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Tuesday, February 20, 2001
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By Jay Wischkaemper

I grew up on a cotton farm/ranch close to Dozier, Texas. You can still find Dozier on a map, and in fact, the map is more impressive than the town. There used to be two stores, two cotton gins, a post office, welding shop, and two churches. Now, there are the two churches, and why they stay open is subject to question.

We were dirt poor. There was a lot of land, but not a lot of profit. There were a couple of hundred acres of cotton, some land for feed, and a thousand acres of grass on which we had a hundred or so mother cows and sometimes as many as 300 steers. I worked from the time I was old enough to sit bareback on a horse.

From my earliest years, I was fascinated with airplanes. There wasn’t a lot of aviation activity around, but I relished what there was. Much to the chagrin of my dad, I loved it when bollworms got in the cotton, because it meant we would get to spray. I would crawl to the top of the barn and watch the aerial ballet in the distant fields. Even better was when the bugs got in our neighbor’s cotton, because his fields were closer to our house than ours were. In fact, Gene Morrow in his big yellow Snow spray plane would make his turns right over our house, its huge radial bellowing that wonderful song.

Summers were spent in the fields. I was either driving a tractor, chopping cotton, or herding cattle. When chopping cotton or herding cattle, I could always hear the drone of aircraft engines far overhead, and would always stop what I was doing to search the heavens for the source of the noise. Usually, I would spot the little speck in the air, swiftly receding into the distance. “I wonder where he’s going?” I would ask myself. “I wonder who he is?” “I wonder what the world looks like from up there?” At the time, there was no way I could answer any of those questions. All I could do was dream, and dream I did.

One day, part of the dream came true. Herschel Francis, the pilot who sprayed our cotton, had bought a Tri-pacer, and he invited us to go for a ride. I had three brothers, and I can’t remember which two didn’t get to go, but I know who did go. He flew us out over the farm, made a couple of circles, and came back. It was probably a 30-minute ride at the most, but it was wonderful. The plane came back to the ground, but I was on cloud nine for days.

When I left for college, it didn’t take me long to find the airport. At the time, you could take an introductory airplane ride for $5.00. I didn’t have much money, but I did manage to come up with $5.00. It was in a Cherokee 140. The thrill of shoving that throttle forward and lifting off for the first time at the controls cannot be described. The only problem was that I didn’t have any more money to continue.

Dreams have a way of creating opportunity though, and I had an idea. I knew that my mother had a life insurance policy on me that had some cash. I asked her if I could have the money. In retrospect, she either had a lot of faith or very little sense, because she said yes. It wasn’t a lot of money, a couple of hundred dollars as I recall, but then dual was only $18.00 per hour. I flew out all of that money, and was grounded again. Since my parents were still broke, most of the money I made from my part-time job went for my own expenses, but I managed to save enough, even at $1.65 per hour, to occasionally take a lesson. During that time, I spent a year working as a parts man at one of the local airplane repair shops. Still $1.65 per hour, but lots of hours. I got to be around airplanes every day, but still didn’t have enough to fly a lot, but at least I was in hog heaven being around them. After a couple of years, I had gotten enough hours to take my check ride, but I had another hurdle. It would take several hours of flying at one time to get all the kinks worked out and get recommended for the check ride. It would take at least $100, and I didn’t have $100, and really had no way to get it. I also had a girlfriend, who was rapidly turning into a fiancé, so the dream had to go on hold for a little longer.

Once we got married, we survived because chickens were 29 cents each and we could get two meals out of one chicken. Flying was out of the question, but not out of mind. Dreams are always there. Finally, after several years in the insurance business, I got serious about setting goals. I wrote down my goals. Several of them were ridiculous, not the least of which was to own an airplane. Funny thing about goals though. When you write them down and get serious about them, even if you don’t necessarily see how it might happen, things have a strange way of coming into your life to fulfill those goals. I wrote down that goal in June. By the end of that year, I was a partner in a Cessna 150.

Four of us bought the 150, kept it a year, and finished our licenses in it. We paid $6,000 for it, and sold it for $5,800. Shortly after that, we bought our first Bellanca, a 1964 260 model, N18MT. After about 13 years with that plane, it was time to trade up to the present 1974 model Super Viking.

One of the places I now fly to regularly takes me close to the cotton fields where I grew up. Sometimes, if I’m not in a hurry, I’ll take a detour from the direct route and fly over the old home place. I’ll look down at the little cemetery where my dad is buried. I’ll look at the fields of cotton that are now owned by someone else. I’ll look down at the small rural school where I used to sit on the pipe fence and dream great dreams. I’ll look down at the old house and the old barns, which have all but fallen down from disuse and neglect. But mostly I’ll just look down, and I’ll wonder of somewhere down there, there’s a little boy or girl looking up at the little speck in the sky receding into the distance, asking themselves “I wonder what the world looks like from up there?” and dreaming.

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