Travelog: Origin of the Flying W

Another travelog entry from our trip to Iowa.

Winnebago is a well known name in the motorhome business and has been for years. Several publications have written up histories of the company. There are links at the end of this post to them.

But no one has explained the origin of the “Flying W” itself.

Until now.

In Dubuque, IA, there is a historic boat, the William M. Black, moored as a showcase for the dredging boats that helped build the Mississippi into the working river it is today. Back in the day, it was up and down the river, working to clear channels deep and wide. The picture above is from its current home at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Dubuque, Iowa.

As you look at the photo at the top of this post, you can clearly see the W built into the front of the boat. Seems pretty obvious, right. But back in the days before mobile phones, Facebook, and Instagram, people didn’t see things that weren’t in their town very often.

As the story goes, little Timmy Johnson was visiting Dubuque with his parents. They had come from Forest City, IA for a bit of work and a bit of vacation. Timmy’s dad worked for a new outfit in Forest City, called “Winnebago”. His dad was meeting some other people to talk about Winnebago and they had decided to make a family trip out of it.

Timmy was at that age where he was starting to read. He was a bit precocious, reading everything that was in front of him. This is important.

It was a Tuesday. And the meeting was on Wednesday. This is also important.

Tuesday was bright and sunny, but windy, and Timmy and his parents were on a drive down the river. As they drove south, they came upon the William M Black dredging at a spot along the west bank. They stopped for a while and watched.

As Timmy was inclined to do, he read the name of the boat out loud. But then, this being the 50s and all, there wasn’t a lot of other things to read near the road. There was a couple of Star beer cans, but he had gotten in trouble the last time he had read the word “beer” out loud so he knew to ignore it. Without anything to read, Timmy soon got bored.

He was staring out at the boat, watching it work. The wind had picked up, creating a few whitecaps. The water churned in front of the stationary boat and the muck oozed out as it was pumped out on shore back behind. As he stared, he suddenly realized that the metal superstructure on the front of the boat was a “W”. A “W” like his dad’s company “Winnebago”. The wind kicked up again and the flags attached to the W flapped aggressively.

Timmy then shouted out those fateful words: “Dad! Dad! That looks like a “Flying W! Like your company Winnebago!” Words that, to this day, are etched on the back of every Flying W logo attached to a Winnebago Motorhome.

You see, the very next day, when Timmy’s dad was at his meeting in Dubuque on that fateful Wednesday, he now had the idea for the new company logo. The fact that the meeting was about stuffing for mattresses and Timmy’s dad worked nowhere near the marketing department did cause a slight delay in getting the whole idea going.

But the rest is, as they say, history. Or at least Travelog history.

For actual, factual, history, please check these links.

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Travelog: Dubuque: The Curious Case of the Missing Mustang

A crime was committed in Dubuque, Iowa. Not a crime of power. Not a crime of money. Not even a crime of passion. But a crime nonetheless.

In 2003, late on a hot summer day, a small ceremony took place at the above location. On the banks of the Mississippi, overlooking the river traffic and the beautiful bluffs on the other side, a small group of people stood tightly together. They were circled around the guest of honor to the ceremony, a new ‘art’ object called, The Mystical Mustang. The ‘artist’ was there also, but the small group standing tightly together wasn’t really paying much attention to that person.

Please note that the words ‘art’ and ‘artist’ above are in quotes not to diminish the words or cast doubt on the worthiness of the object or the creator. No, our place is not to pass judgement on the artistic nature and passion that was poured into the Mystical Mustang. Our place is merely to explain.

But those words do belong in quotes. See, the ‘artist’ was none other than Martin Tangdon, a local cheese straightener, who really didn’t want to be there. First, as mentioned before, it was hot, and Martin did not do hot well. Secondly, he felt that this gathering, this ceremony, this aspect of attention, was really not necessary. In fact, he had muttered to himself a few minutes ago that the whole thing was, and we quote directly here, “a quivering blob of brightly colored nonsense”. Those quotes should not need explanation.

It had all started when a Mr. Arson Strikneen had come across the Mystical Mustang (although it wasn’t known by that name at the time) as he was walking by the Tangdon abode. Martin was coming out of his side gate and, through the briefly open gate, Arson saw the object. He was instantly struck. By a passing car as he had stepped off the sidewalk. Fortunately, it was a glancing blow and he seemed none the worse for wear.

