In 1961, shortly after arriving out west, I nailed a job with Hacker Press at Abbotsford as Art Director and almost immediately a number of aviation related things happened. I joined the Abbotsford Flying Club just as a decision was being made to hold an airshow and I found myself helping to organize the first event in 1962.
The club hired a Langley radio announcer who was known for occasionally upsetting the blue rinse set with his risqué remarks. At the morning briefing on the first day of the first Abbotsford Air Show this chubby fellow, wearing bright checked pants, stepped up and said, “Hi, everybody, my name is Toby Trowbridge, I’m your new announcer and I’m in trouble!” We couldn’t figure how he could be in trouble so soon until he stated that although he was a professional radio announcer he knew almost nothing of the various types of aircraft. “Could anybody help me out?” Somehow the job fell to me and I became Toby’s partner. We were to continue together until his death in 1973.
The first year Toby and I carried out our announcing duties while perched on top of a hydraulic lift. Situated in amongst the spectators we were fair game for anyone wanting to share our view or plead with us to find their lost kids. The second year I fixed that by relocating to the roof of Hangar Number Three, one of the old wartime hangars at Abbotsford. To arrive on the roof, which gave us an unlimited view of the whole airport, was one of the most dangerous parts of the whole show, a fact testified to by all the demonstration team announcers who had to climb the scary old wooden ladder nailed vertically to the hangar wall.
Cartoon of me climbing ladder
During the second show I determined that we needed a three way communication system between our announcing stand, the tower and the “pit area” (where the performers congregate). After the phone company did their tricks I assumed the exotic role of Announcing Coordinator. From then on we had a truly professional system which seemed to be lacking at other shows we attended.
Next, I was given the task of designing and producing all the publicity material, from posters to programs, to promotional mailers. Thus, for twenty five years I filled a dual role with the Show: Announcing Coordinator and Art Director. It was like living a dream. How lucky could I get? There I was, right in the thick of the action, meeting and greeting some of the world’s top aerobatic pilots.
Looking back I can state emphatically that the first 10 years at Abbotsford were the best. The show was helped from the beginning by a group of enthusiastic antiquers from Washington State, led by Mark Hoskins, a big bear of a man. Mark was a successful building contractor with deep pockets which enabled his group to find and restore basket case Ryan ST’s among other types. The genius behind the rebuilds was Ted Robinson and one of the aerobatic pilots was Jim Moss. Up they came with a flock of Ryans, Wacos and even a cute little Buhl Pup. All they asked was gas for their planes, a place to lay their heads after the day’s activities and a bit of grub and “Just tell us when you want us to fly!”
From right to left: Mark Hoskins, Jim Moss, Ted Robinson and my son Mike, with a Ryan PT22
The early years were filled with fun-loving flying enthusiasts.
Commercialism had yet to rear its ugly head.
In 1967 I was called upon to assume the role of Flying Events Director and during my morning briefing I welcomed a first time visit of the famous Royal Air Force Vulcan.
Vulcan with Snowbirds escort
I cringe now when I think that because we had such a tight program I only allotted the Vulcan 8 minutes on show. If I could do it again I would give them at least 15 or even 20 minutes, even if I had let the show run overtime!
Guys like Art Scholl would scare the heck out of Toby and me, with his extremely low dive recoveries but he would always shrug it off with a comment about having lots of reserve power. Sadly he ran out of reserve during the shooting of “Top Gun,” when his Pitts put him in the ocean inverted.
Art’s Chipmunk in a vertical dive
Chapter Five of “The Life & Times of Glenn Matthews” tomorrow