The Chisholm Trail
One of the great delights of flying around this region is the opportunity to visit places of historical import. Before Hollywood (for the most part) turned its back on Traditional American Values, “The Old West” was prime material for its image mill. Those were the times of my youth. “Westerns”, as they were called, dominated television and movies. During this time, Hollywood fashioned the cowboy of the old west into a mythical icon representing Truth, Justice and The American Way. Roy Rogers, Will Rogers, Paladin, The Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Broncho Billy, Chuck Connors, Clint Walker, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry, Glenn Ford, The Great James Garner, James Arness, Joel McCrae, Lash LaRue, Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Slim Pickens, Tex Ritter, Tom Mix, The Cartwrights, Steve McQueen – and this is just a short list! They weren’t always the guy you wanted your Daughter to bring home for supper but they all “did the right thing” by the end of the show.
You might not have heard of Pond Creek before but it has a place in the history of The Chisholm Trail which figures mightily in The Real (and Mythical) Old West.
That morning, the scene above greeted my arrival at Blue Sky Aerodrome. I wish the photo were sharper but I am glad I captured what I was able. I steadied my camera on the roof of the car and pushed the shutter button as lightly as I could. This was the best of three… I had seen this early morning triad before but falsely assumed it to be The Moon, Venus and Mars. I checked the “star history” for that morning on EarthSky.org and discovered this was The Moon, Venus and Jupiter. Very Interesting. I had no idea one could see Jupiter without a telescope.
Was this a “Good Sign”, a “Bad Sign” or just “An Ever Repeating, Inter-Stellar Phenomenon Seen From Different Earthly Perspectives At Predictable Times Signifying Nothing”? You be the judge.
Beat The Wind
Because the wind was already building, I took to the air as soon as I could. After climbing to 600′ AGL to pass over The Kansas Turnpike and houses in the area, a glance at my GPS showed the Southwest headwind had deteriorated my ground speed to 10.8 miles per hour! As soon as I could, I descended to Ultralight Flight Level 30 which put me under said wind. My SOP (Standard Operating Principle) requires at least 30 mph across the ground to continue a Sky Safari. Down on the deck for the rest of the journey I was able to maintain a ground speed of 30 mph and up to 40 at times. Pond Creek was a Go!
I am intrigued by images of my plane’s shadow on certain early morning flights. They don’t happen that often. To produce them requires a perfect combination of events:
- The right direction of travel
- The right angle of the sun
- No clouds blocking the sun
- Nice background scenery.
When all four combine I can’t help but document it. If you are not that impressed, I suppose you can just scroll through faster but here are a few scenes from that 15 minute window in time.
The Early Birds
From the truck parked by the river in the shot below, I assume there were some guys out early trying to get the jump on some fish at sunrise. I never saw them, though.
Directly on my path to Pond Creek is another fabled town of the Cowboy Era: Caldwell. In 2013 I flew there and posted this story HERE. They call it “The Border Queen City”.
Just after leaving the Caldwell area, I spot some Whitetail Deer in the grass. They take off running and I chase for a bit.
Still hugging the earth, I approach the town of Medford. Even that low the wind had risen to 10 mph off my nose but it was even stronger at 100 feet so I stayed low. I wasn’t concerned about the decrease in ground speed, though, because Pond Creek is only 10 miles from Medford. Medford has a very nice airport with a hard surface runway. I will make a trip to it soon.
Turbulence & Technique
The next shot was taken by accident but I put it in here to give you a feel for the condition of the air as I was about to cross The Salt Fork of The Arkansas River (I would have thought it would be named Pond Creek…).
I fly with my still camera on a lanyard around my neck so I can get to it quickly. It has a shutter button on the top right – made for use by the index finger of the right hand. My Quicksilver has an off-center control stick on the right side that is also manipulated by my right hand. For best photo results I use both hands on the camera. So, when I take a shot, I let the plane fly itself for a bit whilst “framing the shot”. Occasionally when I am taking a shot using both hands, the wind pitches the plane in a manner requiring me to relegate the camera to my left hand while my right hand grabs the stick to correct the machine’s attitude. Sometimes, if additional power is also called for, I have to drop the camera in my lap so my left hand can work the throttle, too. In that situation the lanyard keeps the camera from launching into space.
My camera has a “two stage” focusing method whereby one has to gingerly depress the trigger to get a focus which is then evidenced by the appearance of a green box on the screen. Once this is accomplished, the shutter button is depressed the rest of the way and the picture is taken.
What you see in the photo below has happened quite a few times on my Safaris. As I set up to shoot (what ended up being the next shot in this series) a considerable gust “weathervaned” the plane into the wind. The art process having been interrupted, I accidentally hit the shutter while reaching for the stick. Usually I throw these kind of pictures away but this time I thought you would find it and this attendant discussion interesting.
Wind Break Required
When I landed the wind was 20+mph from the South with gusts to 28. This put it right down the runway. The Muni is a grass field that is quite wide so I could have landed pretty much any direction to avoid crosswind issues. Once on the ground, though, I needed protection from the wind and taxied to the first opportunity I could find that appeared “neutral”. By neutral, I mean that I would rather park behind a public building than on someone’s property without prior approval. It turned out to be an equipment storage building owned by the city and was perfect for the job. Also on the field were two crop dusting outfits with significant hangars.
