TALOA Alumni Association
Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
Captain Russ Steinhauer, A Good Friend
by Joe Stachon
I'm not sure when Russ joined TAL, probably 1946 or 1947. I
didn't get to know him well until we started to operate through
Wake Island in 1947. In those days, long layovers were the
rule and quite often both Russ and I were there at the same
time. I soon learned to appreciate and enjoy the company of
this wise and talented man.
To start with, as a pilot, I am sure he was unexcelled. As far
as I know, no person or airplane ever suffered so much as a
scratch while in his care during his thirty five years of flying.
Other, less known talents, that made him a most interesting
person to be with- he was a very skilled card trick artist. At the
same time, he was very honest - therefore he refused to play
gin-rummy or poker for money with his friends because, as
he put it, "It would be like taking candy away from fish in a
barrel." (He was also a master of the mixed metaphor.)
Another of his skills - he was a very good amateur magician
and he always carried a few tools of this trade with him and, if
properly persuaded, he would display his skill in this art.
Once we were stuck in Shanghai with seven crews and airplanes while our station manager, Doug
Starr, argued with the Chinese authorities to give us uplift rights to carry White Russian refugees out
of China before the communists took over. The captains whose names I remember that were there
on that operation were, Russ Stienhauer, Ed Landwher, Herman Hum, and myself. One day Russ
called me on the phone and said, "Herman Hum is coming to my room in a few minutes and I'll
probably do some `magic' for him. If he calls you and he asks you what card he has drawn, tell him,
(after straining your brain) that it's the queen of hearts." Sure enough, in a few minutes my phone rang
and it was Herm, and he asked me what card he had selected. I pretended to ponder for a few
seconds and said, "I seem to see a queen of hearts." To the day he died, tragically, in that crash near
Oakland, Herm wondered, how did Russ do it ? Whenever Russ was asked that question he would
always reply, "It's just magic, simple magic." - with the ever present chuckle in his voice.
Russ had the unique ability to always have at hand a wise answer to any question that might arise. I
could always tell when he was about to drop one of these gems. He would say, "Well, (then take
another drag on his cigarette) in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king." This, when I
questioned his ability to forecast the stock market by his own special technical analysis. Another:
"Well, you can't dance at every wedding." This when I confess I was trying to take on too many tasks.
One more: When we were discussing the virtue of self reliance - "Well, everybody's got to kill their own
It seems Russ and I always flew the same routes as we advanced from DC4's to DC6's, DC7’s and
finally DC8's. We always obtained copies of each other's flight schedules each month so we would
always know in advance where we would be a the same time. We could also tell when we were
within calling distance on VHF while in-flight. We would have one transceiver set up on "nickel"
(123.45 mgs) and call one another at such times. When both transmitting and receiving stations are
at high altitudes, it is possible to transmit a great distance even though line-of-sight conditions for
VHF communications is necessary. I recall talking to Russ many times when he was flying between
Tokyo and Anchorage, and I was flying between Honolulu and San Francisco. During my last six
years with JAL, I was flying the routes from New York to London and New York to Anchorage. Russ
was flying Tokyo - Anchorage - London over the pole during the same period. Often Russ would be
somewhere over the North Pole and I would be over the Atlantic ocean, both bound for London. We'd
call each other on "nickel" and compare our ETA's. We would be in London for a few days and the
routine we followed was invariably the same. If it was a week day, we'd walk to a good steak house,
The Marquis on Mount St., enjoy a good dinner which included a good Havana cigar, and then walked
to the Dean-Witter office on the way back to the Clifton Ford Hotel. In London the New York Stock
Exchange runs until 9:00 P.M. A fine Havana cigar, a live ticker tape, - for stock market addicts like
Russ and I, what more could you ask?
After we both retired as airline pilots at age 60, I went to work for Paine-Webber as a stock broker in
Napa. For the benefit of my clients as well as myself, I would call Russ several times a week and get
Russ's expert advice about stock issues and the market. One day he said, "I've got bad news, Joe, my
doctor tells me I've got the `Final Menengeetus'. I guess my lifetime habit of smoking cigarettes has
finally come home to roost." The next time I called, Russ's brother, Ted, answered the phone. The
conversation went like this:
Joe: How is Russ getting along?
Ted: He is very bad. He's in the hospital and can't have visitors except immediate family
members and he can't even talk on the phone.
Joe: So sorry to hear that. Could you deliver a message to him next time you visit him?
Ted: Yes I can do that.
Joe: Tell him that I love him.
Ted: Sure Joe, I will do that.
Joe: Thanks Ted, Good-bye.