Jan 30

A short story from Daniel Cathy “From Here to There”



At one of the early summer meetings of EAA Chapter 31, Leonard Tarantella asked if anyone would be interested in flying his Luscombe to Florida in early September for a prospective buyer.  I thought about it for a couple of minutes and determined that my haying season would be over by then and a flight of such duration would be both a great flying opportunity and somewhat of an adventure; especially since it would be on someone else’s dollar.  I told him that I would definitely be interested and to keep me informed concerning the sale’s progress.

Over the next couple of months the sale was completed and Leonard and I made arrangements with the new owner – Andrew Balogh, of Wellington, Florida – concerning insurance, operating costs and proposed flight routes.  I flew the plane several times and effected temporary foam seating that would allow my bulk to fit and be halfway comfortable for a couple of hours at a time, and installed a twelve volt dual outlet to provide power to my handheld radio and GPS.  The radio fit nicely over the glove box door using its’ belt clip, and a velcro strip glued to the panel directly in front of the pilot seat held the GPS nicely.

The delaying glitch that surfaced was that a few metal flakes appeared in the oil screen during a pre-buy oil change.  Since the engine had been sitting idle for some time before Leonard had bought and rebuilt the plane, the Aircraft Inspector (AI) doing the pre-buy inspection for Andrew suggested putting at least ten hours flying time on it followed by another oil change and screen inspection.

This was done with a resultant clean screen.  However, oil consumption was high; one quart, or slightly more, every hour and a half.  I made it known that I would make the trip with this amount of consumption, but if it became any worse, I would have to walk away from the plane and leave it wherever it happened to be.  Andrew agreed to this proviso.  Luckily, oil consumption held at about this level for the entire trip.

Although I had originally planned the departure to be around 10 September, it was Sunday, October 7th before N2832K was (supposedly) ready to go.  I arrived at the hanger at about 7:30AM and loaded the plane by putting my two traveling containers in the baggage compartment behind the front seat.  My personal stuff consisted of a soft bag with clothes and a pre-addressed box containing a few tools and all the rest of the charts and flight guides I would need for the trip. The pre-addressed box was to be used to ship all my electronic gear, tools and extra charts home via mail to preclude possible security problems with the airlines on my return.  These, along with all the aircraft paperwork and the original left front seat bottom cushion, which I had replaced with a deep and extended cushion of soft foam I made up to allow headroom for my height and a bit of extra comfort, filled up the available space.  The passenger seat was filled with a case of oil, two bottles of water, charts, and the in-use flight guide.

Prior to pushing the plane out of the hanger, I did a walk around, checking controls, gas, and oil.  I then turned the gas selector to the left tank and drained about a half-cup of gas from the gascolator.  The drain valve continued to drip after the spring-loaded valve was released so I flipped it a couple of times to allow the O ring to seat.  About the second or third time I did this, the whole gascolator turned and gas started running from the fitting where the gascolator connected to the fuel line at the firewall.  I said a few four letter words, reached inside and turned off the gas, unloaded the plane, called Leonard to have it fixed and went home.

The storms came in the next day shutting down both the Cascades/Rockies route to the East and the Siskiyous route to the South.  It wasn’t until Wednesday evening that Leonard called to say the gas leak had been fixed.

I had been calling FAA weather every morning around five AM asking about the Southern route since I thought there was no chance of the route over the mountains to the East being open. Early Thursday morning I asked for, and got, a complete briefing for that route.  The briefer told me to expect solid clouds above six thousand with severe turbulence until ten AM over the Siskiyous turning to broken overcast with light turbulence after ten AM.  From Redding South, clear but with about a ten mile per hour headwind down the San Joaquin Valley.  When he finished, I casually asked what was predicted for the route over the Cascades and through the Rockies to Cheyenne.  After waiting while he called it up on the computer, he came back and said I was in luck; high overcast with light winds from the Southwest for the next forty-eight hours all the way to Cheyenne.  This sounded great to me, so I thanked the man and hung up.


By seven AM there was daylight, but the fog was so thick I could barely see the barn about a hundred feet from the house.  I had another cup of coffee and then decided to drive to Hobby field in Creswel where the plane was hangared to see if the weather was any better there. Still very thick fog, so I drove the eight miles slowly up highway 99 rather than risking the freeway.  It was much lighter at the airport, so I loaded the plane, parked the car in front of the EAA building, walked back to the hanger and pushed the plane out, closed and locked the hanger door, and did my normal walk around inspection.  No problems this time so I walked over to the FBO while awaiting the fog to clear.  While in the middle of doing my obeisance to the sign in the facilities reading “Pilots with short stacks please taxi close” over the urinal, I heard a plane taking off.

When I went out, a hole with just possibly enough room for an aircraft to clear the surrounding fog had appeared over the runway.  I proceeded to the plane, turned the gas on to the left tank, primed it two strokes and then turned the engine through eight prop blades by hand.  Following this, I got my fat body into the seat, strapped down, turned on the master switch, yelled “clear”, and pulled the starter.  The engine caught on the first blade and settled into a nice idle.

With the 85hp engine with starter, the firewall of the 8E has been modified with a three-inch panel that intrudes into the cockpit area just above the pilots right rudder pedal.  With big feet such as mine this requires some adroit twisting of the right foot to get aligned with both the rudder pedal and heel brake.  Due to this oddity, I taxi the plane very slowly and carefully, and so far, haven’t put it in a ditch.

I taxied to the south end of runway 33, did my usual CIGAR run up and took the active.  The hole in the fog looked much smaller now, but still doable, so I throttled up and lifted off at about 55mph; my watch said 09:00.

The nose of a Luscombe tapers down at such an angle that, when level, it seems as if you are actually diving.  This takes some getting used to, but when familiar it seems normal and gives great visibility.  But this requires the nose to actually be lowered once you leave the runway in a takeoff configuration.  So after liftoff on takeoff I pushed the stick forward and lowered the nose until the recommended maximum angle for climb speed (60mph) was reached.  And this little machine does climb.  The feeling is one of levitating in a level attitude while the ground drops away and moves slowly behind you.

The hole in the fog closed in faster than expected, but at about 400 feet AGL, a canyon in the fog led off to the northeast which I followed until breaking out into clear skies at about one thousand feet near Pleasant Hill with Dexter Lake dead ahead.  There in all their grandeur were the shining, snow topped peaks of the Sisters showing above the other mountains, along with unlimited visibility and only a few very high clouds showing to the South.  I climbed to 7500 feet and proceeded in very smooth air over the Cascades and Sunriver to Highway 20 where I turned slightly South on a direct heading for Burns.

Touched down at Burns at 11:25.  No one in sight, so fueled up, added one quart of oil, used the facilities and lifted off at 12:15.  Back up to 7500 feet and the GPS set on a direct course for Homedale, Idaho.  Actually, I cheated on this one since I paid more attention to the power lines going over the high, arid mountains after crossing over Warm Springs Reservoir and then headed a bit south of course to  pass over the middle of the Owyhee Reservoir.  I found I was still too far north to see the State airstrip down on the reservoir shore, but I didn’t want to deviate any further South so ended up crossing the Snake river about fifteen miles South of Homedale.

After crossing the Snake, I changed to the Salt Lake City map and keyed in Burley, Idaho on the GPS.  However, I continued on the previous heading until I crossed Interstate 80N where I turned to the direct course to Burley; this to clear a restricted area and to remain north of the Mountain Home AFB.  I was getting a bit of a tail wind in calm air and was thoroughly enjoying the view of the mighty Snake when the old bladder told me it was immediately necessary to pay some attention to its’ excessive fullness.  Goodings, Idaho was just about ten miles ahead and slightly to the north, so I began letting down and started calling when about five miles out for landing information with no response.  I let down to pattern altitude and saw a plane on the ramp with its’ engine running but still no response to my radio calls.  Then just as I was about to enter downwind, I noticed my bladder had apparently accepted the status quo and given up on its’ complaints, so I returned to my original course for Burley.

This track soon took me out of the dry desert and back into the lush irrigated farmlands of the irrigated area to the north of the Snake.  Since I was now flying at pattern altitude great viewing was provided of the many farms along the way.  Soon, the Snake was again in view with Burley airport on the opposite side.  I landed at 15:25.

The last time I had visited Burley, there had been two FBOs vying for transient aircraft business.  Both had clean, well kept facilities and the field appeared well used.  However, this time as I taxied in, I noticed grass growing through cracks in the cement, one FBO building vacant, and the remaining one now located in a rather dingy corner of a hanger.

Here again, I had called in with no response but the attendant at the FBO said he only had a scanner and had heard my calls but had no way to answer.  There was no courtesy car at the field and the attendant said that no motels would do pickups as far as he knew and that the town had no taxis.  He would, however, take me to a motel that was about a mile away from which I would have an easy walk back to the airport in the morning.  I topped the plane off with gas, put in two quarts of oil and tied it down.  I had had it for the day and accepted his offer for a ride to the motel.

Rather sleazy little motel, but there was an excellent restaurant just next door where I (finally) got a big breakfast.  After eating, I called my wife on my cell phone.  Her first words were, “Are you still here?”  Followed by: “Your sister called early this morning and I told her that although you probably couldn’t get out of here due to the fog, you would probably call her from Livermore if you did.”

She had still been in bed when I left and had no idea I was going through the mountains to the East rather than heading South through California as we had discussed the night before.  And since the fog had remained very thick at our home in Cottage Grove for the whole day, she surmised I had just spent the day at the airport.


Friday morning, I woke up around 5:30 and immediately turned to the weather channel where I confirmed the big front was still to the South and East of Denver.  I waited until false dawn at about 7:15 and walked to the airport.  It was a rather chilly walk with the temperature in the mid-thirties.  Due to the cold fog, I had left Creswel wearing a rather heavy jacket that I kept on for the whole previous days’ trip.  I was glad to have it for this early morning walk.

