Looking at the story, I am pleasantly surprised by the amount I do know, but of course there is always more that I want to know. If we split the story up chronologically I can indicate gaps in the narrative of which I’m aware.
Construction / Production
I know that the Jalopy was built on May 5th or 6th 1944, and ended up at Shipdham with the 506th Bomb Squadron in late July 1944. There are a few steps missing, one of which is probably air testing at Willow Run. After that, I would assume the Jalopy went to a modification center before being ferried across Atlantic by a fresh crew who had completed their training. It would have landed at one of the Base Area Depots (BAD) in North-West England or Northern Ireland before being ferried to Shipdham.
I’m lucky that through the good offices of a couple of folks, specifically Roger Fenton of the 44thBGVA and Byron Blake, a fellow researcher, to have been able to assemble a fairly extensive picture of all the 66 bombing operations (Missions) on which the Jalopy flew. I have a list of each, and the crews which were scheduled to fly on them. There are many additional points which would serve to extend the story.
- I have maybe half a dozen, but by no means all the crew pictures for all the 29 crews that flew on the Jalopy. However I do have a comprehensive list of crew members
- There are a couple of references to the Jalopy being damaged early in her operational career (6th Mission on August 9th, 1944, target Saarbrucken, 1st Lt John C. Titter and crew) and crash landing at Shipdham. Looking at the mission list I can see she didn’t fly operationally again until August 24th
- There may be items in the archives (of the group and nationally) which I simply haven’t encountered. For example I have seen a couple of pictures of the Jalopy in print which don’t appear anywhere else. There may be more organizational records which I haven’t yet seen.
We know that the group flew home, and that the Jalopy left Shipdham for the Zone of the Interior (United States) on May 31st or June 1st 1945. I don’t know accurately where it landed, or what its subsequent path was before it passed into the hands of the Reclamation Finance Corporation (RFC) at the former Altus AAF, Oklahoma.
We know how the City of Joplin raised sufficient funds from the sale/purchase of Category “E” War bonds to “buy” the bomber that became known as Joplin Jalopy. I’m not clear on the mechanism by which this naming occurred. There are certainly references to several other aircraft being named for Joplin and Jasper County, MO as a result of War Bond Drives during the Second World War.
Similarly the newspapers of the period record that the City was notified in that it would be eligible to receive a bomber for use as a memorial after the war as early as the Fall of 1944, at which time the Jalopy was heavily engaged in operations in the ETO. I don’t expect the government would have promised the City that the Jalopy would be returned as a memorial since there was always the chance that it would be lost on operations.
Therefore at some time – someone must have noticed that 42-50535 was sitting awaiting the smelter at Altus. The story of another Altus resident, B-17F 41-24585 Memphis Belle, says that someone with a connection to Memphis happened to be at Altus and noticed the aircraft parked there awaiting disposal. It is both plausible and tempting to think the same happened with the Jalopy.
There is a photograph of a group of individuals standing in front of Memphis Belle at Altus shortly before the aircraft was returned to Memphis. I received an email once from an individual who said he had a similar picture of Frank C. Wallower Jr. and members of the Joplin CAP posing in front of the Jalopy at Altus before the flight back in August 1946. Sadly I heard no more and this lead went cold.
The story of the Joplin War Dads’ proposal to build a museum to house the Jalopy is well documented, but how were they going to move a B-24 from the Municipal Airport to Schifferdecker Park?
Bill Caldwell has uncovered more from the local newspapers of the Jalopy’s sad decline (some of the thefts took place as early as December 1946) and mentioned them in his April 2017 news article in the Joplin Globe.
Dennis Boyer, of Arkansas wrote a story of how as a little boy he was taken by his father to see the Jalopy, and how he sat in the cockpit and fought imaginary battles in the sky. The photo that Dennis sent me clearly shows the Jalopy leaning forward with its nose-gear collapsed.
Jeanne Newby of the Webb City Sentinel wrote an article in 2004 called “Whatever Happened to the Joplin Jalopy?” and had a few replies as to the salvage yard (Swappers Salvage Yard) in Webb City to which the hulk of the Jalopy was taken. I would love to know if there are any pictures of the aircraft there, and also any information about the smelter in Kansas City, MO to which it was eventually consigned in (I think) 1950. Confirmation of these dates would be helpful.
Finally as Ray Foreman said to me recently, “I wonder if there are any pieces of it left anywhere?” This is a little unlikely, but there may be a piece of metal, an electric motor or some other item that was removed from the Jalopy between 1946 and 1950. I read somewhere (and I can’t find the reference, right now) that the Joplin Civil Air Patrol were given permission to remove one of the Jalopy’s engines as an engineering exercise. To suggest that someone may have an entire Twin Wasp in storage that they have forgotten about may be a little much, but as Ray said, it would be fantastic. I remember seeing a Wright Cyclone owned by a Wing of the Commemorative Air Force up in Iowa and thinking that it wasn’t quite as big as I was expecting. Ray says one of his colleagues in the CAP remembers a radial engine in a storage shed. But that may be a little too much to hope.