Bradshaw was the only full-time paid employee on Nathan Ostich's
"Flying Caduceus" project. I interviewed him over the phone at his home
in Hackensack, Minnesota on May 9, 2009.
The start of
all this [Nathan Ostich’s "Flying Caduceus" project] was the hub of
friends surrounding Ak
Miller’s garage in Whittier,
met Doc when I
worked for Ak Miller. Ak was the old hot rodder from many, many years
of the founding fathers of the Southern California Timing Association
whole group of Bonneville and dry lake racers. Ak had a garage on Whittier Boulevard
in West Whittier, in the outskirts
there was always a large group of hangers-on that circulated in and
had no security. People went in and out, they’d watch you work. They
a jolly bunch of guys that hung around there. I went to work for Ak in
Doc at the time was a good friend of Ak and all the players there. And
a Chrysler 300C. And I being a Chrysler-background guy did practically
Doc’s work on his 300. So that’s how Doc and I got net to each other. I
only 23 years old, so I was the junior bird man of the group. We had a
comers and goers, but they were all very serious hot rodders too. Doc
very independent hot rodder. He was one of these guys who was dedicated
sport, and he considered it a sport. He wasn’t particularly wealthy. He
particularly ostentatious in his manner. He was just one of the guys.
very independent. Some might have said he was pretty hard-headed.
of his first projects was kind of crazy, because, like around 1956, he
to go for a speed run at Bonneville in an old Henry J. Kaiser, about as
little car as you could get. They were sold by the Sears Roebuck
all things. So they put a Chrysler 300 engine in it... Ak Miller was
one of the
guys who was always trying to push the envelop with something weird. So
know if it was Ak’s idea or Doc idea, but they decided to put this big
blown engine in this Henry J. and go for a record at Bonneville—I don’t
know what record it was—and they decided to run the blower on top of
with a Harley Davidson motorcycle engine. So this put this crazy thing
and they went to Bonneville, and they weren’t very successful. At any
there was a big uproar at Bonneville. They didn’t have a category,
decided there were two engines because of the Harley. So they
responsibility or sponsorship. We used to call it the Green Thing. It
filled with Bondo to smooth it out aerodynamically and it must have
about a ton and a half, I suppose. It wasn’t really successful, but Doc
cut his teeth on that.
that he came back, and he started talking about going for the land
record. Now here’s a physician in East Los Angeles
who is not overly mechanically capable and he’s talking about setting
land speed record with, of all things, a jet car. (laughs) He started
about that, and the naysayers came out of the woodwork from all
Because he hadn’t been overly successful with his Henry J., and
thought he was really out in left field. First thing they said was,
nuts.” The second thing was it would be uncontrollable, the goofy car
in circles, again Doc was nuts, he’ll never get it built, it’s an
task. And then, to top it off, the FIA, the French timing association,
would never recognize a record by a jet car because it was different.
didn’t have a class for it. And therefore they wouldn’t time it either.
all those things cemented Doc’s desire to do it. I think it inspired
Again, maybe he was stubborn. On the other hand, he had a vision and he
going to pursue it.
that what you all called Nathan Ostich, “Doc”?
We called him Doc. [Laughs] And Ray Brock and Joanne Brock used to call
Quack. And that was common. “Hey Quack, what’re you doing?”
call him that right to his face?
sure. It all started when Joanne Brock was pregnant with one of the
she told her sister-in-law that she had this Dr. Ostich. And her
was concerned about these racers who had MDs after their name. She
“Joanne, I’ve looked him up in the directory, the physicians directory,
there is no Dr. Ostrich in the book.” So that’s how it got started. We
call him Doc, and Ray and Joanne called him Quack, or Quackenbush.
mentioned that Ostich didn’t know a
whole lot about cars. So he wasn’t really on a par with Art Arfons,
Breedlove, in terms of being a mechanical genius, building and
That’s correct. He was intelligent. He was smart. He was dedicated. He
on the car. But he was not in any way, shape or form a true craftsman
Doc talking about using a jet right from
the start, when he began talking of going after the LSR?
far as I know, yes.
idea where this notion came from, to use
don’t. Except that he had a friend, I can’t remember his name, Jack
or other, was in the air surplus business. I don’t know what the
between he and Jack was, but Jack bought the engines for Doc.
were going to tell me about some of the
problems about Bonneville.