I took off to the North over the river at 08:00 then turned right and began a slow climb to 9500 feet.  The mighty Snake in the early morning light was beautiful as it meandered through the very productive farmland below.  Again, I had a nice tail wind and calm air as I sequentially tuned in Malad City, Preston, then Kemmerer and finally Rock Springs, Wyoming.  With the calm air, it seemed as though I was sitting still while the mountain ridges followed by productive valleys were passing by below as if on some giant moving sidewalk. This is truly one of the most enjoyable parts of flying in a small aircraft.

My route bisected Big Bear Lake followed by the torn up, open pit coal mining area around Kemmerer where the eighty-two hundred-foot runway can be spotted from many miles away.  The high plains from there on a direct course to Rock Springs seemed somewhat foreboding due to its lack of vegetation, visible habitation, and very few roads.

As I began my letdown to Rock Springs, I passed over the deep canyon containing Interstate 80 to the north of the field and set up for a downwind to runway 27.  I again called-in while letting down (not very far since the airport is located 6700 feet above sea level) with no answer.

Several years before, I had landed a Piper J-3 on the numbers at the end of this same 10,000-foot runway in a 25K wind and had to taxi a mile and a half to the FBO.  I had learned my lesson, so put the Luscombe down at almost mid-field and had just slowed enough to make the turn onto the half-mile long taxiway leading to the FBO.  It was 10:37.  Here again, when asked, the FBO said he had heard my call-in but had been in the fuel truck and not responded.   I fueled up, added one quart of oil, visited the facilities, switched to the Cheyenne chart, and lifted off at 11:15.

Since the 85hp had no mixture control, I was surprised at the short takeoff distance and rate of climb at the high altitude.  I started at the very end of the runway and by mid-field was about 1000 feet AGL so turned out to the east and while still climbing picked up the freeway which I followed to Rawlins.  At 9,500 feet there was a good tail wind and the GPS indicated between 125 and 130mph ground speed.  As I approached Rawlins, I began calling in to check the radio reception but again without a response.  When even with the Rawlins airport, I was about five miles south of the freeway, and since I had the good tail wind in smooth air decided to go direct to Laramie.  This required going through a pass between Elk Mountain which is 11,150 feet high and another mountain to the south which is over 10500 feet and then over a 9,500 foot ridge for about 50 miles before coming to the valley where Laramie is located.

I have my own criteria for mountain flying which is to take off very early and have the plane tied down by noon.  However, I reasoned this was winter and the usual thunder bumpers of the summer wouldn’t be around so put aside my usual caution and continued on.  This turned into a big mistake since about 30 miles out from Rawlins I ran into major turbulence that made just flying the plane – should I say – “real interesting” for the next hour or so.  By the time I realized how bad it was, I was fast approaching the pass to the South of Elk Mountain.  The predicament was whether to do a 180 and go North to follow the Interstate around the North end of the Mountain, or to continue through the pass.

The floor of the pass was at about 7000 feet.  This level continues around Elk Mountains’ Eastern side to intersect the valley where the Interstate is located further to the East.  Even if I decided on going through the pass, with the turbulence as bad as it was, there was no way I was going to consider continuing over the high ridge between the pass and Laramie, but decided I was too close to the pass to turn back.

I let the plane rock and roll its way up to 10,500 feet, and bounced on through the pass while following the curve slowly around the mountain top and ending up heading just a bit north of east parallel to the northern edge of the high ridge to the south.  After a very rough 30 minutes the turbulence eased a bit and the freeway with the little village of Arlington as well as a long line of huge windmills heading Northeast toward Medicine Bow showed up verifying my position on the chart.  As I got further into the high valley containing Laramie at its’ south end, the flying, although accompanied with frequent jolts, became much easier.

Rather than continuing directly to Laramie, when the GPS indicated I was 25 miles out, I rehomed on Cheyenne and changed course slightly to go direct.  By this time, the bright sun was hot and I was sweating – either from heat or from tenseness – and felt like I had been through a meat grinder.  In all honesty, I just wanted to get these high mountains behind me and decided to continue on East and get over the last ridge from where the rest of the trip would be all downhill.

As I came over this last ridge of the Rockies (it most probably has a name of its own) I looked down on the shoreline of a sea of clouds shoved up against the city of Cheyenne.  The cloud tops were at about 7500 feet and from my altitude of 10,500 feet it continued from southwest to northeast as far as I could see with no breaks. There were no airports shown on the chart between the cloud bank and mountains which were now behind me to the West, so unless I could get under the clouds I would have to do a 180 and return all the way over the mountains to Laramie.

I had no desire to return over the mountains, so retarded the throttle to about 1700rpm and turned North to let down parallel to the West side of the clouds.  Breaks under the clouds began showing at about 7000 feet and at 6800 feet, it was a little misty, but had at least three to five mile visibility.  I powered back up, keyed in Pine Bluffs on the GPS and turned East.  Soon after I went under the clouds I looked off to the right to find my descent hadn’t taken me as far north as I had expected so was now flying parallel to the main runway of Cheyenne airport.  I wasn’t exactly certain if I was in or out of it’s airspace: since Cheyenne is located at 6200 feet and I was now flying at about 7000 feet or so, with the view I had, it was hard to determine, but I most probably was in their airspace.  However, I was now out of the mountains and on the downhill slope with a strong tail wind that the GPS indicated had boosted the airspeed to 132mph; I wasn’t about to change course.

The ground level slowly lowered with the cloud level following on, or about on, an equal basis.  I soon picked up Highway 395 to the East of Cheyenne that led to Pine Bluff, Wyoming that is at 5152 feet.  I continued on down the Highway to Kimball, Nebraska at 4926 feet and then on to Sidney, Nebraska, that is at (only?) 4313 feet.  I had to maintain a slow drop in altitude to maintain headroom below the bottom of the clouds, so by the time I got within site of the Sidney airport, I was only at about 5200 feet.  Also, the clouds to the East were now roiling out of their bottom layer which up to this time had been fairly smooth and it was getting so dark under the cloud layer, lights would soon be needed.  I decided to quit for the day.

I had been into Sidney several years before and knew the runway had quite a slope up from South to North.  I called in several times with no answer, so entered left downwind for runway 30 without ever seeing the windsock and made a good landing.  However, even going uphill the plane seemed to go on forever.  Come to find out, I had landed downwind in a 20k breeze.  Shows how a good plane can take care of a dumb pilot.  Even though I had touched down near the end of the runway numbers, I had to – carefully – touch the brakes a couple of times to make the mid field turnoff to the ramp and FBO tiedowns (note: runway 30 at Sidney is 6600 foot long).  It was only 14:37PM but looked more like about sunset.

As soon as I pulled into one of the open parking spots, Ed Nelson, the FBO pulled up with the gas truck and assisted me in tying down the plane.  While I filled the tanks and put in two quarts of oil, he washed and polished the windshield; a rather rare service this day and age.  Turned out Ed was the same FBO who had helped me when I visited Sidney in a J3 several years ago.  He, his wife Kelly, and now his son Chris, who has become a licensed A&P since my last visit, run a very nice facility that provides all pilot supplies, flight instruction including acrobatic, new Decathlon and other aircraft sales, as well as all A&P and AI services. I was rather surprised when we entered the FBO lounge; there were about twenty mixed gender service people in fatigues along with body armor and weapons filling the whole room.  Turned out these young airmen (women) were from the Air Force Base in Cheyenne and waiting to board two large banana helicopters that were parked at the Northwest end of the ramp.  Never did understand if there was any connection to the airmen I encountered, but at the time I landed, a large military parade was occurring in downtown Sidney to celebrate the return of their National Guard unit from Iraq.

I verified that Kelly had been receiving my radio calls.  However, I had not been receiving her many responses.  By using the FBO transmitter as well as the ASOS located on the field we verified that the receiver of my handheld was not working.


I ended up spending two and a half days and three nights in Sidney.  The morning after my arrival, the clouds were actually rolling across the parking lot of the Motel and rain was coming down at a forty-five degree angle.  The storm, coming in from the southwest, held fairly steady for two full days causing heavy flooding in the Kansas City/Leavenworth area to the east of Sidney.

Since the weather was so bad during this period, Ed, the FBO, allowed me to keep the courtesy car.  I used it between the motel and airport a couple of times a day to get updates on the weather via his live computer input.  In between visits to the airport I checked the local weather channel on the motel rooms’ TV; boring weekend watching lots of TV.

Ed tried to find me a handheld that I could either buy or use on a temporary basis with no success due to it being a weekend.  However, after several attempts at repair, I finally managed to beat the receiver on my handheld into submission and it began working again.  Never have determined why it stopped working and the only difference to its original reception capability seems to be a bit less effectiveness in the squelch feature.


Early Monday morning, the fifteenth of October, TV weather reports indicated the main front had moved to the northeast and although the long tail of clouds following it would still be over my route of flight, it looked like it just might be flyable.  I checked out of the motel, put gas in the courtesy car, and headed for the airport.

The very dark and solid cloud cover was holding at about eight hundred to a thousand feet AGL with the winds from the northwest at about twenty five knots when I arrived at the airport about ten AM.  It stayed this way for the next hour so I finally gave up and went into town for breakfast.  When I returned to the airport about one PM the ASOS was reporting the cloud cover had risen to 1800 feet AGL with 20 knot winds gusting to 25 from the northwest.  I discussed these conditions with Ed, who had flown in the area for over thirty years.  He said that since the ground level began descending (although slowly) immediately to the south of the runway and continued to do so all the way across eastern Colorado to Kansas I should have no trouble with clearances.  Just watch out for towers and windmill farms along the route I would be using.  I decided to go.

