Cromwell Dixon, born in 1892, showed an aptitude for inventing from a very young age. Among the items he built was a rowboat for four rowers and a mechanical fish made from windup clocks. When his inventions did not work as he anticipated, Cromwell did not despair. He would simply regroup and look for another way to make them function. "That boy had more gumption than a gopher."
August 9, 1907 was the day of the Sky-Cycle's maiden flight. A crowd gathered in Columbus, Ohio and watched awestruck as "with barely a sound, the Sky-Cycle came to life and floated away, lighter than air." Cromwell climbed to 2,500 feet, but then, unexpectedly, the Sky-Cycle began losing altitude. The gas cap on the balloon had come loose, letting hydrogen escape. Cromwell kept his wits about him and climbed off the bike, onto the frame and refastened the gas cap, but the Sky-Cycle continued to rapidly descend. Cromwell began to lighten his load by jettisoning all non-essentials. He was able to regain control of the Sky-Cycle but there was too much hydrogen loss to continue his flight. He was forced to make an emergency landing almost two miles from his starting point.
As I have mentioned - too many times probably - both of my boys love to build. My pillow cushions hardly ever remain on the couch because they are constantly being used to construct forts, rocketships, caves etc. It is maddening at times, but I try to nurture their imagination - plus it means less time spent begging to play video games. I have also made sure an abundant supply of old fashioned toys such as Tinkertoys, Lincoln logs, Legos, blocks and puzzles are always on hand.
My eldest, since the age of 3, has been consistent in his desire to be a builder/inventor. Thus, he loves any book about creative young boys. If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen and Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn are on his list of top 5 books. Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle, however, has been his absolute favorite book, hands down, for 2 years. His love for this book can be attributed to the fact that Cromwell Dixon was a real boy who accomplished an impressive feat. Reading about Cromwell Dixon makes my son's dream more tangible. I still recall how incredulous my boys were the very first time we read about Cromwell Dixon designing, building and finally flying his own invention.
I cannot end this post without mentioning my eldest child's recent accomplishment. He is looking over my shoulder as I type this and beaming. He had been pleading for a 5000 piece Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon building set since he was 5 yrs. old. Santa Claus is not rich at our house, nor is Santa Claus insane, so my son instead received the 1200 piece set this Christmas. All on his own, he followed the diagrams and assembled it in 2 days. That's my boy! I cannot help but feel that Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle helped him accomplish what in my mind is an impressive feat for a 6 year old, by fueling his passion for inventing with each read through the years. John Abbott Nez has written an intriguing true story of imagination, perseverance, courage and skill. The illustrations are also a treat!
Caveat: My interest in Cromwell Dixon piqued, I wanted to learn more. Sadly, I discovered that he died in 1911 at 19 years of age in a plane crash. Thankfully, John Abbott Nez does not mention this tragic fact in his picture book and I have never told my kids, but will once they are older. This fact in no way diminished my fondness for this inspiring story.