Tahoe Pine Nuts: An American Story – ‘The Wright Brothers’
David McCullough has given us another good book, “The Wright Brothers,” and it’s not just a book about the Wright brothers — it’s a book about America.
Neither Wilbur nor Orville finished high school, but in their home library could be found the works of Dickens, Hawthorne, Irving & Twain.
As Orville attested, “The greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”
McCullough, not unlike Ken Burns, is an emotional geologist. When they dive into a subject, that’s the last you are going to see of them until they surface with the subject in their mouths.
They are incredible artists, both. There is an excellent hour-long YouTube piece where Burns interviews McCullough about this book should you have the time and interest to find it.
My question about the Wright brothers has always been, “Why Kitty Hawk?” Well, Wilbur & Orville were not heedless like I was at their age, and so they consulted the United States Weather Bureau about wind conditions, which never would have occurred to me, and Kitty Hawk provided the perfect prevailing winds to lift a winged man without tossing him onto his back.
I did find it odd that the brothers and their sister Kathryn were still living at home with their parents as adults, and not one of them was interested in attending a Friday night hoedown.
Their frightfully shy mother died young, and their “Bishop” father, Milton Wright, attended every camp meeting this side of Cooperstown.
Gone most of the time, Bishop Wright was still able to instill his firm belief that, “All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden on others.”
So, leaving their Dayton bicycle shop in the capable hands of Kathryn, off they go, Wilbur & Orville, to the obscure outer banks of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to pursue perhaps the longest standing dream of mankind, to fly.
Detractors back in Dayton were laughing up their sleeves. They would soon have occasion to get down and kiss the hems of the Wright brother’s garments.
As Wilbur commented, “Many men are better fitted for improving chances offered them than in turning up the chances themselves.”
Kitty Hawk was not hospitable. Orville wrote home, “We each have two blankets but almost freeze every night. The wind blows in on my head, and I pull the blankets up over my head, when my feet freeze I reverse the process. I keep this up all night and in the morning I am hardly able to tell where I’m at.”
But like many brothers in America, they were constant to purpose. Between older brother Wilbur’s genius, and younger brother Orville’s mechanical acumen, they were able to construct a “Flyer,” that on October 19, 1900, glided 400 feet at 30 miles an hour with Wilbur at the helm.
On a return tip to Kitty Hawk in 1901 they were greeted by an “every twelve year” mighty cloud of mosquitos that darkened the sun and drove them under their blankets.
Said Orville, “They chewed us clear through our underwear and socks.”
Then on December 17th, 1903, at 10:35am, with homemade engine in place, Orville flew for 12 seconds, covering 120 feet and we were in the records books. Mankind had finally learned how to fly. Orville first described the emotion of flight: “More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the upmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.”
President Taft, of Ohio, would honor Wilbur & Orville with gold medals at the White House. Neil Armstrong, of Ohio, would become the first man to set foot on the moon, and he carried with him a swath of muslin from a wing of the Wright Brother’s 1903 Flyer.
McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers” is an incredible story about American character, told incredibly well. It is available for purchase, or you can become number 52 on the waiting list at the library and bide your time.
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwain.com.