I thanked Ed and Kelly for their hospitality, loaded the plane, did my usual walk around inspection, got my bulk into the seat, and started up.  As I taxied to the run-up area for runway 30, I did a good radio check, both with Kelly at the FBO radio and by tuning in to the local ASOS, to verify the receiver was working as it should.  No problems, so after going through my usual CIGAR run-up, I revved up and lifted off at one thirty PM.  Due to the strong wind, I started my crosswind to the left at about one hundred feet AGL and ended up following through with a complete 180 to downwind.  I was on course to the south at about 400 feet by the time I passed by the numbers at the end of runway 30.

I climbed on up to 5000 feet and zeroed in on the GPS heading for Wray, Colorado.  Although visibility was almost unlimited, the heavy cloud cover about three to five hundred feet above created a somber, somewhat dreary feel.  Soon after takeoff, I crossed the bluffs to the north of and, then the South Fork of the Platte River with Interstate 80 on its’ southern bank.  The strong Northwesterly was pushing me along at well over 135mph by this time and the high plains were slowly falling away below me.

After passing over Wray, I changed to the Witchita chart and tuned in Scott City, Kansas as my next waypoint.  The high plains continued to drop away beneath me while providing a forbidding landscape for any emergency.  Few roads – mostly dirt – with only the occasional ranch coming into view.  During this complete leg I only saw one automobile winding its dusty way about mid way between two ranches which were at least twenty-five miles apart.  I felt that even by successfully doing an emergency landing on one of the rare dirt roads, one would have a very long walk to find any assistance.

At Scott City, the chart finally changed to a lighter color showing I was now flying over ground that was below three thousand feet above sea level.  I turned the chart over and tuned the GPS for the little town of Meade, Kansas and soon passed by Garden City to the east followed by the Arkansas River and then the main east/west railroad coming out of Dodge City.  Ed had warned me of the towers and windmills, but I found the large number of windmill farms along this route one of its’ more interesting aspects.  One of these “farms” covered at least ten square miles with the huge three bladed props putting out what must be a tremendous quantity of electricity for the area.

I landed at Meade under a still solid, but high, overcast into a light but gusting northerly breeze.  It was only 16:05 PM, but the next option for landing, Buffalo, Oklahoma, was almost an hour further on, and due to the gloom of the still abundant clouds I was concerned over the probability of getting caught in a strange area at dusk.  I had wanted to make it into Oklahoma, but the Flight Guide was “iffy” as to availability of services at Buffalo so opted for Meade instead.

I taxied to the ramp near the gas truck, but had to go searching for the FBO which was located in a building facing away from the parking ramp and adjacent to the auto parking lot on highway 54.  The attendant was very helpful and even provided straps of his own for tying down the Luscombe since there were no ropes or chains provided on the ramp but only metal “U” bolts sunk into the cement.  We soon got the plane filled with gas and strapped down for the night.

The attendant then got the loaner SUV from one of the hangers, recommended a motel (one of three in town), said he would be there by seven in the morning, gave me the keys, and sent me on my way.  He also warned me that the highway through town was torn up for paving and therefore the motel he recommended might be full due to the paving crews in town.

I was glad to get in the car because it was just plain cold on the open parking ramp.  The temperature was in the mid-thirties and the overcast sky, along with the light but gusting breeze blowing across the tarmac made the rather heavy coat I had been wearing since leaving Oregon a real necessity.

Highway 54 is the main southwest to northeast route coming up from Tucumcari, New Mexico through the panhandles of both Texas and Oklahoma and then on across Kansas to Witchita.  Meade is a small town on this highway about sixty miles northeast of the Oklahoma/Kansas border.  The town is about six blocks long and four blocks wide with Highway 54 being the main street.  The airport is about a mile across a slight swale in the prairie to the west of town.

As I drove in, the recommended motel was the first complex of buildings on the left.  The recommended eatery – a large truck stop – was immediately across the torn up highway from the motel.  I drove around the many barriers and to the other end of town just to check it out.  When I came to the last house in town, that was it; nothing but open prairie for miles beyond.  I made the mistake of not turning into the last side street so had to proceed up the highway for another mile before coming to a side road where I could turn around.  I drove back and checked in to the recommended motel and then dared to cross the torn up roadway while dodging traffic in the remaining two lanes to the restaurant.  It was worth it; good food with good service and good prices.

A cold mist was coming down when I came out of the restaurant; almost rain and to me it felt as though snow or at least hail was a possibility.  I quickly returned to my room and turned the heat up.  After checking the weather channel, I called a cousin in Seminole, Oklahoma to see about stopping for a visit the following night.  Turned out he was working extended shifts hauling oil from remote pumping sites to storage facilities so wouldn’t be available.  Due to what happened the next day this it was just as well we didn’t make any visit plans.


The next morning I arrived at the airport at a little past seven AM under clear skies and a light southwesterly wind.  I drove in a side road and right up to the plane where I transferred all my gear from the car into the luggage area of the plane.  I then drove around to the FBO where I returned his tie down straps, paid the bill, and thanked him for his hospitality.  Even though I had put five gallons of gas in the loaner car, I always feel rather guilty about using all the facilities of a local FBO where his only income from my visit is the ten to fifteen gallons of gas I purchase.  On this whole trip I never met one FBO who did not go out of his way to be helpful far and above what was required.

I walked around the buildings to the plane, did a careful walk around, turned the gas to the left tank, gave it two strokes of prime and then followed by pulling through eight blades of prop by hand.  Everything checked out, so I stuffed the old fat body into the seat, fastened the seat belt, secured the door, arranged the wiring for the GPS, radio and headsets, turned the mags to both, and pulled the starter handle.  As usual, the engine caught on the first blade and soon settled into a smooth idle.

After tuning in the GPS to Fairview, Oklahoma and checking the radio by calling the FBO and getting a good solid reply, I taxied down the runway to its south end, did a run-up check and then powered up and lifted off at 08:05AM.  By the time I reached the end of the runway, I was at 500 feet AGL so turned right and proceeded down the highway and over the town to see just how small it was.  I climbed to 3500 feet and turned to a direct course for Fairview, Oklahoma.  This was a beautiful flight.  Not a bump in the air, bright sun, and just enough buildings and roads along the flight path to keep me interested.  Here again, I passed another very large windmill farm and then picked up the Cimarron River that followed near my course into Fairview where I put the wheels on the runway at 09:30AM.

The FBO pulled the gas truck up to the front of the Luscombe while I was still in the process of getting my legs from around the stick and onto the tarmac.  After gassing up and putting in a quart of oil, I found that he had attended Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa as had I.  Only I was there in 1955 and received an A&E license and FE ticket from the CAA and he was there in the mid-eighties and received an A&P license from the FAA; so much for reminiscing.

The sky was clear and the temperature was in the mid to high seventies.  I finally relegated my heavy coat to the luggage area on top of all the other stuff back there and took off at 10:10AM.  I had changed to the Dallas/Ft Worth chart and set my GPS for a direct course to Seminole.  This route would keep me well to the north of the Oklahoma City control area and, even if my cousin wasn’t available for a visit, would allow me to set down at the airport I had flown to on my first student cross country back in the mid fifties.

The weather was as delightful as the flight.  I returned to 3500 feet and tuned in the Guthrie ASOS that was reporting clear with unlimited visibility and winds from the southwest at five to ten mph.  Soon the hi-rise skyline of Oklahoma City was on the horizon to the right and I passed over the highway that leads north from Oklahoma City through the town of Edmond to Guthrie.  However, as I was crossing over the large reservoir to the east of Edmond, I noticed a solid line of clouds going from southwest to northeast about twenty five mile ahead.  Looked familiar; just like the ones that put me down at Sidney.  These appeared to have tops a little above two thousand feet with unlimited visibility above but with no breaks through the blanket for as far as I could see.  The edge seemed to be about even with Shawnee, so I decided to let down and go under them and try for Seminole, but if I couldn’t get through to Seminole, I would land at Shawnee.  It just didn’t occur to me to tune in the Shawnee AWOS at that time.

The wall wasn’t solid as it first appeared from a distance but had occasional openings around its’ edges.  I descended under the first of these at about 1800 feet and proceeded into the gloom and dark under the upper edge of the wall of clouds.  It kept getting darker and darker as the bottom of the cloud layer kept forcing me down.  I was about five miles from Shawnee according to the GPS and almost down to 1500 feet indicated when the rain hit hard.  Shawnee is at a little over1200 feet, so when the first drops hit the windshield I finally came to my senses, did a 180 and headed back to the edge of the front.

What a difference; from crystal clear skies and almost eighty degree temperature to (less than) one mile visibility and mid fifty temperatures in less than three miles distance and fifteen hundred feet of altitude.  After clearing the edge of the clouds, I again climbed to 3500 feet and circled while deciding what to do.  At first I thought I could turn south to Pauls Valley which I had been to many years before, but the front had now solidified as a solid line from southwest to northeast and was already approaching the south side of Oklahoma City.

I finally woke up and dialed in the Shawnee AWOS which was reporting heavy rain, less than a mile visibility and solid overcast at less than 100 feet.  I tuned into the Guthrie ASOS which hadn’t changed from the previous time I had checked so zeroed in on Guthrie with the GPS and headed back.  I landed to the south and pulled up to what I thought were the self-serve gas pumps at 11:35AM.

After deplaning and examining the four large tanks, I determined they were just storage tanks and then spotted the FBO about two hundred yards further to the north.  I reentered the plane and taxied over to the tie down area where the gas truck soon came and I filled the tanks and put in another quart of oil.

