By Gilbert E. Davis
Avaiator Test Pilot
I was born at home January 3, 1942, on our farm near Marne, Michigan.
At birth I was only three pounds and Dr. Miller had to come to our farm
on snowshoes, as the snowdrifts were ten feet deep. I was so small at
birth that an incubator was needed, but since it took a few days to
find one my grandmother Vipond put fruit jars of hot water wrapped in
towels on the oven door and put me on the oven door to keep me warm. My
sister Mary Kay, who was now one and a half years old would think I was
a kitten when I’d cry in my incubator and she wanted to be lifted up to
When I was about three years old I remember the time I plugged a
hairpin in the light socket. My thumb got a great shock and I let go
quickly, but not before my thumb turned brown. I cried for my mother
and told her that reddy kilowatt bit me.
The first Christmas that I remember, we had little candles on the tree
and lit them for Christmas. I got some Lincoln logs and a book for
Christmas. I’d sit down to read. When I did, I’d read my book upside
down and my mother would turn my book right side up. I would turn my
book back up side down and keep on reading.
Douglas was born in the spring of 1945 and I told Dr. Miller, “ Thank
you for bringing me a baby brother.”
My parents would tell me that Abraham Lincoln was a great man. I would
stamp my foot and say, “No, Hammer Lincoln!”
When I was three, they finally decided to get my haircut. It was in
tight ringlets all over my head. The barber told me he had a tub full
of ears he had cut off of boys that wiggled, so I sat real still.
My First Drive
At the age of three, I was out in the garage playing in the car and
since the key was in the ignition I turned it on. The car started with
me standing at the wheel. The car backed through the garage door and
down the driveway before my father could run and stop it.
The Move to Florida (1945)
My father sold the farm in Michigan and we all moved to Florida. There
was my father and mother, myself, sister Mary Kay , brother Douglas,
and my grandmother Katherine. My father bought some land east of
Apopka. As soon as Father built a two-room house we all moved in. My
grandmother lived in one room and the rest of us lived in the other
one. We had kerosene lamps as we had no electricity. Yes, we had a hand
water pump and an outhouse. Since we had no washing machine, clothes
were washed in a tub on a scrub board. When we moved to Florida, we
came from Michigan in an old Hudson car with a canvas roof and wooden
spoke wheels. We lived about a quarter mile from the Blackwelders
family and went to church with them during the year or so that we
didn’t have a car.
Then Ross was born in 1946.
Whizzer Motor Bike
Father bought a bicycle with a Whizzer motor on it. It would go about
45 mph and Father rode it to work and church assignments. He put some
24,000 miles on it.
Forty Acres, (1948)
We started to be land owners as Father started buying land until we had
forty acres, much of which he bought for as little as six dollars an
The Family Home
My father started to build a three-room home down the hill from
Grandma’s house. We finally got electricity for our lights, but we
still had a wood stove to cook on and an icebox for food and milk. The
iceman came by every week with 25 lbs. of ice in one big block. We had
to walk about one quarter mile to get a pail of milk each day from
farmer Fred Reisner.
We did have a good Zenith radio and all of us had our favorite
programs. Mine were “Space Patrol” and “Lets Pretend”.
Elementary School (1948)
It was about three years after we moved to Florida before I
started school at Apopka Elementary School and had Miss Jackson for a
teacher. She said that I was one of her best students and was so good
in art that I won an art contest and she saved some of my drawings for
over fifty years.
My love of machinery got me in trouble in the first grade for playing
on a real train that sat by the school.
My First Love (1949)
In the second grade I was in Miss Finney’s room and fell in love with a
beautiful brown haired, brown-eyed girl. Her name was Eileen Mahaffee.
I got to sit by her in the second grade as well as in the third grade.
I tried every way I could to get her to like me. If I could get her to
like me I’d just have to convert her from a Baptist to a Mormon. These
thoughts went through my mind.
Oh! To fly like an angel. For my 8th birthday I got to fly for the
first time in a small airplane. So began my love affair with airplanes.
Eileen was impressed, in the third grade, when I brought a model
airplane to class and showed her how an airplane flew and the names of
all the flight controls as well as their functions.
My father baptized me when I was eight years old and confirmed me. It
was a relief to know that all my sins were forgiven.
It must also have been in 1950 that the whole family walked the mile
and a half from our home to the movie in Apopka to see Walt Disney’s
Pinocchio. I thought at the time how wonderful it would be if we could
do this more often.
The Electric Train
I didn’t wear shoes very much in elementary school, not because I
didn’t have shoes, but because I could run faster bare footed. It was
about this time that I had a very special Christmas for a boy that
loved trains. I got up Christmas night to go to the bathroom and
stepped into a train car on my train. I was so excited that it was hard
to get back to sleep. A real electric train!
When the house had three rooms and a porch Mary Kay and I slept in
steel army beds on the porch. The open sides of the porch were covered
with canvas with steel rods in pockets at the bottom edge to keep the
wind and rain out.