was really unique from the standpoint that the challenges are many. For
instance, in those days, just accommodations in Wendover, you had a
one motel, the Stateline Hotel, and then there was a motel, I can’t
what the name of it was. So as a result just getting there and getting
organized and being there alone was a challenge. When you got there,
communications on the Salt were nearly impossible. There were no good
telephones. The only telephones we had were land lines that we strung
ten miles of braided wire across the top of the salt. Of course when
water comes up in the hot of the day would submerge some of these wires
course that’s conductive, so you can imagine the telephone system we
almost non-existent. We had somebody stationed about every mile down
on a bunch of army surplus field telephones that seldom worked. Now,
weather is formidable. It’s hot. It’s windy. Every night the wind
the salt water comes up in the heat of the day, so the ability to run
always early in the morning. So you get up at three in the morning, you
down and you get everybody ready. You fuel up all your cars because it
to run out of gas out there, running up and down the salt. And you get
there about daybreak, and you get all set up to run, and of course some
you ran and sometimes you’d be disappointed. The wind would come up,
weather would be bad, the quality of the salt, I’m sure you read there
years we couldn’t run at all because of the roughness of the salt.
on a little bit about the group of friends that put this thing together
Doc. They were a jolly bunch. Everybody who hung around Ak Miller’s,
thoroughly believed in having a good time. They were dedicated racers
done some pretty outstanding things on a pretty limited budget. They
poor man’s hot rodders. But on the other hand they were always having a
far as the car was concerned, the main leader, without a doubt, was Ray
Ray was a smart guy, a great person, and he also was probably one of
closest, if not the closest, friend that Doc had. He was kind of the
the band. Worked right in there on the car every day, every night, with
was very active, but sporadic in his attendance. And then I was in
someplace probably as third. But the whole crew, probably ten people
in the inner circle, that were really dedicated, were all volunteers. A
close-knit circle of people. I was the only paid employee. Doc hired me
full-time about six months into the project.
you do the work right there at Doc’s
house? I’ve read that he housed the car below his living quarters in a
correct. He bought a storefront building in East Los Angeles and he
upstairs in a nice apartment. It had a storefront on the boulevard and
an alley access with big overhead doors in the back lower level. He
building specifically to build that car in.
was no store on the lower level?
store was closed. We used that front store building, we blacked out the
windows, whited out the windows, and we used it for storage for spare
all of our stuff, and [laughs] it also had room for Doc’s ping-pong
loved tennis and ping-pong. Doc loved his ping-pong, and he wasn’t
challenging anybody who came by to a game of ping-pong. And he would
play ping-pong, with you for instance, he’d give you a paddle and he’d
play with a Coke
bottle. And he’d probably beat you.
seen reference elsewhere by you that
Craig Breedlove was hanging around the shop in those early years.
had a lot of hangers-on. Craig at that time must have been in the
sixteen-year-old range. Those guys came and went. I can’t say how much
spent at Ak’s. He never came by the shop where we built the car. He
came by Ak
Miller’s shop. That was actually before we started the car.
I was saying, there were about ten volunteers involved in the
They worked at night. I worked during the day. To my knowledge, nobody
backed out, and this was a three- or four-year project. They weren’t
every day or every night, but there was always a group there who were
to work. It was truly a hot rodders co-op project. Doc would come and
go as he
needed to. He would swing by when I was working during the day, and I’d
maybe in the afternoon when he was on his way to the hospital for his
visits. They all came and went, but they never gave up, and they went
Bonneville with us. I think that in itself spoke quite highly of the
they had for Doc and for the project. That inner circle was behind him
percent. And then there was the outside circle of people who
help. Those were the guys at Aerojet General [?] and Northup
guys provided wind tunnel tests and technical information and
the jet engine.
practiced medicine in East Los Angeles, in a private practice. He was
ex-military doctor, he was single. He had never married up to that
had two gals who worked for him in the office, Gladys and Helen. A lot
I’d go over there and we’d meet for lunch and discuss what was going
Actually, before we started on the car, when I was working on his 300s,
I had a
two-year-old son who was undergoing perpetual ear infections and
Doc said, “Well, bring him over to the office.” I kind of hesitated,
you don’t get a hot rodder doctor for your personal physician. But at
he said, “Bring him over to the office and we’ll check him over.” And
so I did.
And he started treating Ron and taking care of him and doing good
things for us
as a family. And that grew and grew and grew, and it ended up being the
health plan I ever had. He took care of my family, he took care of Ann,
delivered two kids, he did tonsillectomies, he did hernia surgery. He
submit the bill to Blue Cross, to my insurance, and he’d give me the
it came. That tells you the kind of guy he was. He was stern. He was
these people who bark, and you would think he was a grouchy old fool.
had a heart of gold. And he did the same thing for Ray. I know he
of Ray’s kids, all the girls, he took care of our families at no
charge. It was
an amazing relationship, really.
you know anything about Doc’s Canadian
didn’t get into personal things too much. I know that he had two
were dentists. And his sister lived in East Los Angeles.
mentioned that he had been a military
doctor. Would this have been during the war?