There were three or four people in the very nice FBO lounge who had a hard time believing the storm was so close since no clouds were visible from the ramp and the temperature and light breeze from the south indicated nothing but fair weather.  However, this was soon dispelled when we looked at the weather radar on the computer.  It was almost the same as what I had seen three days before in Sidney; a solid line of clouds twenty-five or so miles to the southeast with bright orange and red areas covering the Shawnee/Seminole area.  The FBO said he had been watching it and that it would probably reach Guthrie in about three to five hours, but then they were unsure at the weather station and said it might weaken and drift south.  He let me have a loaner van and told me how to get to the Cowboy Cafe in town.

Good food – actually a big country breakfast – and I took my time.  The clouds were clearly visible to the southeast and the breeze had picked up to about ten mph when I returned to the airport.  Oklahoma City and environs – this included Guthrie – were put on a storm watch basis with heavy rain, possible hail, and high winds by midnight.  The FBO said I could keep the courtesy van so I checked all the tiedowns on the plane offloaded my personal gear to the van and drove back into town.  I checked into the one motel in the center of town and settled in to (again) watching the weather channel.

About ten PM the weather channel put out a warning for heavy hail just to the southwest of Oklahoma City; OK, but what could I do about it with the plane setting on the open ramp if the hail did move to the northeast?  Worry, worry, worry.

I arose early and drove to the airport where I arrived in the dark with a heavy rain coming down at a little after seven AM.  The owner had the FBO open and was watching the weather on his computer.  When asked, he said there had been no local hail and none was now predicted.  However the front, with its heavy winds and rain, was not expected to pass out of the area until very late in the afternoon or perhaps even after dark.  He said I could keep the car, so I went back into town, had breakfast and spent the rest of the day watching the rain come down from the motel window.


The weather cleared during the night and Friday morning I arrived at the airport in sunshine with only a few high clouds and a light westerly wind.  I had put gas in the loaner car on the way to the airport so transferred all my gear from it to the plane and gave the keys along with my heartfelt thanks to the FBO.

I did my usual pre-flight check, hefted my bulk into the seat, strapped in and pulled the starter.  Silence.  Pulled the master switch on and off several times with no reassuring click coming from the main solenoid.  The battery was a new jell cell that had been installed less than a month prior to the trip and the ampmeter had been indicating adequate generator output for the whole trip.  T’was a puzzlement.  I knew the engine would start easily by hand propping, but without battery excitation the generator would not function and that would mean no battery for the GPS and radio.

I had to unload all the gear in the baggage area and then the plastic bulkhead at the rear of the compartment to reach the battery.  After checking all the cable connections, I went in and told my woes to the FBO.  He quickly produced a meter that proved the battery had lost its charge and then had me push the plane near the front of the hanger where he had an extension cord to provide power for a battery charger.  So now I had to walk around the field in beautiful flying weather for about an hour while the charger did its work.  Frustrating, after spending the previous day inside during the storm.

Forcing myself to allow one full hour for the charger to do its job was difficult.  But I did and, of course, the period finally passed.  I disconnected the charger and the loud click of the main solenoid rewarded my patience when the master switch was pulled on.  After quickly reinstalling the rear bulkhead and loading all my stuff back in the baggage compartment, I contemplated tying the tail down and starting the engine by hand, but decided to go ahead and try for a battery start.  I felt that enough time had been wasted and was anxious to get back in the air.

I didn’t even re-do my usual pre-start procedure.  Just got in, pulled on the master switch, yelled clear, and pulled the starter handle.  That lovely little engine barked at the first blade and settled into its usual smooth idle.  I revved it up to about 1300 rpm and was pleased to see the ampmeter needle indicating a positive charge with all of the other engine indicators in the green.

The line attendant was in the process of picking up the extension cord and battery charger and there was a moment when I felt I should shut down, get out and thank him and the FBO again.  But the engine was running, the sun was shining and the sky beckoned.  So I merely waved good-by, taxied to the north end of the runway, called an advisory to local traffic, and lifted off into a quartering breeze at 08:45AM.

The sun was bright, but the sky was lumpy.  I climbed up to 5500 feet to try to get out of the rough but with no success.  I keyed in Stamper field at Hugo, just north of the Canadian river that separates Oklahoma from Texas.  This took me just east of Shawnee airport, which as I passed was sparkling from the heavy rain it had survived since my attempt at reaching it two days before.

This route also took me over the little town of Antlers. I had visited my father during the mid fifties when he owned a farm just to the north of this town.   I knew the place was on the Kiamish River in a fairly open area, but even by letting down to 3500 feet, I could see nothing but trees and certainly nothing even remotely familiar.  And at that altitude the plane was really being pummeled about by the roiling winds left behind by the preceding storm of the last two days.

I rocked and rolled back up to 5500 feet and when I reached Hugo turned left to a due easterly course.  The storm of the previous day had moved to the north and east so even with the lumpy air, I had picked up a good ten to fifteen mph tailwind on the flight from Guthrie to Hugo.  When I turned east the ground speed shown on the GPS started rising.  For one brief period it actually indicated 146 mph.  Wow!  But it was getting so rough and hot that I decided to let down and give it a rest at the little town of Idabell.

I didn’t realize how strong the wind was until I turned final and had to keep the prop turning at about 1500 rpm to make the runway.  The landing was a fairly good one considering the wind was coming from about 20 degrees to the right of the runway and gusts kept the plane jumping up and down in about fifty foot increments during the whole letdown process.  After touching down the plane took only fifty feet or so to slow to taxi speed and kept rocking and rolling from gusts as I gingerly taxied halfway down the field to the off ramp.  Since the off ramp was at 90 degrees to the wind, its force on the tail required almost full right rudder plus a bit of brake to maintain a straight course along the ramp to the parking area.

As I pulled up in front of the gas pumps at the north end of the parking area, a gust hit the rudder with enough force to whip the plane around to where it was facing directly into the wind.  I shut down but as I released my seat belt and lifted my feet from the rudder pedals and brakes, another gust hit the plane and it started rolling backwards.  I again hit the brakes and then saw a lineman running out from the FBO building.  He ran to the pumps where there was a pile of wheel chocks and soon had them securely under each wheel.  I let up on the brakes, forced the door open into the wind and climbed out.  The lineman apologized for not being at the pumps when I arrived but said he was on the phone and came as soon as he could hang up.  It was 10:35AM.

He put ropes on the wings and I filled up both tanks from the self-serve pumps.  We then leaned into it and forced our way through the wind into the FBO building.  The weather guage was indicating a temperature of 81 degrees with a wind speed of 22 knots with gusts to 27!   No wonder I had been so uncomfortable.

I braved the wind and went to the plane where I changed my heavy shirt for a lighter one and then sat in the FBO lounge and watch the plane straining at its tie downs.  The attendant offered a loaner car if I wanted to go to town and get something to eat, but since it was still early I decided to just sit and close my eyes for a bit.  I must have dozed off for a few minutes but came awake with a start as another plane started up on the ramp.  After splashing some water in my face in the bathroom and watching a Bonanza taxi out and take off, I again checked the weather guage.

It was showing the same temperature but the wind was down to 15 knots with the gusts at 16 to 17.  I told the attendant I thought it was too early to call it a day and would head on east.  He said if it was him in the Luscombe, he would just rev it up where it sat at take off using the parking ramp.

The plane was no longer rocking in the gusts as I removed the tie downs and the front chocks.  I did my usual pre flight, got in and started up.  I was tempted to do what the attendant said he would do, but for once my better judgement took over, so taxied across the parking lot and back down the off ramp to the runway entrance and advised local traffic I would be back taxiing on the runway for takeoff.  Since the wind was so strong, I had to be very careful taxiing downwind and proceeded very slowly.  About halfway down the field the Bonanza that had taken off earlier called in saying he was three miles out for a straight in approach.  I advised him of my location and that I could not clear the runway.  He acknowledged my transmission and flew by parallel to the runway at about 400 feet just as I reached the end of the runway.

I had done all my preflight checks during the long slow taxi so when I reached the end of the runway I did a 180 told everyone I was taking off with a left-hand turnout.  I had set up on the far left of the runway and took off about 30 degrees diagonally across the runway.  This put me more directly into the strong wind and the tires lifted off the asphalt about as soon as the engine reached full RPM. The time was 11:25AM.

The wind might have lessened some, but the lumps were still there.  The bumps, rolls and grinds began as I turned left and went over the FBO at about 400feet.  I again went up to 5500, but with no relief so went back down to 3500 where I could at least see more details of the country I was passing over.  I again picked up the good tailwind and made good time over southern Oklahoma into Arkansas but was really getting battered.  I must have flown directly over the Texarkana Arsenal where I had taught a course to Army Engineering College students back in the sixties but was so intent on flying the plane that I completely missed it.   After about an hour I decided I had had enough and picked the next runway on my route for landing.  This happened to be Magnolia, Arkansas where the runway, the wind, and the landing was almost identical to that at Idabell.  It was only 12:45 when I pulled up to the gas pump, but I was hot, tired and ready to call it a day.

I put in one quart of oil, filled the tanks, and tied the plane down securely.  The FBO said the last pilot to use the loaner car had taken off with the keys but he would take me into town and then pick me up in the morning.  What service.  He took me to a nice motel where I checked in, and after showering and changing clothes, walked the three blocks into the town square where I had a nice lunch.  It was hot, but the wind was hardly noticeable.

Later in the evening the weather channel covered the extensive damage done to the Florida coast by the front that had passed through the area the day before.  This was the same front that I was fortunate to be on the backside of and that had provided such good – but rough – tailwinds.  It had hit the Florida coast with hurricane force winds and heavy rains.  A lot of wind damage along with severe flooding had occurred from Pensacola to Talahassee.


