Russ Gerow (l) and aviation pioneer Al Gilhousen. Photo taken at Taft, Calif., by Russ’s 18-year-old younger brother Gene (1907-2000), who went on to fly for TWA from 1940 to 1972, amassing over 27,000 flying hours.

Russ Gerow’s Taft Tommy Michael Gerow San Diego, CA [email protected] During his late twenties, Russell T. Gerow, the writer’s father, owned a Thomas-Morse S4C Scout from 1925 until 1927. The aircraft was originally manufactured in Ithaca, New York, most likely in the waning months of the First World War. It was the only aircraft Russ ever owned, and the inexperienced pilot to whom he sold it cracked it up almost immediately, as you will see toward the end of this document. The following two photos were taken at the same time as the one above, and show the Tommy in the unrestored condition in which Russ bought the ship. Even though the airframe wasn’t more than 7-8 years old, it had already led a charmed life as the probable survivor of some advanced pursuit training school. As such, it had already seen a lifetime of use as a military fighter trainer! Gene Gerow’s memoir, “The Umpteenth Voyage,” explains the picture above and the two that follow: “…Al Gilhousen, the pilot who delivered the Jenny up from Los Angeles, was there. He watched Cecil 's flying and appeared to be satisfied. Then he turned his attention to the T-M Scout which Russ had recently bought. The rotary engine was very balky: Russ had tried to start it on and off all day, but with no success. Al said what it needed was a ‘good cussin’ out.’ He stepped up to the stubborn little WWI surplus airplane and like a bullvoiced Admiral addressing a deck load of ‘swabbies,’ he roared out the loudest and most complete list of personal invectives I had ever heard. Then he hollered, ‘Contact!’ Russ was sitting dejectedly in the cockpit and snapped the ignition switch on. Al gave the wooden propeller a tremendous yank and the LeRhone engine ‘sprang into life’ as they used to say. Then Al jumped into a waiting airplane and returned to L.A. I remained fascinated by my brief encounter and only contact with this legendary flyer.” (For other interesting stuff about Al Gilhousen, see:

Russ was having difficulties tuning the LeRhone 9C and contacted the T-M factory for advice. Above is the reply that he received under the signature of Paul D. Wilson, the test pilot who flew the first S-4 on her maiden flight in June 1917.

Tail skid’s eye view of the Tommy’s undercarriage shows minimal ground clearance of the S4C’s mighty 8’-7” prop. Trainee take note: Little margin for over-controlling on take-off!

Location is Taft, California in the southern San Joaquin Valley. When this photo was taken California was the leading oil producer in the world. Although it’s hard to see, this is the refurbished Tommy seen in the following images.

Classic angle showing the Tommy’s handsome lines to good advantage. The fellow in the photo appears to be taking a leak; but a more plausible explanation is contemplation of some aspect of the empennage or tail. This is obviously one of Russ’s brothers—either Cecil or Gene. Location, Taft, Calif. Note many oil derricks and oil storage tanks in the background.

Color scheme was olive drab fuselage, clear dope wings and horizontal tail surfaces, white rudder and possibly black cowling.

Russ Gerow and the 1918 Thomas-Morse S4C Scout that caught fellow “Tommy” pilot Dick Kerr’s eye at Taft and launched Russ Gerow’s 35-year career in the oil exploration business. The original note on this photo, apparently written years later, reads “Bakersfield 1927.” However, further research reveals that this photo was probably snapped a few months earlier at the Bakersfield Airport dedication on 5 Nov 1926. This date coincided with the visit of the Byrd North Pole Fokker F-7-A-3M “Josephine Ford” as part of its 38-city national PR swing promoting the safety of commercial aviation. Note other “Tommies” in line. Tail emblem on next ship in line appears to be the emblem for Julian Gasoline.

In a masterful understatement, Russ wrote on the back of this print: “TM Scout in trouble at Taft.” Unfortunately, the fellow to whom Russ sold his beautiful Tommy in 1927 was not long for the use of it. Here Russ seems to be working on something, the exact nature of which is now lost to time.

Hand resting on strut wire, popular barnstormer and flying instructor Dave Matthews relaxes in his Thomas-Morse S4C Scout (80hp Le Rhone 9C). Note unusual metal siding and turtle deck in lieu of fabric. Photo by Russ Gerow at Ventura, Calif., May 1926.

Thomas-Morse S4C Scout piloted by Lt. Dave Matthews, U.S. Army Air Service (Reserve). Photo taken at Ventura, California, May 1926, by Russ Gerow, whom Matthews soloed at Taft in June 1925. Though forgotten now, Dave Matthews (1894-1926) was one of the best-known barnstormers in central California and “vice-commodore” of the famed Santa Barbara Aero Club under Earle L. Ovington. As a former Army flight instructor at Hazelhurst Field (Garden City, NY) during the final months of WWI, and as a popular civilian flying teacher, Matthews’ career paralleled that of his Long Beach contemporary, Earl S. Daugherty, in many respects. While flying for “pleasure” at Santa Barbara, Matthews and a student crashed to their deaths when the latter, it was widely believed, froze at the controls and took them both in.

Above, Russ Gerow aloft in his Thomas-Morse S4C Scout, Taft, 1925. Below, a special ceremonialization of Russ’s solo in the Tommy 50 years earlier under the expert tutelage of Dave Matthews.

Russ Gerow, age 87, poses in front of a memory from his younger days as one of the first aircraft owners on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. To be sure, Russ never flew this particular Thomas-Morse S4C, which is now back home in Ithaca, New York, undergoing restoration to flight status by the Ithaca Aviation Heritage Foundation. Photo by Mike Gerow, San Diego Aerospace Museum, 1984.


In Memoriam Russell Templeton Gerow 1897-1993

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