Chapter 1
FAI No. 118------------April 25, 1912
AERO CLUB OF CALIFORNIA. LICENSE No. 1.....August 11, 1911
by Alice Walsh
Collection of Ernie Sansome
     Well, admittedly he is not too well known, even in the more informed aeronautical circles, but in his short lifespan he typifies the pioneering spirit of aviation. If it weren't for men like Walsh, the very physical proof that man could fly wouldn't have progressed as fast as it did. One could pick a more renowned figure of the pre-WWI era, but they would be no more coloful or possess anymore of the charisma that went into those wild flying-circus days so peculiar to American Aviation History. Fortunately Charles Walsh's widow left a minute record of his flying career and within this collection is a living exhibition of all those essential characteristics which were a part of the pioneer aviator's life.
     In the small town of Mission Valley, California on October 27, 1877, there was born a wiry baby boy to Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Walsh. The wailing, red-faced babe with matching bright hair was the pride of the family. "We've got to give him a good Irish Catholic name, mama, " Walt said with a twinkle in his steel blue eyes. "Sure and' there's no finer one than Charles Francis," mother replied. "I've had it in me mind for years...that tis if it was a boy." "He'll be a fine broth of a lad to help me at the store," Walt blurted, "He may 'ave your eyes, Love, but I doubt if 'e 'as the likes of you for the grocery business" she injected.
     Two years later another son, Robert J. was born and Pappa began to feel he was well on the way to having managers for a chain of Walsh food stores. When the boys were of school age, the family moved a few miles to the city of San Diego where business was better and schools more accessible. The boys worked at the store after school and on weekends, but once Charlie reached the magic teenage years he turned his interest elsewhere. He was interested in things mechanical and started a bicycle business, but, competition and lack of genuine interest resulted in little more than weekend pin money. Brother Bob stayed with his father at the grocery store, but Charlie couldn't find himself. As his mother predicted he would make a life for himself.
     Mother didn't worry, but Father was furious when Charlie left the nest and hitchhiked to Los Angeles looking for work. He was 24 and still uncertain of what to do in life. The big city provided odd jobs while he worked his way through a course in Stationary Engineering. Dad was amazed to hear that Charles had taken this much upon himself. His studies were complete in 1902, and he found a permanent position as a steam engineer at the California General Hospital in Los Angeles.
     One warm summer day he spotted a pretty and sassy young student nurse, Alice Connolly. Sure now an' that was a beautiful Irish name and the emeralds of love started to glisten. Both had the wonderful whit and temper of the Shamrock green and on Sept. 23, 1903, they were married.
     The nation's railroads were growing and there was great need for accredited engineers and firemen. In January 1904, the couple moved to Winslow, Arizona where Charlie was offered a job with the Union Pacific. One did not jump into the cab of a steam locomotive the first week, credentials or not. The work was steady with good pay but to take command of a freight train required months and years in apprenticeship. Charlie was impetuous and in a brief temper flare, picked up amd moved back to Los Angeles. An oil refinery liked his quiet but determined spirit, and hired him as a field engineer around the oil rich Dominguez flatlands.
     If oil was black gold to petroleum interests, pure gold was instant wealth to anyone. " discovered in Nevada" the newpapers glared. The ink wasn't even dry on the bold Los Angeles Examiner headlines when Alice got the urge to investigate the wild claims. She wrote to her brother Tim Connolly, a gold mining prospector known from the Alaskan Klondike to the Sutter's Strike in Northern California. Tim, a big, burly, two fisted Irishman replied that there was gold all right and he was on his way to find out about it but he didn't know how rich the ore was or how deep the vein ran.
     Several days later Alice and Charlie, Alice's sister and her husband were on a train for the Nevada pot of gold. It wa a long, hot, and dirty ride north to Fresno, and then east to Tonopah, Nevada. The group, upon arriving at Tonopah had to transfer to a narrow gauge railroad south to the gold strike. Unfortunately, these tracks had been washed out by heavy rains during the previous two days. Ordinarily there were two trains a day running between Tonopah and the town known as Goldfield. Normally these trains would disgorge as many as 200 men every day, everyone with only one thought, his fortune in gold. Hearing that the railroad was washed away, dozens of enterprising residents corralled any animal drawn conveyance they could, and went to meet the train at Tonopah. With the taxi market cornered they charged fantastic fares and always had tall tales to relate of striking it rich for their passengers. The Walsh's hailed a stagecoach and arrived in Goldfield shaken but in excited spirits.
