Albuquerque Soaring Association 

An Early History

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The following story is an early history of the beginnings of what turned into the ASA written by Dave Thornburg.

RC Soaring in Albuquerque
The Early Years

by Dave Thornburg

I rolled in from California in August of 1969, rented a small house on Carlisle (a well known street in Albuquerque) , and immediately whipped open the Yellow Pages to Hobby & Model Construction Supplies.

Four shops! Wow! That beat Sacramento by one.

But were they truly hobby shops? Or just paint-by-number emporiums?

The old elimination game. The rules are simple: You dial a shop, a guy answers, you ask for Trexler airwheels, and if he says "Huh?" you hang up.

Trexler Airwheels. They were mostly for power flying. But then gliding was still intertwined with power flying in 1969.

Hank Gollar, at The Hobby Corner, Fourth & Osuna, passed the Trexler test. I zipped out there.

Hank, alas, was a train nut. But the aircraft side of his shop was surprisingly well stocked and had been for years. (Some of the stuff was close to my own age.)

This was long before the nostalgia craze, mind you. Long before anybody craved anything from their lost youth. Except maybe their sex drive.

Alas again: not one single glider kit in Hank's store.

But let's face it: in 1969 you could buy a Li'l T from Midwest, a Cleveland Super Condor from America 's Hobby Center , or a Foka kit from Germany . Beyond that, you could build your own.

No glider kits, but he did have a deBolt Multi Servo new-in-box, from 1957.

Now at this point in time, digital radios had been out for about five years. deBolt servos ("The HEART of Your Radio System") were made for reed sets that had once cost 400 bucks new. They were available by then in every club newsletter for $25, and no takers.

The original $16.95 price tag was still on the deBolt.

Would Hank take any less for it? I was merely curious.

He wouldn't. So I changed the subject.

"Anybody fly gliders around here?"

Hank doesn't hesitate. "Don Spellum," he says, and scribbles a phone number. "He's the glider club president."

This was partly true. In the fall of l969,in the city of Albuquerque there were six, maybe eight people, max, who even OWNED an RC glider. And Don Spellum, a Sandia engineer who died of cancer in 1982, was the only true glider guider of the bunch. Don would build the occasional motor job, just to be sociable. But soaring was his dream.

Club president he wasn't, though. The group was far too informal for that. Founder, yes-founder he definitely was. And guru.

It was Don Spellum's enthusiasm for gliders, for power, and for anything that flew, that held together the motley bunch who were Albuquerque first soaring fraternity, the direct ancestors of today's club.

They would meet, Friday evenings in various members' living rooms.

But most often, and most comfortably, in Don's den, at his house on Wisconsin just south of Indian School .

Don had dubbed the group the ASSERS: Albq Slope Soaring & Experimental Radio Society. Their motto which was scrawled on a large sheet of white cardboard that he kept behind his desk was: Era Vuela-"It Will Fly."

Buzz Averill, whose heart was still in free-flight, was one of Don's irregulars (editors note, Buzz is still one of the most active members in the ASA). Another was Hal Dobkins, an APS principal since retired to Mexico . Hal would soar occasionally, though his first love was .02-powered single-channel park fliers. On any given weekend, the group was just as (likely) be flying power with Hal as soaring.

Hal's buddy Dub Fisher was a local body mechanic, and another power/soaring member. One of my earliest memories of the Jemez Dam slope site was the balmy fall Sunday that the group spent combing the rocky canyons northeast of the dam for Dub's bright red sailplane. His radio, a single-channel galloping ghost rig, had failed. Not unusual in 1969.

The plane probably went down into some shadowy crevice and lay there galloping until it thrashed itself to death. We never found it.

Don was a ham operator, and pretty handy with circuitry, but the group's electronic wizard was Gail Graham. Gail had belonged to the 1950's gang that developed the old ECE, F&M and CG radios. They were the famous (at the time) blue boxes manufactured out on East Central by Frank Hoover Gail who flew mostly power. However, he wasn't above joining the gang at the slope. In those days you just took the prop off your power job and heaved it over the edge.

Gail could troubleshoot a busted radio practically with his eyes shut. And radios went bust frequently in those days. Sometimes spontaneously, sometimes due to complications brought on by rapid deceleration. At one time or another Gail saved each of us a fat repair bill and a month of down-time. And took nothing but thanks.

Another power/glider flier was Gary Hardin, a wild man who should have been a control-line combat freak, but could sometimes be calmed down enough to soar.

Steve Work, who was fourteen at the time, was a regular at the Friday meetings. It was partly, we all suspected, because somebody always brought chips and cokes. At fourteen, nobody ever gets enough to eat.

Dick Roberts, a boat and power man from northern California , had joined the group the previous winter. (Editors note, Dick is still around and involved with the club). Dick hit town with two or three of the latest 11w-channel Kraft radios, fell in with the Spellum  gang, and was advised to buy an Ace single-channel radio for soaring. "Elevators, everybody assured him solemnly, "only get you in trouble." (Did Dick buy the Ace? Yep. And still shakes his head when he tells the story. "Set me back few years," he says unbelievingly.)

A member that I never met as he had already left town, was a legendary school teacher named Ron Beroldi. Ron's specialty, up at Jemez, was to toss off into lousy air and then pull a spectacular save by whipping back through the gap in the center of the west slope. The gap is still called, by old-timers, the Beroldi Hole. Pronounced as one word: Beroldihole.

Jemez was the club's "field", the place Don took me as soon as I showed up at his house. I was appalled. I was accustomed to the rolling sand dunes of Sunset Beach , down on Monterey Bay . Or else the soft, grassy mountaintops a thousand feet above Oakland and Berkeley . The lift at Jemez was great, but the landing zone was... well, you know.

"We usually land at the bottom," Don admitted.

"What's wrong with those bushes?" I asked, flicking my antenna at some junipers behind the slope. At Sunset, if we didn't want to get sand on our models, we just speared the nearest clump of flora.

"Watch this," Don said, and picked up a chunk of lava the size of a brick. He heaved it at a juniper, and the juniper caught it, paused half a beat, then heaved it right back.

"Oh," I said, and landed at the bottom.


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