Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines
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“You won’t,” promised the chief stewardess. “After these girls are trained, you’ll go back on the Coast to Coast. I’m going to take you off regular assignment next Sunday for the girls will arrive early Monday morning. I shall plan to turn over most of the work in the classroom and the commissary to you.”
When Jane told her companions of the good news, they were almost as pleased as she.
“I wonder who is going to get your place on the Coast to Coast?” mused Sue.
“You are, my dear. I saw Miss Comstock making out your transfer card just as I left.”
“Then you’ll have to watch your laurels,” warned Sue, “for I’ve always wanted the Coast to Coast and I’ll do my best to make such a fine record they’ll decide to keep me on that run. Most of the celebrities pick the Coast to Coast. It’s got the fastest and most convenient schedule.”
“And the prettiest stewardesses,” added Alice.
The new girls arrived at 9:30 o’clock Monday morning and Miss Comstock greeted them. They were all from Chicago hospitals, pretty, as well as efficient. Jane catalogued them mentally, looking for the possible troublemakers, for after the departure of Mattie Clark, the routine had been pleasant and they wanted to keep things that way. None of the new girls appeared to be inclined toward a “know-it-all” attitude, for which Jane was grateful.
Miss Comstock introduced her and turned over the routine of helping the girls find rooms. Jane knew Cheyenne so well by now, that she was in an excellent position to advise them, and immediately after lunch they plunged into the routine of classes, which was to prepare the newcomers for permanent positions in the service.
The girls were eager and alert and Jane found the class work pleasant. There was nothing of the nervousness and drudgery about it that she had feared.
When it came time for Miss Comstock to put the girls through the final examinations, they passed with flying colors, much to the credit of their young instructor.
Some weeks later big news sped along the line. New planes were being made in the company’s plant at Tacoma. The old tri-motors which had braved the elements through winter and summer for four years were to be retired. The new ships would have two engines, of 600 horsepower each, and would speed along at 180 to 190 miles an hour, with a top speed of 210.
Jane asked Charlie Fischer about the planes, but Charlie professed to be in almost complete ignorance.
“We’ve got to go to school and learn how to handle them,” he said. “I’m starting for Tacoma tomorrow night. I hear they’re all metal with the latest do-dads the inventors can stick on them. Pretty soon we’ll have to have an expert along to tell the pilot what to do.”
All of the ace pilots of the line were called to Tacoma at various intervals to see the new planes. Charlie returned enthusiastic.
“They’re the greatest ships ever built,” he told Jane and Sue, the first time he saw them after his return.“Why we’ll be able to outrun the lightning. They carry ten passengers, two pilots and a stewardess, although I don’t know why they want the latter tagging along.”
“Seems to me, Charlie,” interrupted Sue, “that once or twice you’ve been mighty glad to have a stewardess on the ship.”
“Must have been some other fellow,” grinned Charlie. “Just wait until you see your pantry. The whole thing’s done in the latest stainless metal. My instrument board looks like an inventor’s paradise, but I guess I’ll be able to figure out what all of the gauges and dials are for.”
Interest in the new planes ran high and the first test flight across the entire system was set for October 2nd. According to the tentative schedule, they would clip at least eight hours off the coast to coast time.
Jane hoped that she would get the first assignment, for she was back in active service, but Grace drew the coveted slip, which gave her the right to care for the passengers on the initial flight of the new queen of the air.
They watched the progress of the swift craft from the moment it left the Golden Gate. As many of the Cheyenne crew as possible grouped about the radio in the communications office. With a favoring tail wind, the pilots west of Cheyenne kept the average at better than 190 miles an hour, including stops. It was fast enough to make them almost dizzy.
“I’ll bet I never get a deep breath from here to Chicago,” smiled Grace, as the silver monoplane settled down on the Cheyenne field.
The new craft was a thing of beauty, all metal, with one low wing. The propellers were set ahead of the wing and the wheels folded into the body when it was in flight. The fuselage with the pilots’ cockpit and cabin for the passengers was like the body of a wasp, long and gracefully stream-lined to reduce wind resistance.
Jane and Sue accompanied Grace to the plane, anxious to see what the interior was like. It was not as roomy as the hulking tri-motors, but the seats were more comfortable and the pantry which the stewardess used was complete to the latest detail. The lights were soft and easily adjustable. Each passenger could control the ventilation of the individual windows. The interior was in black and brown, pleasingly harmonious.
There was a full passenger list, and Grace was busy checking over the list and making sure the necessary supplies were aboard. Then the sleek craft was away, Jane and Sue waving, as the monoplane rolled out of the hangar. Grace waved back as the night swallowed the plane.
For two hours Jane and Sue remained at the field, listening to reports of the speeding ship, which was setting a new record for air passenger travel in the United States.
“What fun it would be aloft tonight,” said Sue a bit sadly, “and to know that you were setting a new speed record.”
“We shouldn’t begrudge Grace that trip,” Jane replied. “We’ve had plenty of good things since we joined the service.”
Before winter set in, the entire fleet of new planes was operating on the transcontinental line and the sturdy old tri-motors were wheeled into the hangars where dust soon stood thick on the valiant wings.
