Gary Schenauer shares the stories behind some of the unique, classic airliner photos to be found on High Sierra Spotters, a forum he and a few friends launched four years ago. Gary and I discuss the early years of the jet age when it was common to see prop and jet airliners on the ramp. He also tells us how he got started in Buffalo, NY and traveled the Mohawk Airlines route system on their weekend specials to photograph airliners. Finally, Gary tells us the story behind the growing, High Sierra Spotters forum where you can view his photos and submit your own.
Update: High Sierra Spotters decided to close the forum in Jan 2015.
The podcast audio has been retired. Please see transcript below.
- Classic Airliners: Convair 340, 990, FH-227, DC-6B, Lockheed Electra & Constellation, Vickers Viscount, Boeing 720, 707, 727
- Airlines: Mohawk, American, Pan Am, Eastern, Northeast
Two of the photos mentioned in the podcast. Many more on HSS website.
Dave Goodwin: You’re listening to the PlaneViz aviation podcast, this is episode 11. My guest today is Gary Schenauer from the High Sierra Spotters forum. Gary and I crossed paths when I was looking for a – Northeast Airlines Yellowbirds Forum. I blogged post about Northeast and I happen to come across one of his pictures on the forum which was a Yellowbird Convair 990. Convair 990s are pretty rare and to have a yellowbird photo is extraordinarily rare and lucky on my part. So, I tracked down, well, Gary actually came by my blog and that’s how we met. Gary, welcome to the program.
Gary Schenauer: Well thank you Dave. I appreciate it very much and I gotta tell you there’re a lot of spotters out there so I’m very appreciative that you’ve picked me to have on.
Dave Goodwin: Well you have so many wonderful pictures of classic airliners on the High Sierra Spotter’s site. How did you get started? Now you’ve got pictures from the 60s and of course they included a lot of the old time pop classics. How and when did you get started? Do you have an airline or airplane buff in the family?
Gary Schenauer: No, there were no airplane buffs in the family. I was just a young kid, 12, 13 years old and I had a little Kodak, oh, I don’t even know, if you look them up on the web I guess, a little Kodak brownie, one of those little holiday flashes, took 127 film and I had that as a gift and also later on got one of the Bullseye, one of the bigger ones, took 620 film, both Kodaks, and let’s go to the airport. I lived about 14 miles away or so and I’d ride my bike to the airport, take pictures of airplanes. That’s how I got started. It went from there.
Dave: In a historical context, spotting started I think in Britain, maybe even before World War II where they had trained civilians who would be positioned on certain locations on the coast of Britain and they would spot enemy planes, actually allied enemy planes and called it in to the war authorities, whoever they were, and then over the years spotting – is it accurate to say it’s evolved from that kind of activity to pretty much anybody who consistently take pictures of the airplanes?
Gary: [laughs] I think you could say that with a great deal of accuracy. There’re a lot of folks out there now all around the world, not just in the country, all around the world. I mean, they just park on the fences and catch aircraft. There are tons of websites with aircraft spotters, excellent photos. It’s evolved into that. Yup!
Dave: What was it like being an early spotter in the 60s as far as being around the airport versus today?
Gary: Oh, big difference. Again, I have to point out that they didn’t call it “spotting” when I did it and I was just a kid taking pictures but you had access to everything. I remember riding my bike out to a buffalo airport, I lived Buffalo New York and ride out to the airport, Dave, and park my bike and go inside the terminal and walk right down to the gates and the planes would come in a park and after a while American Airlines, I’ll use them for an example, I knew everybody there. I knew the gate agents, I knew all the folks in the terminal and they’d let me go sit on the planes, take pictures on the planes, walk around on the ramp. I was just “the camera kid”, that’s what they called me. So I walked around and took all kinds of pictures and today, of course, the events of a few years ago have drastically changed that but today, you can’t get near the gates or anything like that so it’s a huge change.
Dave: Well, you know from an earlier discussion, my dad was a pilot for Northeast Airlines in the 60s which merged into Delta and one day in the, probably early 70s, he had a trip from Boston to Bermuda and he let me play hooky and brought me down to Logan Airport in Boston and let me run around the terminal down there and it was the same thing. I remember going down into Terminal C and wandering around and there was a 727 parked at one of the gates. They didn’t close the gate doors so I just went right down the jetway and went into the cockpit and took some pictures. Nobody saw me and I don’t think anybody would’ve cared had they seen me so, a completely different era.