True to his word, the FBO picked me up at 07:30 and took me directly to the airport.  It had cooled off and the air was calm with only a few very high clouds showing off to the east.  I quickly loaded the plane, did my pre flight and took off at 08:15.  This was a day for flying.  Smooth air, new country to see, and no clouds or mountains to worry about.  This time I climbed up to 5500 feet and cool air where I could see all the swamp lands and rivers for many miles in all directions.  The route I was following led east along the Arkansas Louisiana border and ended at the town of Lake Providence.  I felt it necessary to stay this far north to bypass the controlled areas around Monroe.  About twenty miles out from Lake Providence I keyed Hattiesburg, Mississippi into the GPS and turned to course.  This route led me across the Mississippi River at 09:26AM just to the south of Vicksburg.

Haze seemed to begin at the river, but only cut the previous unlimited visibility down to about twenty or so miles.  Clouds were also more plentiful at about 7000 feet, but the air was still smooth and the flying tremendous.  I arrived at what appeared to be a new field with a 6500 foot runway at Hattiesburg at 10:25AM.  Everything seemed new: the runway, all the ramps, the hangars, and the FBO building, but the only person there was on the phone so I didn’t get any info about the field; everything sure looked nice.  I added one quart of oil, filled both tanks, and took off at 11:05AM.

I keyed in Andalusia, Alabama, again climbed to 5500 and proceeded on. Thirty miles out from Hattiesburg, a bank of broken clouds with tops at about three thousand feet that continued on for twenty miles went under me, but then the sky cleared with no haze and unlimited visibility.  However, as I got to within about fifteen miles of the Andalusia-Opp airport it looked like I had caught up with the same front that had stopped me in Guthrie.  The tops were at about three thousand and solid as far to the south and east as I could see.  I dropped down to 1000 feet to go under but ran into rain and what looked like patches of fog soon after going under the edge of the cloud bank.

I gave up easily this time, did another 180 and keyed in Middleton, which I had passed over twenty minutes earlier, on the GPS.  I climbed back up to 3500 feet into bright sunshine, smooth air, and clear skies.  Here I was going in the opposite direction to my desired course; couldn’t decide whether it was wisdom or I was just a wuss.

When five miles out from Middleton I called in and was immediately answered with the query “Do you mean Evergreen-Middleton”?  I responded in the affirmative and was told that the military aircraft would circle at 1400 feet until I landed.  I was a little confused, but said “roger that” and noticed a white plane with red markings leaving the pattern in front of me as I entered downwind.  Evergreen-Middleton is at 259 feet with two 4000 foot runways at 90 degrees to each other.  As I entered the downwind leg, I was set up for landing on runway 10 – almost due east.

I had been keeping an eye on the other plane that was out about a mile from the airport when I turned on base.  I was still high and even by slipping on final was just not right – still too high and too fast – as I came down near the heavily tire-marked runway.  I noticed a little covered cart parked alongside the runway near where I would usually set down, but things did not feel right.  I was still fast and high so thought ‘to hell with this’ and pushed the throttle back in and called in saying I was going around.

I settled down on climb out, did a nice go around, let down and flared to put the wheels on the pavement in a nice three-pointer just in front of the little cart.  “Nice landing” came in over the headsets.  Felt good after the previous uncoordinated approach.

As I taxied to the parking area and gas pump, one of the two marine planes came in, hit hard and proceeded through a touch and touch and touch and go; found out later the field was used as a primary training field for Marine Corps pilots.  Maybe the guy who gave me the “good landing” didn’t have much to compare my landing to!  Two of their planes continued making circuits during my whole stay and I found out the covered cart at the edge of the runway was their acting tower.

I pulled into the self-serve pump, filled both tanks, put in one quart of oil and backed the plane up to where the tail wheel rested on the lawn in front of the large porch of the FBO.  There were two Alabama State Troopers – one male, one female – coming out the door as I went in.  Turned out the FBO had retired from being a Trooper after thirty plus years on the job and his facility was a frequent stop for those on duty when in the area.

When I explained why I landed and considering how nice the local weather, he had to turn on the weather radar to confirm what was taking place to the east.  We discussed the weather situation and came to the conclusion it was moving out, but slowly.  He gave me the keys to what proved to be a new – less than 50 miles on the odometer – Chevrolet loaner and told me how to get to the nearest restaurant.  Turned out to be a Waffle House, so had a nice breakfast.

When I returned about an hour later, there were two more troopers in the lounge.  One was from Montgomery so we had a good chat about the area around Wetumpka and Titus where I had lived for several years back in the eighties.  He had actually fished Lake Jordan (pronounced jerden) and from my description thought he knew the house I had built and lived in on the lake; small world.

According to the weather radar the front to the east seemed to be breaking up a bit so I determined to at least go on to Andalusia.  I apologized to the FBO for not putting any gas in the loaner, but since the tank was almost full and I hadn’t passed a single gas station on my short lunch trip, I didn’t feel too bad about it.  I went through my usual starting process, checked in with the Marine “tower”, taxied to the end of runway 10, and did a straight out departure with the wheels leaving the cement runway just as my watch indicated 3:00PM.

I went up to 3500 feet again and soon came up to the cloud bank.  It had moved a few miles and was now just to the east of the 5000-foot Andalusia-Opp runway.  The edge of the clouds had broken up quite a bit so I dropped down and found the bottom to be at about 2000 feet.  Since ground level was now down around 300 feet this left plenty of room underneath so rather than landing at Andalusia I decided to continue on and at least make it into Florida if at all possible before setting down.  The best field on the map according to the Flight Guide was Tri-County about thirty miles south of the Florida border.  I set the GPS and continued on.

After about twenty minutes, the clouds started lowering and I was getting a mist on the windscreen, but visibility was still about ten miles even though it was getting darker under the clouds.  I could still maintain eight to nine hundred feet AGL with a hundred or so between the top of the wings and the bottom of the cloud layer above.  The land below seemed to be slightly rolling with heavy forest broken with occasional small, cultivated fields and lots of streams.

When Tri-County appeared, I circled once in heavy mist and then set down to the south.  The north end of the field was bordered on one side with a large cotton field with the white strands hanging out of the bolls ready for picking and on the other by a large swamp with what appeared to be a beaver island at its center.  I turned off the runway and proceeded to the very wet parking ramp, taxied to an area near the gas pump with tie down chains and shut down.  It was typical South: sticky, hot, and damp.  My watch indicated 4:00PM on the dial.

The FBO had been with another man running up a tied down 172 when I arrived, but soon shut down and came over to help me get the heavy wound up hoses from the gas tank to the plane.  As soon as we finished filling both tanks, he said he usually quit early on Fridays and that I had been lucky to catch him still there.  He indicated a van parked under a long open canopy along with several aircraft about a hundred yards away that was the fields loaner, said the keys were in it and told me how to get to the little town of Bonafay.

He also informed me the automatic gate to the field opened using the same numbers as the fields assigned call-in radio frequency, said he lived about twenty miles away and wouldn’t be in until about 9:00AM the next morning since it would be Saturday, and left.  Very cordial and helpful, but just in a hurry to get home.

After he left, the field was totally empty of people.  I walked the hundred yards or so through the many puddles on the ramp and found the loaner to be a mid-nineties Dodge van and drove it back to the plane and off loaded my stuff from the plane.

The whole field was surrounded by chain link fencing with an electronically controlled gate near the end of the long open sided canopy covering a half a dozen or so planes.  The area inside the fence included the cotton field and beaver pond to the north as well as a large swampy area to the south.   What appeared to be the FBO building was closed and dark and other than it and the canopy covered planes there were only three tightly closed hangers spaced beyond the gas pumps visible within the bordering fence.  The far side and both ends of the runway disappeared in misty forests and with no other signs of life, the low dark clouds, complete silence, the isolated feeling of the place gave me an eerie feeling.

Later that evening I read in the notes describing the field in the Flight Guide “pilots are recommended to do a fly by before landing to check for deer and the occasional alligator on the runway”.  No wonder I felt anxious to leave.  I have eaten alligator meat but most certainly don’t want to return the favor.

I followed the FBO instructions and drove and drove – almost twenty miles through alternate forests, cotton patches and by a few houses before coming to a crossroads with the small village of Bonafay built around its four corners.  On one of these corners was a vast 1930 style motel with a large number of stucco façade rooms that meandered back from the road for about a city block.  I drove in from what proved to be the back side of the complex and noted that it appeared to be almost full and that the swimming pool in the center had no water in it.  I finally found the office and checked in with the East Indian manager.

I did find a place to eat, but really felt I was in the middle of nowhere when I found there was no phone in my room and that my cell phone indicated there was no connection available.  I had to use the Motel land line in the office and for a three minute call to Oregon the bill I received later came to just under twenty-five dollars.  Oh the joys of travel to unknown places!


The next morning, I got a fairly early start from the motel and stopped to fill the loaner cars gas tank as I retraced, what I thought, was a long trip back to the Tri-County airport.  One sight I never expected to see was that of a three-quarter ton pickup with a large chicken wire enclosed bin built over its flat bed that was full of loose cotton.  I noted the white tufts poking from each hole in the mesh with many of the long white strands waving in the breeze as it passed.

At a very early time in my life, my whole family spent cotton picking season dragging ten foot long sacks behind them as they trudged between long rows of the dry, waist high cotton plant.  The actual picking consisted of forcibly pulling the long strands of white sinew from between the sharp edges of bolls that were unwilling to easily give up their precious cargo.  By the end of a day of steady toil, hands were scratched and fingers lacerated to the extent they had to be soaked in linament and warm salt water before bedtime to enable their use for the next days work.

I remember riding on my mother’s cotton sack as she picked.  Then, when the bag was full, being held in her arms as she waited at the scales while the sack was weighed and turned upside down and emptied over a truck bin very similar to the one just passed.  In this day and age I thought all cotton was now picked by machine and packed by equipment in the field into a single bale as large as an 18-wheeler flat bed could carry.  After seeing the megasized cotton fields with their attendant packing and hauling equipment in the southern California valley, it never occurred to me that there were still small cotton farms capable of existing on a basis requiring trucks as small as the one I passed.

