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A Homecoming

I keep meaning to post more about my genealogy research. I have a couple more substantial posts planned, but for now I’ll just share something I stumbled across the other day. For several years now, I’ve had a subscription to Ancestry.com, the king of all the genealogy websites. Ancestry has tons of historical documents online: census returns, immigration records, newspaper obituaries, military records, birth/marriage/death documents, etc. It’s really amazing the amount of material available online. They’re constantly adding new (old) stuff and improving the indices to the existing records, so every once in a while I try my old searches anew. A couple weeks ago, I tried searching for my grandfather, Clifford Mohr. I expected to find the same old stuff I always find: his entry in the Social Security Death Index, census returns for 1910, 1920, and 1930, and military burial records. This time, though, there was something new:

This document is from Ancestry’s New York Passenger Lists Collection, digitized records of passenger arrivals in New York City from 1820-1957. I’d found other documents in this collection from when various ancestors first arrived in the United States. This one is different, though. This isn’t a ship arriving from the Old World, it’s a plane: Transocean Air Lines flight W-13 from Rhein-Main, Germany to Idlewild Airport in New York.

Who is that listed first on the manifest? My grandfather, LT COL MOHR CLIFFORD, age 47, weight 235 pounds. What I find particularly interesting about this is the date: 21 December 1953, four days before Christmas. Cool. It’s the kind of document I love to find. It doesn’t particularly tell me anything I didn’t already know (I knew he served in Germany and could probably assume he came home from time to time), but it’s fascinating nonetheless. A little window into a moment in time more than half a century ago.

As it turns out, there’s an interesting story about this airplane, too. A bit of investigation told me that this plane was a Douglas DC-4, nicknamed “Argentine Queen.” It was built by Transocean from parts scavenged from around the world. The fuselage, center wing section, and tail were found in storage in Argentina. Here’s the story from taloa.org:

The machine was first owned by the ATC and used in World War II, after which it was declared surplus property and sold to the government of Argentina, which had luxuriously fitted the aircraft to serve as the personal transport of President Peron. It was later sold to Lee Mansdorf and Company. When Transocean purchased it in September of 1953, the disassembled aircraft was put aboard a freighter bound for Oakland, California. Once in Oakland, the three sections were barged up the Oakland Estuary to a point near TAL’s headquarters where they were trucked to Hangar 28.

Reminiscent of kids putting a model airplane together from the hundreds of pieces in a box, the men in the maintenance department found themselves faced with the task of cataloging the thousands of parts needed to make this huge transport once again flyable. It was a massive job that called for a lot of attention to detail and much patience. For example, Bill Dell and Bill Baty spent three weeks sitting in the center section of the fuselage just untangling the thousands of cables coiled on the floor like a mass of spaghetti. When the cables were reconnected, every one of them worked flawlessly. In only two months and four days, the Transocean crew had assembled a CAA certified DC-4.

Named the Argentine Queen, this reassembled DC-4 was one of Transocean’s most dependable aircraft for years. It was later chartered to Airwork Atlantic, Ltd., and with a TAL crew on board for training, inaugurated that company’s transatlantic freight service on March 1, 1955. The Argentine Queen was operated by several airlines after TAL’s demise and crashed at sea 700 miles west of San Francisco on March 28, 1964.

Wow. Another article on taloa.org mentions that as of November 1953, the plane had “joined its sister DC-4’s in flying the Korean Airlift.” A month later it was flying my grandfather home for the holidays.