The Rise and Demise Of The Arvin Good Guys
The Origin of Formation Skydiving ~ Part Three
by Bill Newell
The Arvin Good Guys were in their heyday throughout the mid to late '60s, leading the way in building larger and larger stars, winning competitions and enjoying the wild life of Southern California. But as the decade neared its end, more and more relative workers learned the same skills, and the Arvin Good Guys gradually got edged out of the spotlight. By the early '70s, those magical times were but a memory.
1969: The Beginning Of The End
In 1969, things were heating up. There were more proficient skydivers, female jumpers, mini meets, integrated group efforts and exhibitions. Skydivers were applying for their Star Crest Recipient awards from more widespread drop zones, and by May, jumpers made the first 8-way outside California at Hinckley, Illinois bringing the total SCR’s to 167.
One memorable mini-meet came in early March at Temecula, California, between another pick-up team of Elsinore jumpers and the Good Guys. The meet was more or less a hastily organized event with about a weeks notice. The Good Guys didn’t make any practice jumps and wound up losing to a team that later became first-rate competitors. The Good Guys had become the team to beat, and this bunch wanted it so badly they completed their winning 10-man below 2000 feet. The Good Guys protested, but with their own low pulling record, it came off like a snivel. The Temecula skydivers were Jim Fee, Jim Wilson, Dean Heath, Ron Bluff, Bob Hughes, Bill Colvin, Bob Boreman, Stan Troeller, Mike Benson and Bob Feuling.
In mid-April at Taft, we made the world’s first 13-way star and, in July, pioneered what would turn out to be an annual series of parties and water jumps along the Colorado River, near Parker, Arizona.
Midway through ’69, some of the music started getting an edge to it, and so did the skydiving. Underground music was starting to surface, replacing the misguided optimism of flower children with the precursor to heavy metal. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Grand Funk and Pink Floyd were creating a whole new culture of frenetic fans – and skydivers.
On August 9, Charles Manson’s disciples went on a two-night murder rampage known as the infamous Tate -La Bianca killings. Sharon Tate was a victim, along with several other celebrities. The Manson gang sited several reasons for the slaughter, including getting inspired by the Beatles’ “White Album.”
From here on things got complicated, as ego’s, personalities and politics started to clash. During the run-up to the Rumbleseat Meet, the carefree attitudes of previous times started giving way to bickering and internal problems. Jerry Bird had been skydiving at Elsinore periodically since before our first 10-man star and would inform us of their progress. But he had also made a lot of friends and connections at Elsinore.
Jerry was an Arvin Good Guy from the very beginning and was well liked, but his aspirations to organize and manage our team were met with skepticism by some and grated on others. By now, the Good Guys knew who they were and didn’t want an individual taking credit for the team’s performance. Bird was savvy in organizational skills and a shrewd politician, but not the hottest or most experienced skydiver on our team. When Jerry got married and took a two-week honeymoon during team practice, Ron Richards replaced him as team captain.
Understandably chagrined, Jerry decided to form his own team. Plenty of talented skydivers had received their SCR’s during the past couple of years – a lot of them on good guy loads - and there were more proficient relative workers than 10-way teams. So Jerry assembled a hybrid team from some of these - most from Taft, with three from Elsinore, including his wife, Dianne. To make matters worse for us, Terry Ward switched to Bird’s team. Terry wanted to be on a winning team. I just wanted our team to win.
Finally, the long-anticipated third annual Rumbleseat Meet at Taft arrived in November. Jerry Bird’s team beat us by one second over 4 rounds. Bird’s team members were Dick Gernand, Russ Benefiel, Dianne Bird, Jerry Bird, Bob Feuling, Terry Ward, Sam Alexander, Rich Armstrong, Donna Wardean and Doyle Talbot. In retrospect, replacing Bird as team captain, however seemingly justified at the time, most likely contributed to our losses in future competitions.
