those days are long gone now, but such people all helped to make the business what it is today.

Midwest S55 landing at Moosonee - 1968

Midwest S55 landing at Moosonee – 1968

Here’s one example of a company: Midwest Helicopters. That was a pretty good outfit during its heyday. There were some fantastic employees, great engineers, a couple of real characters (I’m reminded of Klaus Lebrandt, Bill Henderson), and a few who didn’t matter, but that’s all water under the bridge now since the company has long disappeared. I’d like to see a website dedicated to that outfit. And I don’t mean the “we were a great company and some fools ruined it all for the rest of us” kind of website. I mean one that tells the stories. Those are much more interesting than “I’d better not tell this story about Fred or Ted or Bruce. He’s gone now and can’t refute it.” The people and the stories are what made the outfit interesting.

Top floor on the barge at Norway House - 1971

More nurses. Top floor on the barge at Norway House – 1971. Ken Fraser (in the blue cap) was the Admiral of the Fleet. It was all good fun.

Another example is Skyrotors. It’s heyday was during the Mid-Canada Line construction, but it operated into the early ’70s under Tom Cannon in Arnprior. Tom was a real character all by himself, and I’m sure there are many stories to be told about him, but he and his company are long gone now, and many of the former employees are getting on too, just like the rest of us.

There are many just like Midwest and Skyrotors – small, independent, localized for the most part – who were great to work for once you got past the somewhat “unusual” characters who managed or who worked for them. Still, that too is what made those companies what they were.

That doesn’t mean that we should go out and name names, but it does mean that if the story gets told in a responsible way, those who were there will recognize and remember, and those who weren’t will scratch their heads and wonder how the hell THAT happened. The rest of us will get a good laugh and perhaps remember some of the minor characters who played a role in it all.

Remembering the good times along with the bad, combined with the loss of those we worked with and knew and liked, is part of the history of the helicopter business in Canada. It’s a tough business, and it was especially so in those early years. I don’t think that telling the odd story, whether names are used or not, is a bad thing. It’s all in the presentation, and hopefully it will lead to a laugh and another story about somebody else we all knew and liked.

On the other hand, derogatory speculation is not a good thing. If you weren’t there, shut up and listen to the stories of the people who were. If you live long enough, grasshopper, you’ll have your own stories to tell, and you can twist those any way you choose when your time comes.

5 thoughts on “Stories need telling

  1. George McKay

    I was one of the lucky people that learned to fly at Skyrotors and was taught by some of the best pilots of their day that kept me alive for the next 20 years of flying.
    One weekend I was doing work in the hanger at Skyrotors when I heard CF-OTO a Brantley B2B starting inside the hanger and the doors were closed it was winter. I went to see what was going on and their was Tom Cannon trying to get the doors opened I gave him a hand to get the doors opened and push the Brantley outside it had a rotor brake. When I asked Tom why he started it inside he told me that if you walked past a Brantley with an ice cream cone it would not start and he took off standard Tom

    1. Twolane Post author

      Tom Cannon was a real character. There are none like him remaining in the world of helicopter aviation. I feel privileged to have known Tom, and many like him.

      1. George McKay

        I agree 100% on Tom Cannon if it were not for him or the people like him helicopters would have not moved forward as quickly as they did in Canada. Tom Gary fields and Lary Compog they took the industry forward. The industry was young and it took people like that to move it forward. Some of the things that went on were not in the book but in those days the book did not exist. Example the person who gave me my check ride for my licence from DOT had 50 hours on helicopters and I had 100 hours in doing the autos the first one was from 500 feet straight in no problem I had done hundreds of them as we passed 100 feet he told me to bring in power I asked him what by that time we were on the ground. He told me they were not to do full on autos I told him I was not taught to do power recoveries. For the 108 and 360 autos he stayed on the ground as I did them. I still got my licence. Bill Shabes Jack Jardine and Neil Magregor had taught me that if the engine went out how to do a proper auto to the ground these things saved my life on more than one occasion. Thanks guys Skyrotors was a good place to learn to fly you were taught by some of the best pilots of the day. One must remember the engines of the day were not that reliable so you had to know what you were doing and how to get out of problems quickly.

  2. Tom Smith

    I work for Skyrotors from 69-74. As hard as it was, it was as good as it was. If you could work there you could work for anyone. The people and the stories are still told to this day. I flew all the types and at 23 I flew the 21’s, JJO,NVB and the holy one NVC. JJO I parked in Ft. Chimo and I did the last flight test on NVC.The 21’s where replaced by a 204 which I flew then I moved on.


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