PT-13 0r PT-17 Stearman before conversion into a
Jimmy Parks lived about a block up the street from me. He was a dark headed
blue eyed boy just turned sixteen, four years younger than I was. He
would ride out to the airport with me in the mornings. He was a loader; he
loaded the powdered chemical insecticide "cropdust" into cropduster
airplanes. As I once had done. And he wanted to become a pilot.
We were too late to have breakfast at Five Points Café, where the pilots
and loaders would usually meet at three am to wake up, drink coffee and
prepare themselves for a strenuous day in 110 to 120+ degrees heat.
We talked very little on the way to the airport, both of us tired and
sleepy. The heat and long hours of the season were taking a toll on both
of us; like everyone else in this country. In the summer the children didn't
run and play, they moved slowly, like old people, the old people didn't move
at all. Men in the field would take turns standing in the
shade of a telephone pole. All the windows were down on my new black 1959
Chevrolet Impala Hardtop, the temperature was about 85 degrees, the coolest time
of the day.
As we arrived at the airport there was a faint pale streak of light in the East.
To the South the lights of Casa Grande twinkled softly, we mumbled,
see-you-later we'll have breakfast when we get back. Jimmy met one of the
pilots; they walked off toward the Spads.
Spads (a name given to cumbersome looking cropdusters by chief pilot Hinkey,
because they looked like WWI fighters) were Boeing built Stearman Kaydet
biplanes, (PT-13's). They were WWII trainers, modified for crop dusting,
with extended wing and plates on the wing tips. They also had a
large modified square rudder to compensate the increased wing span
and an engine twice the size and power of the original engine.
The loader rode in the hopper in front of the pilot under the top
wing. There was no seat belt because there was no seat. The loader
placed his feet on the front of the hopper wall and pushed himself
back against the back wall of the hopper, keeping himself in a semi
sitting position while holding the open hopper lid down with the
weight of his right arm. The alternate way a loader could ride would
be for him to lie on the wing next to the fuselage. His head and
shoulders extending just forward of the leading edge of the wing
with his arms drooped down to the under side of the wings. A pilot
could carry two loaders this way, one on each side of the fuselage.
As I walked down the flight line to my plane, I looked back, the
silver-gray Spads highlighted in the early morning darkness by the
lights of the hanger, the headlamps of the pickups and the gas trucks. Pilots
and crew in white jump suits milling around. I could hear the low chugging
staccato like bark of the 450 Pratt & Whitney engines being awakened from
their silent sleep. A hot blue flame would be coming from their exhaust in
a short time. A scene from: " The X Files".
I found the plane I was to fly that day, a pretty new white and
red Piper Colt. I would crash in this airplane later but not today.
I taxied to the gas pumps with unknown thoughts. Life sometimes becomes
a blur for a busy young man. My training flight would consist of tight
turns, 360 right, recover due south, 360 left, recover due south, over
and over again, keep doing it, feed in top rudder to turn tighter and
tighter. If you can't fly back into your prop wash you can't fly a
As I gassed, I watched the dusters taxi out one by one, running up
the big radial engines until you could see a flame from their stacks.
The loaders ducking their heads down into the hoppers to avoid the
slipstream, the pilots giving great consideration to the rev's as they
checked the mags and cycled the props and mixture controls, making a
sound that hurt my ears and was sure to wake the town people. They
waved their rudders, fluttered their ailerons and taxied to the take
As they roared past on take off, I could see, in the increasing
daylight, on their fuselages, in large black block letters,
"Koneing Aviation". A figure in one of the front hoppers gave me
a thumbs up, it must have been Jim. I didn't know it would be his
last flight and that he would never have breakfast.
I taxied to takeoff position in the pretty new airplane. It was no
tail dragger "Drive it like a car" and you could see where you were
going. One hundred and eight horsepower, a powerhouse compared to what
I had been flying.
A quick mag check and a 360 to check traffic, -- scrambled by fighter
control I jammed the throttle forward while buckling my harness.
The big Merlin roared, hard rudder to counter the torque, full rich,
full revs and pressure, stick forward to raise the tail, keep her
straight while watching for strafing 109s. Goggles down in case my
windscreen is blown away--, I made a standard left turn at four hundred
feet and headed for the practice area.
As the earth fell away and the little Piper climbed into the cooler
air it bounced and swayed, like a cork on a pond. Telltale puffs of
blowing dust on plowed fields told the story of the wind. The sun
was an angry red ball on a smoky horizon, the sky above was clear.
The air was rough and uncomfortable, I returned to the field deciding
that flying would be better another day.