The impact did not distract him from what he had seen through the open gate. An object of amazement, of complexity, of creation. He immediately went over and started peppering Martin with questions and opinions. This confused Martin as he had just seen the man get hit by a car and was really confounded as to how that fact didn’t seem to have any impact on the gentleman.

In short order, Arson spoke with a few of his friends in the local artist (no quotes this time) community. He spoke of this amazing creation he had seen. Spoke of its beauty. Spoke of the colors. Spoke of the juxtaposition of humanity in the modern world and the pitiful struggles of techno-economic forces lined up against our individual attempts to be more compassionate in who we are and where we are and what we are and why there is often no left turn arrow at the busiest intersections of empathy, sympathy, and eropathy.

Without going into the sordid details, suffice it to say that this little artist commune descended on poor Martin and demanded that his art be placed on display. And they knew just the place.

Together, as a communal entity with many arms and many legs and one brain, they brought the object to the location that you see above. Martin tried to object, but his words fell on many deaf ears.

It should be pointed out that one of the artists not present was one Tilly Bronson. Her sculpture was supposed to be placed on the site in the photo above but Tilly had suffered a severe bout of disperportionalism and hadn’t been seen in weeks. She had also recently broken up with Arson but Arson claimed that had nothing to do with the fact that THIS location, THIS spot overlooking the river, was THE BEST SPOT for Martin’s object, The Mystical Mustang! (Arson had just christened it that — Martin thought the name stupid).

So now we are all caught up with present events and can rejoin the small group standing tightly together. However, since we were recapping above, we missed all the good bits. There is some talking about this and that, then the group broke up and slowly walked away, each lost in thought, trying to process the enormity of it all and their place in it.

Martin, still reeling from the events of the morning, also struggled to grasp the significance. Finally coming to the conclusion that there wasn’t any, he walked over, picked up his rototiller and walked it home.

Tilly, however, was blissfully unaware of all of this. When she returned from Las Vegas, having fully recovered from her bout of disperportionalism, Tilly installed her piece of art. This was a true piece of art, not ‘art’. She installed it at the very same location as Martin’s ‘art’. After all, it was her location. You can see the results of her efforts in the photo above, as her artwork, called ‘Pallet of Grease & Whimsy’, took its proper place along the Dubuque Riverwalk.

For those of you that are still wondering about the crime mentioned at the beginning, I merely remind you that crime is in the eye of the beholder.

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Fiction/short scene: Not A Wise Choice

Sometimes we don’t realize how wrong we are without some help. A short scene where a manager and employee are talking. They work at a manufacturing company with a strong engineering department. I was playing around with conveying emotion. Not part of a larger piece.

——————————————-

She looked at him, her voice firm. “That would not be a wise choice.” 

“Why not?” he asked.

“By choosing to communicate your version of the story about Malence, without getting evidence first, what do you think he will do?”

He sat back in his chair, looking somehow both defiant and unsure. “He would have to believe me,” he said. 

“Why would he?” The pause between her words almost made it three separate sentences. 

“I’ve been working for him for 3 years and he knows me. And its the truth!” The defiance was gaining the upper hand. 

“Malence has worked for him for over 10 years. The boss knows him very well.” She paused and leaned forward. “Did you know that Malence has helped the company out of tough spots twice before doing the exact same thing you are accusing him of?” 

“What?” The defiance was replaced by surprise. 

“Yes, The first occasion was 7 years ago. We were losing market share to Warten. They had developed a new bearing set that was better than ours. Malence drafted another engineer and, together, they had come up with a brand new product that was beyond Warten. It was certainly beyond what we had. We got it into production and regained the market share.”

Before he had a chance to respond, she continued. “The second time was 5 years ago. A new motor type had come out and surprised us. None of our products worked with this new design and we were getting left behind. Malence drafted two other engineers this time and came up with a design that used parts of three different products we had at the time. A design, by the way, that added 23% to our revenue the first year.”

“Yeah, but he’s not doing that this time!” 

Back on an even keel, her voice was calmer. “How do you know he isn’t?”

“He’s not, I just know. The man is predictable. He comes and goes on the same schedule. Eats lunch with the same people. And at the same time too. Now he is secretive, he’s not coming to lunch. He’s got to be doing something wrong! I saw him taking lab equipment home with him. That’s against the rules.”

