LOW ON GAS – HIGH ON SKY: NICK MAMER’S 1929 VENTURE
J.B. Rivard (2019)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (9/19)
Readers are in for a treat from J.B. Rivard with his latest book, “Low on Gas – High on Sky: Nick Mamer’s 1929 Venture,” an impeccable historical accounting of the first non-stop, transcontinental, round-trip flight across the United States.
It was 1929 when aviators Nick Mamer and Art Walker set out in a single-engine airplane named the Spokane Sun God in hopes of setting a world record. The goal: flying from Spokane, Washington to San Francisco to New York and back – all without landing for fuel. To do this required aerial refueling – a process of refueling mid-air with the aid of specially equipped supply planes. Yikes! The total non-stop flight took five days, the pilots navigating and overcoming incredible challenges from just about every aspect of the journey. The most obvious being the refueling process itself, the pair also encountered other obstacles in the forms of communicating with the ground crews, lack of food and sleep, broken instruments, and natural disasters. It took all of the skills, wits, stamina, and expertise these gentlemen had, with no room for error. It is a trip that set the stage for the future of long-distance aviation travel, and one you won’t soon forget.
Rivard celebrates and pays tribute to this event with his flawless execution, laying out the story in such a way that it reads as thrilling as a novel. That said, there’s no “fluff” – just the facts, as necessary in a historical retelling. With the level of detail included, it’s obvious that meticulous, thorough research was involved, and it appears to have been an exciting challenge and labor of love.
The actual event detailing the various “legs” of the trip are included in the first three sections of the book and is an amazing story. The fourth section contains a biographical accounting of Nick Mamer’s life. There are also several photos included – many of Nick, one of him with his copilot, Art Walker, and a few of the Spokane Sun God – one in particular displaying an aerial refueling in process. “Low on Gas – High on Sky” also contains a glossary of aviation terms (thank you), detailed notes and references, a bibliography and index, and a map showing the route of the Sun God with the refueling locations pinpointed along the way. Those appreciative of Rivard’s writing skills will also be impressed with his artistic style, as shown in a copy of his ink water painting of Nick Mamer, located in the opening pages.
Do yourself a favor and take your time with this reading because there is so much to be learned and admired. I guarantee every time you are on a plane you will think of this book. I did on a recent flight to Albuquerque – finding myself profoundly grateful for all the modern conveniences, namely the lavatory, and even the bag of complimentary pretzels. Every time I read a history book I find myself in awe of those courageous enough to embark on the unknown – those that take chances and risks and put themselves “out there” for the greater good. I know I’ll never look at air turbulence in the same way again – we’ve come a long way baby!
With more detail than a textbook and abundantly superior in entertainment and historical value, “Low on Gas – High on Sky” is a book I highly recommend to aviation history aficionados and fans of non-fiction in general. It is a must-read important piece of aviation history. Kudos, Mr. Rivard – well done!