A View from Broadway

Bod Buster rival, mentor Gary Yamamoto dies

By Ken Burdick

Thomas Gary Yamamoto died on July 4, 2020.

Gary, as we all knew him, had been fighting a cancer for the better part of a year. He was skeptical about the chemo working, but felt he didn’t have any other choice.

Gary is unknown to many of you, but in my early life he was a strong influence. Gary was the leader of the Broadway Bod Busters' cross town rivals, the Seattle Air Knockers. When Don Mckay and I formed our club, we were introduced to the Air Knockers at some of the contests put on by them at Sicks Seattle Stadium, where the Rainers baseball team played in Seattle. The parking lot was perfect for Rat Race. Gary was the Rat Race expert.

We all grew up together and competed in several events. These were the days of taking a bus with our models and equipment cross town. Of learning to ask hobby shops for prizes and learning how to win and lose. Gary was everyone’s big brother in all this. He was smart, tough to beat and very kind.

As a kid, Gary was building at a master craftsman level and always seemed to be the standard used to measure things. I think he and some of the Air Knockers traveled to Oregon just once to compete, maybe around 1966. Cars and girls were already Taking their toll on our numbers. As time moved on, Gary was always looking to try something new and not just doing the same thing over and over.

As a modeler, he built beautiful airplanes, would call Hi Johnson and sweet talk Garcia into building an engine for him. He built full floating suspension slot cars out of brass tubing. Built the cleanest hot rods of any of us. Gary was drafted as many of us were in the late 1960s, and would tell us what it was like and his adventures there. We were a few years younger, so Gary was a big influence.

The pictures I have are when Gary was 16 years old. Fishing pictures offered by one of his friends, Eugene Woo. Euge was an Air Knocker and a skilled Combat flyer back in the day; he usually won. One of the things the Air Knockers taught me was teamwork. They would ALL take a section of a one-night Voodoo and build that piece, assemble it all and it looked better than anyone else’s. Euge would fly it in a contest the next day with Gary right there.

One day, a friend and I were riding our bikes to Beacon Hill to see Gary, when Greg Taft’s truck passed us, Gary was sitting in the truck bed. We got to Gary’s house to hear him mother laughing and hollering “GARY, YOU STINK!!!” They had been flying free flight at the “Smith Brother’s Farm” in Auburn, Wash., when Gary saw what he thought was “a kitty.” “Oh, a kitty,” Gary said and reached down to pet it — as you may have guessed, the kitty turned out to be a skunk and nailed him with a direct shot.

Gary was everyone’s big brother. Patient, and kind. He taught me how to fly monoline over grass no less,, and would patiently straighten out the handle after I would put a bend in it.

There is much more to Gary’s life than this, but this was the Gary I knew.

Rest in peace old friend.

— Kennyb

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This page was upated July 7, 2020