Using the combination given by the FBO there was no trouble getting in the gate when I arrived at the airport.  I drove right up to the Luscombe, offloaded my duffel from the car to the plane and then drove the car to its’ spot under the canopy.  As I walked back to the plane, I noted the field was still as eerily silent as it was the previous evening, but the sun was shining brightly and there were only a few wisps of surface fog wafting about above the swamp area to the south of the runway.

I did my usual pre-flight, started up and back taxied down the runway to the north end of the field.  The windsock was hanging limply as I applied power and headed down the runway.  Fortunately there were no “alligators” on the runway, so I lifted off safely at 07:30AM.  Soon after the wheels left the pavement I banked left and took up an easterly heading for the town of Quincy and again went up to 3500 feet.  This altitude seemed to provide an optimum level for viewing both long distances as well as for immediate vicinity inspection while passing over the local area which appeared to be composed of dark, wet, and woody country.  The weather was superb; bright sunshine, hardly any wind, and air so smooth it was like flying on a very soft and fluffy magic carpet.  This route took me just south of the Alabama/Georgia state border and well north of the controlled coastal area of Florida.

When I came to the airport at Quincy, I continued on the same easterly course for twenty-five miles and then keyed in Dunnellon-Marion County airport on the GPS and turned to the indicated southerly heading.  I did this dogleg to keep well out of the Talahassee control area before turning on a more direct course to my final destination.  As I continued on, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico appeared out the right window and soon the airport at Cross City passed below my right wing.

Dunnellon-Marion County airport is one of the somewhat common triangle fields around the country.  The northwest/southeast and the north/south runways at this field were for landing and takeoff with the diagonal between the southern ends of the two used for a connection ramp with hangers located on its outer side. I joined three other planes in the pattern and landed to the southeast at 10:00AM.

Since there was no cross ramp, I had to continue to the end of the runway and taxi back past several hangers to about mid field on the diagonal to where the self serve gas pump and a small modular FBO building was located.  There were three other planes waiting to gas up so I checked the oil while waiting my turn and found it to be almost two quarts low.  When I reached in the oil crate I carried on the left seat, I found it empty.

I walked across the ramp to the FBO and found it had the bathrooms open but the office closed for the weekend.  Upon returning to the gas pump the pilot of a Cherokee waiting to gas up said I could probably get some oil from a hanger he pointed out down the ramp.

After filling both tanks, I taxied back to the indicated hanger.  It proved to be huge, and sat at the back of a large asphalt parking area about 50 feet from the main ramp.  I found the wide main hangar door raised with a bench and a couple of chairs containing several people located in the shade provided by the overhang of the door.  Inside the hanger was a three row array of about twenty sport cars – mostly Corvettes, but several British – along with a Fleet, what I believe was a Navy SNJ and two or three other antique aircraft; impressive.

The pilot I had spoken to at the gas pump was there and introduced me to one of the co-owners of the large hangar.  He said he would be glad to sell me oil, but all he had was Shell 100W (50 weight).  Even though I had been using 80W (40 weight) for the whole trip, with the amount of oil the 85 had been using – most being pushed out the breather – I was glad to get the heavier weight.  We made a deal for four quarts; I poured two into the sump and put the other two bottles in the cardboard case on the right front seat.

After spending a few minutes walking through the hangar looking at these antique/classic, mint condition autos and aircraft, I wiped the drool off my chin and forced my bulk back into the little Luscombe.  It was a fairly long taxi up the remainder of the diagonal ramp and then up the full length of the north/south runway to the takeoff point at the northern end of the nothwest/southeast runway in use.

For small aircraft going south, there is only an area about twenty five miles wide between the controlled areas of Tampa and Orlando in central Florida that can be used by aircraft without transponders.   I had planned my route direct from Dunnellon to Sebring.  This would take me over the many lakes around Winter-Haven and as close to the mid-point between the controlled areas as I could determine.  I keyed in Sebring on the GPS and lifted off at 11:00AM.

I returned to 3500 feet and proceeded south in bright sunshine until about twenty miles north of the Winter-Haven area where a broken area of clouds appeared with tops near my level of flight.  All of the airports in this area indicated a level near or below 100 feet, therefore when I had to go down to one thousand feet to get below the clouds, there was no concern on my part.  Soon, however, the clouds above me solidified and dropped even lower.  Just south of Winter-Haven, I ran into light rain showers and although visibility continued to be five miles or better, the bottom of the cloud bank continued to lower and I was soon down to 700 feet.

I ran into a very heavy shower just as I came even with the Avon Park airport.  I was in perfect position for the downwind as I came up to the end of the runway, so decided to set down to await better weather.  I pulled on carb heat, dropped the RPM to 1000 and turned left to base leg.  However, just after completing the turn and at about 400 feet, I came out of the shower and noted the area to my right – the direction I wanted to go – appeared clear under the clouds and a bit brighter further south.  It was just noon and really too early to set down so I changed my mind and decided to continue south as far as the weather would allow.  I added power, eliminated the carb heat, turned back onto course for Sebring and climbed back up to where I was about 200 feet below the overcast at 600 feet, but with a good three to five mile visibility to the south.

As I approached Sebring I was down to 500 feet and the clouds to the south seemed to be rolling out of the overcast to a lower level over the large lake to the south of the runway.  I decided this was as far as I dared go – at least until the clouds moved up a bit.  I came in on a left downwind that took me right over the famous Sebring race track and noted several cars moving on the convoluted circle of track as I flew by.  I turned base and then back north on final to set down in a light drizzle at 12:20PM.

After exiting the 5000 foot cement runway, I taxied to the parking ramp, selected an open tie down spot between several other planes, turned in over the chains and shut down.  After securing the plane, I noted I had located it to the south of a very large Spanish style stucco building with a very wide cement stairway leading up through huge square columns supporting a roof that extended over a large covered patio.  Beyond an enclosed area extending into the ramp at the entrance to the building, the tie down area continued to the north and contained three large business jets.

As I connected the chains to the tie down points on the wings, I could hear the roar of the race cars just beyond the two or three large hangars about three hundred feet from the plane.  The gas truck came and filled both tanks as I checked the oil and noted a much lower burn using the 100W in place of the 80W; it was down only about a quarter quart after an hour and twenty minutes.  No addition needed.

I walked to the large air terminal style FBO, climbed the steps and went through doublewide glass doors into a wide, three story high, air-conditioned hallway with the FBO counter on one side and a large upscale restaurant on the other.  This hallway, that was about one hundred feet long, went completely through the building and opened to a circular automobile driveway at its far end.

After paying the bill, the FBO directed me to the pilots’ lounge that had current weather video of the local area.  This confirmed the area between Sebring and the next airport on my route, Okechobee, was currently experiencing heavy rain with solid overcast between 300 and 500 feet AGL.

I called Andrew and told him of the situation.  He was surprised since his airport at Wellington – less than a hundred miles further on – was in bright sunshine.  He had planned a dinner based on my arrival for later in the evening.  All I could do was say I would watch the weather, and if it cleared sufficiently by four o’clock, I would try to make it.  I was leery of taking off after that time since it would put my arrival near dusk and my very simple GPS did not include Wellington in its data base.  I would have to dead reckon its location from my maps.  Also, its location was shown just outside the West Palm Beach control area and I didn’t want to bust that one this late in the trip.

I checked with the FBO and found there were no loaner cars and no motels in the area that would normally do pickup.  However, the multi-story motel on the opposite side of the racetrack would occasionally have a manager on duty who would oblige.  With this disconcerting news, I went into the restaurant and spent an hour over a sandwich and ice tea.

Air conditioning is great, but after several years of living without, it was uncomfortable so I went out and occupied a lounge chair on the covered deck where I watched verga occasionally brush the surface of the runway as its low cloud carriers floated past.  Landing lights appeared through the gloom to the south that turned into a fast approaching jet.  This was a – I guess what you would call a – bizjet, but one much larger than most; just a bit smaller than what the airlines are using.  It landed and taxied to the north of where I sat and parked inline with two others of similar size.

A Lake Amphibian entered the pattern, landed, and then taxied to the open area on the ramp immediately in front of where I was sitting.  Since I am currently in the process of rebuilding an amphibian and very interested in this type of aircraft, I went down the steps and began a conversation with the pilot.  His name was Art Stiffel, an instructor for Lake Venture Aviation, who had come in to meet a student from Wisconsin.  Turned out the student was a young lady who was using her boyfriends plane – the Lake Art had arrived in – to get her sea plane rating.

When I told Art of my situation, he agreed with my decision to put the Luscombe down, although he said he would have no problem going south in the Lake.  It was just that the Luscombe could only land on water once while he, in the Lake, could do it as many times as necessary.  He volunteered to take me to the hotel where the student would be staying and then return me in the morning, if I could wait for about an hour while he took her for a lesson.  This sounded fine to me since there appeared to be no change forthcoming in the local weather.  His student appeared soon after and they proceeded to take off and head for the large lake just to the southeast.  I called Andrew and told him of the situation and to not expect me until sometime the next day.  He sounded disappointed, but said I was the pilot and he respected my decision.

Turned out the young lady student was providing the car and soon after they returned from the lesson, I rode with her and Art as she took me to what turned out to be a large resort hotel across the road from the large lake they had been practicing on.  I made arrangements for her to meet me in the lobby at seven thirty the next morning and she drove off to take Art to where he would be staying before she returned to check in.

