Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Have Luggage, Will Spray

To appropriate the often over-used intro - "Long ago and far away" - I was employed as an ag-pilot for a company in the state of Idaho. Our spraying season in that area was about over so I was loaned out to another company. This company was located in Washington state and their season was a month or two later than ours.

The company had more work than they could handle and had asked for help. This sort of thing was nothing unusual. It was common practice for that time and place. The thinking was that it was better to call in outside help than to lose a customer because you were not able to give prompt service. After all, the little bugs were chomping their way through the farmer’s crop and farmers had to have some spraying done right away or lose a goodly chunk of their crop.

My boss told me to take one of our Ag-Cat spray planes and head for central Washington. He said, “You had best pack your bag because you may be there for a week or two.”

My destination landing strip was located on a farm near Royal City, Washington, and I arrived at the strip about mid-afternoon. There were several planes already working off the strip. I landed and as I pulled up to the loading area, I was met by a supervisor who motioned me to the loading pit. He climbed up on the wing walk and said, “We’re running behind. Are you ready to go to work?”

I answered, “Yes, as soon as my plane is fueled, and you tell me where to go, and what the crop is, and what the application rate will be.”

He quickly gave the ground crew instructions to fuel my plane and pump my hopper full of chemical as he gave me directions as to where the field was and what the application rate was. I was hardly on the ground half an hour until I was ready to go to work. I taxied to the strip, shoved the throttle forward, and was on my way. Boy that was quick!

I found the field and flew over it, looking for obstructions. Finding none, I made a pass down the downwind side of the field. I made a turn around and was in the middle of the second pass when I noticed that the boom pressure gauge was not registering the proper pressure. It was too low. Also, the chemical was not coming out of the nozzles in the usual nice little plumes. I adjusted the boom pressure valve to a much higher setting than usual and made more passes. This change didn’t seem to make any difference the pressure was still too low.

I pulled up and returned to the landing strip with about a third of the chemical still in the hopper. I landed and had the ground crew check the boom, the nozzles, and the wind-driven pump to see if they could find anything wrong with it. They couldn’t find a thing that was malfunctioning.

The supervisor, thinking maybe the lines to the boom were plugged up or some such thing, told me to take off and fly over to an area that was nothing but wasteland and dump the rest of the chemical out so we could examine the inside of the hopper. I did as he said. I pushed the dump lever to the open position and the chemical was dumped, but it didn’t flow out very fast. Then I pulled back on the dump lever to close the dump gate at the bottom of the hopper and for some strange reason it was stuck in the open position.

I returned to the strip and landed. As I taxied up to the loading area and shut the engine down, one of the ground crew ducked down under the belly of the plane and hollered, “There’s something hanging out of the dump gate. Looks like an old boot.”

It suddenly hit me like a thunder-clap!

I had completely forgotten that I had packed my battered old suitcase and stowed it in the hopper because this particular plane had no baggage compartment. This was not an unusual practice. We ag-pilots often did this when traveling. Unfortunately, this time the suitcase had somehow come open and disgorged its contents when the hopper was filled with chemical. All my traveling stuff was spilled into the hopper and was sucked into the dispersal equipment, thereby partially plugging things up, doncha know. So now all my clothes, boots, shaving kit and other possibles were thoroughly soaked in insecticide.

Shamefaced, I opened the hopper and dragged out what was left of my suitcase. The supervisor looked at me with profound disgust and swore. I was never more embarrassed in my entire life as the ground crew gathered round and laughed their guts out. Pretty soon the grim and angry supervisor couldn’t help himself and joined them in their laughter.

We cleaned up the mess and I climbed back in the plane, loaded up and finished the day. Of course, most of my traveling stuff was ruined and I had to wear the same clothes until I had a chance to go into town and buy some new gear.

Well sir, it took years to live that episode down. All my flying compadres heard about it and never let me forget it. Even years later one of the stinkin’ donkeys would needle, “Dale, have you washed yore linen in insecticide lately? Haw haw haw.”

“Shut yer stupid mouth you misbegotten imp of satan!”


  1. I would tell you I read this story and laughed out loud, but that might encourage you to record more of these embarrassing moments. Please feel free to disregard my comment.

  2. Note to self: If flying with Gramps, keep eye on suitcase. LOL!

  3. Sandra glad you got a chuckle out of it. I am too old to be embarrassed besides my granddaughters has made it clear that I have to tell all. I don't have much choice.


  4. Dale...
    Well done! I enjoyed this immensely! Great experiences!
    I laughed out loud when I read the first story of the soaked suitcase.
    I put my suitcase in the hopper of a 235 Pawnee, flew it from Rolla, KS to Cimarron, N M. I left I in there all day. Hotter than the hinges. We had been spraying Parathion and 24D Butyl Ester in a 1 gallon mix, so you know how potent the mixture was. When I finally drug that suitcase out of the hopper, changed clothes, I couldn’t figure out why no one would sit with me at the restaurant! I was pretty ripe. Going home a few days later, I sealed the suitcase in a plastic bag, double wrapped, and all was well.
    Keep up the blog, love it!