Slim and Bud
Meet Charles Lindbergh the barnstormer—as he interviews his oldest flying buddy.
- By Giacinta Bradley Koontz
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
Linbergh Archives at Yale University Courtesy of The Gurney Family
(Page 4 of 6)
There were several forced landings in Lindbergh's Jenny, and it is amazing that the only serious injury was to Gurney while he was performing a parachute jump after the International Air Races in St. Louis in October 1923.
Lindbergh and Gurney traveled separately to the races, where they stood among 140,000 spectators and watched biplanes roar around pylons at 200 mph. Both found the spectacle exhilarating, but, said Gurney, "it couldn't all be fun. There was work to be done." Gurney was promised $50 for a parachute drop over the grandstand, money that would allow him to return to school. Lindbergh agreed to carry Gurney aloft in his Jenny. When Gurney jumped from the Jenny, he dropped into the slip stream of another aircraft, and his parachute collapsed. While spectators watched, Gurney fell to the ground.
"I hit it...more or less horizontally, and...broke [a] bone in one arm and did some damage to the socket. [I] put the parachute over my shoulder...and I walked across the field, and I almost made the hospital tent one quarter mile away. Almost. When I woke up I was in an ambulance, and Charles Lindbergh was beside me."
For three weeks, Gurney had one daily visitor—his friend Slim. When Gurney felt strong enough to leave the hospital, he had no way to settle his bill. "They weren't going to let me out," said Gurney. "After all, I wasn't a charity case. I'd won quite a bit of money at the St. Louis Air Races although I hadn't collected it. And they had no way of collecting the money, so I had to collect it. And guess who I collected it from? Charles Lindbergh!
"[P]rior to entering Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, I'd met a boy named Francis Stimson.... I introduced him to Charles Lindbergh. While I was in the hospital, Charles Lindbergh sold his Jenny to Francis Stimson and was teaching him to fly."
Because Gurney's accident and the sale of Lindbergh's Jenny happened so close together, some historians have speculated that Lindbergh sold his Jenny to pay Gurney's hospital bill. However, aviation historian Chet Peek, who has reviewed the unedited manuscript of The Spirit of St. Louis, says that Lindbergh was paid for his Jenny on November 14, 1923, long after Gurney had left the hospital. It's possible that the money Gurney collected from Lindbergh was Gurney's own prize money, which Lindbergh retrieved for him.
No need to worry about [Gurney] — clear head — steady nerves — agile as a monkey. — Charles Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis
Gurney spent that fall picking up odd jobs around the St. Louis airfield, and doing aircraft repair work Lindbergh referred to him. Lindbergh's mother, Evangeline, visited at Christmas; Gurney recalled, "Mrs. Lindbergh...had never seen a wing-walking show, and Slim and I made up our minds we'd show it to her."