Back on the ground I looked about for Jim. You can't apply cropdust
when the wind is blowing. The best time is in the early hours just
after daylight when the air is still and relative cool. I thought
they'd be setting on the ground, on some dirt strip, for half the morning to
see if the wind would let up.I couldn't wait, he could ride home with the pilot.
I left the airport and went directly to my office in Casa Grande. I was
employed by the USDA Plant Pest Control Division as a work area supervisor. I
dispatched my survey crews to various locations then left the
office myself for an all-day trip to the eastern part of the county.
I returned to the office about four thirty that afternoon to take
the reports from the crews and to close the office. On the street
in front of the office people were suprised to see me. The story
on the street that day was that a young Koeing Aviation pilot had
been killed that morning and everyone assumed that it had been me.
Jim's pilot had encountered the same wind and rough air as the rest
of us that morning. They had tried to work at two previous airstrips
but were unable to do so. They then flew to Standfield, AZ.
fourteen miles west of Casa Grande, AZ. The strip ran at an angle
from the highway it was rough and sandy I guess that, the weather,
and unknown factors caused the Stearman to nose-over onto its back,
as Stearmans were prone to do. Jim was dead.
Jim was no Icarus who had flown to close to the sun. He was just
a young man doing a job. People would ask? Why would a person do a
job like that? These people had never chopped a half-mile row of cotton
in the blinding Arizona heat for twenty cents and then be charged ten
cents for a five-cent soda at the end of the row. They gave no thought
of the government policy of paying a farmer for not growing his crops
while paying nothing to the people whom relied on working these crops
for their livelihood.
Arrogant farmers would set around in the air
conditioned cafes and say "I pay'd the son-of-a-bitch a dollar an hour
gave him Thanksgiving and Christmas off, let his wife and kids chop and pick my
cotton, and the bastard still quit me".
The small town talk turned to other things in a day or so, the Mother's and
friends dried their tears and things returned to normal.To most there the death of
another cropduster was no big deal. Marty Robins was still singing El Paso on the
jukebox in Five Points and the waitresses all had their same painted smiles.
No one ever said, "sorry 'bout Jim".
I never went to see Jim's mother up the street. I had started flying at
fourteen. Picking cotton, chopping cotton, irrigating and
driving tractors and loading cropdust to pay for my flying time. At
twenty this "Okie Boy" had eleven years around the Labor Camps, Field Crews
and Cropdusters, I knew that those there in the morning might not be there that
afternoon and that some things are best unsaid, and some things can't be said.
For the years to come I would see much more of the same.
Virgil G. Dotson 17 July 1999
I did go a take a look at your web page, and I like it. I am
HTML and am working on a couple pages just for fun.
I asked about the N3N because, I too was a crop dust loader.
In the Summer of 1950, Jim Stevens and Billy John Glass and, I
think Lou Ross,
worked for Marsh Aviation and they talked me in to going to
Just as on
your page about Jim's last flight, we met every morning at
Five Points Cafe at
3 am. Marsh's planes had a little drop seat in the hopper so
that two loaders
could ride in the hopper. On my first day we flew out the other
Stanfield and dusted from a strip out three, Jim Stevens would
drive a pickup
out with two 55 gal drums of Petrol and then we would all load
On the flight back to CG we approached the "Parker line" one
monstrous metal power lines. Billy turned around and motioned
to the pilot
(Max Palmer), with a downward motion, the next thing I knew we
were in a
power dive and he flew right under that damn power line and
climbed back up.
That was my initiation into the world of crop dusting.
Another morning, we were dusting out near 11 mile corner, and as
on you page, this best mornings for dusting are cool and calm
and we had one
of those. The pilots, there were two, of course had made lot's
of money as we had
laid on a lot of dust, so they were extra happy. On the trip
back to Casa Grande
Airport we flew with the wheels skimming rows of cotton and as
regular phone or power lines they would either fly under them or
them, with us not knowing til the last minute. Being young and
all, I can't
even remember being scared, we laughed a all this.
On of the
was when we dusted out near Picacho Peak and on the way home,
Max got right on
top of the peak, real close and banked real sharp and circled
the peak, it was
Needless to say, your web page brought back some real memories.
I did, later
in life, know Virgil Koenig, fairly well, but, I vaguely
remember that plane
Also, your tales of the dust b owl hit home, as my wife's family
was part of
it, having migrated from Eufaula, OK to Bakersfield, California during this
ending up in Casa Grande,Arizona her family picked and chopped cotton,
with her dad
becoming a cotton contractor with a couple of crews and they
In January, it will be 48 years wt. the Okie.
I ended up in Michigan, as this is were I was born and lived in
years, I moved back here in 1964 to work for an Uncle in the
business. but that's another story.
Well, talk about rambling, I just did.
Good hearing from you again, How did you end up in Vegas?
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