Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oshkosh: Day 3: The other Oshkosh

I often hear it said that Oshkosh has drifted from its roots. I don't go far enough back to have a firm opinion on the topic, but even in the decade that I've been going I've noticed that it is becoming more and more commercial. Major sponsors like John Deere, Ford, and Honda are ubiquitous. The Experimentals, Classics, and Warbirds are still there, but are geographically placed on the fringes of the show. Center stage is chock full of factory builts like Cessna, Cirrus, Mooney, Piper, and many others. Airplanes of interest are often layered five rows deep in spectators and tire kickers, often making it nearly impossible to gather any meaningful information. The kit plane dealers are relegated to an area well past the main drag. Hungry and thirsty patrons line up for 45 minutes for the privilege of paying $2.75 for a bottle of water and $3.50 for a hot dog.

There's benefit to this, of course, in the form of ever-improving amenities on the airport grounds. But something has been lost as well. That's not entirely true; it hasn't been lost, but it's been pushed to the rear. What's missing in the majority of the Oshkosh experience is the relaxed atmosphere and the tight focus on the sport facet of aviation. There is, however, one remaining outpost of sanity: the seaplane base. Or, as I call it, The Other Oshkosh.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today's Weather-out-the-Window&trade forecast is brought to you by Co-pilot Egg. She's been craving some behind the wheel time on our commutes to and from Oshkosh and today was her first chance:

With her driving, I was able to unclench my white knuckles just long enough to grab today's forecast:

Very, very nice! Perfect weather in all aspects. Well, prefect right up until the time it mattered most, but I'll get to that later.

Our first stop was, as usual, dropping her at the Girls With Wings booth for another day of volunteer work. We stopped at the front gate for a commemorative photo:

Then it was through the gates. I have perfected what I've taken to calling the Oshkosh Salute. That's where you briskly raise your arm in a half salute to disply your wrist band to the folks guarding the admission gates. I tried to get Egg to so it in synch with me but she says it's embarrassing. The net result of that will be pretty much what you'd expect: I'm going to use an even more dramatic flourish now.

I snapped a picture of this sign as I walked by:

As if!! I can only wish that were true!

Egg gets a kick out of the Butt Cans, presumably because she's still in the age group that thinks anything involving the word 'butt' is funny. She didn't immediately grasp what they were for, so I told her they were stools that you could sit and rest on. She didn't believe. It would appear that those halcyon days of easy gullibility are long lost. Or, perhaps in this case it's because even the most cursory examination of the device would show how distinctly uncomfortable such a seating arrangement would be. Either way, I took the picture because I liked the old guy sitting there out of the heavy traffic zones planning out his day:

Once I had dropped her off at work, I backtracked back to the shuttle bus area to catch a ride to the seaplane base. It's probably obvious to you all that seaplanes are far more functional when they are on or near water, and it should come as no surprise that water (other than the pricey potable $2.75 stuff) is not very abundant on the Oshkosh airport grounds. Instead they have a spot over on the banks of Lake Winnebago that they use for the seaplanes. It's only a 10 minute ride, but it's like rolling back the clock 30 or more years. The bus drops you at the foot of a nice nature trail that ambles down through the woods to the edge of the lake. And by 'nature', I mean all of it. Up to and including wonderful flora such as poison ivy. The EAA has conscientiously gone to great effort to alert city folk to the danger:

I was at the lead of the 30 or so people walking down the trail, so I courteously stepped aside in order to take this picture. As I was standing on the side of the trail, I had to take a few steps backwards to stay out of the way. As is my wont, I took one step too many. I stepped right into the patch of poison ivy on the other side of the trail. Brilliant! Hopefully my shower tonight will be soon enough to wash the poison ivy oil off before it takes hold. Or not. Time will tell.

