Airplanes and the Great Morgan County Pool Party
Airplanes have intrigued me for as long as I can remember. My best preteen friend, Lamar Snipes, shared this interest. Lamar and I would often lie on our backs out in the cow pasture scanning the skies for airplanes. In Morgan County, Ohio, back in those days, we might have to wait a week before seeing one. While we waited, we learned to subsist on dandelion leaves and other such edible plants as were easily reachable from our spot in the pasture. This was even before Ewell Gibbons taught America how to eat pine trees, thus threatening the great pulpwood industry of the southeast United States. Lamar and I decided that building an airplane might be more fun than just watching for them and picking dandelions from our teeth with pine needles. I know you think we’re going to do some crazy thing like building a plane and launching it off the barn roof like Pat McManus and Crazy Eddie Muldoon. Wrong! At least this time. We did contemplate flying our own homebuilt plane a few years later, but that is another story. Instead we decided to build model airplanes that would really fly.
There was a model airplane club in our little town of McConnelsville which for 10 cents would accept you as a new member. Lamar and I ponied up our dimes and joined immediately. We soon found out that our initiation fee was just the beginning of a budget busting adventure with aviation. We had to buy airplane kits, airplane glue (it smelled like Testers Cement), x-acto knives and miscellaneous other things a good model maker would never be without. In no time our dime turned into dollars and threatened the economic stability of both the Snipes and the Ramon families. All our entire dime fee bought us was the right to use a small room in the house of the president of the club. When I say small we’re talking about one in which no more than three preteen kids could stand around a wobbly card table in the middle of the room. The closeness of the room produced certain unanticipated benefits for which many of our classmates might have been willing to pay even as much as 35 or 40 cents.
We noticed that when we got to the gluing stage of model making and three of us were squeezing out great quantities of airplane glue in this tiny unventilated room, everything that we said or did took on a quality of hilarity that seemed completely unjustified by the circumstances. We were deliriously happy all out of proportion to our personal or family situations. Under this influence, we contemplated the possibility of sitting astride one of our larger models and flying it across the Muskingum River. Although the idea seemed completely plausible at the time, it was difficult to well nigh impossible to do the necessary planning between the uncontrollable gales of laughter. When we met the next day away from our little room, the whole idea seemed absurd in the extreme. It was years later, when we became consumers of the media, that we learned the real consequences of glue sniffing and the fact that we were doing it wrong anyway.
Lamar and I did, against all odds, complete a flyable model airplane. It was a pretty J-3 Piper Cub with a 58 inch wingspan. It had a little gas (actually high octane lighter fluid) engine and would fly around in a circle attached to a rather flimsy wire. No radio controlled remote for us. The plane would fly for about one minute on a single tank of gas. This seemed an adequately long time since the plane was just going round and round --- unless the wire broke. We were flying the plane in old Mr. McDonald’s cow pasture when the wire broke. Freed from the restraint of a guiding wire the plane immediately developed a mind of its own. That mind, it appeared, was to chase the cows, which were about 100 yards down wind of our position. The plane headed toward the cows, about 10 of them, at an altitude of approximately 4 feet. Did you know that cows which were completely unconcerned about a plane flying in a circle about 100 yards away, get very excited to see a plane approaching at what appears to be a hundred miles per hour at cow-top level? The cows saw much merit in vacating the pasture and going to visit Dr. Carlson, the only person in all of Morgan County with his own personal swimming pool. The fence between the McDonalds and the Carlsons proved to be only a minor inconvience, not a detriment. Many people do not realize cows can swim, nor do they know just how much they enjoy standing in the shallow end of the pool for hours on end.
The plane crashed into a sturdy oak tree just inside Dr. Carlson’s property. Lamar and I thought it best to retrieve what was left of the airplane and quickly cremate its shattered remains. We decided not to mention the role of the airplane in the cow’s pool party; an occasion that to this day remains a great Morgan County mystery.