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Two Nine Four
Sweet Dreams Flying Machines and Pieces On The Ground


------------------------------------------------------------A total void, unbroken, as before the womb when there was no existences not even blackness. Then a ripple like that of the smallest grain of sand turned the pre-time void into a shadow of darkness, the darkness only showed the faint ripple. The void returned and was over written by another ripple. It was in the upper right corner of time.

Slowly, reality began to form from the shadow, it knew the sound. Artillery rounds far away still time to rest a while longer. The dimmed mind faintly aware of the body in which it was incased refused to raise the exhausted form. Wait, wait until itís closer, itís so nice in the void.

BOOM KRABOOM___________WAKE WAKE RUN, RUN, RUN Fire from the corner of time. No- No I told you wrong not the war time its now time itís thunder.

The body jerked abruptly into the sitting position. The swamp cooler pumped torrid humid air into the darkened bedroom and over the sweat soaked body. The body slowly relaxed and lay back on the warm damp bed.

It was thunder with a wind, what a relief what a great break an extra hour or two of sleep. Return to the void but the body and the mind was again connected and could only return to a world of troubled dreams.

N3N 294 lay on its right side near the gas pumps, itís right two wings pushed forward at an odd angle, the fuselage resting on the crumpled left wings, Rays body lay halfway out of the cockpit of the biplane his brown WW2 cloth flying helmet on securely with the goggles pushed up so that I saw the pain in the eyes. Small orange flames created a gray-black smoke from the area where his feet were trapped. "Get back get back" he pleaded "you canít help" his lined withered face turning to a crimson red.

KRABOOM--- It wasnít Ray it was Lee with a desperate trapped look on his face. The gas oil and fabric of 294 was feeding the flames that were consuming him. His head began jerking violent up and down pounding his white Korea style crash helmet into the hard packed dirt of the strip.

Again the thunder crashed and the face of the trapped pilot changed again. Who was this man, a stranger, with no helmet whose sorrowful eyes expressed without words the knowledge of his doom in the flaming wreckage of 294?

My heart pounded wildly realizing that the heat from the biplane was just the actual heat of the Southern Arizona Summer Night and the crash was just a dream. A dream that is vividly remembered for forty years.

Although I was still semi exhausted from the full swing of the crop dusting season and the inferno of the Arizona climate I arose. I always was awed by the splendor of the storms. They were exciting to me as a boy and still were. Besides they could provide monetarily coolness to break the endless heat.

Donning the uniform of the day Leviís and white tee shirt, heavy boots I opened the refrigerator and drink straight from the water bottle until my throat is frozen wait a second and drink some more. I select a large Pepsi for breakfasts always drank one on the way to work chug until your eyes water the cold fights the heat and the sugar and caffeine wakes you up. I place the Pepsi between my legs and back my pickup into the humid morning darkness. Knowing no one would fly in this weather and that everyone needed the rest and the break in the grueling routine that the storm provided.

Off in the dark on the right of the two-lane blacktop shown a hooded light bulb illuming the front of an open corrugated tin hanger. Parked halfway into the hanger with itís tail sticking out sat a silver gray biplane NC406"294". To the left the open door of a mobile home turned office let the light fall out onto the scorched earth.

The hangar and mobile home that were from time to time silleloted by flashes of lightning as the monsoon driven summer thunderstorms marched up from Mexico and the Sea of Cortez. Shiny white giant cotton billows perched on stalks of blue- gray rain. With the authourity of Montezuma himself they made their yearly visits to the great Sonoran Desert. They appeared above the endless green cotton fields of the Casa Grande Valley. Making the hanger, the mobile home and the line of biplanes parked on the dirtstrip seem small and insufficient in a world of Gods and Giants.

Dick Fye, the owner came out and stated that flaggers and pilots were called and placed on standby. Let them rest unless the weather cleared and we could go to work.

lightning flash at night

As we stood there watching the thunderstorms flashing and rumbling at each other, Dick who normally never said much said, " I had a terrible dream about 294". I was surprised remembering my own dream. He said " I was hearing the thunder and went back to sleep. I dreamed that I saw 294 in pieces and stacked into a grave". I was appalled that we had both had a dream about the same airplane at the same time. I also wondered about both dreams being associated with death. But then death and fear were not uncommon around crop-dusters.

