All those Wonderful Stories

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Taken from Dead Reckoning by Ralph Lewis

In the Forties and Fifties, when we boarded an airplane, we learned to expect the unexpected. Often forced to improvise, we found ourselves in situations requiring ingenuity and resourcefulness. And defying Murphy and his Law, luck sometimes favored the brave. Ferrying an empty DC-4 to Tokyo in one such instance, we were westbound out along the Aleutian chain where the jet stream, through the winter months, often brings very strong westerly winds aloft; a hundred knots or more at flight levels are common. During one of these periods we found ourselves stuck on Shemya Island with insufficient fuel capacity to buck the existing headwinds to Tokyo.

The crew captain was Joe Stachon, who, when we landed at Shemya, was aware that we had a deadline to meet, which unless met, could cost us our return charter. For two days we waited, as the high winds continued unabated. Realizing that something had to be done, and after making local inquiries, Captain Stachon learned of the presence of an abandoned Air Force dump not far from the airfield. Could there possibly be an old gas tank out there that might be serviceable?

Borrowing a jeep from the Air Force, Joe and the rest of the crew drove to the dump to have a look around. Would you believe...half buried in the abandoned rubble of aircraft parts, were a couple of still crated, drop-able, fuel tanks. Though showing signs of corrosion from two or three years of exposure to the weather, they still appeared to be serviceable.

Managing to free one, we wrestled it to the jeep, balanced it across the back of the vehicle, and returned to our DC-4. Working against time, we soon had it hoisted up and in through the cabin door. A couple of old tires, also  scavenged from the dump, provided support. After lashing
the tank securely to the floor, our flight engineer went off to talk the Air Force out of the tubing that would be needed to vent the tank and connect it to the airplane's fuel system. Three hours after rummaging through the debris at the Shemya dump, we were ready for take-off with enough fuel
on board to reach our destination, plus alternate, and still land with two hours reserve fuel.

First Officer Bob Bunbury (left) and Captain Joe Stachon (right) are about to make a decision concerning the dropable fuel tank found at the Shemya Air Force dump

Captain Joe Stachon looks out at the vastness of the Alaskan wilderness.  Directly ahead, a mountain vents steam from its peak in Katmai National Park

Bob Bunbury (left) and Captain Joe Stachon finish the job of securing the fuel tank to the cabin floor.