The woman was in labor, no doubt about it. She had wanted to visit her husband in California and convinced her dad to let her ride with him in his Ford Tri-motor plane, which could hold 15 people.
“You’re almost due,” her father told her but she would hear none of it.
Somewhere over Colorado, Utah or Nevada he helped his daughter deliver a healthy baby boy — Delbert Ganson. Born in the sky, Delbert’s had a love of flying and traveling ever since.
After losing his dad at three years old, Delbert grew up splitting his time between Montana and San Francisco.
“My great uncle had a ranch in Montana and my brother and I would spend summers up there,” he said. “I’d go back to school in San Francisco in the winter.”
The greatest summer he ever had is still seared in his memory.
“It was the summer I was 15,” he said. “Uncle Frank would meet us at the train station and take us out to the ranch. My brother got out and I started grabbing my gear. My uncle says, ‘You stay where you’re at.’ He drove me out to a line shack up on the north end of the ranch.
“He said, ‘You’re spending the summer here, riding the fence.’ There was the horse, Snip, Rex, the border collie who was great company, and me. That’s all I did. I had 10 miles of fence that I had to ride and check to make sure it was okay. Cattle or anything would break fence. There’s a lot of things that could happen. You never knew.
“Once a week a cook from the ranch would come out and bring me some magazines and food. That was it. I had the most wonderful summer of my life,” Delbert said. “I think that was the summer I grew up, the summer I really realized what life was all about. I had time to think. Today people don’t take time to think — everything has to be quick, quick, quick, fast, fast, fast.
“But when you are out there from sunrise to sunset — no radio — there are only magazines and books to read. You’re out there — just you and the two animals — all you do is make sure the fence isn’t broken — what do you do? You read. You sit around and you think. It gives you time to think about you and what’s happening to you and what’s happening where you are. It’s hard to put in words. It’s you and the entire world right there.
“I found out that I was me, that I could do anything that I want in this world and I’ve tried to do that ever since,” he said, with a wide grin.
Thinking first about becoming a doctor, WWII came along.
“The war changed everything,” he said.
After graduation from high school, Delbert joined the Navy, switching to the Air Force after the war.
“I’d had my pilots license since I was 12, so I wanted to fly,” said Delbert.
It was his Uncle Leo McFerson who had taught him to fly.
“The Marines only had three pilots in WWI and Uncle Leo was one of them. He shot down six German planes during WWI. When he came back, he didn’t quite know how to settle down. He started roaming around the world as a Solder of Fortune. Coming back, he talked my grandfather into buying an airplane company — Swallow Aircraft — in Wichita, Kansas.
“Something happened and my grandfather laid down the law which was a smart move because it happened right before the ‘29 crash. He said, ‘I’m not putting any more money in this company. Get rid of it.’ Uncle Leo went to South America and started running guns to the revolutions down there!” said Delbert, roaring with laughter. “During prohibition he flew booze from Canada. He’d go anywhere and fly. That was my Uncle Leo — black sheep of the family — wonderful man.”
While at March Field in California Delbert spied a notice on a bulletin board requesting volunteers.
“They were looking for couriers but they wanted single men because it wasn’t a job for a married man,” Delbert said. “On one trip I flew from Berlin to Moscow, to Iran, to India, to Japan, to South America to Canada and back to Europe. As of 1970, I had physically set foot on every country on the face of the earth. Not today, because Russia is now 20 different countries. Back in those days, we did actually handcuff the briefcase to ourselves for protection.
“I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I liked moving around. Grandpa told me a long time ago, ‘God made a big beautiful world. He gave you two eyes. See as much of it as you can!’”
Having six to 30 hour layovers didn’t really give Delbert time for a life.
“There was nothing to do during the layovers. You can’t speak the language. Museums are tiring. You don’t really spend six hours in a church. The only person who speaks to you in a restaurant is your waiter. So what do you do? You find a pub,” he said. “When you are a stranger in a strange place, the only place you get people to talk to you is in pubs, taverns, bistros and bars.”
“You go in there. You don’t have to speak the language. You grab a napkin, draw a little picture and first thing you know you have somebody looking and asking, ‘Oh, what’s that?’”
Delbert is talking about his cartoon drawings he has been doing much of his life.
“These drawings started back in 1952 at the Gasthaus Wolfe in Kastelaun, Germany. They had nice size napkins and I would sketch weird stuff on them. I have drawings in over 75 different countries right now,” Delbert said. “I thought about being a cartoonist a number of years ago but there’s one thing wrong with that - it involves a 4-letter word I dislike very much - work!”
Nonetheless, Delbert’s drawings have been a part of him all these years, even today.
During those years, he married and had two children. Losing his daughter in an airplane accident in ‘79 and his son who went missing as a government agent in ‘81, Delbert developed a philosophy.
“It’s hell but after all these years you get used to it, but you never totally heal,” he said. “It’s like when you lose a spouse. It hurts, it hurts, hurts, but life goes on and you wouldn’t want that spouse sitting around, mooning over you. Go live life. That’s what’s life is for! Life is to live - not to sit around feeling sorry for yourself or other people.”
By the time Delbert came back to the states in 1980, after living on a ranch in Rhodesia for nine years, he had decided to spend the rest of his life tooling around in a sailboat. That is until he met Gladys Smith, whom he affectionately called GG for Gladys Goodbody.
“We traveled all over Mexico, Canada and the U.S. in a 5th wheeler — eight feet wide, 32 feet long, 365 days a year. Now, that’s togetherness. I adored that woman,” he said tenderly of his beloved he lost a few years ago.
The boat would have been christened Someday, so the trailer was named Someday. They traveled all over the world, Gladys keeping track of their travels with pins marking where they had spent 10 days or longer.
“Tahiti is beautiful, but it’s boring — all you do is surf and fish. But if you make the trek, the place to go is Cook’s on Morea Island.
“For two weeks we were with a tour on Malta. More history has happened on that island than any place on the face of the earth because it’s right in the center of the Mediterranean. If you’re interested in people and history, that’s the place to go. It’s fascinating!”
A spry 82 years old, he lives with Honey Baby and Millie, his two cats and still has grand plans.
“I plan on either sky diving or going up in a balloon on my 100th birthday. I’ve flown, I’ve been in a glider. I’ve flown small planes. I would like to go in an ultra light also,” he said, eyes gleaming at the prospect of a new adventure. “The day you quit wanting to do something is the day to pack it up and go home.”