Gary: I have to tell you you’re kind of dating yourself a little bit here so as am I obviously. I had flown in to Boston in the later 60s and I was on one of those “Weekend Unlimited” things in Mohawk Airlines used to run. You went and you paid I think it was 25 bucks and you flew anywhere you wanted for the entire weekend on Mohawk Airlines and I flew into Boston, I had never been there before. That’s where I got the picture as a matter of fact of the Constellation and the Northeast. And I didn’t know anyone at Boston Airport when the Constellation came in and the 990s, so I couldn’t get out to see those planes. I wished so much they’d come in to Buffalo. I could have been all over them but, yeah, it’s a totally different era.
Dave: Now that’s the Eastern Connie with the hockey stick logo?
Dave: You know I just saw that recently. I didn’t realize that they were running constellations into the hockey stick era. And for people who don’t know the hockey stick is that blue airline livery with the stripe that goes up the tail like a hockey stick. I was surprised to see that they ran those things into the hockey stick era.
Gary: That was one of the last ones Dave. I remember that when it came in it was on the – I’m trying to think of the name of it – it was the shuttle that the Eastern Airlines ran between Boston, New York and Washington. Right. And they would ran that shuttle literally, I think, on the hour if I remember it correctly, it’s been a few years. But, the plane would take off whether it had 60 people on it or 10. Every hour those planes took off and went – and that was the shuttle bird that came in that day. It was being used as a matter of fact, as a substitute. I remember talking to somebody at the gate that’s all I remember. It was a substitute aircraft but it was the shuttle and I think probably a handful of people got off it so I still wanted to get on it.
Dave: Yeah, so they probably ran Electras on the shuttle then and that was the backup plane?
Gary: Yeah, as a matter of fact that’s what it was. I believe they were running Electras but that day they had to fill in with a Connie. I couldn’t believe my luck to be even able to get a picture of one.
Dave: Yeah that’s a great find and I was gonna ask you how it came to be that you found your way to airports outside of Buffalo but you just – it wasn’t work really, you just bought passes on Mohawk or whenever you got the chance to go to these airports?
Gary: Right. Mohawk was pretty much – I don’t know if you remember, if you’re familiar too much with Mohawk but Mohawk had these promo deals where you could buy, they called it “Weekend Unlimited”. I think it was $25. You paid 25 bucks and you could start on Saturday morning and fly anywhere in there route and comeback, unless you where back by 6:00 Sunday night and I did it as a 16 year old. I had a paper route, I’d save up my 25 bucks and get somebody to deliver my papers on Saturday night and I’d take off and leave on Saturday and fly to as many cities that I could get to just to be on the Mohawk Convairs and I flew into New York City and I flew into Boston, all the little stops that Mohawk did and that’s what I did. I just love taking off and flying. It was great. I’ve got pictures from – they’re all faded but I’ve got pictures onto the Convairs and stuff. It was a lot of fun.
Dave: You got to fly on the Convairs. What are some of the other classic prop jobs that you got to fly on?
Gary: I flew on the old Mohawk Convairs, I think they were 340s and 440s and the one I missed was the old Mohawk Gaslight plane. Maybe some of your listeners here will remember that. It was a specially decked out Mohawk plane. I never got to see it. It broke my heart but I flew on the 227s as a matter of fact that’s what I flew into Boston on that day that I used to take – I had an old 8 millimeter movie camera also, silent, and I still got those films and it shows us coming into Boston and then coming out. The films are still here. They’re faded and cracked but I’ve got them transferred on to a DVD and, let’s see, what else? Oh, the old 188 Electras too for American. I was on a DC-6B, 727, we flew when they first came out, united. I don’t go much further than that though Dave.
Dave: No Tri-motors huh?
Gary: No Tri-motors, no T-6s as well.
Dave: I just want to touch on some of the pictures you have up on the High Sierra Forum. You’ve got an American Airline 720 inside the cabin and for those people who do not know the 720, it was a short body version of the 707 and it’s got – I was stunned to see that they actually had TVs hanging from the ceiling in that thing. Were you taking a flight on that or was that one of the times where they just let you wander in there?
Gary: No, actually we were on a flight. I had taken my brother, my younger brother, he’s also a member of our High Sierra Spotter’s group. I’ve taken my younger brother and a friend of ours and we went to Detroit, flew there a couple of days and came back and this is in the era day where kids can actually do that. I mean, believe it or not your parents didn’t worry if you got on an airplane and flew to Detroit for 3 days or you got on an airplane and flew at New York for the day. You could wander around and I don’t know if it was good or bad but no one worried about it.