Jumpers show off their recently acquired SCR patches during the Thanksgiving Turkey meet at Zephyrhills, Florida - 1969.
Back Row - left to right:Frank Rodriguez, Bob Gordon, Jerry Morris, Rick Tobey, Al Carpenter, Mike Gibson, Rick Schwandt, Bob Young;
Kneeling - left to right:Bill Newell, Dean McLaughlin, Dave Benjamin, D.A. Jebb, Jack La Londe, Steve Dousman, Frank Grippo and John Paget.
Photo: Jerry Tyson.
1970: The End Of The Innocence
1970 was a diversified for the Good Guys. I had bought a 1964 Triumph Bonneville Chopper in ’69, and by 1970, Terry Ward, Jim Dann and a few other Good Guys had acquired motorcycles. The rest were scuba diving, surfing and sailing. We divided our recreation between biker runs, concerts, beach parties and skydiving. Terry Ward had purchased a beach house in Topanga Beach, and the orgies there were outrageous. Terry’s parties made Brian Williams’ Parachute Packing nights look like group therapy. Psychedelic bands dueled back and forth between the next-door neighbor’s roof and Terry’s back porch facing the beach. Non-stop traffic of scantily clad chicks and tanned, buff studs circulated 24-7, and free love was an understatement. We had lost most of our innocence long before, but whatever remained of it ended there. Terry’s beach pad became sort of a base of operations for the Good Guys and also for some spies for the upcoming competition.
Norm Heaton was in France that spring preparing for the 10th World Championships in September. Norm continued his effort to have a 10-way exhibition team from the U.S demonstrate relative work overseas. Lobbying delegates, he met resistance from most of the communist bloc countries. But the host of the world meet, Yugoslavia, was interested in inviting a U.S. RW exhibition team.
The Arvin Good Guys before the start of Webster's Sweepstakes Meet at Elsinore, California, September - 1970.
Back row - left to right: Lou Paproski, Deke Dillon, Bob Thompson, Bill Newell, Paul Gorman, Jim Dann, Ron Richards.
Kneeling - left to right: Terry Ward, Brian Williams, and Pete Picciolo.
Photo: Jerry Tyson.
Heaton realized that arbitrarily picking a team like the Good Guys as he had for the1968 nationals was no longer an option and that the action had now moved to Elsinore. So he met next with Ted Webster and Jerry Bird to set up a competition to decide which 10-way team would represent USPA at the world meet. Webster would sponsor the meet, purchase matching gear and pay round-trip travel for the winners and their wives to Bled, Yugoslavia. The main condition that Heaton stipulated was that all competitors be USPA members and have at least a C license. This went against the grain of a few, mainly some Good Guys who had remained independent of PCA and USPA thus far. Nevertheless, the Good Guys without USPA memberships and licenses sucked it up and met the requirements. I was the last Good Guy to do so, receiving D-2644 only a few days before the meet.
Ron Richards again served as our team captain for Ted Webster’s Sweepstakes Meet. It was during practice for this meet that Brian Williams developed the floater-exit technique with input from Paul Gorman. This new exit method improved our times considerably, from averaging about 34 seconds for a completed formation to 30 and under. Our practice dives had been going well that summer, and we felt fairly confident we could beat Jerry Bird’s All-Stars this time around. However, we were thrown a curve that we didn’t expect.
The morning of the meet, I casually asked Jerry Bird if he’d gotten a C or a D license and was amazed to hear him say he had gotten neither. We protested to the meet officials. According to the rules, Bird shouldn’t have been allowed to compete. A hasty closed-door meeting was convened with Webster, the judges and other meet officials. About 15 minutes later, the door opened, and we were told that under special circumstances, Bird would be allowed to compete. He could get his USPA membership and license later. Heaton, who was also one of the judges, walked out in disgust and had nothing further to do with the meet.
