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“Wings of Freedom Tour” Moffett Field, CA

When we were visiting friends in the Bay Area of California the “Wings of Freedom Tour” appeared at nearby Moffett Field on one of their many scheduled shows this year. It was a bright, breezy day perfect for wandering around the tarmac and poking cameras into and around the four vintage fighter planes from WW II. Besides the B-17 Fortress there was also a B-24 Liberator bomber, a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a TP-51C Mustang fighter plane.

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B-24J Liberator
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B-25 Mitchell
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North American TP-51C Mustang

I ended up spending most of my time taking photographs of the B-17 Flying Fortress.  The “Wings of Freedom Tour” allows visitors to walk out onto the apron to explore the exteriors and interiors of the bombers. For an extra fee they will also take passengers on a 30 minute flight.

As I was wandering around the plane I noticed a petite lady in a ball cap and pink jacket heading past the tail of the aircraft pulling a small black carry-on rolling bag.  She stopped by the steps of the rear door, parked the bag and pulled out a small white towel.  I politely asked what her role was on the team, to which she replied “copilot on this tour”.

This lovely lady introduced herself to me as Mary and explained that she has been flying for close to 40 years and is certified on everything from small single engines to jets. In fact she works for the FAA as someone who certifies other pilots.

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Co-Pilot of “Nine-O-Nine” – Mary

I did not get to meet the other crew member and pilot, but he looked just as you would expect the pilot of a vintage warbird to appear.  White hair blowing in the wind, big mustache, tanned face and aviator glasses.  When it came time to prepare the plane for flight he drafted me (in the green shirt and tan cap) and another to help turn the engines over (for compression?) by pulling on the propellers.  It’s a lot harder than I would have imagined.

The Flying Fortress has four 1200 HP Wright-Cyclone engines that can pull the plane up to a maximum of 250 miles an hour with a maximum range of 2400 miles. (Not sure if it can make 2400 miles when flying at maximum speed!).

The wingspan is 103′ 9.3″ and the plane is 74′ 9″ long.  There were 12,731 of this particular design built. The prototype of the series was introduced in 1935 at Boeing Field, South Seattle, WA and the first B-17 went into combat in 1941 as a British RAF high altitude bomber. The later models came with modified tails that were enormous, designed to provide better stability and control, specifically for aiming bombs from far above the target.

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B-17G Distinctive Tail

The front of the bomber sports a plexiglass nose for the bombardier and his navigation table, which is behind him. Just below him is a later defensive addition known as the “chin turret”; it comes complete with a lethal set of machine guns.

In the midsection there are two machine gun positions manned by “Waist Gunners”, one on each side slightly offset to give them both room to maneuver in the tight space.

Under the belly of the bomber, stuffed into a “Ball Turret” is another machine gunner lying on his back, legs up, with the machine gun controls between them. This is a very tight space and I can’t imagine what it must have felt like suspended over a target with bomb flashes below you and flack coming towards you.

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Ball Turret

And finally, at the very rear of the aircraft, tucked into a spot under the huge tail, sits the “Tail Gunner”. This position is considered one of the most important as it provides the  defence from attacking fighters that generally came at the bombers from behind. The gunner sat on his legs in a kneeling position, connected to an oxygen supply and intercon, and ran the twin machines guns poking out of the back of the plane.

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“Cheyenne” Turret and Tail Guns

Inside and just behind the cockpit lies the bomb bay which can house up to a 4,000 pound load of bombs. The bombardier sat on a seat in the plexiglass nose cone where he had maximum visibility and accuracy sighting his target with the use of a Norden Bombsight (TED Talk). (Take 15 minutes to watch the TED Talk by Malcolm Gladwell) 

One of the great things about being at a Wings of Freedom Tour is that the planes are in full working order and provide the opportunity for enthusiasts to go for a 30 minute flight. The 13 ton Flying Fortress hasn’t been modified for the comfort of the paying passengers – it provides a very realistic utilitarian, cramped, bumpy ride accompanied by the strong smell of aviation fuel and burning rubber.  And it is very noisy.

From the edge of the apron visitors can watch the Fortress lumber down the runway, lurch into the air, make a pass overhead and return half an hour later to drop off and pick up passengers.


A few interesting notes about this particular B-17G

Serial number 44-83575, was built too late to see combat. It was subjected to the effects of 3 different nuclear tests (not sure how that was completed), and then left for 13 years in order for it to dissipate the remnants from the explosion.

It flew for 20 years as a water bomber under the name “Yucca Lady” before being sold to the present owners, The Collings Foundation. Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft took on the project to restore it back to the original wartime configuration, after which the plane was renamed the “Nine-O-Nine”.

The “Nine-O-Nine” is famous in its own right having made 18 flights to Berlin between February 25, 1944 and April 1945. In those 1,129 hours she dropped 562,000 pounds of bombs and suffered from a lot of flak damage. After the war the plane was flown back to the United States, complete with 600 patched holes!

Links to more information:

Collings Foundation

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Military Factory



The Canadian Pacific Railway was the link that helped bind Canada after the country was formed in 1867. The company was created in 1881 and four years later the railway ran from coast to coast – or at least from Montreal to the West Coast.  The famous ‘last spike’ was hammered into place on November 7th, 1885 at Craigellachie, BC just west of Revelstoke.

This was a great feat all on it’s own – but like our northern highways, maintaining a rail line across the continent during winter is a major challenge. Something many of us never think about – and yet the railways have to be prepared to move tons of snow at short notice any time during the winter.  And to accomplish this the railways maintain a number of snow plows strategically placed across the country, but strangely I could not find much information on the internet about the CP Snow Plows and Spreaders.