You don’t see that happening anymore but we got on a 720 and that was the big deal Dave, I’ve gotta tell you. It had a TV, a television, they showed a movie as it flew and it was the most amazing thing. It was back in the days of stewardesses, stewardesses in uniforms. You look at it now and it’s this totally different – people dressed up when they got on the plane. It was like a big deal, you’d get a great meal and stuff and now people get on in their pajamas and their shower shoes but that was where we were going, we were on our way to Detroit and got some interior shots and that particular plane. When I post them, when I scan these photos and put them up and they don’t come out the greatest quality but they’re well enough to see, I like to try and track the plane if I can and see what happened to it.
If I remember right, that particular plane ended up being bombed in Beirut. It has been parked in a ramp at a gate in Beirut Airport and somebody threw a bomb, that’s how it ended up destroyed. Amazing when you track the history of somebody’s plane and you find out that years later this is what happened to it or et cetera.
Dave: It really is. You have a picture of a United 727-100 on the site and in the original, well, the 60s livery and I could see the N number so I searched on it on Google and I ended up finding out that it went on to UPS to be a cargo plane and then somebody snapped a picture of it in the aircraft bone yard in the – I think it was the early 2000s so it lasted quite a long time but it really is interesting to watch the history of those planes from factory new ‘til their ultimate demise.
Gary: Right. I just put one up yesterday back in the website there so if you go back onto the highssierraspotters.com and go to the classic airline section or just go to the front page right now, I think it’s still on the front page, first ten photos are always on the front page and you’ll see it, I combined 2 black and white photos to make one picture to post and I tracked the history of that one and it must’ve gone through 10 different airlines after it left American Airlines before it just got broken up 10 years ago down south. So it’s always fun to kind of track them and see what happened to them and about to look up that United, I wasn’t aware of that one.
Dave: Now you also have a picture of, a black and white picture of a Pan Am 707-320 which is the big one from that era and there are some people walking towards it on the ramp. It looks like it’s a cloudy day, overcast. This picture, have you seen the movie “Catch Me if You Can?”
Gary: Yes, a long time ago. Yes.
Dave: It’s like, wow! That could be a scene from that movie. It’s just a brilliant picture. That’s a big plane to go into Buffalo. What’s the history behind that one?
Gary: Well, the people in the photo are my dad and actually, my brother who’s also on the site I just mentioned, Rick, he’s in the photo and a friend of mine, of course I was taking the picture but the plane had come in to Buffalo Airport on an expanded its runway. It had a short runway and it wasn’t long enough to handle a 707 and things like that, so they had lengthened the runway and actually put it, built it up over a highway which is, it’s still there today. They still use that runway, 15-33 I think. They’d lengthen the runway and Pan Am, as a kind of a celebratory, inaugural over the runway, brought in that clipper and landed it there and it was a big deal. People came out and saw it and Pan Am didn’t serve Buffalo but within a month American had the big ones land in there so we were pretty pumped up about that.
Dave: Now that plane according to aircraft registry records was delivered in 1959 and if you look, you can see that it’s got the original turbo jet engine not the later turbo fans.
Gary: Right, right.
Dave: And it’s got those – they’re noise suppressors on the back of the engine. They’re pretty interesting devices so you could just barely see them but, boy, that must’ve been a thirsty bird with those big old turbo jets …and noisy.
Gary: And you know, I know that we’re environmentally conscious today and all that but I have to tell you Dave and I’m sure that some of the folks listening here if they’re up in the years a little bit or whatever would probably agree a bit, I kind of miss the – I miss all that black smoke out of those 727s and the Vicounts with the whistling Rolls Royce’s darts, you can hear those Viscounts taxing you didn’t even have to see it to know that it was coming. It was jet props on the Electra and things like that. I kind of miss that. Those old Convair 990s blue smoke, they looked like they were on fire in the sky and I know it wasn’t environmentally good but sure was impressive to see.
Dave: Yeah, not the best but it sure looked good. One last picture, we could talk about every single one but we don’t have time, but one last one that intrigued me was you’ve got a picture of Northeast 727 that’s about ready to take the runway at Washington National Airport and the picture looks like it’s taken from in and among the approach lights. Where were you in that picture?