as far as I know. And he also practiced medicine in what back then I
called Los Angeles General Hospital. He was a grouchy sort of guy at
think because he was busy, and some doctors where they’re busy are a
grouchy. He was the kind of doctor I always respected because he told
exactly like it was. He told you what your odds were. He had my wife
death. On her first baby she had gained a lot of weight. He started
of her on her second and he threatened her with her life if she gained
weight. I heard him say one day, just to give you a side line, I was
his office, with the examining room right next to the office, you could
little bit of what was going on in there, and I’m sitting there waiting
out to lunch with him, and a lady came in and she was coughing and
wheezing said she had been sick for a couple of weeks and he finally
know, when you’re sick your friends give you all kinds of advice on how
yourself. But when they’re sick they go see the doctor.” (laughs) he
really tough if he needed to be, but he had a heart of gold.
tell you a little sideline about Doc when Ray’s and our kids were born.
liked to joke around. He liked to have fun. So he put our families
Ray Brock’s] in a little hospital down on Sudder Street [?], fifteen
the most, and it was run by three or four of the doctors. And they put
friends in there because they could absolutely dictate what kind of
got. So when Joanne was going to have one of the girls, Doc decided
he’d play a
little trick on Ray. And Ray, working for a magazine, always had his
with him, hanging around his neck. Ray wanted to photograph the baby
it was born. That was before the days they did that kind of thing. Doc
don’t know if old Nurse Crachet will let us do that, but I’ll see what
do.” They didn’t actually have a maternity waiting room. You sat in the
You could ear what was going on around you, upstairs. So Joanne’s in
Ray’s sitting there waiting, and all at once he hears the nurses
talk about twins, and about another bassinette. Ray’s wife was the only
labor, and so he’s sitting there, taking it all in. And so finally Doc
out and says, “Congratulations Ray. You’ve got twins. Come on up and
take a picture of them.” And of course Ray’s just dumbfounded. And so
up and Doc gets in the nursery and he’s got the nurse holding one baby
goes and gets the other baby, all swaddled in a blanket, and he says,
ready, Ray?” And Ray gets his camera out and he’s looking through the
Doc says, “Well, whenever you’re ready, we’ll do it.” Ray says “Okay,”
raises the flap on the blanket and he’s got a stuffed baboon in there.
took a picture of the two kids, and one of them’s a baboon.
time, with one of the other kids, Ray came up to take a picture in the
and Doc picked a baby up, supposedly out of the nursery, and he tripped
fell and threw the baby across the room. And when my wife was in there,
two boys and one of the girls, the third one, and so he said, “We’ve
got to get
that baby before we go to Bonneville. So I’m going to give you
take home.” So he gave me a plunger with a blue ribbon tied around the
and he says, “Press and place and draw [garbled, 31:16] and when baby
call Doc.” And on the blue ribbon he had a pair of cutting pliers tied
and he said: “If I stomp two times on the floor, bring it up and we’ll
girl out of it.”
that was the attitude when you were around Doc and that whole bunch. We
get together at somebody’s house and somebody always had some wild
on. We had a good time. [Al goes on to tell a story of playing a trick
on Ak Miller at
Bonneville when he was there with a Cobra doing time trials.]
first time you all went to Bonneville,
in the second week of August in 1960, Athol Graham would have been
the week before that. How much was that in your minds?
much. And Doc was right in there with us. He was not afraid, I don’t
we were concerned about Doc’s safety. This guy was our best friend. So
right from the get-go, we’re not going to got out and go 200 mph the
We’re going to take it easy, work our way up. Everything was untried,
You take this whole do-it-yourself package to Bonneville, and you’re
see if everything works the way it’s supposed to. And so we were
couple years later, in 1962, the Deseret
News makes a reference to Ostich having nightmares about Athol Graham’s
Was that true?
never heard him say that. He was concerned. We were all concerned for
but I never heard him say anything like that. One of Doc’s brothers,
a dentist, went with us. I guess you could say he would have been Doc’s
personal valet, he would prepare Doc, when we put him in the cockpit I
dust off his shoes, and Doctor John would be there helping. And I’m
shared some private moments in the evening. But that was about as close
came to getting involved in his personal feelings.
read with regard to 1960 that Ostich
had a radio system in the car, that people were relaying information to
tried. If you look at the very first photographs you’ll see a little
dome on top of the cockpit. It was totally unsuccessful.
you didn’t use it again when you returned
took it off. The car underwent quite a few modifications. That was one
bad ideas. Everybody was just getting into radios at the time. The
the equipment wasn’t good enough.
far as I know, the other land speed
racers, Breedlove and Arfons and the others, didn’t have radios in the
not to my knowledge. The only thing you had to navigate with, at least
case, was Howard Dickson painted some four-by-eight sheets of plywood
different colors and put them up on an easel, and they marked the miles
color. In other words, when he entered the speed traps there was a
when he exited there was yellow, and then the red...You see, you lose
depth perception. It’s much like being on a big frozen lake. You had
depth perception about where you are and how far you’ve gone. And so
the only navigational markers we had, other than the fact we tried to
people on every mile or two of the course, because you needed weather
could be dead calm at the starting line and you could have 20 mile an
winds at the other end of the course. And the wind is always a factor.
