|ATSF 2926 under estoration by the |
New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society
For a couple of bucks TSgt Rangel had done a pretty nice job of painting the girl of 1Lt Tom Parson’s dreams on the nose of the new A-26 Invader recently built at the Douglas plant in Tulsa with serial number 44-35643. “Lil Twister” featured a raven haired beauty holding a bomb and a lightning bolt overhead while an Oklahoma tornado was rising up from below where it would soon have its way with that black negligee. She was sweet and fast and agile – the airplane that is.
Tom would not fly that particular hot machine for long. In May 1945 he had orders to fly her to McClellan Field near Sacramento. It would go to the The 319th Bomb Group and probably the invasion of Japan. That ferry job would at least be a cross country adventure. The tracks of the AT&SF Railway made navigation easy. Flying the iron compass of the Belen cutoff would get him to Albuquerque once he left Texas. Out in the middle of nowhere he might even find a train to buzz. Oklahoma was his comfortable home but this jaunt could be fun. He would divide the trip into two days and spend the night in transient quarters at Kirtland Army Airfield. He would be hungry when he got there. He did not like eating while flying.
El Modelo did not look like much but the guy from Operations with the ’32 Ford coupe that dropped him off there at 2nd and Bridge St. told him it had authentic New Mexican food. When in New Mexico eat as the New Mexicans do he figured. Maria and Salvador waved him in a welcome and suggested he try the tamales. For 75 cents he got that unfamiliar order in one hand, a soda in the other and found an empty spot at a rough outdoor table where an engine crew sat.
“Howdy, The name’s Tom.” he said.
“Have a seat, sir. I’m Glen Powers and this here is my fireman Ed Bukove. Where ya from?”
“Oklahoma City born and raised” said Tom proudly. “I’m flying an A-26 to California.” “You boys run trains out of here?”
“Yep. Got us a troop train leaving for California in the morning. Gonna have one of those new 2900s to run.” said hogger Glen proudly.
“Y’all ever get buzzed by the Army Air Corps?”
“Naw. That never happens” said Ed. “The pilot would get in big trouble.”
“You mean as if he buzzed some hot chili?” said Glen watching the wild eyed expression on Tom’s face as he chewed on his first bite of tamale. The table shook as Glen and Ed whooped it up and pounded with their fists.
“Damn! What is that stuff?” croaked Tom with new sweat covering his face.
“That’s Maria’s fine red hot New Mexico Red chili sauce. Hotter than a firebox. They grow it here special.” said Glen.
“Maria! Got any milk?” cried Ed, “we got us a flyboy in big trouble!”
Both Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp 18 cylinder radials had warmed up nicely as Tom waited for takeoff clearance from the tower. He gained a few thousand feet after out over the so called Rio Grande and swung south looking for the tracks that would take him across Arizona to San Bernadino, California where he’d head north for Sacramento. And there it was! What luck! ‘ATSF 2926’ was painted in silver Railroad Roman on the side of the tender. An engineer waived back at him as the locomotive picked up speed down the valley. That had to be Glen. By reflex Tom nudged the throttles and pushed the yoke forward with airspeed sneaking up toward 250 knots. In a long shallow dive he corrected right to intersect with the cab just above the smoke and any telephone poles that might be around. As he pulled back hard and started an aileron roll to the right for a better look at Ed’s side of the locomotive he yelled, “Red Chili”.
A-26 Invader under restoration by the
Sierra Hotel Group, commemorative Air Force