I never mentioned the dreams to anyone and I donít think Dick would have, you just donít tell an ag- pilot that you dreamed that he crashed and burned.

The season wore on and took its toll Chief pilot Ray Lang with his WW11 cloth helmet and goggles crashed a N3N and was severely injured he would be out for the season he had suffered sever and painful back injuries. Lee with his white Korean crash helmet crashed in a Piper Pawnee and was not injured. Both Pilots normally flew 294 but crashed in other dusters.

The replacement pilot for Ray Lang was a Forest Cogger with a commercial professional crash helmet. He was a decent looking sort with good manners he had a family with several children. He became the regular pilot for 294.

The season wore on with its ups and downs. My wife was pregnant with our first child he was born Sept 6 1966. We were so busy flying that it was decided to let her remain a few extra days in the hospital until I could get far enough ahead to travel the sixty five miles to Tucson and bring her and the new baby home.

Casa Grande Mt. Fye Aviation was on the Coolidge Hwy. three or four miles East of Casa Grande, Az. On the South side one mile East of Arizola Rd. and West of what is now Interstate Ten. The runway was North South looking South to Casa Grande Mt. To the Southwest about three miles was KPIN radio Station and Tower. On the North side of Hwy, 84. On the afternoon of Sept 8th or 9th we were finally catching up with back work orders and two nine four was the last plane flying. I was very impatient to leave for Tucson for my wife and new baby.

Two Nine Four had one small job remaining He was loaded and sitting in front of the hangar with the engine running, waiting for the flaggers to get into position. He had been given detailed instructions about the fields and how to load the next load himself. I remember him saying he was to not fly over a nearby dairy even if he was empty (Insecticide in milk) He nodded and said, "You better go before something happens and you canít".

I returned to Casa Grande changed and traded the Pickup for an air-conditioned car and headed for Tucson. As I passed KPIN Radio Station I noticed lines of cars parked on both sides of the road like when there was an accident except I could see no wrecked cars.

I quickly forgot about the line of cars and my thoughts returned to my waiting wife. I was now a father. What would be the future of a son whose father was a crop-duster? I knew that no matter what I would never return to a government desk.

I thought of the pilots flying load after load against the hoards of cotton insects bent on destroying the economy of the valley with their glutinous appetite for the cotton plant. Ever bit as horrible as the Space Monsters playing at the Paramount in town.

The sun a white disc in a sky burnt golden-yellow by its intense glare the u.v. radiation made the skin tingle and crawl. Flagmen stood motionless in the shade of telephone poles when the airplanes returned to reload. Sometime it was too much for some and they would pass out from the heat and had to be rescued by people in not much better condition than they. I wondered how many unexplained crashes had been caused by heat stroke. No one would ever know.

The superheated air could bend the blinding light into a surrealist world. Showing the fields as vast lakes and at times turning the mountains in the distance upside down. As The heat thinned the air the engines deprived of oxygen lost power and the wings lost their lift. The pilots eyes squinted to slits behind heavy goggles monitored the oil and cyl. head temp. Head thrust forward against the slipstream straining the neck muscles into spasms. Unseen except at night a two foot blue flame from the five inch exhaust four feet in front of the pilot on the right added to the heat and forced the pilot to constantly look down the left side of the fuselage around the big round engine to see anything. The noise an unbelievable roar. The flapping of a collar could wear the skin bare in a few minutes.

