by Jay Wischkaemper
I dont have to go to the airport to pay my hangar rent, but I do. It isnt to save money. The dollar I spend on gas to go is more than the 34-cent postage stamp I would use to mail it, and the time it takes is many times what it would take to address an envelope and walk to the mailbox. I go for two reasons. First of all, its an excuse to go to the airport. Obviously, for an airport bum, any excuse to go to the airport will do. The second reason I go is for the smell.
A gentleman named Earl Horton owns our hangar, and he also owns Horton Aero Service. Horton Aero is a local icon. Its been in business for around 50 years, and is still going strong. The hangar that the business is housed in is older than the business. I dont know the history of the hangar, but its old. It appears to be something that was probably built during the Second World War when Lubbock International Airport was Lubbock Army Air Field, and was used to train glider pilots. Its big, its cavernous, its old, and it smells.
Modern hangars dont smell. If you walk into a modern hangar, you might as well be walking into a department store. They totally lack character. You look around at rust colored steel beams that support metal panels covered with insulation. There are glass doors and nice furniture and air conditioning and heating. There are no cracks in the walls for the winter wind to come through and for the dirt to sift through during a sandstorm. The hangar doors actually meet properly and form a seal. Counter tops are covered with Formica. Things are neat. The floors are clean, and are even sometimes painted white as if to dare someone to spill something. They are sterile, dead, lifeless places. Theres nothing to absorb the wonderful odors of grease and rubber and oil and solvent and chemicals and paint and gasoline and sweat and all the wonderful things that are a part of making airplanes fly. They dont smell like airplanes.
Not so with Earls hangar. Bare steel girders support a tin roof, and the place is full of storage rooms housing 50 years of accumulated junk, all of which has its own unique smell. The outside of the building is corrugated tin, and there is more than adequate ventilation, even in the winter. No one here is concerned about carbon monoxide. Wooden doors open into rooms with linoleum covered floors that support furniture that looks like it came from the dumpster outside a Goodwill store. Pictures of airplanes that have been part of the history of the business over the years line the walls, along with the diplomas and certificates awarded to various mechanics. In some of the pictures, Earl is even young. Dusty rows of shop manuals stand as sentinels in ancient bookcases, most of them probably not used for decades. The can is a one-holer with a little old-fashioned latch. If you need to go and somebody is taking a long time, go to the girls room. Theres only one girl around anyway, and she wont care. Creaky steps go up to the second floor that houses a rarely used office and more junk. The remnant of the smell of thousands of airplanes that have seen the inside of that hangar still lingers. Ive never gone over to a 2X4 and taken a whiff, but if I did, I suspect it would be full of the wonderful aroma that seems to permeate the entire business. Somebody should bottle that smell into a mans cologne. Old Hangar could be the name. This place has character.
What stories the old hangar could tell, with more being made every day. It isnt a historical landmark yet, but it should be. Its like finding an interesting old pilot with a wealth of tall tales. The only difference is the old pilot can tell his stories, and is eager to do so. With the old hangar, you just have to wonder and imagine.
Another reason I go is to check out the planes that are there. It seems that Earl always has a hangar-full, and considering the size of his hangar, thats saying something. It means he either has a lot of work, or hes awfully slow at getting it out. Actually, it is the former. People bring airplanes from far and wide to be worked on at Hortons. This isnt one of those businesses where you cant be on the floor unless accompanied by an employee either. Ill wander through the planes, sticking my nose up to the left cockpit window to see what kind of equipment they have, admiring radio stacks and appreciating my own. If doors are open to cabin class twins, Ill occasionally crawl up to look at the cockpit, wondering what it would be like to have two of those throttles to shove forward. Ill write down tail numbers, looking up later who it is that owns these wonderful machines. Citations will be parked next to Cubs. Dismantled spray-planes litter the floor. Grease and dirt and grime are everywhere. Its wonderful. Any time there is a crash around here, its always brought to Hortons for some reason, so I can snoop around and get the scuttlebutt on what happened. If I happen to run across Mike Horton, who now runs the place after Earls semi-retirement, I can always get an ear-full of the very latest on everything aviation related. Sometimes, paying the hangar rent can take an hour.
But hey, what better way could you spend an hour? Life is short. Smell the hangar.
Jay Wischkaemper was born and raised in the panhandle of Texas, attended college at Lubbock Christian College, and graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in public address and group communication. He entered the life insurance business in 1974, and has been selling life insurance ever since, with the primary company affiliation being MassMutual. Jay is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure.
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