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Family Aid 2020
   Vol. 21 No. 11
Thursday March 10, 2022

Gentleman Bill 90 In The Shade

Bill Spohrer

     Bill Spohrer had done about as much as anyone you ever met to lift organized cargo when he served as CEO of Miami-based Challenge Air Cargo. He became a driving force of a great all-cargo enterprise based at MIA that landed four square behind a new idea for a trade show called Air Cargo Americas and also helped lift the comeback of TIACA. Bill celebrated reaching 90 years of age last June 11th.
     Today, living quietly and comfortably out of touch in Florida with wife Lynn, Bill is smiling his way toward 91 years of age in just about four months.
     Doesn’t get around much anymore, but here we recall some things from a lifetime of our coverage, including the 18 years he labored as the boss of a dynamic air cargo enterprise—Challenge Air Cargo.
     Truth be told, what Bill has done with his life is a stirring and inspiring story for the ages.
     Bill Spohrer has travelled extensively on the high road to adventure. His story has the excitement and immediacy of a Zane Grey novel straight out of the history he helped create.
          “Fly the ocean in a silver plane—
          See the jungle when it’s wet with rain.”

     Bill has done both many times.
     What’s more, his life has been within reach of the air cargo industry for more than 60 years.
     When “Gentleman” Bill Spohrer came upon the scene at Miami International Airport, air cargo operations were dominated by the likes of Pan American, Slick Airways, Eastern and National Airlines.
     When he “left” 23 years ago, having sold the airline he founded—Challenge Air Cargo to UPS—Bill had among other things transformed what was “Corrosion Corner” at the airport into something else.
     Once upon a time, at MIA there was a collection of old Curtiss C46s, DC3s, Lockheed Constellations and other itinerant, even more mysterious aircraft, which shifted uneasily with the tide of a cargo construction boom at the airport, moving in and out every night on little cat’s feet.
     “Corrosion Corner,” situated at the northwest corner of the field, is where in the early afternoon nacelles for reciprocating piston engines were strewn about the hardstand as mechanics labored under the intense South Florida sun, patching up dogged old sky wagons for one more assignment as air cargo carriers.
     During the dark, early morning hours while everyone else slept, Corrosion Corner Miami was wide-awake like twelve o’ clock high, with cargo on the move.
     Here, loadmasters barked out instructions in Spanish to ground crews, as half century old cranky, sputtering engines come to life.
     Later a parade of vintage aircraft moved slowly away like silver ghosts glinting in the moonlight, laughing in throaty growls at having once more cheated a nearby crane that relentlessly chops up the less fortunate.
     Today in 2022 at Miami International, where a colorful and rich part of airport history and legend are recalled, there stands a giant, around-the-clock, automated refrigerator, surrounded by the streamlined cladding of a modern air cargo transfer facility.
     It’s a giant reefer masquerading as a cargo terminal emblazoned with the name UPS, as a center point created by, you guessed it, Bill Spohrer for what today is an integral entire string of buildings more commonly called “the cool chain.”
     Bill Spohrer very early saw the handwriting on the wall and ramped up the Challenge Air Cargo Terminal into a new landmark for air shippers at Miami International Airport.
     Miami of course owes much of its standing in the world of air cargo to the shipment of perishables.
     Miami International Airport moves more perishables than all the other airports in the USA combined.
     So UPS, known for having an eye for a good thing, decided to make a big entry into South America, adding service to a couple dozen destinations served by Challenge and in the process got the big, automated reefer operation located at one corner of MIA, as part of the bargain.
     After the purchase, Bill Spohrer stayed on with the UPS team at Challenge for a while to work things in for the new owners, and to basically show them the ropes in Latin America.
     After all, the man did have the plan, and he was well-known and respected everywhere.
     Bill, able to speak several languages, including French and Spanish also knew the Latin American air cargo market like the back of his hand.
     But eventually it was time to move on.
     Post Challenge Air Cargo, a small bed and breakfast interest up in the panhandle area of Florida provided some focus in another area, plus an exercise in broadened horizons, not to mention a respite from aviation.
     Bill Spohrer had always been an explorer. He enjoyed discovery not from an arm chair, but out in the wild, where the “challenge” is in your face and real.
     When we were assembling our landmark 250-page picture book on the history of Miami International Airport 39 years ago we learned that Bill
once spent three months exploring the Mosquito Coast of Honduras.
     There have been other multi-month “interludes” in Bill Spohrer’s life, including an early latch up with Eugene Fodor, the guide book guy.
     Bill traveled all over South America creating the first, truly great descriptive guide of the continent.
     In the beginning as a young man, Bill Sphorer was tutored in the Latin American airline game, first by legendary Lowell Yerex who founded the TACA chain of airlines during the 1930s, and later by C.N. Shelton who took on mighty Panagra with his TAN “barefoot airlines,” providing service down the west coast of South America much in the fashion that Southwest and Jet Blue operate low-cost airlines today.
