1946-58

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Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986

 

The Allied (Gander) Connection

Destiny caught up with a passing Air Force Sgt.

Lester F. Gettel, Jr. came to Gander to get “planes back in the air as quickly as possible,” as he put it.  Simply, that was his mission, for he came to establish a ground servicing company that would see Gander through its heyday as an international commercial airport.

The like of it is not easy to comprehend by present standards, since “everything using the North Atlantic had to come in here.”

Through an exciting business period, Newfoundland was not without a peculiar twist when it came to isolation or the lack of it. 

In terms of modern communications and transportation, Gander, on one hand, was plugged directly into the world scene, often witnessing first hand the players of that scene, as they transited the airport.  On the other hand there was merely one transportation outlet through which to get to Clarenville, it being the railway, for the highway was yet to come.

“It would take a day or so to get to Clarenville but you could get to New York in a jiffy,” Mr. Gettel reflected of the unusual extremes. 

“Its cold up here,” were the first words Mr. Gettel uttered on Newfoundland soil.  Little did he think at the time that Gander would become his home community, now having lived here for 38 years.

A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a former Tech (Technical) Sergeant in the American Air Force during the last world war, he first landed at Gander in August of 1943 while en route to London, England as part of the troops.  Also aboard was famous movie star and dancer Fred Astaire, who was going along to entertain troops in Europe.

The plane stopped at both Stephenville and Gander and Mr. Gettel recalls distinctly how chilly the weather was when he stepped off the plane, taking instant stock of the situation, verbally.

Following a five year stint and once the war was over, Mr. Gettel returned to civilian life in 1946 when he joined the employment of American Overseas Airlines at LaGuardia Airport in New York, in charge of ramp services.

This was when he first came in contact with the Allied Maintenance Corporation, a large company founded in 1988, going back to the Pennsylvania railway and known for its maintenance, such as janitorial services. 

The year was actually 1947 and Allied, which was providing ground services to aircraft at both LaGuardia and Idlewild Airport, the latter since renamed Kennedy International, was consolidating these services.

Also at Gander such services were carried out on their own by the respective airlines using the airport and by 1948 Allied had an eye on Gander, with the prospect of setting up there, as well and consolidating services.

The job fell to Mr. Gettel and he arrived at Gander on July 26, 1948, but by the time he reached his destination he was little impressed.  The weather was so bad that the plane could not get into Gander and had to retreat to Sydney, N.S. until the weather cleared.

At Gander he soon discovered that a big problem was the need for more adequate dishwashing, so to improve the services enabling aircraft to resume flights more expeditiously.  To appreciate the times is to see Gander at its best as an airport.  With the war ended Gander was being transformed into an international commercial airport from that of a military installation and the change was dramatic.  Giant airlines like T.W.A., Pan American, BOAC, Swiss Air, KLM and Sabena, just to name some of them, were using Gander on a regular basis.

Compared  with the more modern aircraft nowadays these aircraft were short ranged and all of them were compelled to land at Gander so as to refuel during Trans-Atlantic crossings.

Needless to add, it was a booming business for Gander.  Mr. Gettel established the Allied Aviation Service Company of Newfoundland Limited which did the ground handling of aircraft.  An indication of the involvement of the company is given in the fact that by 1949, it was servicing as many as 1400 aircraft a month, about 500 of them would be for TWA along, with Pan American a runner-up.  To assess it another way, up to 50 aircraft could be serviced on a single shift.

At a peak, Allied employed as many as 250 people and once established at Gander, its services were extended to Stephenville, Sydney, N.S., Moncton, N.B. and Goose Bay, Labrador.  “Gander was the most important eastern piece of real estate utilized by westbound and eastbound aircraft,” said Mr. Gettel.  “Yet,” added Mr. Gettel, “Gander will always serve as an alternate airport, meaning as a backup when weather conditions, mechanical trouble or other factors dictate that aircraft use Gander because they have little choice.  Also, there are still many aircraft which must refuel at Gander.” 

With fond memories at Gander, Mr. Gettel said heads of state, movie stars or other world personalities often frequented the airport and were familiar figures.  Now, Mr. Gettel looks back at it all, speaking of his strong connection with Newfoundland.  “I’m very proud of Newfoundlanders – they are good people,” he said.

His company is still a significant employer, having 60 workers, and besides Gander, maintains services at Goose Bay as well.

After the family set up at Gander, Mr. Gettel and his wife, Mary Ruth, a native of Tennessee, adopted two Newfoundland children.  Something of the personal Allied connection in Newfoundland goes back to the parent company level too.

The Chairman of Ogden Allied Service corporation of New York is Dan Fraad and he has been spending much time in Newfoundland at a summer home in Happy Adventure and, in addition, Allied has a fishing camp on the Gander River.

Summing up in an interview, Mr. Gettel glimpsed back at the sequence of life.  A passing Tech Sergeant had no way of knowing it but he was, in fact, given a shivering peep at destiny.

Researched by Carol Walsh

 

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