When I was a youngster, quite a few of the adult men in my life flew airplanes and some of them owned one. My Dad got his pilot license in 1946 while working as a line boy at an FBO over Denver way.
He used to take me out to the old airport in Spanish Valley when I was around 4 years old. That was about 1957, I guess. We’d rent a little Piper J-3 cub and go romping around this beautiful area. The plane was so tiny that the pilot sat in the rear seat if he was flying solo, or if the passenger was just a four-year-old. Otherwise the little tail dragger might tip over on its nose, which was never good for the little wooden propeller.
I always have to shake my head when I think of how it was kind of a better world in many ways back then. It seems to me that a guy making two or three dollars and hour in 1958 could afford to buy and maintain a little airplane, but a guy making $100 dollars an hour now days would be hard-pressed to do so. The insurance is a lot of what stops a wanna-be pilot guy or gal these days.
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, my Dad and I were members of the Moab Flying Club. We had a couple of older Cessnas and it was a wonderful thing, but it took at least a dozen or 15 of us to be able to afford such delights even then.
My Uncle Nate Knight flew Piper Super Cubs and Cessna 180s. He was a friend and business partner of Fred Frazier. Fred had his hand in all kinds of deals in our country and so did Nate. Fred always kept two or three planes around, according to my Uncle Lee Stocks, and was also a licensed flight instructor back in the ’50s. Fred taught all my uncles how to fly and sold Uncles Lee and Larry their first plane, a light green Piper Super Cub. Fred was a smart businessman but had not had much formal schooling. Reading didn’t come easy for him, so when he studied for his pilot licenses he’d get his wife Darlene to read the books to him in order to save time.
Those little planes saved many hours of travel going to and from the mines out in the canyonlands country that would eventually become “The” Canyonlands National Park and the Glen Canyon Recreational Area. If you had your choice of a one-hour flight down to Red Canyon on a hot summer day, or a four-hour drive over rough roads in a 1952 Chevy pickup, I think I know which you’d choose.
Early one morning when I was 5, Uncle Larry loaded me and a set of fan belts into the little green Super Cub. We flew way down south somewhere. I assume we crossed the Canyonlands Park and the Elk Ridge country. I think we might have landed in Fry Canyon down near Halls Crossing. I clearly remember bumping down onto a narrow desert dirt road and parking next to an old yellow dump truck.
The truck driver was none other than Uncle Nate’s brother, Hardwater, who’d been broke down there in the boondocks for quite a while. Uncle Larry helped him install the new fan belts, then we took off back to Moab.
I’m pretty sure that old yellow dump truck had a canvas water bag hanging from the mirror. Most all vehicles did back then. I can’t help but wonder if that particular bag might have been full of Cowboy Lemonade instead of water.
I’ve heard that was a pretty nice way to get across the dusty old desert in those days. A couple quarts of lemonade and a fifth of vodka sloshing around in the wind probably took the bumps out of the roads and shortened the trip, to boot. It’s been told that those Knight boys were rather fond of such libations now and then.
One time, Uncle Nate and his son, Sando, flew over to the mining area west of Green River. Nate told me that he landed on a little strip that was covered in sunflowers. The flowers were hiding a rough spot or a ditch and when they hit it the plane ground-looped onto its nose. Another propeller bit the dust, but the guys came out of it in pretty good shape. Nate was reportedly a very good pilot and those kinds of accidents were not the norm.
Uncle Nate used a Super Cub to travel to and from the Blue Lizard mine he was working down near Red Canyon. It made for quick trips to and from but probably really saved the day when you had to go chasing parts for your loader or compressor or jackhammer.
The Blue Lizard mine drift went a fair distance into the hillside. The crew would drill and blast a round, then the ore would be loaded onto mine buggies with a track loader and transported to the outside. The track loader sat up kind of high and you had to be careful walking it in or out of the mine.
Uncle Lee said there was a low spot in the back (roof), and you had to really duck when you went under it. Lee said when he had to take the loader into the mine, he’d take the seat cushion off, place a couple sheets of cardboard over the batteries and sit crouched down. Lee said they had plans to drill and shoot that low spot but had never gotten around to it.
To be continued …