2017-11-01 / Editorials

Don Lively

UP YONDER


One of the most memorable flyboys of my youth was a gentleman who caught on early that Fidel Castro's revolution didn't save Cuba but doomed the island state. He played along with the Cuban military just long enough to win their confidence. One day he was on a flying maneuver in one of the ancient biplanes that helped patch together Castro's air force. Somehow he was able to separate himself from the rest of the ragtag formation and didn't slow down until he'd crossed the Florida Straits and landed safely in The Land Of The Free. I vividly remember watching him use that very same biplane, painted bright yellow and converted to a crop duster, to deftly spray fields for Daddy and other farm neighbors. The few conversations I had with that brave man was my first peek at geopolitics and at how close communism lurked close to our own shores. I often wonder whatever happened to my Cuban friend. Another crop duster gave me my first up-close look at violent death. He misjudged a stand of chinaberry trees at the end of a field on Mister Chester's place and crashed. I didn't see it happen but was at the scene shortly after. It's a sight I've never forgotten and hope to never see again. Another very close call happened when a local crop dusting pilot somehow failed to see a power line on one end of our homeplace field. He flew straight into the line but somehow managed to crash land the plane in the middle of the field. He destroyed a couple of acres of cotton but walked away without a scratch. Over a year later, my brother Urb and I found a coil of wire hanging from the branches of an oak tree nearly a mile from where the plane hit the power line. The jumble of wire had somehow been flung the entire length of the field from the force of the impact of the propellers on the power line. Crop dusters were heroic characters in my young eyes. They still are. Don Lively is a freelance writer and author of two books of Southern Humor, Howlin' At The Dixie Moon, and, South O' Yonder. He lives in Shell Bluff. Email Don at Livelycolo@aol.com. One of the most memorable flyboys of my youth was a gentleman who caught on early that Fidel Castro's revolution didn't save Cuba but doomed the island state. He played along with the Cuban military just long enough to win their confidence. One day he was on a flying maneuver in one of the ancient biplanes that helped patch together Castro's air force. Somehow he was able to separate himself from the rest of the ragtag formation and didn't slow down until he'd crossed the Florida Straits and landed safely in The Land Of The Free. I vividly remember watching him use that very same biplane, painted bright yellow and converted to a crop duster, to deftly spray fields for Daddy and other farm neighbors. The few conversations I had with that brave man was my first peek at geopolitics and at how close communism lurked close to our own shores. I often wonder whatever happened to my Cuban friend. Another crop duster gave me my first up-close look at violent death. He misjudged a stand of chinaberry trees at the end of a field on Mister Chester's place and crashed. I didn't see it happen but was at the scene shortly after. It's a sight I've never forgotten and hope to never see again. Another very close call happened when a local crop dusting pilot somehow failed to see a power line on one end of our homeplace field. He flew straight into the line but somehow managed to crash land the plane in the middle of the field. He destroyed a couple of acres of cotton but walked away without a scratch. Over a year later, my brother Urb and I found a coil of wire hanging from the branches of an oak tree nearly a mile from where the plane hit the power line. The jumble of wire had somehow been flung the entire length of the field from the force of the impact of the propellers on the power line. Crop dusters were heroic characters in my young eyes. They still are. Don Lively is a freelance writer and author of two books of Southern Humor, Howlin' At The Dixie Moon, and, South O' Yonder. He lives in Shell Bluff. Email Don at Livelycolo@aol.com. I saw a crop duster as I was meandering down a county two lane road one recent day.

It took me back to a time when I was still a farm boy living on one of several tracts of land that Daddy farmed.

Our homeplace was around 120 acres before the power company legally purloined several acres that they used to build a railroad. They needed the railway to supply components to the brand spanking new power plant that was being built down on the river. Eminent Domain was what they called it. "For the good of the public" was the term used to justify it. Daddy was paid what the powers-that-be determined to be "just compensation", however, I suspect that the lost revenue from the cotton or peanuts or soybeans that never got planted over the ensuing years was considerably more than what most folks would consider just.

But, the power plant was built and is now being expanded and, the truth is, it's been a fine neighbor and a great boon to our area.

So, all's well that ends well.

As I often do, I've digressed.

We were talking about crop dusters.

It seems as though there were more of them buzzing the thousands of acres of local crops when I was young. In recent years the only ones I see are in the process of defoliating cotton, getting it ready to be picked.

In the old days crop dusters sprayed pretty much any crop grown in our neck of the woods with pesticides and insecticides. It wasn't unusual to see them all over the county performing their aerial duties with precision and daring. Many of the pilots had learned to fly in the military and had flown missions in Southeast Asia.

To a young farm boy like me, they seemed fearless.

I've seen crop duster pilots fly underneath power lines many times in order to begin spraying a section that was hemmed in by the lines. I watched them fly between tall pine trees with what appeared to be only inches of clearance for each wing. They were often able to dive over tall hedgerows and level off in plenty of time to cover the furthest edges of the fields.

Fearless indeed.

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