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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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."

Gurney confessed that he was "very much taken" with Mrs. Lindbergh. "I thought she was about the most perfect woman in the world. And she was."

With Gurney still wearing a steel brace on his arm, Lindbergh took him aloft. Using one arm to balance on the wing of the "decrepit" Jenny, Gurney managed to get through several stunts before his threadbare pants were blown apart at the seams.

"[T]hinking as much as I did of Charles Lindbergh's mother, having this disgraceful show...having no pants on—they just hung onto the belt and flew in the slip stream. Nothing on but a thin pair of shorts!

"I tried to get back in the cockpit, and you know, for some reason that Jenny went out of control. It went up and down and crossways and every time I tried to dive for the cockpit there were forces generated that kept me from getting into that cockpit! And I've always suspected that Charles Lindbergh had a hand in those crazy maneuvers."

Gurney concluded, "Well, as much as I already thought of Evangeline Lindbergh, I thought what a wonderful sense of humor she had. I think no comedians could have put on a show like ours."

Lindbergh's biographical accounts of his reckless "adventures" are sometimes minimalistic, almost to the point of denial. There were probably few people in the world who would challenge Charles Lindbergh. But in this taped account, it is obvious that Gurney has no such inhibitions. With diplomacy based upon mutual respect and friendship, Gurney holds firm even when Lindbergh disagrees.

It is tantalizing to imagine further interviews in which Gurney describes his years with Lindbergh as an airmail pilot for Robertson Aircraft Company in St. Louis during the mid-1920s, or their lives together and apart after Lindbergh became the most famous man in the world.

It is a loss to history that, like so many pioneer aviators of the Golden Age, Gurney did not write his autobiography. Yet, thanks to Charles Lindbergh, we have at least one chapter.

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