The First Across the Continent
A 100th anniversary remembrance of Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz.
- By Charles Wiggin, As Told To Howard Eisenberg
- Air & Space magazine, September 2011
(Page 4 of 4)
Cal Rodgers wouldn’t have qualified as an astronaut. His height was too great, his hearing too poor. But I hope that the astronaut who steps into our space capsule for the first flight from Earth to the moon will have the qualities Cal took coast to coast: raw courage and stamina, determination, love for what he was doing, and the optimism that made him able to say over and over the words I can still hear today: “Fix her up, boys—I’ll be ready.”
The trip across the country with Cal changed my life. For one thing, I met my future wife. Two years after Cal’s death, his widow married me. We often talk about the man she loved and I wanted so badly to emulate.
For another, I learned to fly. Although Cal died before he could teach me, I got my pilot’s license, number 175, in October 1912.
I got something else out of that trip that’s harder to put into words. There were many times when we didn’t think Cal could make it, and some of us—his mother, especially—wanted him to quit. But he didn’t. People remember Louis Blériot for flying across the English Channel in 1909 and Charles Lindbergh for flying across the Atlantic in 1927, and those were important flights. But they didn’t take 49 days. And I think it’s about time America remembered Cal Rodgers.
Howard Eisenberg has been writing magazine articles and books for 60 years, and hopes his next phone call will be from a movie producer asking, “How about writing me a Cal Rodgers screenplay?”