“Did you ask him about it?”

“No! He doesn’t like me.”

Now, it was her turn to be puzzled. “What makes you say that?”

He fidgeted in his seat a bit. “I don’t know. I just know he doesn’t.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Malence gets along with everyone.”

“Not me.”

She decided to take a different approach and just sat in silence, looking at him. Waiting him out to get him to say more.

Eventually the need to fill the silence cracked him first. “At the beginning, he was nice. He taught me a lot when I started. He always answered my questions. But he explained things more than I needed.” The defiance was starting to come back. “It was like he was trying to teach me more than I needed to get the job done. I just needed to know the answer and he would give me a 15 minute lecture.”

She kept looking at him with a neutral look on her face. It was becoming clear to her now what was happening. She needed him to talk a bit more for her to be sure.

“I’m mean, I appreciate that he was trying to teach me, but every single time? How am I supposed to learn that stuff and get my job done?”

“Do you know what happened to those engineers that he took into his skunk works?”

The question took him off guard. “No, I don’t.”

“Do the names Randing, Wistock, and Jones mean anything to you?”

His eyes widened as he recognized the names. “Of course, they’re the best. They’ve got a bunch of patents. No wonder Malence worked with them.”

“It isn’t that simple. In each case, the engineers he picked were good, but they didn’t rate the high marks they have today. They hadn’t been standouts like they are now.” She took a drink of her coffee. It wasn’t hot any more but that didn’t bother her. 

“So?”

She sighed. He wasn’t seeing it. “The month they spent with Malence was very intense and it helped them truly understand what they could do as engineers. I’ve talked with each of them about their experience and they all agree: working with Malence helped them take their engineering skills to the next level. He didn’t help them understand our products better, he didn’t teach them how to do mechanical design better, or how to use the software CADsystem better. He taught them how to approach problems. He taught them how to break the problem down. He taught them how to see where their own mind was limiting their options.”

His eyes narrowed. “Your telling me that working with Malence made them as good as they are?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I am telling you. So now you have a decision to make. You can go into the boss’s office and make a fool of yourself, or…”

“Or what?”

“Or you can start listening to Malence. You might just learn something.”

“How do I do that? I said he doesn’t like me.”

“Tell me specifically what he does that leads you to believe that he ‘doesn’t like’ you.”

“Well..” he started. After a pause, like he was struggling for words, he continued. “When I go ask him something, he hardly says anything. Just gives me the answer and doesn’t say anything more. He acts like he is too busy for me.”

“Maybe he is,” she said kindly. He looked up at her, confused. “Weren’t you just telling me that he gave you long lectures that you didn’t want? How does that fit with not talking to you.”

“How should I know? I can’t read his mind,” he said.

“Let me make a suggestion that might explain both things. Maybe he wanted to teach you, like he has taught most of the other engineers at this company. Maybe he was giving you ‘lectures’, as you called them, to give you the background of a deeper understanding of the problem. Maybe he could tell that you weren’t interested and stopped teaching you.” 

His indignant face slowly collapsed along with his shoulders and the rest of him as the realization hit.

Travelogs: Explanation

From time to time during my travels, I come across fascinating things that need to be written about. These become my Travelog entries.

However, because the internet sometimes doesn’t have a sense of humor, the following caveats apply.

  1. Everything I write in my Travelogs is false. I just make it all up.
  2. If you see something incorrect, see caveat #1.

I hope that clears things up.

To see the entire list of Travelogs, check out the Travel category.

Fiction: Cesena

written November 2018

On 26 July 2015, 1000 musicians gathered in Cesena, Italy to perform one song for a band they all loved, The Foo Fighters. The performance can be found on YouTube under the title “Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters Rockin’1000 Official Video”. The speech at the end of this story starts at the 4:03 mark in the video. This video captured my imagination from the first time I saw it. So many people having a great time doing one thing. I wrote this to try and capture the sense of wonder of being involved. The details written here are all fictitious as I don’t have a clue what actually happened that day other than what is in the video. 


The car sputtered as I pulled back onto the highway from the gas station. Another reminder that I probably shouldn’t have made this drive. It was a crazy idea and I questioned again why I doing it. I glanced over at my guitar next to me in the front seat and smiled. Crazy. 1000 people…nonsense. But I did know why. Remembering the hours listening to their music after we fought, Continue reading “Fiction: Cesena”