October 16, 1969, Frank Volavsek, General Manager of Seaboard World
Airlines and his Sales Manager John F. Vuursteen, handed over the
root of a Sequoia Gigantea to Mr. Douwes Dekker, Managing Director
of the Schiphol Airport Authority to commemorate the first ever DC8-freighter
flight between the American West Coast and Schiphol Airport.
In 1994, both Frank and John got together
for the 25th anniversary of the occasion.
Well as it is said, time and the river . . . in this case we returned
26 years later realizing that if you want to plant a giant redwood on
an airport, aside from having some good luck, and care and feeding, you
also need a friendly airport neighbor like a control tower next door.
So here we are today with some pictures
from dear John Vuursteen, who is still alive and well and when he can,
keeping up with the tree he planted at Schiphol 51 years ago.
Before the late Jos van der Woensel (pictured
here with John in 2009), also an advocate of the tree, departed this dimension
in March 2011, he delivered a gem to read for anybody who loves air cargo.
Now that the Seaboard World Redwood at Schiphol
is celebrating 51 years we bring back our dear Jos to tell the story once
air cargo, its origin and fascinating history, you often stroll through
memories to discover some unexpected sparkles in the ashes of the past.
Real pearls of another era that
still linger on in present times.
For myself, I started in 1968 at
Aeroground Services as a warehouse handler.
My career continued in the early
seventies at Pan Am Cargo as cargo representative, and later at Seaboard
World Airlines and before the 70’s closed I returned to Pan Am Cargo
My time with Seaboard or SWA in
Amsterdam I will never forget, nor my years with the Pan Am family.
Because we were families in the
air cargo industry, competitors or not, the memories and relationships
have lingered over the years.
We did what we felt right to do
and kept communication amongst ourselves always open.
You never knew when you needed
each other; operationally, technically or in competitive marketing deals.
Things changed amongst the major
airlines in air cargo over the years, but that’s life’s evolution.
It’s only a natural process.
So coming from the times that the
air cargo industry in Holland belonged to names like Henk Schiphorst,
John Vuursteen, Cees Uittenbogaard, Wibo Aris, Frank Volavsek, Gerard
van Eekhout, Adriaan and Walter Bierman, Ad Scheepbouwer, Peter Legro,
Leo de Haas, Rene Smit and Ohta San, to name just a few offers me (and
you dear reader) a brief encounter with another time and group of air
Once upon a time in the international
air cargo field, as a youngster you met and looked up to people like Colin
Witt, Ralph Wuergler, Jerry O’Driscoll, Bill Boesch, John Mahoney
and in particular John V. Keenan and Al Levinson:
“Give me a Genever, son,
and 4 of these lovely salted raw-herrings,” was Al all the way.
Those were fascinating, bigger
than life air cargo times in Holland.
So many names passed, so many names
But at Schiphol Airport there was
an enigma . . .
In 1969, Frank Volavsek, General
Manager of Seaboard World Airlines in the presence of John F. Vuursteen,
his Sales Manager at that time, handed over the root of a Sequoia Gigantea
to Mr. Douwes Dekker, Managing Director of the Schiphol Airport Authority
during an official ceremony at Schiphol.
The event was held to commemorate
the first ever DC-8 freighter flight between the American West Coast and
The date was October 16, 1969 to
The initiative of Seaboard to plant
what in two or three hundred years might become a giant California Redwood
Tree was soon followed by other airlines.
But only 3 trees survived over
the years in the special ocean-climate that is the Low-Lands here.
Over the four decades since it
was planted, despite storms, the salty atmosphere near the ocean and even
drought, the SWA Sequoia has pushed ever skyward.
Along the way, even though SWA
and almost everybody else was long gone, ever watchful John F. Vuursteen
who followed in the footsteps of Frank Volavsek in his position at Seaboard
World Airlines, in the capacity of Director Benelux & Scandinavia,
kept the SWA tradition high in seeking the well-being of what both considered
In 1994, Frank and John arranged
a personal celebration, commemorating the Sequoia’s 25th anniversary;
a now 40ft or 12 meter beauty.
had become a very successful GSA at the airport he loved so much.
Even after John retired he remained
entangled and ever watchful of the fate of “Their Sequoia”.
When I next met John again, we
were discussing old ‘cargo times’ when he pointed out that
the ‘The Ol’ Lady’ was still alive and kicking at the
airport and now was a 20 meters or 66 foot tall beauty.
I proposed to take some special
pictures of the occasion.
John was very glad to cooperate
and tried hard to find Frank Volavsek’s contact address.
Regretfully we found out that Frank
died only 4 weeks before the planned photo-shoot at Schiphol.
Frank is gone, but will be not
So here are some tokens of life
within life. John F is still pushing the old lady as you can see.
And for myself?
I am proud to have been part of
a Sequoiavian World of Giants.
And Food for Thought . . .
The average lifespan of the Sequoia
Gigantea is 3,500 years.
Now, ask yourselves, who will survive
“The Ol’ Lady”
or . . . Schiphol Amsterdam Airport?
I hope both will.
Jos van der Woensel, Hoofddorp – The
. . . Special thanks to Peter Walter and John Vuursteen