Nice place.  The main floor with the exception of the check in counter consisted of several large old-world sitting areas with window views across a wide veranda and the frontage road to the lake.   Found out it was a turn of the century (1900, not 2000) winter watering hole for the wealthy of the time.  They put me on the second floor in a comfortable but well dated room.  After getting settled, I walked next door to a large family restaurant where I had a delicious Greek dinner.

I came down the next morning at about six thirty and enjoyed reading the local paper while eating the plentiful buffet style breakfast provided.  Before I realized it, eight o’clock came and since the weather had markedly improved I was getting real antsy to get started.  I went to the front desk and placed a call to the room of the young lady providing the transport.  She seemed a bit harried as she had been studying for the seaplane exam she was to take later in the day, but agreed to run me back to the field.  Later, she apologized since she had been under the impression that although I was from Oregon, I was just flying local.  Not that I was flying the Luscombe from Oregon to its final destination in Florida.

I checked weather and notams at the FBO and found ceilings to be only scattered clouds at 2000 feet with winds of 5 knots from the southwest.  I lifted off with a straight out departure to the south at 09:15.

The ground level in the southern part of Florida is all less than 100 feet, so I climbed through a slightly hazy sky to 1000 feet and keyed in Okechobee.  This route took me over a large water covered swampy area to the east of the lake where the hotel I had spent the previous night was located.  After passing over the south side of the water covered swampy area, I picked up the highway and railroad going south on what appeared to be a levee through mixed pasture and swamp land.  I followed this into the town of Okechobee.  As I crossed over the airport north of town, a tri-pacer called informing he was taking off to the east followed by a Cessna doing the same.  I watched both lift off as I slowly came up on the town and kept an eye on the Cessna as it turned to a course that took it under me.  It then climbed past me on the same course as we both crossed the high levee bank and went over the vast waters of Lake Okechobee.

I had keyed in the Palm Beach Co. – Glades airport just south of the town of Pahokee as I had passed over Okechobee.  Had I followed the bearing given by the GPS and gone direct, it would have taken me about fifteen miles out over the water.  The Cessna that passed me apparently chose this course and I watched him slowly disappear into the high haze over the lake.  As for me, I chose to follow within a mile (gliding distance) of the east shore.   This route followed a canal that ran between the high levee made to protect the land to the east from the waters of the lake, and a smaller berm made to protect boats from the vicious swell kicked up when any wind was blowing across the shallow lake.  Beyond the high levee, the road and railroad followed for several miles but then drifted away from my rather circular course as I kept my distance from the levee and slowly turned toward Pahokee.

Since my GPS didn’t include the Wellington strip in its data base, I had determined from the chart to use the Glades airport as a starting point and then extend my course from there.  My computations indicated a course of 109 degrees for twenty seven miles should put me directly over the field.  My log book showed I had landed at Glades several times back in the fifties, but I had no recollection of the field.  I came over the center of the runway at 3500 feet – this height to provide a larger view area.  I did a 270 degree turn to the right to bring me directly over the center of the airport as I turned to where the reciprocal (251) of my required109 degree heading came up as the bearing to Glades airport.

It was hot – about 81F – and the air was hazy with a visibility of at least 15 miles but smooth.  I was headed out over what I remembered as being miles of swamp with nothing but occasional islands of a few trees showing above miles of saw grass and meandering waterways.  What I saw now was a checkerboard of dark rectangular fields separated by ditches.  Mile after mile of this manicured vista went under me until a main highway came down out of the north and then turned to parallel my course.

As mile 20 passed on the GPS, I overflew what appeared to be a salt flat followed by a small berm and then houses sitting amidst lush green lawns.  And then just to the right of the highway in front of me, a very long, wide grass strip appeared cutting diagonally through a development of very large houses.  I dropped down to 1000 feet and noted taxiways extending on both sides of the strip which extended for several hundred feet and ended in circular turn arounds amongst the houses.  The strip had appeared too soon for Wellington as per my computations since as I crossed the runway my GPS indicated I was only 23 miles out from Glade.  But it looked right according to the description given by Andrew, and all I could see looking further east was solid houses so I decided to set down and if it was not Wellington I could at least determine how far off I was.  I circled once more and then set down with a very soft and gentle three pointer onto a very squishy, wet runway at 10:30.

The field was very wide and very long with nicely sloped ditches having grass covered culverts providing access to parallel taxiways on each side.  I noted a cement pad with gas tank in front of a small building midway along the east side of the runway.  Water squished from under the tires as I crossed over the first available culvert providing access to the taxiway and slowly made my way there.  Since the Luscombe had no wheel pants, I knew to keep it slow to prevent water, grass, mud etc. from being thrown by the tires onto the underside of the wings.  As I pulled onto the cement pad in front of the self serve gas pump and shut down, a gentleman in a golf cart pulled in next to my left wingtip.  When asked if this was indeed Wellington he replied in the affirmative and said people had been expecting me.

Soon after, Andrew drove up on a similar golf cart and introduced himself.  I returned to the plane, fired it up and followed him across the runway and up one of the western taxiways to his hanger near the circular turnaround at its end.  We rolled the plane into the hanger and the delivery was completed.


I spent the afternoon with Andrew and his wonderful family discussing the plane and then he took me on a tour of the Wellington airport while his beautiful wife made computer airline reservations for my return home.  Wellington consists of approximately 300 houses – each with 8000 or more square feet and most having a large hanger facing the taxiways while the houses face a roadway on the opposite side.  Later, he and I had a private dinner at a nice Italian restaurant on the way to Fort Lauderdale where I spent the night in a nice motel.

The next morning I was picked up by a cab at 4:30 and taken to the Fort Lauderdale airport where I went through everything but a body cavity search in order to get on one of the cattle cars the airlines now use for shuttling people across the nation.  I arrived back in Eugene about 4:30 PM where I was met by a friend and driven back to Creswel where I picked up my own car and drove home.

The trip took eleven days; four and a half of which were spent waiting for acceptable weather.  I had planned on 35 hours of flying time, but ended up flying for only approximately 32.5 hours during this period.  Other than the radio receiver problem early in the trip and the battery failure in Guthrie, there were no technical problems and the aircraft performed exactly as it should; right at 5.25gph at plus or minus 105mph indicated.  However, since I was on the backside of the fronts I encountered, I surpassed this speed most of the time and as mentioned above, added almost a third to it many times.  Oil usage was at the maximum rate I would accept for cross-country until I changed to the 100W oil.  Most of the oil that went through the engine was not burned but was simply exhausted through the vent pipe.  Standard procedure when I landed was to take a rag and wipe the fresh oil from the starboard landing gear fairing before it dripped onto the tarmac.  Realigning the air vent or installing an oil/air separator would probably fix this since compression on all cylinders was very high.

The day after returning, I took my old Clipper (Piper PA-16) up and although performance was approximately the same as the less powerful Luscome, the feeling during climb was less – shall I say – exhilarating, but the steadiness in cruise and the roominess and cabin comfort was far better.

I was very remiss in taking photos during the trip.  I have positioned the few I did take as close as I could to the narrative relating to where they were taken.  For anyone interested, above is one of me with the Clipper I usually fly.

Would I do it again?  You bet.  Anytime, just give me a call.

Daniel O. Cathey, Jr.

Cottage Grove, OR

January, 2008

May 06

Early May flying adventure

Each year, I try to visit Columbia, CA at the beginning of May for a fly-in with camping, canards, and tequila.  It’s a beautiful airport with on-field camping, and a real pleasure to attend.

This year, the weather didn’t look as promising, but I figured I’d keep my head on my shoulders and play it by ear.  I got a standard briefing and watched the weather, and it looked like there might be a window to get to where I wanted to go, so I loaded up the plane and headed out.

Taking off from 77S  on Friday morning, I headed south towards my first stop, Redding, CA.  Ceilings were about 3,000′ AGL so I stayed near I-5 for most of the route.  I flew through some light rain along the way too, but nothing bad.  One eye on the moisture, another on the outside air temperature, and another on my airspeed.  Wait, how many eyes was that?

For most of the trip, my ground speed was a sedate 90kts because of headwinds, so the flight south took quite a bit longer than usual.  I also spent some time maneuvering for weather, most significantly after Medford.  The pass near Ashland had some crummy low clouds along the ridge.  As I got closer, I was eyeballing it pretty fiercely.  Ahead, I could see open air on the other side, but the window between the ridge and the cloud was less than 200 feet tall.  “@#*$ that, that’s a sucker hole”, I announced aloud to myself.  I banked the plane and turned back to the semi-clear sky behind me.  Considering my options, I climbed up to about 8,000 to take a look over it.  Ahead, I saw that this was a cloud bank that just covered that pass, and there was a big, stable dry path to the Dunsmuir valley, so I flew on top for a few minutes and emerged in a nice clear valley.  It was a little bouncy, but compared to the claustrophobia of the Medford valley, overall a nice change.

I followed I-5 down to Lake Shasta, getting bumped around a little bit along the way, but nothing extraordinary.  Some intermittent rain hit along the way, but I kept the temperature up using altitude so no problems.  Finally, I trudged my way into the Central Valley and down towards Redding.

I landed at RDD and grabbed some lunch at the Chinese restaurant.  As I ate, I watched the weather.  Looking east, I could see the hills clearly, but there was obviously some rain out there.  Pulling up weather on my phone, I could see that something yucky was moving through parts of the valley, but it looked like the route into Columbia was still fine, so I finished eating and headed back into the air.

My route was fairly simple: Go direct RDD->KGOO->O22 so I could safely avoid the Beale Air Force Base TFR.  I would skirt along the edges of the MOA to the north of it, then make my dogleg to KGOO and continue into Columbia (O22).

