Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rolling Runway

I do not pretend to know why, but it seems to me aviation has always attracted some interesting, peculiar, kooky, dingy, nutty, or brilliant characters - whatever you want to call them. I guess that is the one of the reasons I was attracted myself. I have a list of these folks I've met along the way and thought y'all might enjoy reading about some of their antics.

Near the top of the list is a fellow I met in Lewiston, Idaho, named Rex Yates.

Rex was what I would classify as an airport bum. I was a youngster when I first became aware of this guy. He was in his early forties, medium height, neither skinny nor fat, and most would say as homely as a mud fence. He had bad teeth which cause him to emit bits of saliva if he talked too fast - which he always did. He also gesticulated vigorously with his arms and hands as he spoke. It was good practice not to stand too close to him, especially if he was excited and talking fast.

The first impression I had was that he was just a slouchily dressed, goofy, blowhard and I tried to avoid him. But if you were an airport nut like myself, this was impossible to do. Sooner or later you would find yourself in the wrong position and being spit on as you were being bombarded and assailed with whatever was on Rex’s mind at the time. Or if there happened to be a group of airport types gathered ‘round discussing any particular aviation subject, Rex would magically appear and insert himself in their midst to hold forth with his opinions, usually spraying everyone with his knowledge and spit.

In spite of the obnoxious presentation of himself and his offensively liberal use of vulgar, obscene, and profane language, I began to sense he was not as stupid as I first thought. In fact, I eventually discovered that he was a veritable walking encyclopedia of aviation lore and the very epitome of aviation enthusiast. Mention any event, incident, or historical happening concerning aviation and he could give you all the particulars. Name the airplane and he could give you the entire history of the ship including its strong points, its weak points, and the flight characteristics. 

Some of his information was from reading (he was an avid reader), some of it stuff he had heard from other pilots and mechanics, but a surprisingly good bit of it was from personal experience. He had owned quite a number of airplanes including Taylorcrafts, Cessnas, Luscombes, Stinsons, Beachcraft Bonanzas, Ercoupe, Aeronca, Bellanca, several different Piper aircraft, and about a dozen of other general aviation fixed-wing types, as well as helicopters, gyrocopters and balloons.

Are you beginning to get the picture? Little by little we became friends. If he was not such an obnoxious character and had gone to the trouble of getting a commercial license, he probably could have made his living as an aviation type. But alas, he usually settled for a very mundane occupation and these lasted just long enough for the employer to find out he was some sort of a nut.

But anyway, he had many many entertaining aviation adventures and here is one of them.

Rolling Runway
When I first met Rex, he owned a Cessna 190. It was in a shop being repaired after a strange encounter. It seems that he and a friend were intending to land at the small landing strip at Orofino, Idaho. The landing strip lay alongside, but not quite parallel to, the main highway. 

His friend was piloting the plane and as usual was in the left-hand seat. As the plane was making the final approach, it crossed over the highway at a slight angle and very low. Unbeknownst to his friend, a cattle truck was speeding down the highway going generally the same direction as the plane. As they crossed paths neither pilot nor truck driver were aware of the other vehicle. 

Consequently, the plane’s landing gear became entangled in the high side-boards, or cattle racks, on the left side of the cattle truck. The truck, being the heavier of the two, more or less took control of the plane’s direction of flight. 

Of course, the pilot was stunned (to put it mildly) when he felt the lurch and heard the noise of the collision. Likewise, the truck driver, being totally taken a-back, could not imagine what was happening until he glanced in his rearview mirror and saw an airplane wing, the engine, and spinning propeller--not to mention he suddenly heard thrashing as that propeller chewed into the cattle racks on the left side of the truck! 

The pilot managed to keep the plane on an even keel by more or less flying alongside and just above the truck as he was dragged down the highway. But as the truck slowed down, the plane lost flying speed and the left wing settled and began skidding along on the wing tip as both vehicles came to a stop. One can imagine the shock and dismay of both the truck driver and the plane occupants when they discovered that they were locked together.

Fortunately, no one was injured, but the plane’s propeller, the left wing, and the landing gear suffered considerable damage. The cattle racks on the truck sustained substantial damage as well. As far as I know neither party was cited for any violations.

This strange collision made national news. Poor Rex became the big looser, having to pay for the major repairs of his plane. He didn’t seem to mind very much though because it gained him a moment of fame. Everyone hearing about it roared with laughter and agreed, “Nobody but Rex Yates could have become involved in such a weird and unbelievable accident.”

I could only imagine Rex climbing out of his airplane, excited and talking as fast as an auctioneer, and spitting on everyone in the crowd that soon collected as he explained what happened.

1 comment:

  1. Possibly my top favorite in your arsenal of stories...... :D