Ostich wear an air mask when he was
that never an issue, asphyxiation or
something like that?
Actually, we were concerned about CO2. We installed fire bottles
there, I think maybe on the second or third run at Bonneville. We were
concerned about fire. So we installed CO2 bottles that he could trip,
the chassis area, in the fuel tank area and around the engine. And
some worry about CO2, but we didn’t get too concerned about it because
choice was CO2 or burn.
funny thing about volunteers. These bottles were being installed by
who had volunteered, I don’t even know what the company was, but these
birds were in the shop, and they’re trying to decide how much CO2 they
flood the given volume of the chassis and the cockpit, how many pounds
is it going to take. So they’re in this big discussion about how many
feet of CO2 is in a pound, in a bottle. In other words, when it
much area is it going to fill. And they’re discussing how much CO2 and
is a ten-pound bottle, and they’re off and running discussing this. And
on our parachutes in the back was a fellow by the name of Klaus Kanaky.
was in space recovery systems. He built the drogue cute system and
for us and showed us how to operate it and check it and pack the chute.
a German V2 expert. Brilliant. I mean this guy was a walking
technology. And he’s back there working on the chutes as these two guys
arguing about CO2, and they had the wrong numbers according to Klaus,
finally said, “I hate to interrupt you guys, but I’ve got to tell you
wrong.” He says there are so many cubic feet of CO2 in a free state in
and he quoted it off the top of his head, and sure enough he was right.
of the chutes, I’ve read that Ostich
frequently didn’t use the chute because it took so long to repack them.
the lower speed runs, a 200 mph run and he had plenty of time to stop,
not deploy the chute.
also read that the final stage of
repacking the chute was to beat it with a bat to make sure it wasn’t
tightly. Is that correct?
that standard procedure with these LSR
don’t know. We learned all about the chute from Klaus. His job was with
Mercury capsules and things. He never went to Bonneville with us, but
he set it
all up and taught us how to run it. We were kidding him one day. They
first Mercury capsule and it went way down field, beyond the recovery
dropped in the ocean, and we were always kidding him about it, “What’s
matter, didn’t your chute work?” And we were at lunch one day and he
“Well, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that. The guy ran out of fuel is
reason he went all the way down there.” And we said, “What do you mean,
You’re just making excuses.” And he says, “No! I tell you the truth.
ran out of fuel. You take that poor devil and you put him in that thing
fly him butt-first 17,500 mph and what’d he do but he turned around to
where he was going. So he burned up too much fuel and he overshot the
noticed that Doc wore regular sneakers
when he was racing. Was there any reason for that?
for comfort. I’d take a brush and brush the salt off his shoes before
stepped into the cockpit. Let’s see where was I here...I made some
was dedicated, but he wasn’t obsessed [I had mentioned this word in the
questions I sent], but believe me, he was in charge of the project. His
to succeed I think was only reinforced by the naysayers. This was a
rodders’ program, born out of the guy who ran on the dry lakes and the
flats in converted old Motel Ts, low-budget operations. But we never
on quality. We never scrimped on spending the money if we needed to. We
promoted parts. [I think he means they asked companies to donate
Brock promoted all the suspension parts, four-wheel torsion bar,
suspension, from a truck, turned upside down. It was put together from
donated by some friend of Ray’s in GMC truck. It didn’t take a lot of
I’m sure it cost them hardly anything.
bankrolled everything. Doc was in charge. Doc put the money in, his own
personal money. As far as sponsorship was concerned, unless there was
going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of, Firestone donated
wheels. That was a total Firestone donation. They tested them on
farm in the Midwest and ran them at high speed on the dynamometer
They may [also] have donated tires and wheels for the trailer we built,
not aware of any monetary help. The same thing went for Mobil. Mobil
fuel and people there to handle the fuel, but I’m not aware of any
changed hands. In fact I can tell you, Castrol at one point offered...I
the lunch when Castrol made an offer to Doc for sponsorship, and they
some strings attached, and he told them to go pedal their wares [?]
He wasn’t interested. So he bankrolled it all, right out of his own
paid for our motel rooms, for all the crew that went to Bonneville
the death of Glenn Leasher in September
1962 perhaps influence Doc’s decision to retire from the LSR quest?
