It was the mid ‘50s when I joined BBDO/SF as a copywriter, junior grade. Juniors were relegated to industrial/Ag accounts, in my case Northrup-King Feed & Seed and U.S. Steel. Both accounts featured Case History ads and I was sent hither and thither around the 11 Western States seeking unusual applications of the clients’ products. Hither, if not thither, often involved out of the way locations inaccessible to commercial aircraft and competent photographers. So I enlisted San Francisco’s Bob Skelton/Skelton Studios (still Geezering amongst us) who had recently (very recently) obtained his pilot’s license. And away we went into the wild blue yonder, to logging camps, mine shafts, irrigation districts, Indian Reservations, wild horse round-ups and the edge of the Grand Canyon, where USS Wire Rope was employed for a tramway hauling bat guano from distant caves to the terminus officially designated, complete with a small U.S. Post Office, Batcit, Arizona.
Our aircraft was a Cessna 172, a 4-seater all of which were occupied on this trip. Besides myself and Skelton, there was my client, Fran Allen (later of Allen-Dorward Agency fame) and a U.S. Steel sales rep who was our entrée to the site. The landing strip was a rutted dirt construction road that lead to the canyon’s brink. And a brink it was, with a direct fall off to the canyon floor several thousand feet below. Incidentally this permitted a 4 hole outhouse to be cantilevered out beyond the canyon edge thus avoiding disposal exigencies ! (Constipation was never a problem here ; all one needed do to loosen the bowels was look down an adjacent hole.)
After gathering my case history facts and photographs it was well into the afternoon with the mercury hovering around 100-degrees. Well, if you know anything about flying, you know the hotter it is, the less lift there is. Adding to the lack of lift was an overloaded, unsupercharged aircraft. Besides 4 people, there were 4 people’s luggage. O’, did I mention that due to wind direction, we had to take off towards the canyon ! And, as noted, our runway was a rutted dirt road.
Our intrepid pilot acknowledged there was no way we could reach take-off speed given the described conditions. But not to worry, he said. We’d have a safety margin of some 2000 feet ; that being the airspace in the canyon below. He figured once over the edge we’d have time to gather enough airspeed to gain control. It didn’t do a lot for our peace of mind that several construction workers lined the ‘runway’ with kodaks poised.
I was in the front seat opposite Skelton with several suitcases stacked on my lap to give the tricycle landing gear additional traction on the dirt road. It was just as well, as I had no interest in being able observe our sudden descent. And descend we did and continued to do and continued to do until leveling off a few hundred feet (I was told) above the Colorado River. It took us some 15 minutes of climbing/turning, climbing/turning to regain the top of the canyon, our take-off point, and head for the nearest paved landing strip to change our pants.