Gary: We’ve gone on a vacation, a family vacation. My dad drove us up down to Pennsylvania, Gettysburg and etc. and then we came in to Washington and my dad was all excited about us being at Washington, being able to see the monument and stuff like that. I think he was a little disappointed in me because I was all excited about being in my Washington National Airport and so, that evening after we got our hotel room he swung around to this spot where you could actually, it looked like a picnic area to be honest with you and I was just snapping away photos of planes coming in and there was this Northeast taxiing out and if you look on the website, I’m trying to think what category and I can’t think on top of my head, but one of our other members, Gary, recently posted a picture taken from that exact location that he took years later, it’s from the exact, same location of the exact, same runway. I can email you or something later on so you can look it up. But it’s kind of interesting to see a photo taken way back when I did it and then years later another spot taken from the same spot.
Dave: I’ll be sure to look for that and all of this information’s going to go on the show notes on the blogs or yeah, we’ll definitely check that one out. And as it turns out, you had a – you took a picture of the Northeast ramp in Boston, the Northeast Airlines ramp in Boston, and it’s almost the same perspective as the picture I took years later after they merged with Delta. My picture has a FH-227, a DC9 and a 727 in…
Gary: Oh! But in the Delta.
Dave: In the Delta paint job and yours has a…
Gary: I remember seeing – yes.
Dave: Yes. So I took the liberty of borrowing that picture of yours just to put it side by side and of course I gave you credit at the photograph.
Gary: Oh, no problem, no problem.
Dave: It’s kind of cool to look at that and see the Northeast era and the Delta era.
Gary: Look, I don’t know how many folks will get an opportunity but I want to put in a plug for High Sierra Spotters while I have a chance here.
Dave: By all means.
Gary: There’re a lot of aircraft websites like I pointed out Dave, and many of them are kind of exclusive you know? You have to submit your photo and they look at it, if they decided it’s good enough quality they’ll put it on, if they don’t, they’ll send you a rejection notice or whatever, and that’s fine. High Sierra Spotters is a group of 4 of us got together a little over 5 years ago. The site is ran by one young man, Ryan Colter, he administers it, he created it. The rest of us put pictures on it. We’re up to about 70 something to 80 members I guess now, a lot of us put pictures on it but Ryan runs it and it’s a free site. I mean, if the photo has some quality, I mean, we don’t just use anything but there’s no rejecting of photos or whatever and if you’re listeners or whoever would like to join the site, it’s free to join.
If you look at that picture I just posted up the American Airlines 727, I explained right underneath it that they can join up and submit photos, Ryan looks at it the first time just to make sure that they’re, you know, that person’s a legit aircraft person, spotter, after that you post your pictures go right on the website. We’d love to have people join up, we’ve got people in New York, Connecticut that are members, a couple who joined from overseas. So, by all means, please, and we hope – I would certainly hope that you would put one up, you’ve got some great shots of the Northeast.
Gary: I know that you joined the site I hope that you would throw on to the old classic airliners category or we’ve got classic military, museum categories. I hope that people would take a look at it and then join up. It would be great to have some.
Dave: Highly recommended. It’s a great site. We do have some listeners outside the US as well.
Gary: Just to point out Dave, real fast. When we started it 5 years ago it was 4 of us, Andre, Mike, myself and Ryan and we were all local area so we started this little website and of course we put local airports on it. Ryan, when he created it, put down the airports in the area and the military bases in the area. So those are the categories that are prominently displayed. Since then, the site has exploded, people are joining from around the country and there’s one category it says “other airports” but there’s also a pull down list. You can go to and you can find the airport where you took your picture and put it right on there. I realized that it is focused on Northern Nevada but that’s what it was when we started it and with folks like you we just recently had a very noteworthy author join the site, he’s written aviation books. And with people like you and him joining the site, it’s becoming much more widespread and I don’t know, maybe Ryan will have the opportunity to kind of expand it slightly but sure would like to see people join up and love to see more pictures.
Dave: Well I’ll be sure to put some pictures up there and I want to reiterate what you said that the pictures are scanned right from old photographs and of course, over time the photographs fade but these are wonderful pictures. They may not be as crisp and clear as what you’ll get if the picture was taken last week but they’re historical treasures. They really are. So, certainly, any listeners who have –American or otherwise–who have classic airliner photos, definitely go to the site and put them up there.
Gary: They don’t have to be super, ultra top quality. You can look at mine and you can see they’re not but scannable and that’s what we’re looking for. It’s a great site for putting things up like that and well then you’ll come across the treasure that you didn’t know somebody also had and it would be wonderful to see more up there. So I just want to put in a plug for High Sierra Spotters.
Dave: Well, we were gonna get to that so glad you did.
Gary: Okay. Alright.
Dave: How did you go from Buffalo to Reno?
