Our Flight to Hartsel

(Courtesy photo)

By Ralph Chain

I have known Jake Graham a long time. We bought a herd of Angus cows in Nebraska together and some other registered cows from Alfred Draton in the O’Neill, Nebraska, area. We also partnered on quite a few other cattle.

I knew a fellow named Ray Moore, who had a ranch in Hartsel, Colo. He was a Longhorn breeder, and I got acquainted with him. He wanted us to send some yearling steers out to Hartsel, Colo., to summer. I told Jake about the Colorado deal. Jake was interested in going in partners with us, and we would send some cattle out there to summer. We thought we should go out and look at the grass before we sent any steers there. We decided to fly to Hartsel and look at the pasture.

Jake had a good friend named Charlie Williams in Fairview. Charlie was Jake’s banker, and he flew a lot. He told Jake if he ever needed to go anywhere he knew a good charter service in Oklahoma City that would fly us. We decided to have Charlie contact this flying service in Oklahoma City, and we would fly to Hartsel, Colo. We had to fly into Colorado Springs, Colo.,  the closest airport. Hartsel was just a small place.

The charter service had an Air Commander, which is a twin-engine plane. Jake thought that this was what we would be flying to Colorado Springs in. We met at the Fairview Airport early one morning, and we waited around there for a short while. Soon this little airplane came in, actually, it was a fair-size airplane, but it wasn’t a twin engine: it was a single engine Air Commander. It was a pretty nice airplane. We didn’t have any second thoughts. We got on board. There was a young kid flying it, and come to find out, he had just got out of the Air Force the day before and was used to flying jets. I think this was on a Monday morning, and he had applied for a job flying charter service for this company in Oklahoma City. This was his first job.

Somewhere in western Kansas he got to fooling with the radio. We found out that we didn’t have any radio contact with anybody. We couldn’t talk to anyone at the towers or anywhere, but this kid said, “We’ll be all right.” I said, “How are you going to let them know when we get to Colorado Springs that we want to land?” And he said, “Well, there is a procedure that we can do to let the tower know that we want to come in for a landing.” So, we finally arrived at Colorado Springs and sure enough he flew over the tower and gave some sort of signal, and they gave us the green light to come on in and land.

Our pilot wasn’t used to flying this sort of airplane. I was sitting in the front seat. When we came in, he landed too hard on the nose wheel and the wheel gave way, bending the propeller. It almost came back into the windshield where I was sitting. It liked to scare us to death. Here we sat in the middle of a busy airport with a busted nose wheel and a propeller bent back almost into the windshield. They came out and pulled us off of the runway with a vehicle. I told our pilot that Jake and I will just take a commercial airliner back to Oklahoma City, and somebody can meet us there. The pilot said, “There’s no need.  They’ll have to fly out to pick me up, and you might as well ride back with us. There’s no need spending money for tickets.”

We had kind of mixed emotions on whether we wanted to do that or not. Anyway, he said, “Why don’t you go on out and do what you have to do and call me at the office, and I’ll see what they want to do. I’m sure they’ll send a plane out, and you might as well ride back with us.”

We rented a car and drove to Hartsel, which is probably 50 miles or so, I don’t remember exactly. We got there and looked at the pasture. I called back to the Colorado Springs Airport and got a hold of this kid, our pilot. He said, “They’re going to send a plane out, and they’ll pick us up here at the airport about 3:00 p.m.” We had to hurry to get back. We just knew they were going to send that twin engine Air Commander out to pick us up.

We got back in to Colorado Springs and checked in our car and went into the terminal and waited. He said, “We’ll pick you up in front of the terminal doors there.” We walked up to the terminal and looked outside, down the runway. There was an Air Commander sitting there and Jake said, “There’s the plane we’re going to fly back in, I bet.” And I said, “Well, I hope so.” So we stood there a little bit and looked up and down the runway. Pretty soon here came this little, bitty airplane that looked like a kite. It pulled up right in front of the door and there sat our pilot, the one who had flown us out, and another kid younger than our pilot, flying the plane. They taxied right up there where we were standing and opened the door on their little ole airplane and said, “Well, are you ready?”

Jake and I kind of looked astonished. I didn’t know how in the world all four of us were going to get in that little airplane. We stammered and stuttered around there, and Jake or I said, “Well, are you sure we can all ride back in that little ole airplane?” And this kid said, “Oh yes, we’ve got plenty of room.” Well, Jake was a big guy. He probably weighed 260 pounds, and he had a big ole sheep-lined coat on. And I was pretty well dressed, as it was cold. They said, “Get in.” So there was nothing we could do but get in. They had taxied right up where we were standing, and we could hardly say we weren’t going to go. We managed to get in.

Jake got in, and he took off his big coat. I got in and sat on his lap, almost. We were crumpled up in this little Drummond Airplane. It must have been the littlest airplane they ever made. Jake still had mixed emotions and said, “Are you sure this is all right?” This kid said, “Yes, we’re all right.” We all got in this thing, and we taxied way down to the north end of the runway. We took off, but we could not get that thing off of the ground. Every time the pilot tried to get some altitude, a beeper would go off. Finally, Jake said, “Why don’t you turn around and we’ll get off.” This kid said, “No, if we can get some altitude, we’ll be okay.” We finally got enough altitude to get over the fence posts. I don’t know how far we flew at this low level, just missing the tops of the fences.

Here we were in Colorado Springs, pretty open country, and why these kids did this I’ll never know. But anyway, we finally got into the air and we were flying into the southeast. I don’t think we ever had a southeast wind before, but that day, after we flew and finally got some altitude, we were flying right into the southeast wind. I think we left Colorado Springs about 3:00, I’m not for certain. We flew and we flew and we flew. I think we could have walked faster than we were going, because here we were overloaded and flying into the wind. About 6:00 p.m. we went over Two-Buttes, Colo. It took us about two hours to get there. We could have driven in a car there faster.

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