Tom's father was a coal broker for a family owned company in Pittsburgh. The folks he worked for decided to shut down their company and he was left looking for something to do with the rest of his life. He had several children who were approaching college age and he needed to work.
After lots of worry and consideration, he decided to start his own coal brokerage. He did all the financial things he needed to do and contacted all the people he knew in the business to pave his way to success. It was a dangerous time and he was taking a gigantic risk.
The first year, he had to pay his previous employer royalties for all the contacts he had made while working for them and he still made a nice profit. This was in the 70s, when energy costs were rising rapidly and soon coal was king. His timing was impeccable. He became a big success. Good for him. He took a big chance and hit a home run. I love that story. It is very American.
The Joneses are one example of the kind of people I was meeting and flying with. My fellow young pilots at Graham Aviation loved showing these people the economics and convenience of general aviation. It meant more flying for all of us. We were promoting and growing the business.
As an instructor, all I could do was fly little trips with a business owner as a student, but it was enough to demonstrate how it all worked. I could also provide pilot service for those who owned their own planes.
Tom's dad bought a Bellanca Super Turbo Viking. They would hire me to fly them to business meetings. Some times Tom would fly and I would take care of all the IFR stuff. He never did get an instrument rating.
It was a sweet airplane. It felt very solid and flew like a sports car. Very responsive. It had an oxygen tank with masks for all 4 seats and we could fly it at high altitudes. We flew it to their house in Florida once.
Eventually, the business was growing enough to make the boss man decide to get me ready to take the check ride to fly in the air taxi side of the operation. BS was next on the seniority list, but he did not want to be away from home and allowed me to by pass him. I took my check ride in a Piper Navajo, a cabin class airplane.
All three of our twins, the Twin Comanche, Aztec and Navajo were owned by the same man, who leased them to the operation. Eventually, some of our other customers began to buy planes and lease them back. We were a Piper dealer and sold some Senecas that were leased back. We had a Navajo Chieftain, which was stretch version of the regular Navajo. We had a Cherokee 6, a big single engine plane, that we used for an air hearse operation.
The Seneca and Cherokee Six were actually the same fuselage and had that big door in the back. We took the back 2 rows of seats out, put a plywood floor in and loaded the litters in through there.
There is a funny story about that air hearse business. We frequently had students who were asking about going on trips with us, when there were not passengers. Of course, we had passengers on the hearse flights, but they never seemed to mind having an extra pilot riding in the front seats.
Jim was flying one such flight one dark and stormy night and he had a student named Ray, who was a good guy, but a short, cocky kind of banty rooster dude. He asked if he could go on a trip with Jim, who said, "Sure".
Both people in the front 2 seats had to enter through the over wing door on the right side of the 6. This particular plane had a little bit of an air leak at the lower aft corner of the door. Weber got into the left seat, followed by Ray in the right after they had loaded and secured the
stiff body. Weber took his leather jacket off and instructed Ray to jam it down between the seat and the door. Ray was a little jumpy and was having trouble with the arrangement of the jacket. Jim reached around behind Ray's seat to help and touched Ray's hand. Ray did not know that the hand he was feeling was Jim's and almost jumped through the windscreen.
I was flying a Seneca to somewhere in French Quebec to pick up some freight one winter night. One of my students wanted to go along for the ride. We were in the clouds most of the way back and were fighting stiff head winds. We were flying along the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and it was getting very bumpy. Suddenly, everything lit up as bright as day, followed by a loud boom. We were experiencing snow thunder and lightening. The radios were intermittent and we were losing contact with ATC, because of static electricity created by flying through the heavy snow. It was too cold to get airframe ice or for there to be the kind of vertical air movement you get in a summer thunderstorm, but it was a lousy ride and a little disconcerting. I never saw that student again.