At Ranchito Hondo, Hondo, Texas...
As I have been doing lately--since we haven't hit the road yet--is to republish a monthly column I write for my hometown advertising newspaper. I hope you enjoy it, even though some of the information here appeared in previous posts of Phannie and Mae. My guess is that few readers will comb back through 18 years of posts and perhaps a half-million words or even use the search feature to find it. That's one of the nice things about having a very old blog...I can write about something that's mentioned before and get away with it! Anyway, here goes--a lot of reminiscing here, for sure:
I have no way of knowing if readers have been following with any interest this series of columns on my flying the mail here in east Texas some 50-odd years ago when the U. S. Postal Service reprised for a while an effort like the one in the earliest days of aviation. It hasn’t really occurred to me before now that the few hundred of us flyboys who formed this second cadre are likely retired or have “flown west,” as we pilots say about a fellow aviator whose earthly life has ended.
Perhaps some are curious about how I became infatuated with airplanes and where it led besides flying the mail. I can’t squeeze it into one post, but let’s visit the earliest days with this one.
One never knows the experiences parents give their children that may create within them an epiphany—irrespective of how young they may be—that could have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Sandy and I have tried to follow the example of my parents and expose our daughter, Mindy, to as many experiences as possible—including sharing with her some travels in Europe. Noting her fascination with medicine, we made sure she had access to all kinds of medical journals, which she read voraciously. She is now a senior nurse at one of two level 1 trauma centers in Houston.
And so it was when my parents—perhaps through fate or Divine inspiration—stopped their 1950 Chevrolet one day at the airport in tiny Center, Texas, of all places, when I was about eight years old. On that day, local airplane owners were giving short rides to the public for a donation to charity. I begged my parents to allow me to go flying, to which, surprisingly, they agreed.
It was only a short flight in an ancient fabric-covered 1946 Aeronca Champion, but I was instantly hooked. I knew from that moment my career would be that of a pilot. As I grew up after that magical experience, I would drag my parents (reluctantly, I’m sure) during our travels around the country, to countless airport detours so I could watch airplanes. Then, as soon as I was old enough, at age 16, I began taking flying lessons and flew my first solo flight at the Nacogdoches airport after about eight hours of instruction. Ironically, that momentous flight was made in the same type of aircraft—an Aeronca Champion—in which I had taken my first flight eight years earlier. I will never forget that first solo flight—realizing that only I, with the help of the Almighty, could cause this machine to return safely to earth. It was pretty much a non-event—a smooth landing on runway 6—a grass runway that is doubtlessly no longer in use. But oh, the exhilaration! I never tired of the thousands of subsequent flights and safe landings, either. I always felt that I had intruded, by way of these machines, built through human ingenuity, into a part of the planet reserved for winged creatures, for which the experience was not magical but merely ordinary, I’m sure. What ingrates they must be!
After my first solo flight, I spent more time at the airport than at home—fueling and washing airplanes, mowing the grass runways with a tractor—anything to make money for more flying lessons. With this laser-like focus and with help from my parents, I obtained a commercial pilot’s license and a multi-engine rating before I graduated from high school. I can’t find any statistics on the number of such advanced flying credentials obtained by high school students, but it certainly must have been a rarity.
It never occurred to me then, of course, that today would come--a day when I would be retired from flying and writing about how it was in the beginning. In my teens and twenties, I had not thought of what it would be like now, six decades later, as I remember those days of unbridled excitement at what lay ahead. For me, time was almost standing still, creeping by so slowly that it appeared my journeys among the clouds could not possibly end. But end they did, quite unwillingly; the increasing physical limitations of aging are, alas, inexorable.
A photo of my first kind of airplane to conquer the skies—an Aeronca Champion. This one is in an aviation museum in Oregon:
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.
Thank you for sharing. What an interesting and wonderful life you had.ReplyDelete
You're very kind; I have indeed had a wonderful life, and I am thankful for it; I appreciate your comment very much.Delete
Who soloed you, Mike? Wasn't it A.L.? Mine was Coach Hale. If you remember, I flew ASAP to buzz Laura Bingham's house. She was practicing twirling in her back yard, and that stunt earned me the nickname "kamikaze."ReplyDelete
You were always serious once you were in the pilot's seat and a good pilot. I (on the other hand) left flying in your capable hands after I came too close to ground looping a solo 150. Of course I remember those days, when I decided flying was too dangerous for my paltry expertise and became something safer-- a police officer.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, old friend.
It was non other than E. T. Crawford who turned me loose with the Champ. I do recall your flying, and your switching to law enforcement and ultimately to an attorney doubtlessly formed the best use of the God-given brainpower you possess, John.Delete
Mike, I always found it fascinating that there were people like you who knew exactly which career path they wanted to follow from an early age. I retired seven years ago, and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I started out in banking more by opportunity than choice. As it turned out, I loved it, but it wasn't a career I had specifically chosen. Your passion for flying provided you with not only a career and financial stability, but a lifetime of good memories, as well.ReplyDelete
Well, I was lucky, I guess. I know you would agree that if you must work, try to do what you love. Many are not so privileged. Glad you had an enjoyable career!Delete
Remember there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots. I too have hung up my wings but still get a few flights with locals.ReplyDelete
I know you agree that, while it was hard to let go, the memories are full, rich and satisfying. Thanks for your comment.Delete
This landlubber is loving these stories.ReplyDelete
I guess my life is an open book, isn’t it? Giving you plenty of ammo, Janice! 🤣Delete
I have enjoyed your blog for many years, but I have never commented. Thank you for sharing your stories, the old and the new are always interesting!ReplyDelete
I’m honored that you have been a long and valued reader and for your kind comment. Thank you!ReplyDelete