Willy Heckaslyke and the amazing flying machine ©

© john cropley

The Heckaslyke family lived in a large rented house. Mrs. Heckaslyke, a very small woman, had given birth to four sons and never presented Mr. Heckaslyke with a daughter. 

The oldest of the boys was Willy who came into the world around two and half years before I did. We always wondered about his name - not Heckaslyke, that was a common name amongst the fens, no, what puzzled us was why was he called Willy.  The answer that was always given was simple and well known in the village.

When Willy was presented for his Christening at the Church, Mr and Mrs Heckaslyke were still arguing about his name. Mr. Heckaslyke wanted him to be named after Cyril, Sydney, the Heckaslyke Grandfather on his side. However Mrs. Heckaslyke wanted the name, Rudolph, due to the fact she was a fan of the old silent movie star Valentino. Mr. Hekaslyke was adamant - so too was Mrs Hekaslyke.

 

When the day finally dawned and they were all scrubbed up for the occasion. Mr. Heckaslyke had his ‘Hatched, matched and dispatched ‘ suit on and young Willy was wrapped in the family Christening robe. 

The service began and the couple moved forward to meet the Rev Merryweather at the font. Everything went fine until they got to the naming of the child, as Rev Merryweather took the child up into his arms, he turned to the parents and whispered for his name. Mrs. Heckaslyke was quick off the mark and whispered back, “He is to be called Rudolph, that will be his name..”.Immediately Mr. Heckaslyke, being a little slower, made up for his lack of speed in volume and shouted out  in a loud voice for all the congregation to hear “Will he heck as like!!”. Rev. Merryweather perceiving that a ‘domestic’ was brewing, quickly seized the initiative and because Mr. Heckaslyke’s voice had been heard by all, began, “ William Heckaslyke I baptise thee In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” . And it was done. At least that’s how we heard it.

 

It was clear from the beginning that Willy Heckaslyke was going to be an unusual child, he had an inventive nature and regularly took apart all his clockwork toys to see how they worked. He like to remark things and try to improve their performance. Once he took four clockwork mice, nailed them to a piece of wood and made a troop transporter for his lead soldiers. In his later years after a visit to Mablethorpe and seeing the paddle boats on the lake, returned home to make Dunston’s first pedal powered raft, unfortunately it sank under the first fen bridge, taking Willy and Georgina Pilsworth with it!

 

The rest of the Heckaslyke lads were not unlike Willy and supported him in his endeavors. Next in line, born only five days before me, was Cyril or Podgy. He was followed two years later by Rudy then bringing up the rear was Dicky. 

 

This spread of offspring was excellent for the older Willy. He used Podgy to test out the stability of an invention, Rudy, who was the daredevil of the family, to test drive, or float, the thing and wee Dicky, being the smallest, was used to effect, in showing us all how ‘easy’ it was to operate. They made a formidable team.

 

One of Willy Heckaslyke’s inventions stands out even more than his Submarine, which sank without loss just beyond the water works dam, was his Flying Machine.  Willy was not noted for his aeronautical inventions and had mostly stuck to the ground or water. However after a visit to RAF Waddington and being allowed to sit in the rear turret of a Lincoln Bomber, he took to the idea of a Flying Machine.

 

The first indications of this were when he began to show everyone at school an old football bladder that he had cut out into the shape of a leather flying helmet. We all knew he was up to something as he usually gave hints as to what he was doing, then he would disappear into his dad’s garage and when he thought it was favourable, would appear to announce his launching, unveiling or demonstration of whatever he had concocted. We would then all appear to gaze in amazement as Willy’s invention, either blew up, sank, or chewed up and threw off some poor volunteer. 

We looked forward to these events. I, myself, usually went with a bandaged arm, wrist or knee, so that I could say I would have volunteered to demonstrate for him, if I hadn’t got this..  I was an early developer in the skill of self preservation.