I don’t think so. But let me get into that in a minute, because there’s
to be told in that area. One of your questions was, “How did he take
set-backs,” and this leads up to the ultimate decision to stop the
took set-backs very well, in stride, and I want to mention something
I thought was remarkable. In spite of the air ducts collapsing, in
spite of the
spin-outs, in spite of the wheel coming off, in spite of the handling
and those kind of things, never ever once did I hear Doc blame anybody.
never said “why did you do that” or anything else. He always kept his
could tell he was frustrated. I think he was remarkably composed under
adverse situations where it would have been easy to say...like in my
was my job, and the wheels, those weren’t demountable wheels. That
time we had to change a tire, or tires—we could only make a certain
runs on a tire before they grew too big—that meant repacking new wheel
and stuff like that. That was one of my jobs. Ray and I did the wheel
every time. And we don’t know that one spindle pushed off or why the
failed, but Firestone had some bearing failures on the dynamometer. And
once did Doc say, “What the hell, did you guys tighten the bearings too
or something?” Never ever any lash-out.
fact, it was on the air ducts, now that’s kind of funny, it goes back
lack of mechanical ability, when it came to the fiberglass air ducts,
Doc had a
guy, some guy who ran a pattern-making shop, make a great big solid
of half of one of the air ducts. The air ducts were Y-shaped and joined
together just in front of the turbine and they were four foot long,
like that, and 36 inches in diameter, half round, half moon-shaped
And Doc had this guy make this pattern—goofy thing weighed a couple
pounds—and Doc himself made the air ducts. He spent hours
in the front part of that building with fiberglass resin and
fiberglass and goo and glue (laughs) and wire, and he made the air
himself. And then we installed them. So when the air ducts collapsed on
first go-around up there, we had never given it a thought, we were
testing, trying to see why we weren’t getting the full rpm out of this
So we had it tied to two air force boogey buggies, tow buggies, and we
tied to our big Chevy truck, and Ray was in the cockpit and I’m
alongside the thing, this fire-breathing monster, with the top of the
open, and I’m standing there adjusting the fuel control, running on
percent, and all at once, kaboom, and
it inhaled those air ducts because there was no ram air coming into
guess it’s possible that even if we had ram air going in, it would have
collapsed when it got up to four hundred or whatever miles an hour that
trying to get to. But we took those air ducts out that night, and
their Lodestar right there on the salt, and we flew those air ducts to
Force Base, I went with them, and we got clearance I suppose from
LeMay, and they met us at the tarmac and they took those air ducts
their fiberglass shop and they made new air ducts. And I got a
of Hill Air Force Base, had dinner, and I don’t know, two o’clock in
morning we flew four new air duct pieces back to the salt flats in the
and we had them installed and ready to go by sunup.
could they make those air ducts so fast?
used a honeycomb core which I can’t even hardly describe to you. We had
wire inside them originally.
you have the pattern along with you?
we didn’t...How did we do that? You know, you’ve raised a good
don’t remember having the pattern along, by they [the ducts] fit
know, that’s something that just got by me. At any rate, they used this
honeycomb core, maybe half an inch thick, sheets of it. To join sheets
together you lay one on top of the other and then just pound it
it splits halfway down and dovetails, if you can envision what I’m
they put them in a big bag and pull a vacuum on and the vacuum sucks
shut, which of course uses atmospheric pressure to pressurize the
the bag to the form. It was far superior to what Doc did back in the
the funny thing was, there was no bill. And then maybe a year later Doc
bill from the Air Force—and I don’t know where LeMay fit into the
this time—but as a result he did ultimately pay for the air ducts, and
pretty expensive, I’m sure.
this Curtis LeMay you’re talking about?
He was an old racer. I don’t know exactly where he fit into the
picture, or who
knew him to get him involved to the length that he was. But this first
there we had Air Force ATU units, we had Air Force technicians, we had
Force boogey tractors, and there were some Air Force planes landed on
flats. But that was only the very first time, then everybody realized,
it’s not a good idea to take airplanes and land them out there on the
flats, because it gets salt in the wheel wells and all kinds of stuff.
was a one-time shot.
anyhow, Doc took set-backs well. Disappointed, but he never ever lashed
anybody. I think he totally trusted the crew. He knew that we were
about his well-being all the time. In fact, I don’t think those crashes
anything to do with his decision to discontinue. In fact, he didn’t
discontinue. Ray Brock and Ak and I did. And I’ll get into that in a
we got into the situation of ill-handling, I need to address that a
because there’s been a lot of misinformation in a lot of the
write-ups. We got up to the 300-plus mile an hour range, and we were in
dilemma trying to figure out why the car would go straight as a string
and the next time we would get into oscillations, right to left, right
We were chasing wheel alignment, we were trying to figure out,
in there with us, but we couldn’t figure it out. We couldn’t find any
wear in the tires indicating any kind of scuffing or something getting
line. We were pretty much at a loss to figure out why. Doc would make a
three hundred, and it would go just straight. Perfect. He’d turn around
back and the car would start wig-wagging. Did that cause the wheel
failure? What the heck went on here?
