Frank Lyon(s) was my maternal Grandmother’s older brother.
By Ralph G Castillo
My earliest memories of my Uncle Frank was when he came to Carmen’s First Holy Communion in Fenton, Michigan in about 1945. He was a large framed person and spoke in a firm voice.
Mom had told me stories about some of his adventures and I couldn’t wait to follow in his footsteps. What I am about to retell are stories that I heard when I was about 10 years old, we were lucky, we didn’t have TV to occupy our time, we found fun things to do or we would have mom tell us stories about her earlier years growing up in the FLAPPER era, and some of her memories of her brother ” Uncle Frank “
Some time after World War I had ended, Uncle Frank decided he wanted to learn to fly. They spent time at Willow Run airfield and heard of airplanes for sale in Cleveland, Ohio. He drove to Cleveland, Ohio to buy an airplane, after checking out the price on the good airplanes they realized they would have to settle for less than they had in mind. There was an old “Gennie” parked in the back of the airfield that he had his saw. The story goes that the owner told Frank that the plane had been sitting out there unattended for months and he would make him a deal, if the plane didn’t start with the first crank he would give it to him, needless to say it started right up and now Uncle Frank had purchased an old beat up WW I Gennie airplane. They patched it up and off they flew to Detroit. The plane needed lots of repairs and the engine required a complete overhaul, that’s when he decided to open an airplane overhaul school and get his plane fixed for free. They sewed the wing materials on Grandma Lyon sewing machine, sanded and painted the wing ribs and completely refurbished his airplane. He opened a flying school after the plane was rebuilt, even took mom flying some of the time but he kept yelling at her not to step on the wings. The wings were made of cloth and wooden struts they could not hold a persons weight. He would take people barn storming and really had an exciting time. One of Franks close friends (I think his name was Dewy) crashed while mom and uncle frank were at the field.
Uncle Frank progressed to bigger and better airplanes and the next story that I remember mom telling me was when during the 1930 prohibition era. I believe he was working for a wealthy club owner and was flying a planeload of Canadian whiskey to the Detroit, they had planned to land at a farm field outside of Detroit at night and offload the booze, but when he started to land the airplane the field light up with car headlights and off he flew. (Your right it had to be the Federal Agents) I understand that he flew to one of Detroit’s main airports, landed the plane loaded with whiskey and just walked way from the plane never to look back. Mom said there were federal agents coming around the house looking for Unk but he was out of town.
The next story is when he worked in California he worked for North American and was close friends with Howard Hughes. They both had started flying about the same time. Mom said she was told that Howard Hughes would come to the several board meetings with a hooker on his arm and had not cleaned up during his week long drunk, but he was the boss.
During World War II they were having problems with some of their airplanes flying over the Burma Hump (Mountains) these were the flying tigers. Uncle Frank had to be given a temporary commission in the Air Force in case he was shot down behind enemy line. (He would have been shot as a spy without the commission). The next I heard from Unk was he was working in California with rocket engines, and they flew him to the cape during several of the test firing in the beginning of our space age.
While I was stationed aboard ship in Long Beach Calif. Uncle Frank made arrangements to pick me up and spend the weekend with them. He was married and had Gwen, Diane & Mary (1956 they were little girls). While there he managed to get me into his plant to see a test firing of one of his rocket engines. Was I ever impressed.
Uncle Frank visited mom and dad with his family several times in Brownsville and Mom & Dad visited them in California during the 1960’s. My daughter Pam was born during one of their visits on 12/15/1964 and we surprised them with Pam on the first visit after their return from California.
The next time I saw him was in Brownsville, he came to spend some time with mom and was she ever proud of him, he was retired, single, had a pickup truck and a trailer and was just traveling around the country from Washington, Alaska, Canada he would spend months with his friends helping them work on their farms or ranches and than move on.
At one time Howard Hughes had offered Unk a job overseeing his Spruce Goose storage facilities (The Spruce Goose was Howard Hughes largest wooden airplane built, a man could walk upright inside the wings of that monster, he actually got it off the water in flight himself) needless to say Uncle Frank told him thanks but he needed a more challenging job.
Uncle Frank was a workaholic and kept busy right to the end. He kept his mind busy right along with his body. Uncle Frank died in Arizona after a full lifetime of adventure, everyone has some faults and I’m sure he had his, no matter what they might have been he will always be my hero.
And here’s hoping that you and mom are still barn storming those clouds up there, we miss you both.
Frank Lyon changed his name to Frank Lyons in the early 60s. His oldest three children have the last name of Lyon, while the youngest three have the last name of Lyons.