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J3 Cross Country Segment 4 - From Shorty


Staff member
Northwest Arkansas
As it turns out, Bobby’s directions to his place southwest of Snowflake were not very good. I buzzed around several different places before managing to roust him out. He ran out onto the road, indicating it to be my landing strip, so I set it down there and followed him into his driveway. Bobby helped me screw in the tie downs as we began to get ourselves current again.

It had been a year or so and it was good to see my old buddy. He had gotten out of the Marine Corp and headed back here and home with his eyes on someday having a veterinary clinic in the area. He was over the moon about having gotten himself into veterinary college. While I appreciate that he had a plan, it wasn’t easy hearing about how they dissected donated animals------while I was gagging down a bologna sandwich and a beer on the back porch ---- ugh.

I told him all about Carmen, the engine failure/mountain top adventure and I learned from him that he was about to marry a girl with 3 kids. I gotta say, that while I certainly admired his sense of right-doing, my impulse would have been to run! They did marry and together had two more youngins. He went on to set up his vet practice and did well with it. Big happy family and doing what he liked to do---good stuff.

I had hoped he could do the Salt Flats with me, but schooling schedules would not have allowed that. I didn’t mind much as by then, I was beginning to have second thoughts about doing Bonneville on this trip anyway. I had not seen my parents in Washington state since I moved to NC in spring of ’71 and felt that when they found out I had gotten as close as Wendover UT and hadn’t come home------well, that wouldn’t be so good. Bobby took me sightseeing around Snowflake and I really liked what I saw here. I like this rugged, sparsely populated, ranch country. Later the next day, he and I topped off the Cub with some gas station gas, so I could hit the trail early the next morning.

The engine had not used any oil so far, so I figured on running further before changing it out. While Chevron Delo 30w is normally used in diesel trucks, there was no aircraft engine oil available to JD and me when we got the engine back together. This Delo has a lot of Zinc in it which is good for keeping the cam and lifters alive. Thinking more about things that night, I decided to head back toward my NC home and to do the Salt Flats another time----maybe next year.

I buzzed around Bobby’s place a few times to say goodbye before getting on my way. He was such a good guy and I was proud of him for doing the veterinary thing. As it turns out, while we exchanged phone calls for a number of years, we would never see one another again. After a while even buddies, separated by such great distances tend to drift apart. That’s just how it works.

When you are running a J-3, density altitude is a much bigger deal than with some other planes, so I wanted to find some lower elevation routes through the rest of AZ and NM. I really like small towns and their quiet little airports, so planned to take my time and make my route be one that hops from little burg to little burg.

I followed the road back south toward Show Low AZ, where I swung northeast of town and picked up US 60 headed east toward Springerville AZ. I like to stay away from the bigger metro areas but like the security of the highway through these areas of high msl’s. And maybe, just maybe, I might have developed a greater appreciation for life as a result of my wristpin adventure on the mountain top. I skirted Eagar field there at Springerville and stayed east bound on 60 till I got to Quemato NM where I landed on the gravel airstrip.

This little airport was one of those unattended, seldom used ones with no services. After stretching my legs a bit and when I was about to take off again, an older gent drove up near me and got out with his hand extended for a shake. He introduced himself and ask if I was looking for fuel. When I told him I was, he gave me directions to his ranch strip and told me I could fuel up there. So, I got up in the air and followed his pickup to the ranch just a little east on US 60 on the south side of the highway about a half mile.

Turns out that John, owner of the spread here, was 84 years old and had 4 hired hands helping him run the place, which was populated by about 300 head of cattle and some horses. John said he had sold his 170B when he was no longer able to get his medical and said he was really missing his flying.

John and his dear Mary, whom he had lost 5 years earlier, never had kids, so he was feeling pretty lonely. I got the impression that he continued to run the ranch for the company it provided for he spoke highly of his hired guys.

With John, I scored a full fuel tank and an oil change, a change back to Aeroshell. John’s fuel storage tank still held about 600 gallons of av gas and he had oil and other airplane parts and supplies left over from his flying days. He refused payment for anything, saying it would just rot if I didn’t use it! He told me he sold the 170 to eliminate the temptation as he had a ticker problem and just couldn’t take the chance of getting someone else hurt. I could see that John needed a Cub cruise, so after we fueled up, we headed out for a cruise around the ranch. When we were off the deck, I patted him on the shoulder and told him to take the stick. He had the touch, he was good with the stick-n-rudder. Smooth as an oiled cat. The ball looked like it was glued in place. At the end of the day, one of his guys took photos of John in and around the Cub. It was easy to see he was pleased, that he had a good time. He insisted I join him for dinner and take advantage of the guest room. He was a treat for me, a very interesting new friend and I was fortunate to have found him. When we had said our goodbyes, I circled the patch several times to say my goodbye before heading again out into the wild blue.

These old Cubs don’t run a long time on a tank of fuel and it seems that when doing a longer cross country, you spend a disproportionate amount of time getting ready to stop at the next fueling place. I know it wasn’t the smartest thing to be doing , but I did keep a two gallon can of fuel on board behind the rear seat and I used it quite a few times to stretch range. Man oh man, this was some beautiful country. I really like the wide open nature of it, the areas of prairie grass and scrub trees. It is nice to look at.