Once I got down to the edge of the lake, I was quite taken with the laid back atmosphere and the pleasant aesthetics of the whole thing. I wandered around just soaking it all up and taking pictures:

Up at the far end of the bank, there was a dock where they were loading folks onto pontoon boats for a tour around the harbor. That looked like a great opportunity to soak up (you see what I'm doing here, right? Soak? Water? Heh.) even more of the ambiance so I leapt at the chance. The guy driving the boat was very gregarious and did some of the standard tour guide schtick such as "Where's everyone from?" and the old stand-by, "Who's from the furthest away?"

"Lake Tahoe," from a guy up near the bow.

"New Zealand," from the bearded guy right across from me.

"Well, I think we have a winner!" said the boat driver.

Me, adopting my best faux Aussie accent: "Wait a minute! North or South New Zealand?"

That cracked them all up!

Tell me that this isn't just the quaintest thing you've seen today:

Ok, here's an easy one. Look at this and see if you can guess what my reaction was:

Yep. I simply must have a seaplane. Now I know what you're thinking: just yesterday I simply had to have a fabric covered plane. Well, it's possible to do both:

That's a Sea Rey. It has an aluminum frame, fiberglass hull, and fabric covered wings and tail surfaces. It's an LSA plane, and it's available either already factory built or as a kit. They were offering (for a price) demo rides and I signed up for one as soon as I could get my Visa out of my pocket. I figured that I've never been in a seaplane and a half hour ride around Oshkosh in one would be just the coolest thing ever! I squeezed onto the schedule for a 2:30 ride. That was perfect as it gave me time to go back to the airport and have lunch with Egg.

As I was waiting for the shuttle bus, a sky writer started creating a message in the azure sky above. It started well enough:

But then he followed it with this:

Look, as much as I admire the guy's moxie, persistence, courage, and tenacity in trying to overcome his affliction, sky writing is just not a good career choice for a dyslexic. I never did figure out what he was trying to write.

As long as we're looking skyward, I got a few better pictures of the big RV formation today:

After lunch, I bussed my way back over to the lake for my ride. It wasn't to be, though, as the winds had kicked up and made the water too choppy for a comfortable flight. The last thing a plane vendor wants to do is give you and unsafe and/or uncomfortable ride, so they had to cancel on me. They were very apologetic but as I told them, I'm no stranger to wind-related cancellations! I do have an RV-6, after all.

But because this is the other Oshkosh, we filled the half hour sitting on the side of an inflatable boat shooting the breeze (so to speak). It was the most relaxing half hour that I've ever spent at Oshkosh.

All this picture needs is a bottle of Corona&trade:

Oh, and I got to sit in the plane too:

It's very, very comfortable. And the pilot says you can open those big sliding canopies in flight! How tremendously cool is that?? Well, hopefully I'll be able to answer that on Friday after I've had my rescheduled ride.

It was getting late and it was time to go retrieve Egg from work. I treated her to some delicious Wisconsin ice cream on the way home (these people really know their dairy products!!) and later we picked up some cheese curds. For those unfamiliar, 'curds' sound horrible. People seem to equate 'curd' with 'cod liver oil' or something equally unpalatable. Nothing could be further from the truth; curds are cheese at its freshest.

Unfortunately, they come in a sealed bag that is very difficult to open without scissors and we. of course, haven't a pair. Egg asked me how we were going to get the bag open without having scissors.

I, sage and wise old man that I am, replied, "Well, where there's a curd, there's a whey!"

To which she said, "Huh?"

Oh well, at least I have "North or South" to my credit!


  1. The skywriter was writing "SCHEYDEN", apparently someone's name. They explained who the heck Scheyden is/was over the PA system, but I wasn't paying attention so you're on your own there.

    Seareys are good planes. One of our former line guys has a lot of experience flying and building them and highly recommends them. I haven't gotten a chance to fly one yet, but I did get to help disassemble one last year. They're a pretty solid design.

  2. Scheyden makes sunglasses; Dave Flys of endorses them; he tweeted about it at the time.


  3. Apparently your humor's better designed for that other hemisphere, eh?

    Guess I am too, since I laughed out loud.