Suit of Armor (1952)
When I was ten years old I got into my father’s shop and borrowed the
tools I needed to build a tin suit of armor complete with helmet, arm
pieces, and shield. I was the hit of the school Halloween carnival,
where they all thought my father had made it. When we had wars I was
the winner, as the B-B guns and the 25-pound bow and arrows couldn’t
shoot through my armor.
We used to go to the movies on Saturday for 7 cents and if any of the
kids didn’t get to go, then the rest of us told them about the movie.
Some of our movie heroes were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tarzan, and
Zorro. All of the movies had a cartoon and some had a newsreel.
Beatrice was born June 27, 1952.
I was always building things and this time I built a five-foot long
replica of the Union iron clad Monitor. It had a wood deck about one
and a half feet wide and was covered with a tin deck and had tin side
skirts. It had a tin turret in the center and a pipe for a cannon. The
Monitor had an inner tube to hold it up.
Now that I was twelve I could hold the priesthood and be a boy scout.
The first time I passed the sacrament my mother happened to be the
first one I passed it to.
We had many Boy Scout camping trips but one that comes to mind was at
Wiequiwa Springs. After we pitched our tents and ate, we went exploring
by the spring and the old boathouses. I climbed up on the west
boathouse and was about in the middle of the roof when it gave way and
I fell through. I was hanging by my armpits and couldn’t find anything
to stand on at first and then I reached a rafter with my foot. I
climbed through the rafters and down to the floor.
When it came to running and climbing I was the best. At school I could
climb all the way up the brick wall of the building to the second story
window. When it came to running, I was the fastest boy at school. When
it came to trees, there wasn’t a tree that I couldn’t climb. I could
climb a pine tree that had no limbs for forty feet. At night I’d climb
to the top of a sixty-foot pine tree and pretend I was flying an
airplane. It was nothing for me to climb down a sixty-foot pine tree
Love Letter (1955)
When I was 13 years old, I finally wrote a love letter to Eileen
Mahaffee, my true love. I told her that if she didn’t love me I
wouldn’t love any other girl. She didn’t love me so for the next five
years I wouldn’t talk to girls, sit by them, dance, or sing. The girl I
had loved for five years had rejected me.
My Radio (1955)
I was now interested in electricity and started reading about radio and
finally decided to build a one-tube radio. When my radio was built, I
put it in the top of the barn and ran a forty-foot antenna to a pine
tree by Father’s tool shed. I could get the best reception at night.
Some stations I got were from Germany, Australia, and South America.
When I was 14 years old I wanted a motorcycle, but my father didn’t say
no, he said, “Hell No!”
On Saturdays during the summer we had to load up Father’s 8 ft. pram
and drive to mosquito lagoon, row about two miles and unload the boat.
Father and I would work all day planting and watering banana plants.
There were so many mosquito bites that I lost track of them. Your arms
were black with blood sucking mosquitoes. For this grueling days work I
got 50 cents. We loaded the boat in the truck after fighting the
mosquitoes all day. It was dark when we left for Apopka and I was so
tired that I fell asleep many times on the way. It was a wonder that I
didn’t fall out of the truck and be killed, as the truck didn’t have
seat belts or any doors.
Daniel was born in 1955.
The Smoke House (1956)
When Clayton Blackwelder asked me to work in his clean,
air-conditioned, mosquito free grocery store, on Fridays and Saturdays,
I jumped at the chance. The pay was much better as I now got 50 cents
an hour instead of the 50 cents a day with my father. My job was that
of a bag boy and boy were we ever busy. We got a fair amount of money
in tips but I spent most of my tips on food and cold drinks. It was a
good job and I enjoyed it. I was able now to buy a motorbike motor that
I mounted on my bicycle. It would go 35 miles an hour and I rode it all
around Apopka and Orlando. It was top speed all the time and I soon had
it worn out. Now my father finally said yes to my buying a motorcycle.
I finally saved up and bought a used motorcycle. It was a 1949 James
made in England. I took it all apart and repaired and rebuilt
everything. I now had a dream come true and had a chance to go to work
for Schmidt in his motorcycle shop in Orlando at 80 cents an hour. We
got to ride all the different motorcycles in the shop. The cycles that
I liked best were the BSA Gold Star, the BSA Road Rocket, and the
Aerial Square Four. While leaving the motorcycle shop to go home I had
a spectacular motorcycle wreck. A car started to turn left toward
me in my lane and then stopped. I was going 35 miles an hour and didn’t
even have time to put on the brake before I hit the car. I hit the
right front wheel and fender so hard that it broke the tie rod and
broke the forks out of my motorcycle. I had a quart of oil between my
knees that broke his windshield and I flew over the car and I put a
dent in his trunk with my head. Then I hit the street and it knocked me
out for four hours. They took me to the hospital, but let me go after I
came to. When I went to pick up my motorcycle at the impound lot the
man looked at me rather funny as he expected the rider of that
motorcycle to be dead. As it was I didn’t have a scratch on me, God was
with me. I had received my patriarchal blessing and in it I was
promised I would be protected until my mission was over. Another time I
was riding my motorcycle at 35 MPH when a car turned left in front of
me. To miss the car I had to go through a hedge, through a yard, and
out through another hedge. I was not hurt.
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The Teen Years
Young and Single
The Wheel Chair