Skip to comments.81-Year-Old Cheyenne Man Washes, Vacuums Rental Cars as His Daily "Vitamin Pill"
Posted on 04/06/2003 5:38:15 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Rent-A-Car job does a body good
By Becky Orr Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CHEYENNE When Malen Powells day begins at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, he has the same enthusiasm for his work that he had when he started 10 years ago.
Powell washes and vacuums rental cars. He picks up people from their homes or from car dealerships who rent vehicles from the company.
Powell also travels to neighboring states to pick up cars.
At 81, he has reached a point where he does not have to work. But having a part-time job is a way to stay healthy, he says.
To me, its like a good vitamin pill. I just love these people, he says of the staff at the car rental company at 800 W. Lincolnway.
What I like is that these kids are all young. They treat me like a king. I just love them. I give these kids a bad time, he says with a laugh.
Eric Lunt, 25, manager of the business, says Powell possesses an unparalleled work ethic.
We have to tell him to take a break, Lunt adds. He sets a good example.
Powell and his wife, Ilas, live in Cheyenne. He first came here when he was 4 or 5 years old. His family returned in 1941 in hopes the citys dry climate could help Powells ailing father.
In December 1942, Powell enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, now known as the Air Force. He was just 19.
One day he and a friend were working at an air base in Pueblo, Colo., when they saw B24s landing. His friend suggested they enlist. They did the next day.
It took us 30 seconds to make up our minds, he says.
Powell took combat crew training for the new B29 bombers.
It was the most devastating armament the armed services had then, he recalls of the state-of-the-art bombers.
Powell was part of the 468th bomber group of the 58th bomber wing. After his bomber wing left the United States, its home base in 1944 was Kharagpur, India. The groups forward base was a spot in the mountains of western China.
In May 1945, the 58th wing moved to the Islands of Tinian, which include Guam and Saipan in the Pacific. The B29 he was assigned to flew missions over Japanese strongholds in several cities as well as in Sumatra, Manchuria and parts of China.
He flew 34 combat missions as right gunner, operating two 50-caliber guns via remote control.
Some of his combat missions were close calls. On one daylight trip to bomb Japanese docks in Singapore, Japan fighters were waiting for the Americans about 20 minutes from their target.
We were under fighter attack for 15 to 20 minutes, he recalls. I would judge they made somewhere around 12 or 15 passes at us.
Ground forces continued the assault.
We got hit from the ground, and we lost our turbo and pressurization, he says.
The wounded bomber limped toward the U.S. airfield in India, two hours and 36 minutes overdue. The bomber ran out of fuel just as it landed. Two of its four engines had stopped.
Powell says that strangely enough, he wasnt nervous.
When youre going into combat, youre kind of tense, he adds. But the minute you get into combat, youre more calm than I am now.
All youre thinking about is doing your job. Youre not under any pressure at all.
His quick thinking during a night mission involving 500 B29s flying over Tokyo earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross award.
Near Tokyo, he glanced up and saw a B29 directly overhead with its bomb bay doors open.
I hollered over the intercom, Move it! he says. Ill tell you, that pilot put that thing into a steep bank.
In a matter of seconds, the bombs were dropped.
We just got out of there in time, he adds. If I hadnt looked up and seen that plane, wed have been part of the atmosphere of Tokyo yet today.
Memories of a past war bring to mind the fight in Iraq.
I wished we didnt have to do this, Powell says. But its something we have to do.
I hate evil people like (Saddam Hussein). Thank God were getting rid of him.
Powell planned to become a commercial airline pilot after WWII and earned his private pilots license.
But that dream gave way to others. He and his late wife, Ada, raised two sons and a daughter.
Powell chose a job as a truck driver. His career spanned about 50 years, including the period he drove trucks before the war.
He worked with Ringsby Truck Line and Northwest Trucking, transporting merchandise throughout the West. Sometimes, the rigs he drove pulled triples, or three trailers, meaning he pulled loads 100 feet long.
The truck driving job suited him.
Id set up there and drive down the highway and mind my own business, he says. It was something I wanted to do ever since I got out of high school.
The job helped him realize the need for a Christian ministry for truckers.
He helps with the Truckers Christian Ministry, which conducts weekly services at Travel Centers of America, a truck stop on Interstate 80 east of Cheyenne.
The North Cheyenne Baptist Church, where he is a member, sponsors the ministry.
Jesus says you go out and minister for him, he says. We talk to truck drivers. Were doing what the Lord tells us to do.
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My grandfather took up gardening, but the great thing about working for the car rental place is you get out and about, meet people, etc.
The shop that rents cars to our Ford dealership for "loaners" has a fellow just like Mr. Powell - 70 or 80-ish, shuttles the cars back and forth and helps look after things generally. I always enjoy chatting with him about his experiences in WWII when he delivers my loaner for me.
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