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J3 Cross Country - Segment 5


Staff member
Northwest Arkansas
My adventures in travelling around the country in the J-3 are all about the joy of flying as it is combined with the varied and scenic beauty as well as the people I meet along the way. My view of our country from the Cub is unmatched and each person I meet has his/her own story to tell and most are very interesting. Somehow, I never seem to tire of the stories I hear and the things I learn.

After I climbed up out of Pontotoc that next morning, I leveled off at about 2000’ agl, a good altitude for enjoying the lush Mississippi scenery as I rambled along on my way home. My experience with the broken engine has taught me to keep an eye out for open fields and roadways. In addition, I usually hopscotch from one little airport to the next in order to have the greatest number of options available should one be needed. Besides, lazy, little airports usually always seem to have an interesting person or two hanging around, and since these old Cubs don’t have a lot of range, you are gonna meet a lot of people on a trip.

I headed out toward Red Bay airport on the Alabama line, then on to Russellville airport and finally to Roundtree for fuel stop. This is stretching the fuel supply and bladder pretty much to the limit. I rolled off the active 36 and pulled into transient parking and struck up a conversation with a fellow tying down his big 180. Gary introduced himself as a local, freelance flight instructor and jump master who used this airport as his home base. He was very interested in the prospect of longer-range travel in a Cub, saying he had always wanted to do that very thing, but had never quite done it.

He asked me if I might be interested in lunch and if he could treat me in order to hear more of where I had been on my journey. Since I’m always to be hungry, his offer was gratefully accepted!

Gary’s 180 was outfitted with the door that was hinged to swing up under the wing in order to allow sky-jumpers an easy exit and it was this sky jump/parachute training he did during summer months that helped to support his big, thirsty 180. Gary was also getting into aerial photography and so had his 180 outfitted with a camera port in the floor. I enjoyed his explanation of the aerial photography part of his business and then invited me to sit in with a class of jump-students for basic training later that afternoon at his home across town When the students had gathered, Gary introduced me to his pupils, many of whom were surprised that anyone would travel so far in a slow-poke J-3. One of them said he flew, but had never been beyond Albertville and just couldn’t imagine going so far as Arizona!

I listened in as Gary lead his students through the steps basic to jumping. The part of his class I was most surprised by was when he had them each, in turn, jump off a little wooden platform to the ground below, this to teach them how to land properly on their feet. In turn, they would climb the stairs and leap off the platform to the ground below. The drop couldn’t have been more than maybe 4-5 feet, which made me wonder how this could relate to the real deal, but I guess it works.
When class broke up, I said my goodbyes to all, before Gary took me back to the airport. I just haven’t managed to get my head wrapped around the idea of jumping out of a plane. Heights, even step ladders are scary things to me. Yes----many have told me I‘m weird.

I pitched my tent under the wing for the evening and then managed to sleep too long. I was late getting out and back on my way the next morning on a route that would take me over Guntersville, Isbell and David on my way to Lumpkin Co airport just northwest of Dahlonega GA. This turned out to be a neat little airport with a few hangers toward one end.

While not a particularly productive day in terms of miles traveled, I had enough airtime for the day and wanted to plant myself and be lazy.
I found an area to tie down before I strolled over to talk with a lady who had just landed and was refueling her V-tail Bonanza. She told me camping out here wouldn’t bother a soul, if I was so inclined. She said a guy named Earl will likely cruise through later on, doing a security check as the self-appointed watch-dog and may wonder what I was doing here. She told me to be sure to tell him that ‘Pam with the V-tail’ thought it would be ok. After she left, I pushed the Cub over onto the grassy area on the south side of the hanger building, where I setup my pup tent beside the plane and unfolded my camp chair to settle down for a nice quiet evening. There were trees on the west and south sides of this grassy area, so plenty of shade and very cozy.

As I studied my Atlanta sectional, planning for the next days’ adventure a fellow shot by the end of the hanger on a motorbike. Doing a double-take, he circled around and came back toward me. Earl introduced himself as airport security and asked if I thought I was going to spend the night here.
I explained that Pam with the Bonanza had told me she was thought it would be ok. I could see that this eased his concerns about me.
Before long, he made himself comfortable there on the grass near the Cub and lit a smoke.

I meet the most interesting people when traveling around like this. As we became acquainted, Earl began to share his experiences from his early years.
He said he started racing as a 23-year old kid on the fairgrounds dirt tracks with a 1921 Harley V-twin and that he raced at most all of the little fairground tracks around the south east.

He said that while he never experienced racing on the high speed board tracks up north, he did well on the dirt ovals with his motorbikes and that he won just enough money to call it profitable and that he was ‘feared’ most places he showed up. His motorcycle race career was ended due to a bad crash through a wooden barrier wall in 1934.
He explained that his damaged ankle just did not work well on those left hand, flat track turns anymore, so he made the switch to cars in 1935 and ran a ‘29 Ford A-roadster with a hot, Riley overhead valve converted Model B engine, a very good working car at that time. He told me he did exceptionally well in cars, that he was one of those who had the ‘feel’ for getting his car around a corner, he beamed when he told me he had overheard others saying that he had the ‘golden-touch’. He said he probably wasn’t the best driver, but pretty danged good one---at least when he was young.