when we got back to LA, talking to our sources, they began to indicate
had aerodynamic problems, started to kick around terms like boundary
influence, these kind of things, which was beyond me. (laughs) There
photographs of the original balsa wood model that Doc made of the car,
envisioned it would look like. It was painted black, all stuck together
glue, and it had a tail. But when we did the wind tunnel tests on the
the car, the quality model he built, the people doing the test said,
need the tail. It’s not necessary.” Then, when we started getting into
aerodynamics, we were told that maybe we needed a tail. So we had two
down from Edwards Air Force Base. They came in to help us. We were told
were test pilots, that they had exceptional ability to fly a plane and
tell the engineers what was wrong with it. So these guys arrive, I’ll
forget, it was a Saturday morning, they arrive about an hour and a half
they’d been riding double on a Harley-Davison, and had hit an oil slick
something on the Santa Anna freeway and lost it. And they came in there
had the seat of his britches burnt out and the other [garbled]. And
pilots pile off this Harley and Doc took them upstairs and dressed
wounds—of course he always carried his doctor’s bag with him in those
we went and had lunch. And their claim was that we needed a vertical
in order to take care of this boundary layer air. They explained to us
with the car being a cigar shape, a straight cigar shape, that if you
perfectly straight start and there was never any need to do a little
in your direction, you could make a straight run. But if you started to
just slightly, you had a vacuum on one side of the car and pressure on
other side of the car and it would tend to turn the car in the opposite
So you’d start this wig-wagging down the course and it would be nearly
impossible to recover. Then we set about to design and build a tail,
and it was
quite a project.
the only time the Caduceus had a tail was
So I built the tail. And we were fighting weight. We were always
weight, just like a 747. We weren’t overweight, but we were at the
area for weight. And the tail, we cast some aluminum, and we skinned
made the tail adjustable, it was tied in with cables to the steering,
project for a kid, building this thing in Doc’s garage. But it was very
successful as far as taking care of the problem.
ran across a website discussing this issue
of the tail and wind tunnel testing, and it said that it was discovered
years later that these wind tunnels tests of cars were wildly
200 mph if the test didn’t have a moving ground plane.
I think that was all of our agreement. We were told the car should go
450 mph, no problem. We had enough thrust to do that. And when we
it up to those kind of speeds, we began to say, “What is wrong?
wrong with the engine.” In fact, there was one time I flew back to Los
and picked up the fuel control off our spare engine—it was the second
were out there—and flew back to Wendover and put it on in the middle of
night and it didn’t change a thing. So we were concerned that we had an
problem, when ultimately we had an aerodynamics problem. And that was
the demise of the whole program. We had four wheels exposed, 48-inch
wheels. If you look at those wheels, they’re finned on the inner side,
were like big air pumps. The wind tunnel tests didn’t take into
the boundary layer air that was created around the wheels as they were
through the air. And that began a major—probably the
major cause of our inability to get to speed.
sounds like the wind tunnel test data was
almost detrimental to the whole program, in that it led you in some
It did. There was never any concern among the crew, or Doc, that these
gave us a bum steer, or you’d like to say, “well, they really screwed
That was not...we didn’t know what we were doing. Nobody knew what we
doing. But when we finally got into the business of not being able to
get up to
speed, Doc was very disappointed. The choices were very limited. I
it boiled down to was, we needed more horsepower, or we needed better
And keep in mind, now, here comes Breedlove along behind us. He was
schedule, as I understood, in the construction of his car, but he’s
with a lot better data, a lot better information—I don’t now how much
of it he
got from us; I’m sure he learned from our mistakes. But he was coming
with a tricycle car, really aerodynamically designed. He’s got
same power plant we have, but his chances are looking pretty good.
you were all aware that Craig’s car was
very sophisticated at that time.
At least the models and the stuff he had touted. Craig, as I
this is really off the record, I don’t want to be quoted on any of
this, to my
knowledge Craig never came by our shop when we were working, but I’m
knew what we were doing because it was widely known. His dad was his
never really understood the relationship between Craig and his dad, I
know him that well. There was never any...and I think you asked what
thought of Craig...I think he was very positive about Craig. He just
was coming along behind us with something maybe a lot better than what
But his dad started out with Craig, and as I understood it they took a
Bonneville and photographed it on the salt. And he used that model to
Shell and Goodyear into sponsorship.
have seen those photos of the model at
Bonneville, and it had a tail. But when they built the car they decided
the tail. And I’m guessing it was the same deal with Caduceus, that the
tunnel tests showed that a tail wasn’t necessary, and that this proved
ultimately to be incorrect, and later they put the tail on.
think we all had the same problem.
you mentioned that Doc built a model of
the car that was painted black. Did that model have a tail? Was that
think it did. If you find one of those old photographs...there’s one of
standing alongside the engine on a stand, holding the model in his
hand, if I
As far as
relationship with Craig [Breedlove], I don’t know if they ever met. Now
Doc did know
Art Arfons. Well, Arfons followed us onto the salt at times. There’s
of three of the cars all lined up on the salt at the same time. I don’t
Doc met Breedlove or had any conversations with him. But I think there
mutual respect; that it was a life-threatening endeavor.