Turn, turn and turn, a pinpoint of white against the green background becomes a flagman waving a white flag to mark the next pass turn, turn until the first flagman lined up with the far flagman and the big round engine, -- momentarily weightless pushing over into the field back pressure and let the ground effect do the work, occasional thumps as the wheels sometimes caught a high boll -- line up a mark on the horizon behind the flagman before he moves, -- pull back smoothly feeling the body weight double as the sprayer point skyward in a skidding climbing turn over the wires, the horizon disappears then reappears at a fourtfive-digree angel downwind check instruments and boom pressure the horizon rolls back level and starts itís tilt into the opposite turn.. Back and fourth, back and forth round and round, up and down. A three dimensional world where the failure of a simple mechinical part or misjudgment of the computer in the carbon based life form answers to the unforgiving laws of physics. I gassed last load or was it the load before? ---Damm.

When it is finally over they returned into a strange world of quiet and still, strange because the horizon is staying in one place and the hand doesn't make it tilt, and the feet don't make it turn, nothing is pushing the head back and the silence is deafening.

Flying thru their own mist that could be as deadly to the pilots as the insects. They fought this war daily in the cotton fields of southern Arizona and California and the world over. A world never visited by the town people who constantly bitched about the heat from their air-conditioned homes and offices.

Driven to exhaustion and death by their adrenaline addiction. An addiction that many never survived. The same addiction that made men return to Vietnam. Although I had been grounded for two years on a medical I still had hopes of getting back into the air.

The return drive from was uneventful. My wife and I were both exhausted. Her from just having the baby and myself from the long hours in the heat. Our new passenger awed us both. I knew nothing about babes and knew I had a lot to learn.

As we neared Casa Grande and passed the KPIN Radio tower my wife said " there is one of the pickups "(Fye Aviation) "where", I asked. "Over there by the hay barn" she replied. "I didnít see it " I replied. "It was there by that old wrecked airplane", she replied.

It slowly dawned on both of us what it must mean. We stopped for gas and cokes near our home. As the attendant came out he stated "Well I see it wasnít you". "What do you mean" I ask. He replied " One of your pilots hit the KPIN Radio tower this after noon and was killed"

My mind was realing, the excitement of the new baby replaced with fear and dread. Was it Dick, Lee, Roy Who? Slowing my mind to a more deductible pace. I remembered that all the other pilots had gone home and only one other was flying and the last words of the pilot. "YOU HAD BETTER GO before something happens and you can't". ---IT Was Two Nine Four.

Was that the unknown pilot without a helmet? I don't know but it was Two Nine Four. The helmet was returned sometime later It had been taken by souvenir hunters at the crash site along with his exploded cigrette lighter. Dick decided not to return them to the family they were to gruesome. The helement was disposed of but the lighter was a grim reminder to me. --- One strike and you'r out ---.

When I first heard James Taylors's Fire and Rain I thought it was about a crop-duster.

Fire and Rain

"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone" Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song I just can't remember who to send it to

I've seen fire and I've seen rain I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend But I always thought I'd see you again

Won't you look down upon me, Jesus, you've got to help me make a stand You've just got to see me through another day "My body's aching and my time is at hand And I just won't make it any other way"

I've seen fire and I've seen rain I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend But I always thought I'd see you again

Now I'm walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun Lord knows when the cold wind blows, it'll turn your head around "There's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come" "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the the ground"

I've seen fire and I've seen rain "I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end" I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend "But I always thought I'd see you again"
James Taylor

Ray Lang never flew much after that year, but he did fly the tests of the new Cessna Agwagons that signaled the end of the N3Ns. I did see Ray Lang years later at Standfield, Arizona he was a very old man but was still working with United Farm Service, formerly Max Potters, Casa Grande Dust and Spray. I told a young kid working there that I had started there in 1954. He was not impressed. It suddenly dawned on me that that was thirty years ago. I to was getting old. (that was in 1984)

Dick Fye went on runing Fye Aviation, Roy Putman managed to totaly destroy the BT-13 after hitting some wires Lee went to another company after an argument with Dick. I faced the facts about my health and I went to Las Vegas where drove a Taxi Cab for the next fifteen years. It wasn't an airplane but it wasn't a desk.

It was a sad thing to return years later and not find a trace of the old strip or hanger. The new planes had long pointy noses flew at night with lights that made our old wrecking yard sealbeams look like candles. The pilots wore masks.

Someone once said "A Man Is Nothing But His Memories"
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