As I listened to Earl talk about his good ol days, I studied his face and couldn’t help thinking that the lines in it told of trials and triumphs by the score. He looked to be every bit of about 100, so I just had to ask;

I turned 72 about 17-months ago he replied, as he took another long drag on his Camel. “would you care for snort of some good corn licker”? he asked. “Got some with me there on the bike”. Not wanting to offend my new friend, I was obliged to accept his generous his offer.Earl eagerly bounded away to wrestle a quart bottle of this stuff from a smallish saddle bag on his Triumph Cub. When prompted to continue, he picked up with these tales right where he had left off.
Earl said that he soon graduated to V-8 Fords and ran these most of the time until he strayed away to a Plymouth six for a very short while. Eventually, he managed to land a position as driver in a nearly new 1952 Hudson Hornet, a coupe which was owned and prepared by a Hudson dealership that I think he said was located in ’Chad-nuggga’.
He was wild about that Hornet! He said it had the ‘Twin-H Power’ engine, the 7X racing version with all the good Hudson race parts in it. He said that the dealership was performance oriented and that they wanted to win races!
It was the hottest thing Hudson had to offer and was pretty much identical to those run by the famous drivers like Marshal Teague and Tim Flock. Earl said this Hudson was a monster, it was powerful and it would ‘sail round them corners’.

He said the car was so much better than the next best, that he could ‘play’ with his competition and often had time to light a smoke while racing. The only serious treat he might encounter at a track could be another Hudson, but none seemed to have the same engine setup he was using.
Proudly, he described how he could work his way through the field of cars having started at the back of the pack, get in the lead then back off and cool-it to take first place. He said there were times when he could, ease off and relax for the rest of the race!
He talked of how he would see a few Cadillac V-8’s and a good many Oldsmobile’s with their Rocket V-8 and that these just would not accelerate out of the corners and down the chute as good as his Hudson and they couldn’t hold a candle to the it in the corners. He said that the Hornet had a ton of torque to pull it out of a corner and that this made all the difference.

He explained that as they racked up wins, he was encouraged by his car owner to start playing it a bit cooler. They wanted him to let others get closer and to have a closer second place finish now and again. They asked him to allow himself to get passed, then fight back to first in order to avoid too close a scrutiny by tech officials and competitors.
He said that what Hudson was calling ‘export and severe duty’ parts, were really highly engineered race pieces which, while they were available through the dealership parts department, were viewed with suspicion by sanctioning bodies and competitors alike as being a bit beyond ‘stock’. Earl said that sandbagging was tough for him to do, but that he understood that this tactic might help to ward off suspicions and to keep him in the game longer, that it would be better overall.
Based on his story, I think Earl must have been pretty hot stuff in a race car back in those days! He said things worked very well for him on these short tracks all the way up to about 1957 when the Chevy 283’s and Ford 312’s began to show well.

These spicy new V-8 Chevys and Fords as well as the steadily improving Oldsmobile Rocket V-8s all weighted a bunch less than his Hudson and they were starting to make things tough on him. So tough that he sometimes didn’t even have time to smoke anymore during a race!

Certainly, the Hudson at this point was becoming a dated design and the dealership who supplied the car was fading away too, eventually pulling its car out of competition. At that point, Earl went on to drive for a couple of guys who set him up in a competitive ’56 Ford 2-door running a 341 cubic inch Lincoln V-8. He laughed saying that most folks couldn’t tell the difference between the Lincoln and a 292 Ford. It was a fast car and he raced a few years longer and until he was near 62-years old.

Eventually though, as his ‘golden touch’ began to fade, the opportunities to drive faded as well. At that point, when he realized his turn was about up, so he bagged the racing thing completely, quit cold turkey and walked away from it. He went to work part time as a baker in a bakery and also started a small engine repair shop in his garage.
At the time I met him, he was still doing the small engines as well as motorbike repair and he very much enjoyed doing these things.

Earl’s story was a good one! You don’t often meet someone who has lived such an interesting life. I liked Earl and regretted that our visit had to come to an end. Well after dark, he bid me farewell and hopped on his motorbike and left for home. I hit the hay in preparation for a lot of travel the next day.

Then Bingo 6:30am next morning-------Earl showed up to suggest that, if I was game for it, he would treat me to breakfast at the café in exchange for a ride in the Cub before I pulled out. Great idea says I! Not sure why I hadn’t thought of it the evening before.

He directed me to fly over his place about 2 miles south of town. We flew around his home a number of times, which he really enjoyed. He yelled out to his old dog, who only looked away and headed back to his place under the porch. Then, we passed over the homes of two neighbors who waved back when they figured out who that nut in the plane was. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to take the controls for a bit, that I needed a nap. Even though he had never been at the controls of a plane, he readily accepted my offer and began ‘stirring the pot’, wagging the stick and rudder, getting the feel of things.

With a little input from me, it didn’t take him long to get to where he could get it to go in a direction he liked. Back on the ground, he told me he wasn’t exactly a virgin, that he had taken a ride in a Jenny with a barnstormer when he was a kid. He said the guy dang near ‘kilt them both’, when his engine quit and they had to land in field. Earl walked home.
Earl was a mighty happy guy this day and I had a fine time with him, too. I wouldn’t soon forget this stop.
As I busted up out of Lumpkin on my way on out toward Toccoa and beyond, I realized that my friend Earl had provided me a valuable lesson; life is still worth living when you pass your 30th birthday. At that time, I thought 30 was about it.

While the ol’ Cub had been running like a top, I was still hearing odd sounds from it-----I guess you need a little time to get over an engine failure. Something like that stays with you. I promised myself and the Cub that when we got back to NC, I was going to treat it to a complete going over. I had in mind to pull all the jugs and inspect things quite thoroughly.

Sadly I got a letter from his son in 1981, that Earl passed away in July of ’80. Very cool man and I am proud to say we were once friends.

More later

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