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Wild Bill, we called him. Much like “Big Al,” there probably aren’t any guys named Bill who haven’t been called Wild Bill at some point. Bill was one of those older than dirt guys (to a pimply faced 22 year old) who’d been in the CAA/FAA for ages. He might have known Archie League (legendary “original” controller from the ’30s). By the time I came on board, Bill was a supervisor and his active control days were long past.
He was short of stature but had big ideas. I have no idea what he must have been like as a controller, because my total memory of him was standing behind TLH or ABY Low plugged into the overhead console acting as a coordinator. Coordinators at ZJX were a vaguely defined assignment, that I believe pretty much meant “go hang around here until it’s time to shove.” At least in ZAU we had an actual network of coordination that was done on two or three different circuits and a lot was accomplished. We staffed them probably twelve hours a day. But in ZJX, I think you could say they were ceremonial.
By “big ideas” I mean Bill was dramatic or excitable. He was one of those guys who made much more of an issue out of anything than it deserved. I didn’t know him well enough to compile a dossier but I do remember one story that was passed about a lot.
Back in the old center (when it was at the old Imeson airport on North Main Street) the facility was crowded and compact, completely unlike the 1960s vintage centers that you see now. At left is the old Chicago Center at MDW, probably of the same vintage. The old Jacksonville center at Imeson would likely have looked much the same.
My impresssion (I was never in one) is they were sort of in a back corner in a hanger or the terminal, and had morphed into a real, albeit overstuffed, ATC facility by the time they had outgrown them and were retired. However, as old, makeshift facilities, they suffered leaks and air handling issues as well as vermin, no doubt.
One time, a considerable rainstorm passed through putting all the leaks to work to good effect. So much so, that the controllers had to evacuate after making the appropriate coordinations with adjacent facilities to take over the airspace. As the flood waters rose, Bill, one of the last to leave, was seen standing on a milk crate, with a 52 headset on, and telling any aircraft on the frequency whom they should contact. Not nearly in as orderly a fashion as you’re reading this—no, Bill was dramatic. He was heard saying, sounding like the wireless operator on the Titanic, “I don’t know if anyone can hear me. This may be my last transmission…”
Dramatic. It was just a little flood.
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