There is a photo of a CP Snow Plow and Spreader sitting in Banff Alberta taken on January 10, 2013 by Chris Moss CP20400762 where he suggests that #20400762 was acquired in 1923.

 Since this is #400648 I wonder if it is even older.

I found one comment that suggests these were built at the Angus Shops in Montreal, Quebec. Click on the link for some fascinating Canadian Rail history.  By the way, the Angus Shops were redeveloped into a residential community over a 10 year period starting in 1984.


Behind the actual Snow Plow is another separate unit called a ‘Spreader’. From what I can gather by looking at various photos and videos this has wings or blades that are pushed out by hydraulic cylinders to move snow away from the tracks after the plow breaks through the drifts.

I did note signs stencilled on the side stating, ” Wings & Plow must be locked in secure position before spreader is moved in track service”. These words came up again in photos of other spreaders.


Cruisin’ The Crowd

 Situated in southwestern Quebec this community of 40,000 sits on an island in the Saint Lawrence River.  The Saint Lawrence runs along the north shore while the Beauhamois Canal runs along the south with the Port of Valleyfield being part of the canal.

The “Salaberry” part of the name comes from Colonel Charles de Salaberry – an office in the British Army during the war of 1812.  “Valleyfield”is named after the Valleyfield Mills – a paper mill south of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The pulp and paper mill that originated the community was named after the Valleyfield paper because at the time the highest quality paper came out of that Scottish paper mill.

Since 1938 Valleyfield has hosted international hydroplane races under the name, Les Regates de Valleyfield.  And for the years 2010 and 2011 we were fortunate to be invited to watch the race from a private riverside garden hosted by a friend of ours and his family.

One of our favourite classes is the Grand Prix (GP) which is a class that run supercharged big-block motors.  The are between 23′ and 26′ long, the motors produce up to 1500 hp and they can get up top 170 mph on a straight stretch.

Our favourite boat in that class is GP59 or Baby Doll, piloted by Mario Maraldo.  

Baby Doll III was built by the owner and crew between 1993 and 1998 – first run in 1998.

Mario is the world’s oldest Grand Prix driver.


2001 – Eastern Divisional Champion – Cambridge Maryland

2002 – 1st Place – Hydro Super Series

2004 – High Point Champion

2011 – Summer Nationals Champion

Colours and designs emphasis the action of the sport.  Boats have great paint jobs and the teams always look great.  Even when they’re standing in the pits waiting for their boat to come in.

These three shots really tell the story of dedicated fans.  The real hydroplane racing fanatics get as close to the waters edge as possible.  Our host is in the green shirt on the right. He is able to tell which boat is coming at him – what position it’s in for the heat – it’s chances of winning – and all it’s history.

Here They Come
There They Go

This is what Hydroplane Racing is all about.  Speed, skipping, floating and sometimes flipping across the water.  No race is complete without a lot of spray in every corner.

 “A hydroplane is, quite simply put, an airplane with its wings removed. As the craft skims along, air enters the tunnel – the empty space between the two pontoons – and lifts up the boat so that the only components touching the water are (or nearly so…) the propeller and pontoons.”   Event Profile

One For The Money
Two To Get Ready
Three For the Show

Not all the boats that race in Valleyfield are Hydroplanes.

Other classes include:

Jersey Speed Skiffs

 Originally used for rum running during prohibition. 

These boats are more affordable for the average boat racing enthusiast offering a lot of fun.  They also provide a lot of entertainment for the audience since they can be very unpredictable.  

The boats are 16′ long and can get up to about 80 mph.

Super Stocks 

This is one of the “Runabout” classes these boats used big block engines that run on gas – very competitive and get over 100 mph.

Pro Stock Runabouts 

This “Runabout” class moves into modified 500 cubic inch motors running on methanol, aviation fuel and plain old gas.  They reach speeds over 120 mph.

Go Cat …..

And when you come out for a day of racing – don’t forget to dress your part!

More Information About The Regatta


Pimanus Lake Cabins-15

I’m writing this post in October 2015. Twelve years have gone by since I visited this rustic and peaceful spot south of Kamloops and west of Merritt, BC.

I was invited to come and spend a few days in a cabin of my own, do a bit of fishing and simply relax by the lake under the tall pine trees.

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When I visited, the property was managed by a friend of mine and was being run very well. There was fresh wood for the indoor stoves (not to be used in the fire pits), the cabins were clean, as where the outdoor facilities and communal bath house.

There were six cabins at the time of my visit plus a main house. The cabins were made of log – nicely done – and had COLD running water.  But it was easy to heat up the water and cook food on the gas stove.  There was also a wood stove in each cabin for heat. The cabin I used came with a bed, table, chairs, pots, pans, dishes and utensils. I can’t remember if towels and bedding were supplied. I remember that the bath house had a nice rock feature and an instant hot water heater which worked very well.

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I asked the hostess for a tip on the best place to drag a fishing line she suggested I wait for the other fishing groups to head out for the day and she would be glad to help.  Once the rest had gone off in their trucks loaded with boats and gear, I was offered a small row boat that was tied up at the dock and told to row figure 8’s just in front of the main lodge building while towing a lure behind me.  Within a quarter hour I had a nice nice trout so I stopped.  After all, I was only fishing for my lunch and I had what I needed.

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I spent most of time simply exploring the area, reading my book, taking photos and walking with Devan the friendly Lab – protector of the property. When not napping on the porch of my cabin.

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Other visitors included a tame and cheeky squirrel ….

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… and my parents who enjoyed staying here as much as I did.

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I checked the status of this wonderful spot this afternoon and see that it recently changed owners but is still operating. You can find out more about it here at Pimainus Lake Resort.

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