Airwork: Logging History

Tom finds and returns a lost logbook.

FLY062010_Airwork

FLY062010_Airwork

June 2010 UNLIKE THOSE IN MOST other pursuits, as pilots we're all required to keep a bound logbook. The logbook is to be used to record at least some of our flight time. But a logbook is much more than a simple record with pages filled with columns, numbers and hen-scratched entries in spaces too small for all that could be written. Pilots' logbooks are a history of exploration and learning that document all the frustrations and successes, all the lessons learned. The early pages reflect our progress through the stages of becoming full-fledged (literally) members of an exclusive community.
For me, as I've recorded decades of flights, the most important function of my logbooks has been as a trigger for memories that I might otherwise forget.

So you can imagine my reaction as I was helping with a monthly mailing for Time Space Limited, a local community arts organization, when Connie Fitzmaurice, another volunteer, reached across the table with a very familiar small black book. My instant reaction was that somehow she had gotten ahold of my first logbook.

I was confused. I hadn't realized I'd lost it and had no idea how she might have found it. But it wasn't mine. As Connie explained, "I got it when I bought somebody's library at a house sale. I thought you'd be the one person I know who would find it interesting."
It was fascinating. The first entry in the "Pilot Flight Record and Log Book" was June 8, 1940. The entries reminded me of the frustrations and thwartings of some of my own early flights and struggles with learning plateaus, especially pertaining to takeoffs and landings. Reading through the entries was like taking flying lessons all over again. The pilot was signed off for solo flight and continued his training. But then, for some unexplained reason, the entries abruptly ended with a final flight on July 7, 1941.
According to the "Identification and License Record" in the front of the logbook, the pilot was Bayard Speyers from Oak Park, Illinois. His date of birth was listed as April 22, 1907. By 1941 and the beginning of the Second World War, he would have been 34 years old.

I couldn’t help wondering what had happened to Bayard Speyers. The timing would have been right for him to enlist and take up arms in the buildup to the war. If he had gone off to war, had he survived? If he had, had he continued with his flying lessons after he returned?

I once had my flight bag stolen from my car, and my logbook was in it. I was devastated by the loss. I would often read through the log to reminisce about flights and places I’d landed and people I’d met. Without the memory joggers, much of my history was going to be forgotten. But I was lucky. It seems it was valuable only to me. Whoever had stolen my flight bag had thrown the logbook into a dumpster. Apparently a “dumpster diver” had found it and left it at the door to the building where I was living. Since then I’ve been very protective of all my logbooks. I’m on my fourth now, and over the years each has been larger than the previous one.

I kept finding myself thinking about Bayard Speyers. There was little chance that he’d still be alive at 103, but I was curious to find out what I could about him and if I could return the logbook to his family.

I like a mystery. And I wondered if I could find any of Bayard Speyers’ family who might appreciate having his logbook. I decided to try.

Surfing the Internet, I found an April 1937 announcement of the marriage of Miss Blanche Pattison and a Bayard Speyers, the son of Mrs. James Bayard Speyers. The marriage took place in Troy, New York.

Troy is a long way from Oak Park, Illinois, which, according to the information in the logbook, was where Bayard Speyers was living in 1940. Could it be the same person?

Clicking further through the Internet, I then found an obituary in the New York Times. “Bayard Speyers, 57, A Retired Engineer.” The obit was dated July 1964, and Bayard Speyers had died in his home in Troy, New York.

The obit called him a retired mechanical engineer and farmer. According to the item, he was a descendent of “colonial Dutch settlers” and graduated from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1931. For the next 10 years he worked as a field engineer for the Dorr Co.

It seemed I had the wrong man. Those 10 years with Dorr included the dates in the logbook. But then the obit continued: “His work took him to various parts of this country and to Nicaragua.” So maybe he did spend time in Illinois. The age of the person in the Times obit was 57 in 1964, which meant he was born in 1907. The same year my Bayard Speyers was born. That was a positive sign.

But there was nothing in the obituary to indicate that the Bayard Speyers who lived in Troy, New York, had enlisted and served in the war or that he had any interest in aviation.

On the other hand, from 1941 — when my Bayard Speyers stopped flying in Illinois — to 1949, the Bayard Speyers from New York did do his part in the war effort. During those years, according to the obit, he worked for Union Carbide “in connection with the making of nuclear bombs at Oak Ridge, Tenn.”

I still wasn’t sure that this Bayard Speyers was the original owner of the logbook. Finally, at the end of the obit was a mention of surviving relatives. One was listed as “James B.”

Tiptoeing through the Internet, I modified my search and mined for a James Bayard Speyers. Eventually, I turned up a person with that name in Florida who seemed the correct age to have been the son of a man who was born in 1907.

I managed to get a phone number and called. Eureka! James confirmed that the logbook belonged to his father. He was thrilled that I had it and that I would return it to him.

In my surfing, I discovered some fascinating things about James Bayard Speyers and his ancestors. His great-great-grandfather was born in Germany in 1809; his great-grandfather was born in Germany in 1843; his grandfather was born in New York 
in 1876 and his father in New York in 1907.

His great-great-grandmother, Fanny Pigot, was the daughter of Admiral Hugh Pigot of the Royal Navy who, at the Battle of Trafalgar, was the flag lieutenant of Lord Horatio Nelson. Albert Speyers, one of the sons of Fanny and James, established the Albert Speyers & Co. brokerage firm in New York. In 1850, Albert married Selina Lippincott Lawrence, whose family had come to the United States about 1790. It was their son, James Bayard Speyers, born in 1876, who married Katharine Van Vechten and fathered Bayard Speyers, the pilot.

My convoluted search was prompted by a logbook that turned up in an estate sale. It led me through a history that had nothing to do with aviation but nevertheless is important to Bayard Speyers’ son. His excitement in recovering his father’s logbook is a reminder that, while our logbooks reflect our aviation adventures, they also can provide those who come after us a way to remember the passion that had made us who we were. From now on I’m going to fight the temptation to be terse and succinct and add more details when I chronicle my flights.