Gary: I joined the Air force when I was 18. In fact there’s even a picture of me leaving, on the website, on the United and then I’ve never been back. I ended up traveling. I was stationed overseas for several years at Turkey, Greece, Philippines, Japan, those were all my overseas assignment. I don’t think I spent any time in the States until 6 or 7 years then, and then I was stationed to Massachusetts and then my last 9 years in the service in the Air force I was up at Loring Air Force Base which is now closed.
That unit up there which is where I got some of the classic military pictures that I’ve got, KCs and B-52s that are on the site and then when I got retired, that’s when I went to college, graduate on the University of Maine at Presque Isle way up north as far as you could get in the country and then moved down here. We’ve packed up and moved down here. I’ve been here ever since and I met these 3 great guys, we were all out there spotting individually, we’re on the fence and we kind of run into each other and formed the group from there.
Dave: Now do you have a favorite airline from your youth?
Gary: Well, I have to say American. I’ll say American for this reason: out of all the airlines that served Buffalo and that’s where I’d hang out at the airport, the American folks were the most gracious. They let me on the planes so I naturally I love them, they let me on the planes, they let me sit in the gates, they escorted me up in the tower. I used to be able to get up in the tower Dave. It was allowed to go up in the tower. You can’t get near the tower now but yeah, they used to take me around and in behind the ticket counter. I’d stand back there with the ticket people. So American was my favorite because they were just the best to me that’s all but I like them all.
Dave: Your house must be a museum of airline memorabilia.
Gary: Not quite but I did have a lot of programs or flight schedules until about 15 years, 10 years ago I guess, it was my wife said, “What are we doing with these?” and I said “I don’t know” and they disappeared. They were gone.
Dave: Don’t feel ashamed because I’m in the same position. I’ve got a box full of them that I just – they’re from Braniff and Eastern, Pan Am, I just can’t bring myself to trash them.
Gary: I still got the little placards. If you know those said “Seat Occupied”. Yeah, I still got those little seat occupied things from Lake Central Airlines and stuff like that. I mean, it’s amazing the stuff you hang on to but my wife says, “Well hang on to them to look at it, it’s fine”.
Dave: One of the pictures on your site was taken from a Super 8 reel I think.
Gary: Oh, those were the old 8 millimeter short films. They came in 3 minute reals. You would shoot the film and take it down, develop and I did all these on paper route money. So, I had to save up and then I’d to buy another little thing of 8 millimeter film and I’d take it down and get it develop when I had money to do it and those things sat around and sat around and sat around and a couple of years ago we found them and they were all just little 3-minute reals and took them down to Costco and I figured they have gone all around the world, those things were in a box, they’ve been in Turkey, Greece, Japan. They’ve gone in – all over the place, they just kept being tossed around. Took them down to Costco and Costco put them all on to a DVD, put them together and put them on to a DVD.
They’re faded, they’re cracked. I don’t know how those people managed to get them on to one thing but they’re still viewable you know? Not great but they’re still viewable and that’s how I ended up with those and what I did was I took one of those, stopped it and then used a photo editing program on here to take a steal off and that’s how I got those. They’re not great quality as you can see but that’s how I ended up getting them. I could have thousands of pictures if I wanted to sit there and do that all the time.
Dave: Their quality is actually as pretty good considering where they’ve been and given that they’re historical treasures it’s definitely worth a visit to take a look at them and thank you so much for putting them up there.
Gary: No problem.
Dave: Well Gary, this has been a great conversation. I really enjoyed it. It brings back a lot of fun memories for both of us. Why don’t you take a minute and tell our audience how they can connect with High Sierra spotters and how they can view some of the wonderful photographs that are up there and contribute their own.
Gary: Okay. First of all Dave I really appreciate the call and the invitation to be on and I appreciate the chance to be able to talk a little bit about HighSieraSpotters.com and Ryan and Mike and Andre and certainly looking forward to new members. It’s easy to sign up. It’s free and the best part is I know we’re gonna be seeing a couple of new pictures at least from you on there so that’s great you know, so, I really appreciate it. I want to wish you the best and also, what’s your email and I’ll try to get you some a couple of more scans maybe you can stick them on the site or something, I’ll see what I can do about it, some of those movies from the DVD.
Dave: Thank you. I appreciate that and I’d like to encourage all of our listeners to head on over to High Sierra Spotters.com where you can see some fantastic, classic airliner photos and also, some more contemporary photos featuring airliners military planes, etc. Thanks again Gary
Gary: Excellent Dave and thank you again for the call, for the opportunity.