After decades serving ag operators and pilots in the Mississippi Delta, Harold Powers, Jr. will go into well-deserved retirement and shutter the business that he helped build since 1959. Air Tractor parts distributor Abide Ag-Aero, a staple in Mississippi agricultural aviation, is closing after 61 years.
“I started with Mr. Abide in April of 1959, and it was just me and him handling the business,” Powers recalls. “We sold Air Tractor airplanes and Air Tractor parts. I took care of the parts business and Mr. Abide took care of the airplane sales.”
Major Lee Cody Abide was a professional pilot, aerobatics instructor and crop duster before entering the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. During WWII, Abide ferried airplanes, then transferred to the China-Burma-India theater and was stationed with the U.S. Air Transport Command in Jorhat, India. He flew B-24 and C-87 Liberator transport airplanes over “The Hump,” from India above the Himalaya peaks into China. After the war, Abide returned to his crop dusting business and eventually began selling Air Tractor aircraft as an official dealer. He founded Abide Ag-Aero in 1959, and a young Powers helped run the shop. When Abide passed away in 1990, Powers approached Air Tractor founder Leland Snow and asked him if he could keep the parts business of the dealership.
“I didn’t have the ag aviation knowledge, or the money to do the Air Tractor airplane sales part of the dealership,” Powers said. “Leland agreed to let me continue as the Air Tractor parts distributor in Mississippi. Leland was a great man, and very humble. All the Air Tractor people I’ve dealt with were good people. It’s like a big family. And so was Gene Williams, the Air Tractor parts man who I worked with before Jeff Dobbs, the current Air Tractor Customer Service manager.”
Jim Hirsch, president of Air Tractor, said Abide Ag-Aero is a piece of ag aviation history. “It has always been a pleasure doing business with Harold and Abide Ag-Aero,” Hirsch said. “It is people like Harold and Major Abide and their commitment to this industry that have played a big part in making Air Tractor the world’s most popular ag plane. They have contributed so much to their customers over the years and represented Air Tractor well along the way.”
Based at Abide Airpark, the company is geographically located in the most concentrated group of Air Tractor operators in the world: the Mississippi Delta. In addition to being a convenient, local source for Air Tractor OEM parts, Abide Ag-Aero also offered an extensive inventory of aerial spraying accessory equipment and parts.
Customers appreciated the expertise and continuity of service—and the familiar faces at the company. Tommy Lewis was the Parts Sales manager at Abide Ag-Aero, and he worked with Powers for more than two decades. Charlene Heafner was also there for more than 20 years as office manager and administrative assistant.
Powers also was involved in the Mississippi Ag Aviation Association, the Arkansas Ag Aviation Association, the Louisiana Ag Aviation Association, and the National Agricultural Aviation Association. He represented and advocated for the industry, receiving several awards for his longtime efforts.
Those who know him often describe Powers as “the perfect Southern gentleman.” It was something ingrained in him very early on. “It comes from my family—my mother and my grandmother. It was simply the way I was brought up,” Powers said. And that’s how he has done business.
As his years in the business turned into decades, Powers witnessed the changes in agricultural aviation and aircraft technology. Powers watched the evolution from Air Tractor radial engine airplanes to turbine engine airplanes. “It began with the AT-402, then went to the 502, then the 602 and then the 802. Ag pilots just kept buying the bigger airplanes as they came out. And with more airplane models came more parts inventory to support them.” Powers recalled.
For a time, Powers also sold parts to aerial spraying operations across the Mississippi river in Arkansas and Louisiana until the market got more competitive. “More ag plane parts companies opened, and they sold the same parts that we offered,” he said. “After a time, our sales declined in those states, so we just focused on Mississippi sales. I stopped exhibiting at the Louisiana convention first, and then the Arkansas convention later.”
Yet, through all the changes and challenges Abide Ag-Aero stuck around—in part because of the longtime relationship with the people of Air Tractor. “It really is like one big family, and they treated me like part of their family. I couldn’t help but feel the same way toward them,” Powers said. “Leland Snow made my life possible by letting me keep the Air Tractor parts business. He was a kind man.”
Of course, after so many years in the business the relationships with customers also meant a lot to Powers – and so did the many folks that he worked with in the state and national agricultural aviation associations.
Yet in recent years it became time to slow down. Perhaps the most surprising fact about Powers is that despite having sold so many Air Tractor parts to keep airplanes flying, Powers has never flown in an Air Tractor. “I’m not a pilot—just strictly parts. I like staying on the ground,” Powers said.
And so, with his feet firmly planted on the ground, Air Tractor congratulates Harold Powers, Jr., on his retirement as Abide Ag-Aero becomes a part of agricultural aviation history.