     But when the music stopped at Miami International Airport, the UPS job completed, Bill reached back across the decades to make a sentimental journey back to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) taking a trip to Vietnam where he had served as aide-de-camp in 1954 to the American Advisory Group commander there.
     Once again to Southeast Asia, Gentleman Bill moved about Saigon, looking for what might be left or ever became of an era out of Graham Greene’s book “The Quiet American.”
     Back to the main streets of that beautiful and still intriguing city, where Bill and his lovely wife and alter-ego Lynn set up headquarters in the ante-bellum Hotel Continental with its big slow motion ceiling fans and French and American expatriate café society.
     “I just wanted to see if I could remember the places and times of nearly fifty years ago,” Bill told me.
     A last journey of discovery most lovely to recall had Gentleman Bill and two companions,—lifelong friends, on an extended trip of discovery down the Mighty Amazon River in Brazil.
     “You hear about the Amazon River, as images of jungles and swamp wild areas are conjured by the name,” Bill said of that trip 20 years ago.
     “The truth is that the Amazon that we think we know is nothing at all like the reality of traveling through an area as big as Montana and California.
     “Our trip began in Manaus.
     “Our mode was one of the hundreds of three-deck river boats that stand for transportation in that part of the world
     “The three of us (one of the men, a travel writer who was 87 years old at the time) boarded this quite plain, but clean and well-kept river boat, not unlike the big side wheelers of the Mississippi minus the side wheel.
     “We rode first class on the top deck which costs a grand total of $18 bucks a day including meals.
     “Of course you need to bring your own hammock which is strung up at night, up there for sleeping.
     “Bathroom facilities are exactly one unit for boys and another for the girls.
     “Meals were rice and beans with either pork or chicken.
     “But you know something?
     “We all had a great time of it!
     “We were traveling with native Brazilians,” Bill recalled,” who lived throughout the area, as they moved from town to town on the river.
     “The local people are for the most part, quite poor.
     However the civility that was evident between everybody aboard our boat as we moved on the Amazon was remarkable.
     “There just was never a voice above normal decibel. Despite the close quarters everyone was just great.
     “My colleagues wrote, read books and generally got off and on the boat at every stop using the opportunity to explore a dozen small villages along the way.
     “We saw jungle and also high cliffs and bluffs, ridges and foliage reminiscent of manicured English gardens at various stages of our journey.
     “But for three weeks not one person we encountered, spoke a single word of English.
     “I must admit the contrast to everyday life was quite wonderful, not to mention the learning curve for advancing my use of the beautiful Portuguese language,” Bill said.
     “I also managed to learn something else. For years I have been stuffing aircraft full of freight. But when I stood wide eyed and saw how these river traders on the Amazon stuff dripping oozing crocodile skins into the lower holds of the river boats, I felt like a kid in school again.
     “Now that kind of work is the real cargo business, unadorned and right down to cases. Imagine what the people who go into those holds to retrieve the shipment of skins have to be made of, considering conditions after the skins have been packed away for a couple of days?”
     Like we said at the top, Gentleman Bill made easy work out of discovery.
     Although that life is in the past, it is grand to recall an air cargo pioneer talking about challenging the Amazon river a couple of decades ago, when now he has lived long enough to see an air cargo company named Amazon on top of the world the world, with 400,000 drivers worldwide, 40,000 semi-trucks, 30,000 vans, and a fleet of more than 70 all-cargo aircraft.
     There is something tremendously uplifting about Gentleman Bill Spohrer.
     He is unique of all the people that we have met in our years covering air cargo.
     What his life, so well-lived that thankfully continues today, tells all of us is that there is always a reason to explore new horizons, or to visit old haunts and enrich our appreciation of history.
     “Just like Mike” was an oft heard phrase by kids paying tribute to the great basketball star and hero, Michael Jordan.
     For me, I am hoping for a week, a river and if allowed, a hammock when its 90 in the shade, to be just like Bill.
     Keep on keepin’ on, dear friend.
Geoffrey Arend

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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Vol. 21 No. 8
A Clear & Decent Kuehlewind
ATC To The Heart
Chuckles for February 14, 2022
NOLA Straightens Up and Flies Right
Think Fast Not Twice
Something About Nothing
Valentine From Benji

Vol. 21 No. 9
Virus Outbreak In Hong Kong
About Air Cargo Americas
Chuckles for February 28, 2022
Power Of Prayer
She's Too Fat For Me
Medgar Evers Long Time Landing In Jackson
Celebrating Fat Tuesday

Vol. 21 No. 10
Miami Cargo Warms Up The World
Chuckles for March 7, 2022
Extending Reach for Air Cargo
Black Americans In Flight
Friends For All These Years

Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend • Editor Emeritus-Richard Malkin
Film Editor-Ralph Arend • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend

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