Nobody was around the building so before heading out to discover Pond Creek I wrote a note explaining my actions. Should someone need to use the overhead door into the building, I asked them to call me on my cell phone and I would move the plane. After taking the shot above, I turned the plane around and tied the tail down to some cinder blocks. Not long after affixing the note to my seat, Chris Gibson drove up in a city pickup. He was there to grab a hand tool and confirmed it would be fine for me to leave the MXL where it was. We discussed the heat which was heading for a record 104º that day and then he said goodbye and got back to work.
After talking to Chris I began my walk into town. I saw a good shot of Andy Deterding Ag Aviation and grabbed it before continuing. I figured I would take a few more pictures of the field when I returned.
Just as I lowered my camera from taking the shot of Deterding Ag, Sue Deterding pulled up in her BMW and said “Hi!”. She was heading into the office and saw me taking pictures. I told her what I was doing and she invited me in for some coffee and to look around their operation.
Once in the office I thanked Sue for the coffee. It was definitely welcome. It was my first cup of the day as I had adopted a policy not to drink anything before embarking on a Safari. That policy was derived from an “uncomfortable experience” endured during a trip to Cleveland, Oklahoma…
Looking around the office it was apparent that in addition to the Aerial Application Business the Deterdings race cars, too.
The Air Tractor
I could tell Sue had things to do and so did I so I bid adieu and headed for the door. Before I got to it Sue said I could use the company van if I would like. I thanked her and said I might do that when I came back to get fuel for my machine.
As I stepped out into the 100º air I heard the unique sound of an Air Tractor. He was on base turning to final. I always think of World War II when I see one of these planes. Except for the fixed landing gear, they look like WWII Fighters. I suspect if they were available in that war they would have been Top Gun for sure. I did some checking and although primarily an agricultural application craft, there is a military version of the Air Tractor called the 802U. It can carry 8,000 pounds of ordnance. My Buddy Ag Pilot Lynn Bebermeyer of Harper, Kansas also owns an Air Tractor.
Walking The Streets Of Pond Creek
Having taken a few aerial photos of the town on the way in, I began my street level look at Pond Creek. I walked a good bit of the town and now will show you what I saw.
Wilson Funeral Home
After taking the shot of the two old buildings I crossed the street. While surveying the scene, Steven Wilson came out of the Post Office with his mail, heading back to work. We talked for a minute. He said his funeral home had been in business since 1929. While writing this it occurred to me that Steven used the hearse to pick up the mail. I guess if you’re in the business, driving the hearse is just another way to get around town…
After touching down in Pond Creek, I asked Chris Gibson, and then later, Ann Deterding where I should eat lunch. Both mentioned Greazy Steve’s so I walked over to check it out. With a name like that how could I not stop in?
Bid A Fond Fairwell
As I walked back to the airfield I passed this group below. I have always thought it would be neat to have some goats. Farmer friends of mine have counseled otherwise. I’m still thinking about giving Pygmy Goats a try, though. They are a lot of fun at the petting zoo in Wichita.
It was a Yellow Flag Day that afternoon. At least that’s how I would have called it at Waimea. The temperature was about 105º and the wind was 25 gusting to 30. Just what The Sky Surfer likes! A “direct off the stern” TAILWIND! At most, about three times a season I am able to engineer a Safari ride home with a tailwind of this magnitude and angle. Gnarly but Righteous Surf! (Those of you new to The Sky Surfer’s World, go HERE for an explanation of Sky Safari Best Practices)
As I pre-flighted the Quicksilver and then warmed up the motor, I stayed in the “wind shadow” of the city building. The issue for me with winds of 25 gusting to 30 manifests not in the air but on the ground. My MXL is so light it can be flipped up on a wing or even upside down if caught by a gust from the side. While the engine warmed up I took the shot below of the hopper/loader.
Dance The Pedals
When taking the photo above the wind was coming from behind me. Once ready to taxi to the active, my plan was to spend as little time as possible on the ground. After getting past the hopper truck I made a quick turn into the wind while simultaneously running up the throttle. Doing this, I exposed the side of my plane to the wind for the least amount of time and was airborne in seconds.
Some New, Some Old
On the way back I was following the same bearing I took for the trip to Pond Creek. So, I passed by the same general territory. Even so, I will show you some things I didn’t see on the trip up OR some of the same things from a different angle.
Below we see a rarity – A Round Barn. There is one outside Derby, Kansas that I have photographed many times. They are an historical design of note. I found a site by Dale Travis that has to be the definitive website in tribute to The Round Barn. You can see it HERE.
A Sequence – Mystery Then Solution
Whenever I return from a Safari in a relatively high wind, I taxi up to the South side of the Quonset hangar. This shields my plane from the wind so I can walk over and open the door to my hangar which is to the North.
All The Elements
A lot of guys only like to fly when it is calm. I guess that is OK for them.
The Sky Surfer doesn’t mind robust wind at all – in fact – he thrives on it. Strong Sky Surf is enjoyable as a challenge and simply as a motive force. Whenever he gets the chance, he really, really enjoys a strong tailwind on the homeward leg. Riding The Big Waves back from Pond Creek made an interesting trip all that much better.
‘Till Next Safari – This is Brian FitzGerald – The Sky Surfer wishing you Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™