Welcome back. The date was September 30, 1927, the place was Pawhuska, Oklahoma and the occasion was the birth of a son to Charles H. Harris and Muriel Mae (Stephens) Harris. Little did they know that this boy would grow up to become one of the most famous Oklahoma aviators since Wiley Post. This little boy who got his education in the public schools in Pawhuska (a place he always called the “crown jewel” of Osage County) went on to serve his country in the military before receiving several college degrees. After college he formed his own very successful company in Tulsa.
Transportation Leasing Company would become one of the largest independent vehicle and aircraft leasing company in the entire southwest. This boy, who was an older man by the time I met him, would put together the most well-known antique plane collection in the country and be inducted into just about every aviation hall of fame there is. He would also serve on the Board of Directors of many of Tulsa’s most high profile organizations. But it wasn’t all about making money; he loved to help under privileged children and his pockets were never empty when it came to giving.
Charlie W. Harris is the man I’ve been telling you about and he died last week at the age of 90. Charlie was the founder and chairman of the Biplane Fly-in for the twenty-year existence of the event (1986-2009). He and Virgil Gaede who was his right hand man brought hundreds of vintage aircraft from around the country to the Bartlesville airport. There were planes from WWI and WWII as well as experimental aircraft and with the planes came the fliers, many of whom were war heroes. It was quite a show and every year it made statewide news. Friends this event also brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Bartlesville economy as the many participants and attendees visited our hotels, restaurants and museums.
In 1998 Charlie was awarded the Medallion of Honor by the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce. As usual he gave all the credit to everyone else, praising Oklahoma as the best place in the world to grow up and live in and friends he could have lived anywhere.
Charlie W. Harris was a truly classy guy and he gave me crucial help in putting together the bestselling book Footprints in the Dew. I can tell you from firsthand experience he will be missed by everyone who knew him. When you add the loss of Ken Bruno who was my first high school basketball coach and my friend the legendary athlete Red Murrell I’d have to say it’s been a rough few weeks for many of us in Bartlesville.
Moving forward now with six days left until Christmas, here is the third installment of the “Dead Man Switch.”
After our handshake the second man left the room through the same door he had entered from. It would be Diana who explained all the details of my new job which mostly entailed helping her with the day to day running of her office. Even though the two brothers acted weird, fresh out of college with a lot of debt I needed the job. In any event the money they offered me was too good to turn down. I quickly settled into a routine of taking the mail to the post office every day, picking up whatever mail was there and acting as Diana’s driver toting her and her luggage wherever she needed to go. With a private plane at her disposal, from coast to coast, border to border, she never stopped and she kept me quite busy.
I had been working for Diana for two weeks straight and with Christmas just six days away was hoping for that day off but knew that probably wasn’t going to happen. I had taken the job knowing that I would have very little time to myself and I could already tell that Christmas would be just another day to Diana. She was so dedicated to her job that she even lived somewhere on the grounds of this huge complex where we worked. With a dozen maids and groundskeepers, a couple of butlers, a top-notch chef and security guards as well as Diana and myself it all added to quite a payroll just for the household. All along I kept asking myself why had they hired me out of the thousands of people who worked for their company? Why had they picked me for this job? I’d find out on Christmas Day.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..