Winter flying was to be a new experience for the girls, and they were issued trimly tailored coats, heavily lined. Fortunately the new planes were well insulated and there was a splendid electric heating system.
Extreme cold failed to slow up the schedules, the planes stopping only for snow, which swirled down from the peaks of the Rockies. Christmas eve found Jane roaring toward Chicago on the Coast to Coast, but she had planned for it and brought a tiny Christmas tree aboard at Cheyenne. There were only eight passengers aboard and she had shopped in the dime store for small gifts which would be appropriate for almost any group. She copied the names from the passenger list on gift tags and then carried the tree and her armful of presents to the front of the cabin, placing them in the two forward chairs.
The passengers were delighted, for Christmas eve away from home, even at 5,000 feet in the air and speeding along at 180 miles an hour, could be a little dreary.
Jane was gay, and her good humor cheered up her passengers. One by one she called their names and they opened their presents with evident curiosity and enthusiasm. There was a nice handkerchief for the elderly woman who was hurrying to Chicago, a tube of shaving-cream for the clean-shaven New York traveling man, and a picture book for the little girl of seven who was traveling with her mother.
Gifts for the other passengers were appropriate. Then Jane opened a basket of popcorn balls she had made at Mrs. Murphy’s and a box of delicious home-made candy. All in all, it was as gay and pleasant as Christmas eve could be away from home.
With the turn into the new year, winter descended on the Rockies in all its fury. Blizzards raged for days and the passenger schedules were practically abandoned. Whenever the storm let up, the planes, with only the pilots and the mail aboard, dashed across the continental divide, but for more than a week, Jane and her companions remained snowbound at Cheyenne.
Then reports of sickness and misery in isolated mountain towns began to creep in. Doctors were running short of supplies in villages where the flu had appeared. Unless the blizzards abated soon, there would be serious trouble.
Jane was scheduled to go out on the Coast to Coast, coming through from the west for the first time in three days. The plane was hours late and she reported at the field just as the early January night closed down. Miss Comstock was in the operations room. So was Slim Bollei, one of the veteran pilots.
“You might as well go home, Jane,” said Miss Comstock. “I phoned, but you had started for the field. It’s snowing west of here and the Coast to Coast won’t get out of Rock Springs before dawn.”
Slim Bollei, who had been looking out the window, shrugged his shoulders.
“You’re optimistic,” he grinned. “It’s snowing thicker and harder than at any time this winter.”
The weather had turned bitter cold with the wind lashing around the big hangar in a chilling overture.
When Jane started back to the city, she found that the field car which had brought her was stalled. She telephoned for a taxi, but was informed that no machine would be available for at least an hour, so she made herself comfortable in the waiting room which adjoined the office of the night operations chief.
Sue called to learn if they were going to try to get the Coast to Coast through and Jane informed her that she was marooned at the field.
“Maybe I’ll be home by morning,” she concluded hopefully.
It was half an hour later when the phone on the night chief’s desk rang. Jane was near enough to catch most of the conversation for the man on the other end of the wire was shouting.
“Sure, I know there’s trouble,” the night chief said, “but we aren’t moving any of our mail planes. It would be suicide to attempt to fly tonight.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Slim Bollei.
“It’s the governor at Laramie,” replied the night chief. “There’s been a bad outbreak of diphtheria at Lytton, a village up against the Montana line in the country that God forgot. The doctor there is out of serum and a couple of the youngsters are desperately ill. There’s plenty of serum here and the governor wants us to get a plane through.”
The night chief turned back to the telephone.
“But I tell you, governor, it can’t be done. You can’t see a hundred feet through this storm and the temperature’s down to five below zero and dropping fast.”
“Wait a minute,” cut in Slim Bollei. “Find out what’s the least possible time the serum can be used and do any good.”
“They’ve got to have it before tomorrow night,” said the night chief when the governor’s reply came to him. “Everything else that’s tried to get to Lytton has failed. It’s a plane or nothing at all.”
“Tell him we’ll get through some way,” snapped Slim. “We can’t let kids die without trying.”
“But we can’t afford to wreck one of the new ships,” protested the night chief.
“I’ll take one of the old tri-motors. Tell the governor we’ll get through.”
The flyer turned and walked toward the radio room.
“Get Chicago,” he snapped, “and have them put the operations chief on the wire.”
Less than a minute later Slim Bollei poured his story over the short wave radio and into the ears of the operations chief at Chicago. He wanted one of the old tri-motors and he got it with the chief’s blessing. After that he left on the run to route out a ground crew to get the plane ready for the flight.
Miss Comstock, who had listened gravely, turned to Jane.
“Slim can’t go alone,” she said. “A nurse will be needed there. I’m going. You take charge here.”
“But you’re needed more than I am,” protested Jane. “Let me go.”
Miss Comstock shook her head.
“There’s too much danger. Slim and I will go.”
“One nurse won’t be enough,” insisted Jane. “Think what two of us could do, think what it will mean to those youngsters.”
Miss Comstock smiled. “You win, Jane. We’ll both go.”
Outside the shadowy bulk of one of the tri-motors was being wheeled into the hangar. As soon as there was the slightest break in the storm, they would be away on their errand of mercy.