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Safe Flying

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When a captain stays with his ship as it sinks, what goes through his mind? In the case of a Mr. Schricker of Davenport, I think I know. There were thirty-one eyewitnesses.

The scene is Wallace Field, a makeshift airstrip on the grounds of the Bettendorf Car Works along the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. It's Saturday morning, October 18th, 1924.

The proprietor of Wallace Field, Frank Wallace, is showing off the field and a couple of airplanes to the Black Hawk Hiking Club of Rock Island. Wallace knew more about airplanes than anyone else around. He had been a pilot in World War I, and a barnstormer and stunt pilot after that. Now, he had settled down in Bettendorf where he had become the old man of aviation for dozens of local youngsters who listened to his adventures and wanted to fly themselves.

"Flying," Wallace told the Black Hawk Club members, "is by far the easiest and safest form of transportation." Just at that moment, an example appeared on the field: Mr. Schricker. Schricker had taken his first lesson from Wallace the previous Sunday, and two more lessons on Monday. On Wednesday, he had soloed in Wallace's Curtis Jenny biplane, and now, on Saturday, he was about to take up his first passenger: a nephew.

Wallace showed him off proudly to the hikers. Look what he can do after only three lessons, he said. Captain Schricker put his nephew in the front seat and climbed in the rear. The Jenny taxied to the end of the airstrip, revved its engines, sped up, took off, and turned south over the Mississippi. Then, at a hundred and fifty feet, it suddenly nosedived into the river, and remained there, nose up in four feet of water, as the hikers snapped photos.

Neither Captain Schricker or his nephew were hurt, or even wet. Three skiffs sped to their rescue, but they brought back only the nephew. Schricker refused to come in. He remained by his airship, sitting on a wing dam, hiding his head in his hands.

A noble action, you say? Hardly. Captain Schricker was much too embarrassed to face the crowd of hikers and their cameras, a choice Frank Wallace did not have.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.