As I flew, I noticed a pattern beginning to develop.  The ‘little line of rain’ I had seen actually extended much further than it looked to the eye, the cloud bases were beginning to drop ahead of me, I found myself needing to navigate around tiny scattered baby clouds that were just sorta hanging out at all levels, and the terrain below was mostly canyons and cliff faces.  The rain was picking up, and while the temperature was high enough that I didn’t worry about ice, I started to get a funny feeling at the back of my neck.  30 minutes into the flight, I was north of Chico and something didn’t feel right, so I shut off all distractions in the cockpit and went over the list in my head:

  1. Dropping cloud bases ahead.
  2. I needed to maneuver around small clouds to find clear spots.
  3. The rain was increasing, affecting my visibility.
  4. I was being kicked around with moderate turbulence meaning there was active winds bouncing off the canyons.
    and then the hint I had missed all along hit me:
  5. Those baby clouds were at ALL levels.  I had even seen some down below me, touching the ground.

Suddenly, I realized the implications of my mistake.  The temperature was trending downwards towards the dew point, and the adiabatic flow was probably the only thing keeping the ceilings as high as they were through brute force if nothing else.  In simpler terms, I was probably in the middle of a cloud that couldn’t really form ONLY because there was warm wind  holding it off for an unknown period.

I immediately responded.  I noted my heading, then made a 180 turn.  Sure enough, the big open area I had flown through minutes before was slowly closing before my eyes as clouds formed in the calm spots.  I chopped the throttle and descended to remain clear of the clouds, then let my feet do the walking on the rudder pedals as I stole a couple quick moments to cross verify my position on the chart.  Plotting my escape, I decided to divert to Red Bluff, CA, a hop, skip & jump south of Redding.

I worked my way east, exiting the mess that was forming and zeroed in on KRBL.  Along the way, I noticed the winds picking up and the rain getting heavier, and with them came more of these battleship-sized clouds steaming their way across the sky at all altitudes.  I stayed well clear of them and came in to land on runway 15.  After I touched down, I parked, shut off the engine, then just rested for a moment, suddenly weary.

Eventually, I grabbed my gear and went into the FBO to check weather.  Sure enough, this offshore storm was moving in and dumping a bunch of crud all over.  I hung out in my cockpit for an hour or so, checking how things were developing and taking a little nap, then decided this trip probably wasn’t going to work out.  Columbia was started to get boxed in by weather, and a quick call to the organizer of the fly-in revealed that turnout had been quite limited so far.  Checked in with the local Enterprise rent-a-car and while they had nothing in stock, the gentleman there kindly offered to give me a ride up to Redding to try my luck up there.  That was super cool, ‘Jim’ at Red Bluff Enterprise is tops in my book, and I’ll definitely be doing business with them when possible.

I grabbed a shuttle to the Comfort Inn and stayed there until the next morning.  I spent the first half of Saturday splitting my attention between re-runs of Law & Order on TNT (RIP Jerry Orbach, you were great), my laptop with aviation weather websites, and the window showing me the sky outside.

After lunch at a local cafe, I headed out to the airport.  The ceilings were up and the rain was starting to slake, but the winds were howling.  I stood out by my plane and watched the sky for a while.  Those battleship clouds were still around, but they were all at least 1,000 AGL and more scattered than before.  But they were booking!  The ASOS was reporting 20kts gusting 28kts, but it was right down the runway.  I watched a pair of helicopters blast past, heading north, then watched a Cessna 185 come in to land.  He came in slowly, inching his way down to the runway like he was a helicopter himself because of the wind, then carefully taxied over to where I was waiting.

“How’s the ride up there?” I asked.  He said it was fairly smooth.  He was heading south, so he had been fighting this headwind the whole way, but he said he could barely feel any turbulence.  Thanking him, I headed over to my refueled Warrior and took to the air.  My no-flaps takeoff roll was nonetheless short, and I had to dance a little on the pedals to stay coordinated as I made the turn to downwind and picked up 40 kts in a few seconds.  Tuned into the Redding VOR and D->RDD on the GPS, I blasted up I-5 at an indicated 120kts and a ground speed of about 145kts.  This was with me throttled back, too, so it was quite a ride.  Occasional gusts would give me a little ‘push’, but I had a nice margin on my IAS so it just felt like bumps.

Closing in on Redding a few minutes later, I looked ahead and decided the weather forecasts were either optimistic about the Shasta Corridor or that I was just getting too conservative in my old age, so I called into the tower and set up for landing.  One thing really caught my attention and that was the increased radius of my turn from downwind to final!  I had planned ahead, I thought, but it was obvious I had underestimated the energy expenditure of that 180, so my pattern was a little pot-bellied.

Landed no flaps, I still managed to make the first turnout, then it was over to the Jet Center to check out weather again and do some real thinking.  It was becoming clear that my usual Siskiyou pass route wasn’t going to work.  There were low ceilings developing, and I knew this wind would set up a real teeth smasher in the I-5 canyon, so I needed an alternate.  I checked out the weather radar and saw that it was better if I headed east, so I spent some time in Google Earth checking out some routes before finally deciding.  I would fly RDD-089 (Fall Rivers Mill)->LMT Klamath Falls.

I carefully taxied out, did a careful run-up, then took off into the 20kt headwind.  I made the careful 180 again then screamed across the countryside towards Burney Mountain.  As I turned east, my ground speed dropped from 150kts to an almost lethargic 130kts, and I climbed joyously into the clear air (well, clear below a 10,000 foot overcast I guess) and reveled in the freedom of being able to maneuver.  As I closed in on the ridges, I thought about the incredible mountain-wave and vortexes these winds might be creating, so I stayed high and steered clear of them on their downwind sides.

Breaking free of the Valley, the weather immediately improved…  then got choppy.  As I turned direct towards Klamath Falls from 40 miles out, I tried to radio a turbulence PIREP to Flightwatch, but they weren’t able to hear me or I them, so I contented myself with actively trying to avoid chipping a tooth each time I was slammed up and down in the cabin.

It smoothed out as I entered their Class D airspace and my landing was nice and smooth.  One notch of flaps this time, and still, made the first turnout.  I was starting to notice a trend…

I decided to take a little break and get an updated weather picture, plus there were some friends in Klamath I wanted to see, so I spent an hour hanging out and watching the Wx.  Finally, it was time to head out, so I jumped back into the cockpit took off.  As I was holding short of the runway, the tower was talking to a commuter that was coming in to land the opposite direction on the same runway.  He asked me if I was ready to go, and I was.  “Cherokee 33139, winds 160 at 5, cleared for immediate take off runway 14.  Start your left turn as soon as possible.”  Acknowledging, I took to the runway and took up.  I climbed a couple hundred feet before turning crosswind.  As I did, I looked over and saw the tower was right next to the runway and I could have legitimately started my turn early enough to fly by.  Keying up, I said “Shucks, looks like I missed my one chance to actually buzz a tower!”  After a moment, the controller radioed back with a chuckle: “Yep, you did.”

I headed north across Klamath Lake.  There weren’t any weather stations ahead, but the radar looked promising so I flew on up, getting bounced around a bit over the water for some reason.  Snapped some pics and then hit a little rain.  Checking the outside temperature, I saw that it was almost zero, so I immediately chopped the throttle to descend to warmer air to pick up a safety margin against icing.  Once or twice as I was descending, I saw a couple of tiny white spots on the wing.  No actual ice, but it looked like a couple of water droplets had hit the wing and exploded….  then parts of them had stuck.  That’s as close to ice as I want to get, so I watched them closely as I descended.  outside temperature rose to a couple degrees, but now I knew I had to make a decision.  The route I had chosen would take me just outside the Crater Lake wilderness area and would require a climb from where I was now.  Looking ahead about 10 miles, I could see the rain continuing, the clouds dropping, and the ground rising until everything met.  I clucked to myself, then did another 180.

Turn turn fly away,
live to fly another day.

I pulled up weather on my iPhone using the fantastic AeroWeather app and contemplated routing back through Klamath to Medford then up I-5, but the only station in that valley between them described some iffy weather, so I flew back to Klamath and landed just as it started to rain in earnest.  My friends picked me up and took me to their home and gave me a nice place to sleep, then I was out the door at 6:00 Sunday morning and grabbing a weather briefing.  It didn’t sound to good, so I started to think an Amtrak exit might be best for now.  I thanked the briefer and hung up, then walked out to meet my taxi.  A few minutes later, I was looking up at the sky and seeing big patches of blue, so I called back for an abbreviated briefing.  “Say”, I started after giving him my tail number.  “What can you tell me about weather north of Eugene?  Any holes or big breaks in coverage I might be able to use”?

It was the same guy I had talked to, and he gave me the bad news.  No good openings, there was an AIRMET for icing to 25,000′, and the Eugene area looked cruddy.  “The train it is.  Heck, it was worth a shot considering this clearing sky above me, but it sounds like I can do this flight another day.”  He offhandedly responded with “I think you made the right decision the first time”, and I had to agree.  It gnawed at me a little, but years ago I decided to stick to weather abort decisions, so I got onto the train.

10 minutes out of the station, it became obvious that I had chosen correctly.  The mountains were in the clag, the blue spot over Klamath Falls was stuck in one tiny spot and closing, and every direction I looked, it was a mess.  We quickly transitioned from rain to snow then worse, and I have a small album of pictures to prove it.

I’ll probably grab a train back to Klamath in a few days when it’s nicer.  “Time to spare, go by air” and all, but it’s still an adventure I’ll always remember.  It might not feel glorious or anything, but I know I picked up some good experience that will serve me in the future.

Plus, who knows?  Maybe next year I’ll actually be able to go camping.  🙂

PS: I wrote the above while on the train.  Now that I’m back in Eugene, there are big chunks of blue sky above.  I found myself second guessing my weather abort, but then I gave myself a mental slap on the cheek.  “Ben”, I scolded myself, “I’d rather be thinking about how I might have been able to make it than discovering that I definitely can’t”.

– Ben Hallert