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Still a Good Year : With 1937 Ride Ticket, Blimp Rises to the Occasion

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a project that took 55 years to get off the ground.

But Curt Kistler’s family finally did it Thursday when they redeemed a 1937 blimp ride ticket in Gardena.

Amazed members of the Goodyear airship operations ground crew accepted the faded pass and ushered Kistler and five others aboard the sausage-shaped Eagle for a 45-minute trip over Long Beach and the South Bay.

“We’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Goodyear official Bob Urhausen, who traded a modern-day form-letter boarding pass for the old-fashioned, theater-style ticket.

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The ticket had gone unused in 1937 when Van Nuys resident Louis C. Vaccaro obtained it--apparently for buying Goodyear tires for trucks used during his 40-year career as a San Fernando Valley newspaper distributor for The Times.

Vaccaro died in 1963. His daughter, Virgie Kistler of Denver, recently discovered the ticket hidden in an antique desk that had belonged to him. She passed the ticket on to her son.

“She said, ‘You live out there. Maybe you can still use it for a ride,’ ” said Kistler, an electrical contractor who lives in Yorba Linda.

Kistler was skeptical. But one day he decided to see if the ticket was still good after noticing the 192-foot blimp from the San Diego Freeway.

“I told him if he was willing to give it up I’d be glad to issue him a new one,” said Urhausen--who turns down virtually all blimp ride requests from the public.

Since 1925, Goodyear has used its blimps as a promotional tool. Usually, only the company’s best customers are offered rides in the huge airships’ tiny, seven-passenger gondolas. The Eagle makes 41 flights per week during the six months a year it is based in Gardena.

For Thursday’s flight, Kistler was given the whole gondola, not just the one seat that Vaccaro would have received if he had taken his 1937 flight.

Kistler brought along his wife, Debbi Kistler; son David, 10; father-in-law Don White, friend Larry Colson and Colson’s 9-year-old son, Colt.

“One generation started it and three other generations are going to enjoy it,” Kistler said as the group hurried to board the blimp as 16 ground crew members struggled to hold it to the ground.

After the flight, an awe-struck David Kistler said he wished he could have thanked his great-grandfather for the ride.

For his part, Urhausen would have settled for thanking Vaccaro for the ticket.

Urhausen, who handles bookings on the Eagle, said he has been asked to allow bungee jumpers, 109-year-old women and wedding parties aboard the blimp. “But I’ve never had a 50-year-old ticket before. That is very unusual,” he said.

Taking a cue from Vaccaro, Urhausen said he plans to keep the ticket safe until it can be preserved in a frame in the airship operations office.

He’s going to keep it at home, locked in his own roll-top desk.


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