An aerial view of a hangar area at RAF Upper Heyford (USAF)

Written by Bob Von Bargen

I was at Upper Heyford RAF Base near Oxford in England. My KC-97 air refueling combat crew was pulling an alert tour to support operations in Europe during the Cold War.

Our alert crew building was in the center of the flight line adjacent to a maintenance shop that had been a hangar during World War II. From our dining room or recreation room windows we could see the side of the old hangar. Trucks would back up to the building to onload parts and supplies from a door that had a small porch with an overhanging roof.

On many occasions drivers would back up too far and their trucks would strike the porch. The supports bracing the porch roof were dented and scarred. Consequently, a decision was made to construct a curb to restrict trucks from backing into the porch. A local British contractor was hired to install the curb. The Base Engineer outlined the desired curb in chalk on the tarmac.

Work began early the next morning. A crew of ten laborers appeared to construct the twelve foot concrete curb. The British workers exited their vehicle and stood before the work site. They stared at the chalk marks for about twenty minutes, meticulously examining the work location with great concentration. Finally, a man picked up a pick and with a mighty swing he hit the macadam. The others looked at him approvingly. They seemed to be scoring the effectiveness of the impact.

“Good Show, Alfie!” they seemed to be saying in unison.

Then, after a few minutes of discussion, another man casually walked up to the chalk line, painstakingly examined the first indentation, and struck the ground with his pick. All the men glowed approvingly.

“Devilishly excellent wallop, Nigel!” was the consensuses as they stood silently pondering the two small dents in the macadam.

Then, they took a 30 minute break.

We watched their antics from our windows in the alert barracks. One man would hit the ground. Then the others would discuss the merits of his effort for up to ten minutes. This went on for a week. My crew was relieved of alert duty to enjoy a week of R & R in Germany. When I returned, I noticed that the Brits were finishing up the installation of the concrete curb. The ten men had worked on it for almost two weeks.

On the following afternoon they finished painting the new curb and the area around the porch. The dents and scars on the porch were hidden under a new enamel coating.  The porch door had been blocked during construction. The job was finished; it was beautiful. The British workers departed.

Early the next morning the claxon went off to sound an alert. We all raced to our alert vehicles and sped out to the airplanes that were parked along the flight line. The first maintenance man to come running at full speed out of the hangar door and across the porch, jammed his foot on the newly constructed curb, and fractured his leg!

The following morning the Brits were back. The Base Safety Officer had declared that the curb was hazardous and had to be removed.

The first worker hit the glistening curb with his heavy pick.

“Strikingly good blow, Trevor” they all nodded … and so they slowly chipped away for days and days.

They were still working on it when I departed for home a week later!

Uncle Sam always did his best to support the Queen’s economy!