I had an acquaintance contact me awhile ago and asked if he could send me something. “Sure,” I said. He explained that he had bought some land from a retired farmer that used to be a customer of mine when I had a flying service in the 1970s. While cleaning out the farmhouse, he discovered a desk with some old billing statements in it.
Low and behold, the statements were marked paid, dated 10/31/76 from Ag-Air Crop Service, which was the company I had formed in March 1976. I remember that my wife, Sandy, who was the company bookkeeper and loader, had gone to a local print shop to have the statements printed, very simple 8.5 x 8.5 sheets of paper that required filling out by hand script.
Shortly after the phone call from my acquaintance, I received the statements in the mail. Sure enough, they were in Sandy’s handwriting and titled “Ag-Air Crop Service”. I am sure you can imagine the memories holding that 44-year old paper held for me.
In 1976, I was starting out with a new business with only two previous seasons and less than a 1,000 hours of ag time. I had many lessons to learn in the coming years about not only how to send customers their end of the month statements, but also how to fly an ag plane and run an ag operation. However, at 24 years old, I was bullet proof and you couldn’t tell me anything! I was an ag-pilot with his own ag-plane and spraying business. Gee, did I have a lot to learn!
My 1970 C-188A AGwagon “B” with a 300 HP Continental engine and 200-gallon hopper served me well that first year. So well, that I was able to convince the bank to loan me enough money to buy a brand new 1976 B-Model Ag-Cat, an end of the year left over model from Mid-Continent Aircraft Company in Hayti, Missouri. With near-zero cross-country flight time (except for my Commercial Pilot’s license and the ferry flight from Georgia to Hayti to trade-in my AGwagon), I took an airline to the Ag-Cat factory in Elmyra, New York to pick up my new Ag-Cat in the middle of January. The operator I had flown for the year before I opened my operation had also bought a new Ag-Cat. We met in Elmyra to fly the aircraft home in formation to Georgia.
Our Ag-Cats only had a wet compass, that and a map was the only way to find our way back to Georgia. Never mind it was snowing and colder than anything I was accustomed to. The Ag-Cats had R-985 radial engines with 64-gallon fuel tanks. You should be able to figure out the dilemma I had allowed myself to get into.
After a snow shower passed through with fresh snow covering the ground, we departed Elmyra. No radios on board of any sort. For most of our route, the uncontrolled airports were covered in snow, while the controlled fields were plowed. With only 64 gallons of fuel, two hours would be pushing it flying in unknown territory with many landmarks covered in snow. That equated to about every 200 miles we needed to land for fuel. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. We had to either land short of 200 miles or extend the leg into the unknown…
My first landing in an Ag-Cat was in my new B-model on a newly snow plowed runway, somewhere south of Elmyra. I can still remember seeing the “motor grader” sitting at the end of the runway, wondering how this landing was going to end. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. All turned out fine and after a couple of days we made it home. It was a happy ending to a flight that should have never been made without first making a few landings at Elmyra and waiting on decent weather.
When you look at the graphic of the 44-year old Ag-Air Crop Service billing statement in this editorial, take note of the prices I charged for spraying. The two-gallon work was $1.25 and the five-gallon work was $1.75. This farmer was really giving this new operator a test by letting me fly a small portion of his crops; note a repeating 3, 56 and 57 acres. I was glad to get any acres! My first year’s gross for flying (not including chemicals) was about $30,000. In case you are wondering, Sandy also worked for the local grain elevator operator to put groceries on the table. We got by cheap, living in a single-wide trailer and no children at the time. My how things have changed. I’m not so sure if for the better or not. I was happy then and I’m still happy today!
Until next month,