 

Willy’s brothers were sworn to secrecy and there was nothing you could say, or do that would get the secret out from them. Sometimes we would sneak up to the garage to take a look, only to be trapped by Willy’s endless  array of ‘alarm systems’ and early warning devices. In the end we just gave up and like the rest of the village waited.

 

There were many events in our village life that we all looked forward to. When the circus came, when the little fayre pitched itself on our green, Chapel and Church outings, Garden Fates etc.

All these brought everyone out. It was the same for Willy Heckaslykes inventions. Everyone in the village seemed to turn up to watch another failure and encourage our own Willy Heckaslyke, inventor extroidinaire!

 

None of us realised that what we were about to see was one of the most amazing creations that Dunston folk had ever witness - it was not the most elaborate - Willy’s Threshing Machine was streets ahead in that score. However it was on of the most visually stunning and what it did, I choose my words carefully, it was what it did, not what it was supposed to do that amazed us all.

 

The day of the unveiling had been timed to coincide with Battle of Britain day and word went around the village that Willy Heckaslyke’s flying machine would be making its maiden flight from the football field at the top of the village. The brothers would bring it up covered with a tarpaulin riding on a modified  set of pram wheels.

 

The lads and many of the village people had gathered. It was a lovely warm sunny day and according to Willy a good day for flying.  He was so confident that he wasn’t even going to let his younger brother test out the machine. Instead he would do it himself. 

He told some of us that he hoped to make the outskirts of Nocton Wood, a good two miles, before he would ‘bring her about and head for home’. We believed him, even though we knew of his past failures, we really wanted him to succeed this time. 

 

We all gathered round. Willy stepped forward to do his speech, he always did a speech to introduce his inventions and explain to us less technical folk the dynamics of it and explain exactly what it would do, so we could wonder at the sheer brilliance of it.

 

“This flying machine”, said Willy, ‘ will take off from the incline at the railway line end of the pitch and will gather speed and fly over the hedge at the bottom, across the lane, over the pig pens  in the field towards Nocton Wood ..then I will bank it right and return to land on the pitch”

 

It was as simple as that. He then went on to explain the technicalities of the machine.

“It is powered by  Sturmany Archer three geared pedal power, which through a series of these cogs, turns the two wheels at the back. Each wheel is fitted with wooden paddles, thus giving the likeness of propellers.  When I get up sufficient speed, this will give lift to these large wings, which in turn can be maneuvered for direction by these strings. The four pram wheels will give sufficient movement for take-off and landing. I have fitted a bell, in case of emergency landings. I will be wearing my leather flying helmet, and sun glasses in case I get too near the sun. I intend to take some money in case I crash land, so I can get a bus back..’ And so it went on...and on..we were standing in the shadow of a genius.

 

It is hard to describe the machine. Willy was very good at using materials. The whole machine was painted white and it had regulation ‘Bullseye's’ on the wings and “Willy Heckaslykes flying machine 001” painted on each side. The seat was from an Austin Seven and was nailed to boards that rested on the four pram wheels. The wings were strips of wood fastened together by cross pieces, which hinged flaps worked by a series of block and tackles.  

The power came from the pedals and long bike chain that connected to a sprog at the rear, which in turn using a cunning arrangement of cogs converted the power into the wheels. Both wheels had gearing in them, so Willy had to change gear at the same time. To enable this to take place and to enable him to get enough pressure on the pedals, Willy had secured a set of racing bike handle bars to the chassis. He had no brakes. Around the whole thing was nailed heavy duty cardboard to form a basic body.

Some other bits were covered up and we can only guess that these were secret workings of some sort. I had to admit, that the whole thing was very impressive.

 

Willy too, looked impressive. He walked towards the machine wearing his ‘flying helmet’ and mum’s scarf and a pair of overalls cut to size. He bent down, picked up a piece of grass, then threw it in the air to check the wind. He then looked towards the sun, shading his eyes with his hands and nodded knowingly. All this completed he climbed into the machine.

