The Peacemaker and the Bridges of Madison County...


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May 31, 2002
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Dereham, Norfolk, today...
16th September

What a good day :thumb


I stayed two nights at Lincoln, as I had some admin to take care of. Applying for a job, for instance (gulp) – it really brought me down to earth with a bump and made the end of the journey a reality, rather than an abstract concept (I’ve applied for a job in the UK, in case you were wondering – the miracle of the Internet…).

Anyway, enough of that. I’m on the road just before 1000 and heading north east towards Omaha. I turn off at Ashland, to visit…


…the Strategic Air & Space Museum. The entrance hall has an arresting display…


…the Blackbird is heading straight at you as you pay your entrance fee…:D

Many years ago, when I was a very young, aeroplane crazy kid, in Filton, my father and I sat down and watched Strategic Air Command – a film starring James Stewart. I remember being fascinated with the bomber that was the ‘star’ of the early part of the film…


…the B-36 Peacemaker. There are only four left in captivity, and I’ve planned this leg of the trip specifically to come and see this one…


…unfortunately, the exhibits in the museum are all a bit crammed in, so you can’t get a full indication of how large it really is – here’s a shot of a scale model they have…


First suggested during WWII, the B36 was designed to be able to bomb Germany from a base in the USA. The war finished before it was built. In 1948, Gen Curtis LeMay, the ‘father’ of Strategic Air Command (SAC), pushed hard to have the B-36 introduced as the USAF’s main strategic bomber. Powered by six piston engines…


…mounted with the propellers pushing rearwards, it also had four jet engines…


…mounted on pylons outboard of the props. It’s the biggest production aircraft ever made, the biggest bomber ever made and never dropped a bomb in anger in its working life. It used to carry a few of these…


…babies, part of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) arsenal during the 1950s.

Incredibly, it also (experimentally) carried this…


…attached to a hook inside the bomb bay – it was envisaged that the pilot of the fighter, the XF85 Goblin, would launch and engage enemy fighters if the bomber formation was threatened, then re-attach to get home…:eek

The bomb bays are immense


…the wide tube you can see running alongside the bomb bay, down the length of the fuselage, is how the crew would move from the cockpit area to the tail section, both of which were pressurised, through the unpressurised bomb bay. There was a small trolley mounted in the tunnel – a bit like ‘The Great Escape’. I’m clearly the wrong calibre to fly in a B-36…:D

The rest of the museum has a wide selection of aircraft but, to be honest, they’re all a bit run down, although, to be fair, many (including the B-36) are under restoration. The nature of a museum specialising in large aircraft is that they’ll all be jammed in, but the SAC museum is poorly designed, even with this in mind.


Jet engines are lying all over the place, getting in the way of getting a good view, or picture, of some of the very interesting and elegant aircraft they have on display. It’s not helped by the lack of any natural light…


…all the same, I’m glad I made the trip – the B-47, above, was the other aircraft type to ‘star’ in the movie. In the other hangar, there’s even a British presence…


…this old Vulcan is a long way from home.

It’s time to go – the air conditioning is off in the building, after a thunderstorm yesterday, and the temperature is stifling, especially for someone wearing Cordura trousers…:D

I have no idea where I’m going next, other than generally heading east. I literally close my eyes and jab my finger at the touch screen map on the GPS and find myself heading for Corning, a little way over the border, in Iowa. I set off along the 66 towards Plattsmouth – a long and straight road. I follow a local Police car for what seems like half an hour, although in truth was only 28 minutes. 55mph through here is purgatory…


Eventually the LEO turns off and I continue at a more acceptable (to me :D) speed. I’m soon crossing the Missouri, the river that forms the boundary between Nebraska and Iowa, after donating a dollar to the toll keeper.


I ride down the laser-straight 34, heading due east. As I approach Corning, the fuel light comes on – it’s time to refuel me, too. As I ride through the small town I am greeted by an odd sight – so odd that I follow the vehicle until it stops…


This is Carl Johnston, an ex-fire-fighter who , twenty years ago, had the chimney of a house he was fighting a fire in collapse on top of him. He’s been unable to walk since. He’s had this Honda 750 combination adapted to allow him to continue riding. It’s a great piece of Heath-Robinson style engineering…


…and Carl’s a great character. He demonstrates how everything works…


…the steering linkage looks to be simply a car track rod…


…allowing Carl to ride from the ‘wrong’ side – which is what caught my attention in the first place. The bike’s a 2 speed automatic (marketed here in the 70s) - the only snag is that there’s no reverse gear, but the chap that built it is considering arranging some kind of electric motor on the 3rd wheel to facilitate this.


Brilliant bit of engineering. As Carl is talking to me, he suddenly stands up…


…in as smooth and effortless an action as someone getting up off a chair. Carl’s wheelchair is designed and built by the French (which should please my American readers) and is a top bit of kit.

We exchange Email addresses, say our goodbyes and I ride on into town, to find a dreadful café and a gas station – I should’ve eaten at the gas station…

I look at the map whilst trying to digest my lunch (actually, I think I’m still trying to do that…), and see that Des Moines seems to be a reasonable place to stop for the day. I ride north east, along the grid-line of roads typical of the plains, when I notice I’m entering Madison County. Best go and look for a bridge then…


…this is Roseman Bridge, built in 1883 and, according to the sign nearby, under electronic surveillance…


…not sure why..


I reach the Hampton Inn at just after 1600. A cool shower beckons…



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