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Major “Shorty” Schroeder. Photo: Museum of the U.S. Air Force


TOP LEFT: The Heinz cereal company printed promotional collector cards with portraits and short biographies on the reverse during the late 1930s. Its selection of aviators featured “Shorty” Schroeder in the same series with Eddie Rickenbacher (WWII ace) and Louise Thaden (1929 winner of the National Womens Air Derby).


LEGACY OF “SHORTY”


THE TALL RUDOLPH WILLIAM SCHROEDER (1885-1952) By Giacinta Bradley Koontz I


n 1908, siblings Louis, Augustin and Laurent Sequin created the fi rst practical challenge to water-cooled engines based upon their automobile and marine


power plants manufactured near Paris. They named it the Gnome after a hard working, small mythical creature that guarded underground treasure. By 1909, they convinced their country’s most famous aviator, Louis Paulhan, to affi x Gnome Omega No.1 to his Farman aircraft with which he won the Grand Prix prize at the Rheims Air Meet (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne). During 1909 and 1910, Paulhan thrilled spectators at air meets in Europe and the United States. He fl ew his Farman (with a new Gnome engine) in the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Hills, CA. That same year, Otto Brodie (a recent graduate of the


Curtiss Flying School) needed a mechanician to keep his Curtiss pusher in one piece while he made exhibition fl ights in the Midwest. He met Schroeder while based at Chicago’s Cicero Field. At six feet, four inches tall, Schroeder was already known for his mechanical skills. He was otherwise described as a “serious, sad looking man who played a fi ne accordion.” Brodie is said to have nicknamed him “Shorty.”


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Born in Chicago during 1885, Schroeder was a gifted student who progressed through educational training at Crane Technical School. He was experimenting with his own glider designs in 1909, just prior to meeting Brodie. Although of diff erent backgrounds, they were a good match. Schroeder’s mechanical skills kept Brodie fl ying, but the Curtiss did not last long. In 1911, Brodie acquired a used Farman aircraft with a 50hp Gnome engine from wealthy New York aviator Cliff ord Harmon. Schroeder added metric tools to his trade and got his hands greasy on the Sequin brothers’ rotary-engine Gnome. The image of a colorful, mischievous garden gnome is nothing like the solid, all- business, metal construction of the odd-numbered cylinder engine that bears the same name. “In this type of engine, the crankshaft is mounted on the


airplane, while the crankcase and cylinders rotate with the propeller,” writes engine historian Matt Keveney. When he initially learned how the Gnome worked, Keveney’s reaction was that, “the only person crazier than the engine designer was the one who paid money for it. At fi rst glance, it seems ridiculously backwards.”


Photo: Author’s private collection.


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