 

It took us a good five minutes to get Willy to the top end of the field and get him set up. We picked a run that would avoid most of the cow pats on the pitch and got ready for take-off.

 

Willy signaled “Hekaslykes away!” he shouted. We pushed as hard as we could. The object was to get Willy moving and give him as much speed as we could, then it was over to him. He would get a good lift from the steep drop at the end of the pitch, at least enough to clear the hedge and lane - that was the plan.

 

Off we went. We pushed until we couldn’t keep up, Rex fell over earlier having skidded on a cow pat. Badger, Podgy and me then let him and the machine go. Willy was now peddling furiously, he had moved into second gear and then into top. We saw a little light underneath the wheels as he lifted upwards, only to come down again, this hopping continued for some yards. Up, down, up, down as he approached the steep drop.

 

At the drop a lot of people were assembled. They knew that it was likely to here that they would have the best view of Willy hitting the hedge. On he came. I must confess that the machine seemed to be working fine - the speed was good, the lift was happening and he was going in a straight line. Willy was happy with events so far, we knew that by the fact he rang his bell and howled.

 

The drop was imminent. The top of it had a short incline, with just enough lift to propel Willy upwards. He pulled on his strings and the flaps went up - as so did Willy. To our utter amazement he and the machine seemed to take off. He cleared the first hedge beneath the drop, then he had enough momentum to clear the lane and clip the second hedge.  Peddling furiously tried to gain more height as the pig pens loomed. The pig pens were a series of corrugated iron huts shaped like Anderson shelters - two, very muddy, fields of these lay before and beneath the Aviator.

 

Willy tried to gain height, but it was obvious that the drop has given him just enough height to only clear the hedges - obvious, that is to us, but Willy thought he could make it. He began peddling harder, the wheels whirled faster - but Willy and the machine didn’t gain height.

It seemed now to going in slow motion as Willy wrestled with the controls, we all watched, wondering where and how he would return to earth.

 

Beneath him the Saddlebacks and Large Whites had looked up from their turnips and see the sun blocked out by this aeronautical wonder heading their way with a frantic Willy at the controls. The sight of this didn’t give them much confidence in the outcome so they panicked, squealed and ran in all directions to avert the plummeting apparition. This set off a chain reaction amongst all the pigs, they seemed to clear a landing strip for Willy.

 

The time was well now due for Willy to be reunited with the ground. His right wing hit first and stuck on impact in the deep soft mud, this sent the machine into a cart wheeling motion, which because of the sudden nature of it, catapulted Willy from his seat and Willy was airborne for a second time, this time without his machine. I don’t think I have ever seen such a sight, we all gasped in unison to see Willy airborne again - some of us thought this was part of his plan.

 

The herd had gone a good distance, but Willy was faster and overtook the majority and landed with his full force on one of the lead Saddlebacks. The beast in turn increased its speed due to the shock and veered towards the left with Willy hanging on.

 

None of us had any idea of the turn of speed that Pigs were capable of and soon Willy and the Saddleback had reached the far end of the field. It was only the pig wire fence that prevented the beast from going further. Pigs do not have great eyesight, especially when traveling at speed and the Saddleback failed to see the wire and hit it with force.

 

The result of this was that Willy let go and was airborne for the third time! This flight was very short and finally, the great aviator, was reunited with the earth in the next field, coming to rest face down in the mud, just short of a feeding trough.

 

Willy was unhurt and very philosophical about his flights. He thought that the wind was clearly in the wrong direction and that his gearing was all wrong - otherwise, he said, it was a good first attempt. He was also quite taken by the pig’s turn of speed and that used in the right way, could be harnessed to good effect.

 

Sadly, for Willy, his dad told him not to build any more machines that involved flying or gliding, but he did go on to other heights of incredibility and one of them,  did involve a pair of pigs, some turnips, and, if I remember rightly a sledge or trolley of some sort. 

 

 © john cropley

 

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Hi John

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