The Whole 9 Yards
I learned something new at the Rexburg, Idaho World War II Flight Museum. Well…maybe not really. Maybe it was just one of those stories, that after it gets told enough times, it becomes gospel. But anyway, a few years ago, I drove from Pocatello, Idaho, up to the small community of Rexburg, Idaho, to visit the flight museum. It was a slow day at the museum, so the gentleman on the desk came around as I was browsing the exhibits and asked if I had any questions. I did, and we began talking about the different aircraft they have there. I was particularly interested in the P-51 Mustang fighter, because when I was a youngster growing up during the 1940s, and a kid who watched every war movie that came to town, it was my goal to grow up and pilot either a P-51 fighter or a B-17 bomber.(I wasn’t able to find a picture of a P-51, so I used it’s counterpart, the British Spitfire.) In my youthful enamor of these two aircraft, I didn’t realize that by the time I grew up, the war would likely be ended and these two planes would be outdated and obsolete.
This gentleman was explaining some of the P-51’s armament to me when he asked, “Have you heard the expression, ‘the full nine yards.’” I told him, yes, I’d heard it ever since I was a little boy. He then asked me if I knew where the expression came from. I told him I didn’t think I did; it was just an expression that had always been around. He proceeded to tell me where it was supposed to have originated. As part of its armament, the P-51 was equipped with six 50-caliber machine guns, three in each wing, and the shells for these guns were also carried in the wings. The belts that held the shells were twenty-seven feet long—nine yards.
He said one of the pilots who had returned from escorting a bombing mission was asked if he had any ammunition left. The pilot allegedly replied, “No, I shot the whole nine yards.” I’ll leave it up to you readers to decide for yourselves if you think this is how the term got started. At any rate, it makes for a good story.
This gentleman also offered information about the auxiliary wing fuel tanks installed on the P-51-D. In the early stages of the war, fighters didn’t have enough range capabilities to escort the bombers all way into Germany, which made these bombers sitting ducks for the German, Luftwaffe; so the design engineers came up with these auxiliary wing tanks. He said these two extra tanks were made of paper, and each carried an extra one hundred gallons of fuel. The fact that they were made of paper surprised me. One of the reasons given for the paper tanks was since they were drop tanks, the Allied forces didn’t want to use aluminum, because the Germans could recover the metal and use it in the war effort.
Another thing that surprised me about this aircraft, was its size. It’s much larger than I had imagined. When you see these planes in the old war movies, some perspective is lost. The fighters look smaller than they are, and the bombers look bigger. But standing next to one of these fighters, you discover they’re a pretty good-sized airplane.
This museum also had a couple of Model A Fords; a pickup, and a roadster with a convertible top. These two vehicles also brought back more memories of my youth. Dad had a Model A Ford coupe, and an interesting story about how he acquired it. The acquisition allegedly came about during a Poker game. My mom belonged to a couple of bridge clubs in Grace, each of which met once a month. This meant Mom played bridge twice in each month. My twin sisters were babies, so when Mom played bridge, Dad was the baby-sitter.
He liked to play poker, and he was pretty good at it, too. When Mom went to her bridge club, Dad would arrange a poker game to be held at our house, and they were not penny ante games. As the story goes, Dad wanted to buy an older car for his hired man to use. During the course of the evening, he mentioned this to his poker companions. One of them spoke up and said he had a Model A coupe he’d sell. Dad asked him, “how much?” The guy quoted him a price. Dad supposedly reached into his pile of winnings, shoved the money across the table and said, “Sold. I’ll be out to your place tomorrow morning to pick it up.”
The next morning, he made arrangements to have someone drive him to the gentleman’s place to pick up the car. I went with them. On the way home, Dad said to me, “this is a pretty nice old car; too good to give to the hired man. I think I’ll keep it for myself and see if I can find another for him. So that’s what he did. I remember riding with him in that car for quite a few years after that.
If you’re into nostalgia, you might enjoy my little book of tales, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures. You can click on the free download button at upper right of this homepage, and receive a free copy of the prologue and first three complete adventures.