Article from the 11/27/2015 Catalina Islander

 

Since I became "Catalina's Official Greeter", since March 10, 2014, when I given the position to greet the cruise ships and cross channel boats, by the Catalina Chamber Of Commerce, I have answered 40,237 questions.

These are some of the more interesting/unusual questions/comments that I have received:
"When do they water the 'Submarine Gardens'?  I'd like to watch!"
"Do they sell food on the Island?  I mean, is there a food market?"
"I can't understand why they would put up a red storm flag warning in May and expect visitors to come over!"
Observing the bath tubs, in the Interior of the island,  filled with water for the bison to drink during the drought, "Wasn't it nice of Mr. Wrigley to put those bath tubs out in the fields for the cowboys to cool off in!"
"Isn't it amazing how they were able to built the road to the Interior along the trees that already grew there!" 

For any of us who have had the unusual experience of  taking the narrow and winding "Summit Road" from "Hog's Back Gate" to the "Summit", we must marvel at the ability of the drivers to actually use this road as "two way" (uphill traffic has the right of way, unless it is a tour bus)!  One of the devices used to help keep the drive safe are the mirrors that are at the corner of each bend.  For those who have never figured them out, they are used to allow the driver coming the other direction to "see" that there was another vehicle coming the opposite direction, so that each driver could adjust the position of their car for easier passage.

Although cattle had been raised on the Island as far back as the 1860's, from 1937 up until the 1960's, the Wrigley's were raising "White-Faced Herford Cattle" in the interior of the Island.  As with the bison, they had free reigns to go wherever they so felt the desire.  Once a year, those ready for processing, were herded by the local cowboys, headed by Jack White, and taken down the steep and long winding road from Mt. Black Jack to White's Landing.  On the west end of the bay, where the sugar loaf still stands, there used to be a large pier and that is where a barge would come and with the help of a tug, the cattle would  be taken to the mainland.  At any one time, there would be up to 2500 beasts roaming the hills.

United Airlines was the first commercial airline to fly out of the "Airport-In-The-Sky", from 1946-1954.  My father, Orval E. Liddell, was the Chief Engineer for the Santa Catalina Island Co., from 1946-60 and it was his first major job to prepare the airport for use, after the end of WWII.  The airport had been completed about the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and so it was made useless by placing logs, metal, and anything else to keep the Japanese Air Force from using it to land during the war.  They had planned to utilize Catalina as a military base for destroying the oil refineries on the mainland. 

So what do the mirrors, cattle, and airport have in common?  That is my story for this week's column.  

In 1954, my father was driving up to the airport with the manager of United Airlines.  The manager told Dad that this was going to be the last flight for United and he had to make a "confession" to Dad, before the day was over.  Dad, neither a priest, nor a Catholic, thought this a bit strange, but none the less agreed to "unburden" the gentleman of whatever it was that was bothering him.

"I hated Pete Peterson!" he began.  "Pete" Peterson was the head bus driver.  "Fortunately for me, the cattle would often see their reflection in the mirrors and mistake their image for another cow and would lick the glass, leaving a lot of slobber all over the mirror.  Pete would have to come up one half hour before the first tour bus left  to hand clean all of these mirrors.  I LOVED IT!  Then recently, he came up with the idea of putting a steel mesh covering over the glass, with the holes large enough for a driver to see the on coming traffic, but too small for a tongue to go through!"  (In those days, instead of the medal curved mirrors of today, they used to be made of glass and were rectangular and framed with wood).  "This kept the mirrors from being slobbered on, but it frustrated me, because I LOVED seeing Pete so upset.  Then I got a brilliant idea.  Each morning, a half an hour "before" Pete made his daily pilgrimage up the hill, I made my trip to the Airport.  Along with me I had banana skins which I would rub behind the screens, without disturbing them, and it looked just like one of the cows had licked it!  Pete left the Island almost in a straight jacket as he could never figure out how a cow could look straight ahead and turn its tongue around the open sides of the metal mesh and lick the mirror!"

Dad told me that I was NEVER to tell this secret until all of the "actors" in the melodrama were dead.  I ASSUME that they are.  Dad and "Pete" died a long time ago and I never knew what happened to the manager of the United Airlines.  As with most of my stories, it has a surprising ending.

Years later, in the 1990's, I had the honor of interviewing Johnny Windle for at least 7 hours on audio tape.  Those of you who caught the first PBS episode of "Buried Treasure" heard my voice in the background, when Johnny made the astonishing statement that the 1915 fire was intentionally set by the owners of the Rose Hotel on Whittley Ave.  Toward the end of my taped interview, we were talking about Johnny's family, and when we came to the part about his deceased son, Ernie, he motioned to me to turn off the tape recorder.  I told him that I understood how hard it was to talk about him, but Johnny assured me that this wasn't the reason he wanted me to turn it off.

"My son used to work for United Airline, at the "Airport-In-The-Sky" and among his other duties, he had the most peculiar job of..."  "Rubbing banana skins of the mirrors coming up the Summit Road!"  I had tremendous respect for Johnny and HATED to interrupt him this way, but I couldn't control myself!  "NOBODY KNEW THAT WAS HAPPENING EXCEPT ERNIE, THE UNITED MANAGER, AND MYSELF!!!!  HOW DID YOU KNOW THE STORY!?!"  "Dad was the fourth person who knew about the mirrors and he swore me to secrecy until he died.  I have only shared this story with a few people."  Johnny stared at me in amazement.  THE SECRET OF THE DASTARDLY DEED WAS NOW EXPOSED TO THE WORLD!

Don't worry!  I still have A LOT more stories like this, just waiting for the participants to leave this mortal sphere and then I will TELL ALL!  Problem is, I will have to be the last man standing or the stories will be lost.  To put your minds at ease, I am writing a "tell all" book which will be published the second the my breath no longer fogs a much smaller mirror and no bananas will be sacrificed for these disclosures!!!

To contact Chuck Liddell, email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.