This put the Good Guys in a tough situation. If we had withdrawn from the meet in protest, we’d have lost by default, so we were obliged to participate. We knew the competition couldn’t be fixed, but it dawned on us that the unfolding events were orchestrated in Bird’s favor. Realizing that the psyche factor was mounting against us, we knew we had to go all out.
Bird’s team jumped first and clocked in at 32 seconds. The Arvin Good Guys beat that time on their first jump and led going into the second round. On our second jump, Brian entered tenth in a record 26 seconds, but Pete Picciolo reached back for a double grip and slipped off the wrists. The star horseshoed. We were able to close it within working time but had squandered precious seconds, ending up with about a 45-second 10-man. We finished our other two jumps with respectable times in the low 30s, but Bird’s team played it cool, making all of their jumps in the low 30s. There was no way to make up the lost time. We had no doubt that we’d blown a jump and had lost fair and square, yet we still felt that we’d been had.
Of course, not everyone felt that way, and this not an indictment of the All-Stars. They were an excellent team that had beaten us twice. We just felt frustrated with fate. We had two chances over the past couple of years to be the team that would introduce big way relative work to Europe and the rest of the world, and unfavorable circumstances intervened both times. That was hard to accept.
At the 1970 Rumbleseat Meet in Taft, Bird got lucky again. Mike Benson’s team, “Benson & Heads,” was ahead when Jerry Bird’s All-Stars funneled their next skydive. However, at that instant, Ken Crabtree riding a malfunction into the canal distracted the judges. Not all the judges saw Bird’s dive, so they gave the team a re-jump. That was enough for The All-Stars to regroup and win the meet. I believe we placed last. At that point, it didn’t really matter, because as a competitive 10-way team, we were pretty much finished. Most Arvin Good Guys were never really cut out for hard-core competition. They were oriented more toward record attempts and exhibitions than competition, , and when those roles switched, they didn’t adjust very well.
A mix of California, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and East Coast skydivers gather to board the Loadstar at the Z-Hills 1970 Turkey Meet.
Kneeling - left to right: Curran Phillips, Jessie Hall, Ric Schwandt, Chris Ranson.
Standing front: Danny Thompson, Jack Peck, Fred Stradler, Tony Fredin, Skratch Garrison, Roger "Pirate" Brink, Greg Nugent, Bill Newell, Tag Taggart.
Background - left to right: Jeff Searles, Jim Bohr, Unknown, Bob Federman, Wally Mumper.
We carried on as the Arvin Good Guys throughout 1971 and 72, mainly performing demos, and then, like the Beatles, we went our separate ways. A few of us continued skydiving intermittently throughout the decades and into the new millennium. Those of us who kept skydiving still occasionally jumped and partied with Jerry and associates. It took awhile to get over Webster’s Sweepstakes Meet, but most, including myself have put it behind them. After all, Jerry’s roots were with the Good Guys, and we were all skydivers.
I went on to promote relative work at drop zones across the country, sometimes judging but mainly endorsing the Star Crest awards. Looking back on those adventures now, I realize that I presented sort of a paradoxical persona to my peers. I was promoting relative work, but rarely jumping on any competition teams. When asked why, my standard answer usually was, “Been there, done that. And besides, I hate getting up early.”
My time as a hot relative worker has seen better days. But those memories of early Arvin and the first 10-man star come alive again whenever I hear a golden oldie of the period. I’ll treasure those days until the final song.
published in Parachutist Magazine,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Newell made his first jump on May 26th, 1962, six weeks after his 21st birthday, after being inspired by the skydiving television series “Ripcord.” Newell created Star Crest and managed the site (StarCrestAwards.com) up untill his passing in 2012. Bill also was a private pilot and love to fly the blue skies and had more than 2,000 jumps.
Special thanks to Brian Williams, Don Henderson, Jim Dann, Skratch Garrison, Paul Gorman, Norm Heaton, Greg Nugent, and Stan Troeller who contributed to this article.
The Arvin Good Guys
1964 to 1972
Records and Exhibitions
The 10-way competitors plus -