thing that’s kind of funny, wherever we went with the car, there was
crowd. It was like hauling flypaper around. And we were working on the
and Luju Lusowski were doing the bodywork, the skin, the aluminum work,
were down in Luju’s shop in South Figueroa, it was right on Figueroa
It was summer and we had the doors open and we had ropes tied across
to keep the crowd out, because there were always sightseers looking in
doors. And Doc came by at lunch one day, and he just had his office
and he was in there working with me, or we were talking about
don’t know what we were doing. And there were some young guys who came
they were leaning on the rope at the door, saying, “Man, look at this.
know why anybody would do this. Why would anybody want to get in that
try to go 400 miles an hour.” We could hear this conversation going on.
of these young fellows, they were in their twenties, said to Doc, “Hey
Why would anybody want to do this?” And Doc looked at him and said,
me tell you son. Some guys smoke. Some guys drink. Some guys chase
race cars.” That just kind of stuck with me all these years.
we finally realized we had aerodynamic problems beyond the tail—we
we wanted there. We didn’t have enough horsepower. We either needed to
horsepower—and this is where our decision to stop came in. We were
right at our
weight limit. Firestone kept saying, “You can’t add any more weight,
just can’t do it.” So we’re at our weight limit, we need to improve our
aerodynamics. And that’s like, how do you improve the aerodynamics of a
We considered enclosing the wheels some way to reduce the air drag. But
couldn’t do it without adding weight. I mean, no matter what kind of
materials you might come up with, with the way the wheels were stuck
away from the chassis, on an independent suspension, it would have been
impossible to put skirtings on these wheels and still allow them to
all the things they needed to do without adding a lot of weight. The
alternative is to up the horsepower. We could have gone possibly to
injection, some of those engines were equipped with water. But again:
It would have been impossible to get enough additional horsepower
adding a tremendous amount of weight. The third alternative was a
do some rocket assist. But everything we looked at in that rocketry
going to take a lot of weight. And so we struck out on those three
the car was partially disassembled, it’s sitting in Doc’s garage, and
to work for Chrysler Corporation. Because Doc kept paying me all this
right out of his own pocket. And I said, “Doc, I’ve got to go get a
job.” I did
everything we could do to the car as far as putting it in shape.
there, it was in good condition, it was clean, the shop was clean, I
everything picked up and Doc had [garbled] upstairs. And we were just
in a hold pattern and I said, “There’s no reason you should be paying
salary while I’m sitting around here sweeping the floor.” So I went to
for...actually, there was a point there where I went to work for a
Plymouth dealership in Whittier, and then I went to work ultimately for
was researching through his friend Jack about taking the J-47 out of
and putting a rocket engine in it. There were some experimental rocket
plants that were apparently available through the surplus deal. And at
point Ray Brock and Ak and I said, “No way.” Because we felt it was
uncontrollable. And we just weren’t going to take that chance putting
some kind of a missile thing and shooting his hind rear down the salt
basically you felt that you had pushed
the design of the Flying Caduceus as far as you reasonably could.
I think so. We realized what the limitations were of our design. And at
point Breedlove is cracking the record. And where are we going to go?
in a situation where it would have been a whole new car and we would
two or three years behind whatever they were doing. So they were coming
the rear and surpassing our expectations, and we were in a box.
technical question: I’ve got a quote
here from Ray Brock from 1960, and he said: “If we had tried to enclose
wheels in streamlining we would have increased the frontal area far
the small surface our four-foot wheels present.” Would that have been
the faulty wind tunnel testing?
think so. Because we didn’t realize that those tires essentially became
wider when they started rotating and pushing through the air.
you elaborate on that? What do you
mean, “a lot wider”? An inch?
were told—and I’m relying on my memory so I could be wrong, don’t quote
it—we were told they increased several inches in width as they pushed
said that the Firestone people were
saying that you couldn’t add any more weight. Was their concern about
those really, really thin tires? Or was it more to do with the thrust
think it was everything. The centrifugal force...the tires grew in
each run. One of the things they did was they measured every tire after
run very carefully, and they determined when it was time to take the
and replace them. I think they were concerned about centrifugal force.
were concerned about the growth of the tires. They only had something
twenty-thousandth of rubber on the surface. They had no wear on the
tires survived really remarkably well. We had an extra set of wheel, an
scabby set of truck wheels that we put in the car to transport it, and
put the real tires on at Bonneville.
saw an old Deseret News headline that
referred to the Caduceus as “The Flying Anteater.” Did you ever use
don’t recall anything like that, no.
thoughts on Mickey Thompson?
worked as a press man for I think the LA Times at the time, and he ran
Drag Strip down at Long Beach. He and Ray [Brock], I won’t say they
were friends as
such, but they worked together on quite a few things over the years,
magazine and stuff like that. Mickey was one of those guys who was
different direction, but doing pretty good at it. Really sad what
you all know much about the Romeo Palamides Infinity
Nothing at all.
what about Donald Campbell? Do you cross
paths with him when you were out on the Salt?
