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Flying to Catalina, if only in our mind
By Tim Grobaty   - 09/01/2008

Long Beach Press-Telegram

SEAPLANE CRUISE: Perhaps because we frequently close off all entry points and barricade ourself in the backyard with nothing but a jug of loudmouth and an old copy of Argosy magazine for days at a time, we don't "learn something new every day," despite the generally unassailable (except in terms of its redundancy) folk cliche.

But we learned something new (or, more properly, old) just
now as we paged through "Catalina By Air," the latest local offering from the always handsome collections of paperbound historical photographs put out by Arcadia Publishing.

What we never knew until just now - and it sounds like something we'd make up - was that a three-passenger "Goodyear Pony Blimp" was built in 1919 and pushed into service in 1920 to tote riders, hanging perilously in free-swinging gondolas, over to Catalina and, presumably, back.

Powered by a single Ford Model T engine, the blimp made six fights a day Wednesday through Sunday. It was the first dirigible airship line in America, and reading about that is reason enough to purchase this more-interesting-than-expected book put together for Arcadia by Jeannine L. Pedersen, of the Catalina Island Museum. Pedersen also authored and curated the Arcadia books "Catalina By Sea" and "Catalina Island."

Most people who grew up in Long Beach can recall the ubiquitous seaplanes that used to roar overhead seemingly 'round the clock shuttling tourists and islanders between the isle and Big Town.

We spent much of our youth living beneath the planes' flight path, and we eternally yearned to take a trip on one, but we never did. There's another check mark in our list of bitter disappointments. Maybe it's because in the mid-'60s, when our yearning was at an all-time peak in intensity, the trip by air cost $6.80.

Nobody we knew had that kind of money in the mid-'60s, when you could buy more hamburgers than you could carry for a buck. The ship crossing in those days was $3.75.

But those glorious planes are all here to enjoy, as well as the older craft, including H.H. Holloway's dangerously fragile-looking flying boat, which didn't make cross-channel cruises but just took Catalinans and tourists on aerial tours of the island in 1921 for $5, which, of course, was an insane amount of money for a 15-minute flight in '21, when you could buy a chunk of land for 50 bucks.

The 128-page book spans aviation's entire history with the island, up to today's helicopter service ($86 per person, one-way).

The book retails for $19.99 and is available at stores and online retailers, or call Arcadia at 888-313-2665.





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