I followed 60 and crossed the Rio Grande at Polvadera then continued northeasterly till I found the Mountainair airport on 60. Another gravel strip, this one had a couple hangers and some fuel. Ralph an elderly A&E working on an old Stinson there, perked right up when I told him John had sent me. He and John were flying buddies from way back in the 30’s. Ralph insisted on taking me to lunch at the Pastime Café in town. During lunch, he told me that John had flown Jennys with a barn storming group in and around Ohio back in the 20’s! He said John finally got out of the barnstorming thing after a fairly bad crash in about 1929. When he had recovered, John became a flight instructor from about 1930 till he started his cattle business in about 1944 or so. He said that he and John met in Fort Worth in 1931 when they got into a whiskey-fueled fist fight over a girl in a saloon there! What fun to hear this history! I was even more impressed with John having now learned this bit of history, impressed that he hadn’t mentioned a word of it. Now it could see why he was so danged smooth with the Cub.

Ralph suggested Fort Sumner to be a good fuel stop and that I stop in to see his son who lived further east near Friona TX. He said that son David and his wife would likely put me up for the night and if I wanted, he would call to set the deal up for me. You bet---wonderful ideaI He went to the phone booth outside and made the call. When he got back, he said I could land and tie down at the Friona airport and that David would run over there to pick me up. I would give David a call when I was ready.

I made the fuel stop in Fort Sumner and pointed the Cub a little northeast and headed for Friona. This airport was pretty fancy, with pavement, hangers and free tie downs.

When David drove up, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was a long-haired, hippy looking dude, smoking a big cigar and driving a ’65 Vette! The Corvette was a butternut yellow convertible. It had the 425 hp 396, 4-speed combination with 3.70 gears. He had retrofitted factory side pipes from 430 hp ’67 Vette, which rendered the radio useless. When we got to his home about 4 miles from the airport, he introduced me to Angie his wife of 43 years, a real sweetie pie of a lady. After a nice BBQ dinner, he suggested we look at some of his other cars out in the shop. Yikes! He had 11 other Corvettes ranging from a 1956 to 1969, the ’69 being a 427 425 hp Stingray. And they were all perfect! The car that had my attention though was his 1962 bubble top 409 Impala. It was in sandstone beige and perfect. I was in love! David said he needed to take the 409 out for a stroll and figured this would be a good time to do that. Those factory 8.00 14’s screamed in agony when he got after it. The sound of a 409 is one you just don’t get over real quick. When at full throttle, those two AFBs mounted atop a 180* manifold combined nicely with the factory exhaust system to produce a sweet, powerful and yet refined note. I doubt I will ever forget that ride. David and Angie did not do car shows with this collection. Instead, these were used solely for personal cruising. As David put it, “not trying to impress anyone but ourselves”. Gracious people, they put me in a guest room of their beautiful log home and did everything they could to assure my comfort. I was living pretty high on the hog for a vagabond.

The next morning, when I had planned to get going again, we awoke to threatening weather. If I had been one to monitor weather conditions, I would likely have known things were brewing. Dang the luck---------I would have to stay longer with this Chevy loving car nut and his charming wife!

David’s shop was a dandy one. He had restored a number of his Corvettes and from the look of his work, these would have been concours winners, every one.

When I told him of my friend Carl back home in Yakima and of his new purchase of a 1970-1/2 Ford Falcon, 429 SCJ drag pac car, David smiled politely, convinced I was making this up. I learned later that he had never heard of such a car considered my story to be fabricated. When I got back to NC though and to help prove some sanity, I sent a photo of Carl’s Falcon to show it was the real thing. I was redeemed.

The next day was gorgeous, a beautiful early Texas morning, so I gathered my things before David and Angie took me back out to the Cub.

We stayed in touch by letter and phone till David passed away in 1984 and Angie moved in with their daughter in Houston. The entire car collection ended up going to some well-moneyed collector in Phoenix.

I was east bound by 8 am that next day and enjoying the lovely scenery north Texas had to offer. It was nice to be able to operate at lower density altitudes!

On the second fuel stop in Hollis OK, I bummed a ride into town for lunch at the highly recommended, Andy’s Dinner which proved out well. I managed a ride back out to the Cub and wasted little more time in getting back on the trail. I had to make some time and get myself back out toward the coast of NC. A quick fuel stop at Pauls Valley airport, then back on the trail with the goal of reaching Atoka OK before I ran out of daylight. I made Atoka OK pretty late in the day. I was tired, the Cub was nearly out of fuel and daylight was about gone.

The guy who fueled the Cub offered the ‘airport car’, a ’61 Chevy wagon. I splurged on a motel as well as dinner at the Bar 14. Sunset out here in the wide open spaces is a sight to behold and I enjoyed a quiet, restful night.

It was a fine summer sunrise as I climbed up out of Atoka headed east with my sites on Bearce airport just a little outside Mt Ida AR. There was a hot dog vender on parked by the hanger there, so I took advantage of his offerings. Yum yum.

Back in the air and making good time, my next fuel stop was the Commercial airport just west of DeWitt AR. This little place had a fuel barrel on a stand and a 2.5 gallon can with a spout. Perfect. Just the way I like it. Kenny there sold me the fuel and shared some of his wife’s chocolate cookies. Nice guy.

While it was still plenty good enough, the ceiling had been coming down and Kenny told me the Pontotoc MS airport was only a short walk from a little motel, so off I went again. Pontotoc Co airport was a nice facility and I had had enough airtime for the day. They let me tie down and one of the guys there dropped me off at the Silver Pine motel while on his way home. Lovely country and nice people.

With the exception of the trim jack screw sticking, the Cub had been running without flaw and I am enjoying my trip. Some days I feel anxious to get back to NC, but then, some days I don’t. On those days when I feel less urgency, I meander around, straying off the straight line in order to look at interesting features on the ground. A J-3 is so danged good for this kind of cruising!

More later Shorty