Slim and Bud

Meet Charles Lindbergh the barnstormer—as he interviews his oldest flying buddy.

Charles Lindbergh (left) and Harlan Gurney (with a Lincoln-Standard J-1, ca. 1922) would remain lifelong friends. (Linbergh Archives at Yale University Courtesy of The Gurney Family)
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In contrast to Lindbergh, Gurney never downplayed the danger of early flying. Gurney often feared for his life, even then thinking that some stunts were "an idiot thing to do." At least two barnstorming adventures are mentioned in the interview that do not appear in books written by or about Lindbergh.

To say Lindbergh and Gurney were both reckless and brave would be an understatement. Although they were to perform in aerial circuses as wingwalkers and make double and triple parachute drops, Gurney's first jump was prompted by a dare from Lindbergh.

Circling over the fields of Lincoln, Nebraska, Gurney jumped from an airplane piloted by his employer, Ray Page, and dropped into the garden of Mrs. O'Sullivan. As he descended, he heard her shout warnings not to land in her bean patch. He also saw a cloud of dust headed his way, created by Lindbergh on his Excelsior motorcycle, racing in such haste to pick him up that he fell off. Elated with their success, the boys celebrated with ice cream.

Lindbergh and Gurney sometimes disagreed on details. When Gurney reminded Lindbergh about getting a lot of press by performing "dangerous stunts" with Page's Aerial Circus and almost being arrested for recklessness, Lindbergh claimed that he did not remember, adding that the act wasn't that spectacular; "not much happened."

Some weeks I barely made expenses, and on others I carried passengers all week long at five dollars each.Charles Lindbergh, We

Offering to share income, Lindbergh invited Gurney to go barnstorming in his Jenny during the warm months of 1923. Gurney recalled hoping it would be an "adventure." It was.

"We left to barnstorm in Ashland, Nebraska," Gurney said. "[Lindbergh] left a carborundum can on the magneto distributor, or by it—and it lay between the cylinders." Lindbergh's face must have shown surprise, because Gurney laughed.

"And [it] shorted out the magneto. We had a forced landing. He landed in an open field. We got on top of the engine to see what was wrong with it, and lifted out this carborundum can, and of course the engine ran perfectly after that. He's forgotten about that! Do you remember now?"

Lindbergh was succinct: "No, I don't remember it." "You don't?" asked Gurney. "Oh, you should remember that. I sure do."

The rest of their "adventure" included a desperate attempt to keep the Jenny from blowing across a pasture during a sudden thunderstorm.

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