January 13, 2015 at 6:18 am #5603Craig_AdamsParticipant
The Oregonian HOSTESS HOUSE Portland, Oregon, Monday, September 8, 1969
SHEILAH’S UP THERE WATCHING YOU
by Milly Wohler, Club Editor, The Oregonian
If you’re looking for a traffic jam — Sheilah Frye can tell you where to find it. “Eastbound on the Banfield at 39th Avenue at 5 p.m. on a Friday. That’s the worst place, time and day.”
As “Sheilah In The Sky for the KEX Traffic Watch” since the first of July, Mrs. Frye has been looking at traffic from a new perspective — 1,300 feet in the air.
The traffic-watcher doesn’t fly the 1969 Cessna 150 plane which gives her the birds eye view of Portland’s motor arteries. “I’ve got my student license but I’ve been too lazy to carry on through. Well, too busy. Usually Paul Nicholson or Bob Krueger flies me.”
The two are pilots for Executive Flight Service where Sheilah has been a secretary for more than seven years. She’s still the secretary except for 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. when she hops in the plane, clamps earphones over her bouffant hairdo and takes to the air.
There are even traffic problems for planes. “These are the busiest hours for the airport. (Portland International). We have to be ready to leave early because we sometimes have to wait ten minutes for our clearance. When they go — you go. It’s slipping into freeway traffic. You don’t stop and think it’s over.”
Sheilah’s the first female sky-spy in Portland but reports that radio stations in other cities have sent women aloft. There are two other traffic watching planes, for KYXI and KISN.
“We fly about the same pattern — but, of course, at different altitudes. Normally we go down the Eastbank Freeway to the Ross Island Bridge and back to the Broadway Bridge. You can check all the major trouble areas this way.
“The minute there’s a problem — a stalled car or an accident, we go right to the spot. “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Banfield completely stopped. Cars as far as you can see. If it lasts very long it begins to affect the Minnesota [Freeway] — then the Markham [Marquam Bridge] — and even the beginning of the Baldock [Freeway].
“I’ve only seen one accident on the Baldock, though, since I’ve been flying the traffic watch. The Banfield’s the place for that — usually rear-ends.
“The Ross Island Bridge has the most stalled cars.” Sheilah’s curious to find out if opening of the Portland Public Schools on Monday will trigger traffic clogging.
“It was much heavier last Tuesday, after Labor Day. McLoughlin was a mess last week, too — with the opening of the new Milwaukie Expressway. Drivers weren’t too certain how to handle it, I guess. It even backed up Macadam on the other side of the river.”
Sheilah feels a certain sympathy for drivers who have to make a rapid decode of her aerial information. “I’ll say ‘There’s a two-car accident in outside northbound lane of the Eastbank Freeway a few blocks east of the Burnside Bridge.’ You really have to sort that out.
“There must be a lot of people listening. You’ll see the cars begin to peel off at Water Avenue — or one of the alternate routes suggested.” Sheilah giggled a bit sympathetically. “Then the alternates get jammed.”
Trouble with the transmission equipment, stored in the baggage compartment of the plane, kept the “watch” grounded a couple days last week. Otherwise only a low ceiling or an afternoon baseball game broadcast interrupts the flights.
“A couple of times, though, I had trouble finding the freeways through the clouds.” Sheilah monitors the broadcast through one earphone with the other tuned into the newsroom. She’s ready when Barney Keep or Hal Raymond says: “Let’s hear from Sheilah In The Sky.”
From the 26-year-old secretary’s high perch it seems to be the slow drivers, rather than the fast ones, who cause the most problems. “You can pick out the people who are slowing the whole thing down. I’d say they are my pet peeve. They don’t belong on the expressways. They should use the streets instead.”
Where are the trouble spots? “Minnesota northbound, where the Broadway entrance comes in. Southbound it’s at Going Street overpass. The Banfield from 27th to 60th. There’s one curve on the Baldock — and everyone’s heard of the railroad crossing at SE 17th and Powell.
“Some mornings the traffic has really cleared pretty well by 8 a.m. Other times it’s still ‘stop and go’ when we leave at 8:30. I sometimes wonder if everyone oversleeps the same day.
“On Moon Day — the day the astronauts landed — Barney and I thought there would be light traffic because of the holiday — but it was normal. Maybe there aren’t as many people working for the government as we’d thought.”
Sheilah’s “official” flying costume is a white nylon one-piece jump suit, cinched with a wide leather belt and topped with a long Snoopy scarf.
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