Arnold’s Coffee Shop

When I arrived at Beale Air Force Base I met an individual who may have possessed a negative attitude that was the worst ever. Rumors stated he had earned an electrical engineering degree from Princeton. With such a high-powered education I wondered how he ended up as an aircraft maintainer, fixing the things he should have been designing.

His air force job was maintaining the fire control systems on B-52G aircraft – guns, optics, and radar systems that controlled them. His shop was haunted by an aircraft with an intermittent gun problem. Sometimes they fired. Sometimes they didn’t. The shop chief and his underlings were beginning their second day into this intermittent malfunction and the Wing Commander, a brigadier general, had sent the Deputy Commander of Maintenance around asking questions. Someone suggested it might be a fuse that looked serviceable, but was fractured and somehow the result of inflight vibration. Desperate for any solution the shop chief let his eyes drift around the shop. They settled on Arnold.

“Arnold!”

“Yeah?”

“Go out to aircraft 579 and bring me all the fuses.”

Arnold headed for the flightline. A half-hour later he returned and dumped what may have been a hundred, perhaps two-hundred fuses onto a work bench.

“What the hell have you done?” the shop chief hissed, the veins at his temples standing out.

“I pulled all the fuses like you said.”

“Get out of here. Take the rest of the day off. Get out of my sight.”

After Arnold was gone the shop chief contacted the 579 crew chief, the man responsible for the aircraft when it is on the ground, and asked him to come to the fire control shop ASAP.

There are always security measures described as “a need to know” and I didn’t need to know. So I left.

Aircraft 579 was out of commission for several days while the hydraulic, engine, instruments, radios, navigation, autopilot people sorted through the fuse pile, claiming what they thought came from their systems. It had become a serious situation of the type that often cost supervisors their careers.

Arnold’s security clearance was modified. He was no longer allowed on the flight line. His sole duty was the coffee shop.

The coffee cost only a nickel, so no one expected world-class brew. But this coffee became so strong it had a taste all its own. I watched him open a fresh three-pound can of coffee and dump the contents into a 30-cup urn and then start it perking.

Word got around and we stopped drinking it. However, one morning officers were heading for Commander’s Call to present progress reports to the squadron commander. A captain en route with his report paused a cup.

“What have you done to this?” he shouted after spewing his first sip onto the floor.

“Sir, if you don’t like our service you may take your business elsewhere,” Arnold stated with a poker face.

The following day someone else was making coffee and Arnold   was pushing a broom.

In the course of time I learned Arnold had summoned political influence from his Massachusetts Congressman, making virtually untouchable. His adventure does not end with the coffee shop.

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