by Charles Gulick
Forty-Two Ax Handles, Plus
Chart: Lake Huron
Title: 42 AX HANDLES +
En Route Coordinates:
Aircraft: N18799, E17870
Tower: N18639.218, E17885.148
Fly this heading toward Phelps Collins Airport, Alpena, Michigan, while I relate a little story that belongs to these parts, though certainly not exclusively.
Truth is stranger than fiction, to be sure, but legend is often larger than either of them. Our world would be poor in-deed without its great myths. And one of the greatest of them is that of Paul Bunyan, mightiest of all the lumberjacks who ever were.
You are flying over northwestern Lake Huron. And possibly (just possibly) somewhere in the vastness of Ontario, be-hind you, the tales of Paul Bunyan first began to be told; for they may be of French-Canadian origin, among the loggers of Ontario and/or Quebec. But just as possibly they may be of American frontier origin, begun here in Michigan, or in Wisconsin, far west of you, or Minnesota, still farther west. They may have been brought here from the old country.
But wherever they began, before the start of this century the legends of Paul Bunyan had spread throughout the north-west, and when a version of them was first published in 1910, oral tradition had carried them to every corner of the country.
A bearded giant, mighty of muscle, Paul Bunyan was the ruler of American life between the Winter of the Blue Snow and the Spring That the Rain Came Up From China. Besides being a lumberjack of Herculean strength, he was a superior hunter, a great inventor, and a mighty orator.
Paul Bunyan was the Superman-like entertainment of lonely nights in logging camps. Around the fires men told of his great blue ox, Babe, who measured 42 ax handles plus a plug of chewing tobacco between the horns. The cookhouse in his camp was mountainous, and you couldn't see from one end of the supper table to the other. He could cut down miles of trees with one swing of his ax. And Babe helped shape the land by drinking rivers dry.
It was Paul who carved out the Rocky Mountains, as well as Grand Canyon, and who dug Puget Sound. Perhaps--who knows?--he may have scooped out Lake Huron, too.
When Phelps Collins shows up ahead of you, you'll be in position to line up for a long final for Runway 19.
Now, this runway is the longest in the world, as well as the widest. It's 15 miles wide and 90 miles long. The whole U.S. Air Force could take off from it simultaneously, and on this day 40 years ago they did just that, in a spectacular air-show designed to bolster recruitment. They all climbed to the edge of the stratosphere and then let down and landed again straight ahead, on the same runway where they took off. Though the spectators were given special ear protectors, to the Air Force's horror, the roar of all the engines split mountains and knocked down every building within 300 miles of the air-port, and the heat of those engines set Lakes Superior and Huron boiling. The turbulence from the mass flight of those aircraft is still aloft in the skies of America today, in what we know as The Jet Stream.