     They were met by Tim who told them only tents were available for living quarters, and all claims to the gold mines were staked but there was need for laborers and miners. The work was hard, the pay was good...the gold was pure! Goldfield was really not a town, it was just a row of tents and tin lean-tos with a few wooden structures slapped together to serve as a bank, general store, telegraph office, and a saloon. The mud and slime of rain and man had turned the area into a hillside of filth. There were no sanitation or cooking facilities within miles. Beans, rice, and a stray pig or rabbit served as a solid meal. Trains brought in lumber, bacon, and whiskey.
     Charlie was able to use his engineering knowledge and went to work operating and keeping in repair hoists and mine carts used to bring men and gold from the deep caverns of the earth. He did all right, making as much as $10.00 a day, while Alice made $8.00 a day working at the telegraph and post offices. This was exceptionally good money for 1903. They pooled their earnings together and bought stocks and bonds in newly established gold mining companies. Toward the spring of 1905, Charlie and Alice were expecting their first child, and they returned to Los Angeles for the blessed event. Charlie went back with the oil company. Kenneth Charles was born in June at General Hospital, a chunky little freckle-faced red head. As soon as the baby was able to travel however, the lure of gold enticed them to return to Nevada.
     On the second venture they had their furniture shipped ahead and rented a car for personal travel. This time living was going to be easier in the remote desert area. They were loaded down with staples such as flour, sugar, salt, coffee, fried beef and warm clothing. This time they enthusiastically looked forward to striking it rich in comfort. Two weeks later Charlie was building an adobe house for the family on the outskirts of Goldfield, their jobs were still available and things were going well. The following year Alice gave birth to a bright curly-haired baby girl. They stayed in Goldfield for this event, and named her Juanita after the Spanish girl who helped the family by baby sitting with Kenneth and through Alice's hours of labor.
     The gold fever persisted but with each passing day smaller amounts of the precious ore were being found. People started to leave Goldfield. The stocks and bonds held by so many trusting souls slipped in value and then suddenly became worthless pieces of paper. Goldfield died as quickly as it was born. It eventually became a ghost town. By 1907 it was a barren landmark, a stark reminder of where lady luck lured the strongest of men with a gold studded perfumed garter and then walked out on him. Broken hearted and nearly pennyless, Charlie, Alice and their family returned to San Diego. The old Walsh homestead at 17th and K streets still stood proud, almost like a beacon for the dejected young couple. The prodigal son returned, but all was not serene. CharLie and his family were welcome, but Dad Walter was not exactly proud of his black sheep. Charlie went to work in a hotel as an elevator operator. Alice remarked "That's befitting, it's the story of our life, just like an elevator, up and down.
     In 1908, The San Diego newspapers first started carrying detailed accounts of the exploits of the Wright Bros. This fascinated Charlie. It was something which seemed utterly impossible, he told his wife to save anything she saw about flying. She tried, but very little news of man's endeavors into aeronautics reached the then remote city of San Diego.
     "Heaven forbid your future if Charlie should take up with flying machines," Walter told Alice. "If he wants to take up flying, that's his business, Grandpa." Alice replied. Charlie was pretty quiet about the matter but the following year, in his typical---the devil take the hind most, attitude---he approached several business men in San Diego to sponsor the building of an aeroplane. His father heard of this latest scheme--"The boy's daft," he said. "I'll have no part of it!" Most of the people Charlie had approached felt the same way, man can't fly. One man did come forth in defense and that was all Charlie needed.
     The Honorable L.A. Wright, State Senator who resided in San Diego, had been in Washington, D.C, and the eastern states where the Wright Bros. had made demonstrations of flight. Senator Wright knew man could fly with mechanical wings. His influence went far in local business ventures and he succeeded in having J. W. O'Connell, prominent in California Real Estate, invest in Walsh's idea.
     Only Senator Wright had ever seen a plane and none of those involved knew how to build one. Charlie wasn't worried though, the Los Angeles and San Francisco papers were carrying more and more accurate descriptions of flying machines. Senator Wright was able to obtain a couple of pictures of the Wright Bros. propulsion system. This was all Charles Walsh needed to build an airplane--he thought.