mention Ostich’s spin out in 1962, and
news report of how it left a long red smear on the salt.]
funny thing was about the spin out, as he was spinning these
sheets of plywood we had painted, he ran sideways through one of those,
smacked that plywood into a million pieces. So when we got back to LA I
take the engine all apart and we went through the engine and filed all
turbine teeth clean, they had salt debris, and we filed all the nicks
the turbine wheels [blades] and put it back together.
lot of stuff went on behind the scenes. It really was an amazing
Again, I go back to the crew, and how dedicated they were, and how
they were. Again I’d like to say that I never ever heard Doc lash out
anybody and say “Why did we do that” or “What went wrong” or anything
that. I think the closest we came to anything at all was the decision
Ray and Ak and I that we weren’t going to participate with Doc in doing
accepted that decision?
he did. I think we was resolved at that point that we had done what we
do. The car was apart in his garage and I was working for Chrysler and
transferred to Kansas City in later years, and then I got a call from
he said that Doc had been diagnosed with cancer. [You can hear emotion
voice here.] And they were going to donate the car to Harrah’s in Reno.
was concerned because the car was all apart. Well, not all apart, but
disassembled in his shop. And basically, Ray and I were the only two
knew how it went together. So Ray said, “Let’s get together for Doc’s
birthday.” I believe it must have been his sixtieth or something. For a
surprise birthday party. Between ten or fifteen of us got together out
and put the car together for him and put it on the trailer ready to go
that I was in Kansas City, chasing turbine cars for Chrysler, and I had
little contact with Doc. It’s one of those things, you’re busy, you’re
your life, he’s doing his thing. You kind of regret, later on, that you
stay closer. He called me one time, it must have been around 1970, he
through St. Louis, on his way to the Cleveland clinic where he went, he
just on a layover. And I guess I’m probably the only guy left.
talk a bit about the story I’m hoping to
write, about regular guys doing extraordinary things in their
were doing what we could do with our hands, we knew what would work,
down and sketch it out and say, what about if we do it this way or that
There was a lot of backyard engineering that went into it.
steering gear was a Chevy truck steering gear mounted way up in the
we’ve got to get the Pitman arm for the steering back to the center
between the front wheels. And the rod that’s going to do this is
twelve feet long, and it’s got a bend in the middle to clear the bottom
seat. It went right back between Doc’s legs and had to clear under the
go back under the engine to steer the front wheels. So this thing’s
going to be
wobbly, you can’t put a four-inch tube through there, it’s going to
flop around. So I made a slave cylinder, a tube, a machined tube under
front seat, and it had a key-way cut in it, and it had lock screws in
that it couldn’t turn, and it hand a hind joint on the front end and a
joint on the back end, and we essentially made this a three-piece shaft
went down through the middle of the car to steer the front wheels. We
have any design or engineering. We just said, well what about if we do
was those kind of things that worked out quite well.
seventy-five now, and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is
small things that occur in your life that totally change the direction
headed. Maybe it’s a dime-store decision you make today and you don’t
give it a
second thought, but down the road it opens a career path or changes
career in this whole scenario is kind of funny because I was a hot-rod
living here in the woods of northern Minnesota, didn’t have a pot or a
not very healthy, was married, didn’t have any money, and so I’m
working for a
Dodge dealer and running up and down the highway, the highway patrolman
me all the time. And my sister lived in Santa Anna, California. She
school out there. And she was teaching grade school with Joanne Brock,
Brock’s wife. And she kept saying, “Why don’t you move to California?”
California in 1956 was booming, everything was new, orange groves were
taken out, housing going up. And her hubby was working for a Shopsmith,
power tool company. And she said, why don’t you come out here. And Bob
can get you a job as a field service rep with Shopsmith.” He said
there’s a job
opening right now. The fellow is going into the service. He’s going to
physical.” I’d already failed my physical. I’m 4-F. He’s getting
there’s going to be an opening. So Ann and I packed up. We had a brand
I hadn’t made a payment on. So here’s this kid, got no money and a new,
car. And we made a homemade trailer and lugged the ironing board and
and the crib in the two-wheel trailer and we head west. We got to
had seven dollars in my pocket, and we moved in with my sister. And
afternoon she said, “I’m happy you’re here, but I’ve got bad news. The
failed his physical and he’s not going into the service, so there’s no
you.” So she was telling Joanne about this, and Joanne said, “Well,
call Ray.” So I talked to Ray, and Ray said, “You got the tools?” I
I’m a mechanic. I’m a nut-buster. I got tools.” He said, “Call Ak
might need somebody.” And so I did. And Ak said, “get your tools and
and we’ll see what you can do.” And so that’s how I got in it.
then later, after we ended the jet car project, I went to work for
and because I had jet engine experience I ended up being a field
for Chrysler in the turbine car project. And because that was mothered
onto the training program, the service training center for the people
care of those cars in the field, then I drifted into the training group
retired after thirty-one years.