Patrons at the Baltimore Yacht Club bar looked over the backbar and through a solid wall of windows that provided a panoramic view from the Martin Plant on Middle River to Miller Island. Tolchester Beach and the Eastern Shore sometimes peaked through the mist directly ahead. Thus, we had a ringside seat to watch Martin flying boats taxiing to takeoff and returning to the boat ramp at the aircraft plant. The test flights of the Martin P6M SeaMaster jet-powered seaplane bomber were the most spectacular.
The first taxi tests were held during the winter. It was a winter during which the bay froze over completely and we enjoyed the side show of the Martin personnel attempting to keep a channel open for the big planes to taxi back and forth. The planes stood out starkly against the white background.
The bartender was the first to become concerned. He began grabbing bar glasses, four at a time in each hand and set them on the floor. Periodically, he would swivel to the backbar, grab bottles, and set them on the floor. He stopped only occasionally to gauge the distance between the plane and the club house, then resume his work at a faster pace. Those of us at the bar climbed off of our stools and began backing up as the plane got even closer and was still on the water.
We don't know how high the plane had ascended when it passed over us, but it couldn't have cleared the club house roof by much. The whole building shook as though in an earthquake. The roar of the four huge engines was deafening. Later, the engineers discovered that the jet exhaust had burnt the paint off the plane's hull and they had to make modifications to protect it.
As Spring wore on, and we had readied our boats for their first cruises, we began chasing the SeaMasters whenever we had a chance. Picket boats enforced a safety zone around the flying boats and we had to keep our distance. Still, we found the water boiling in their wakes as the big engines belched flaming hot exhaust fumes behind them.
In the evening, we would steal past the Martin Plant, then past Ethel's Boat Yard on Frog Mortar Creek, and beach our boat at a drive-in movie theater nearby. The parking lot ran right up to the creek's edge. We brought lawn chairs with us and enjoyed free movies while a variety of Martin aircraft made their final approaches low over our heads.
I made a scene demanding my prize. Of course, none were provided inasmuch as no one was expected to win. They finally scouted up a ball point pen engraved with the company logo and shooed me away before I could cause any more trouble.
That was me – the trouble maker...