Feeding cattle hay by air risky adventure

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

The following story was told to Don McAlavy by Mark Hall, a commercial pilot who grew up in Clovis.

“In the winter of 1958-59, my dad, L. S. (Bud) Hall,” said Mark Hall “was a partner with Lee Ross and George Hammond in the first aircraft dealership at the new Clovis Municipal Airport. Skyline Aviation was a Cessna dealership. My dad ran the day-to-day operations.

“They had an instructor named Ray Jones. My dad did the charter flights, the pick up and delivery of aircraft. He picked up their first new Cessna 150 trainer at the factory in Wichita on Feb 18, 1959.

“At the time, Lee Ross had a ranch airplane — a Cessna 195 to haul cargo. It was a monster with a 300 HP Jacobs radial engine. George had a new Cessna Skylane for his farming operations.

“That was the worst winter I can remember in Clovis. We lived on Gidding, and I remember the snowdrifts so high, I could literally walk over the tops of houses.

“One day Lee Ross flew to town from the ranch — he couldn’t make it to town in his pickup. He told my dad he could not get out to his pastures to feed the cattle.

“So, they came up with the brilliant idea to load hay bales in that Cessna 195, fly over the cattle, and drop the hay out to them. This we did.

“Lee Ross flew the airplane — he was also the bombardier, and my dad and I got in the back with the hay bales. As we neared the ranch, we opened the door and waited for the signal from Lee Ross. At about 50 feet above the ground, Lee Ross said, ‘Now!’

“We kicked that first bale out, and that plane went straight up with such force, it buckled our knees and squatted us both down on the floor. It was a wonder we didn’t go out the door with the hay bale.

“After that, I held on to a seatbelt when we kicked the bales out. That belt would’ve reached about three feet out the door, but at least I had something to hang on to. Lee Ross learned to compensate for the sudden weight loss, and after many trips to the barn and back, we got the cattle fed. Mission accomplished!

“I must say that was the wildest ride in an airplane I ever had. Lee Ross must’ve had his spurs on that day. I will never forget that flight (I bet the cows never forgot it, either!)
“My dad started flying in the 1950s in Portales. His dad, M. K. Hall, had a large trucking company hauling produce from California to Oklahoma City. Many times trucks broke down, often in the middle of nowhere. Roadside repair ‘bandits’ charge outrageous fees.

“Eventually, the Halls found they could pay for an airplane by flying their own mechanics and tools to a truck and do their own repairs.

“These were the barnstorming days, with very little car traffic, and my dad could usually land on the hiway or nearby pasture and taxi right up to the truck. The last airplane they had was a twin Bonanza — a big airplane that was fast, hauled a lot of weight, and was fairly short-field capable.

“My dad went on to become a very competent and well-known pilot in Clovis. He was a free-lance pilot the rest of his life and flew for several companies in town, including Worley Mills, Cal Jordan Implements, and others. He also flew for James Foster, who owned a fishing resort in El Fuerte, Mexico and made many fishing excursions to Canada with friends. Pilots were always asking him to fly with them so they could learn new techniques (or, to save their rears in instrument conditions.) Many aircraft owners in town trusted him with their airplanes (and employees?) They had a lot of fun.

“Dad’s flying time was reduced when he went to work for Goodman Office Supply, although he would still go every time he had a chance. He later purchased the store when “Goody” Goodman retired.

“I spent many quality-time hours with my dad in airplanes. I believe the last time we flew together was in 1987. He was a free-lance pilot until he died in 1991. I am sure there are many pilots in Clovis that remember my father.

“In the early 70s, I became a commercial pilot with an instrument rating. I flew some of the same airplanes my dad flew (in his place) when he could not get loose to go. There were a lot of private airplanes in Clovis back then. It was just a lifestyle — and a lot of experiences.”