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Chapter 10

On the Trail

I was the Buick, Olds, Pontiac, Jeep, GMC and Honda dealer in Weatherford, Texas and I had one customer who was always looking to trade. Cash seldom swapped hands when Johnny appeared on the lot. He was quite a character, had set several speed records on a motorcycle at the Bonneville salt flats. He was also a pilot and we spent almost as much time hangar flying as we did trading.

One day he was on the lot, kicking the tires on a pickup I had traded for. I happened to own it worth the money and it was a good used vehicle. I felt sure he would drive it home and sure enough we started fender swapping. He informed me he didn't have any cash to invest but he did have an airplane, a Luscombe 8C, 1940 Model, N25270. I looked the tail number up for this letter on the Internet and found out the last time it was registered was 1983 and belongs to a flying club in Galveston, Texas.

I had always wanted to own a Luscombe and after much haggling, we traded even Steven, title for title if the airplane was the way he described it. We drove to Fort Worth to a small private field where the airplane was hangared. It did not look like much. A little hangar rash on the right wing tip, the records were a little hazy but I wanted that airplane. We cranked it up and took it around the pattern. The airplane performed flawlessly and after we landed, I told him to fly it to Weatherford and we would complete the paperwork.

I spent the next few days getting to know my new toy. I found out that the original 65 hp engine had been replaced with a 75 hp which did nothing for the performance. It was also a seat of the pants airplane, no electrical system, not even lights and certainly no starter. I also found out the primer had not been connected when the engine change was made. This can be pretty important as it made it very hard to crank when cold. Did not interfere with the way it flew and I made a note to have that corrected by the A&P on the field who was also an old Luscombe man.

The hazy paper work made me take a good look at the physical side of the airplane. All of the inspections had been performed by the same mechanic and some of the entries looked a little suspicious. Just to be on the safe side, the A&P and I pulled all of the inspection plates and performed a new annual. The wing fabric tested in the green and except for a few cosmetic flaws, everything appeared to be in good shape for an airplane this old.

A little Luscombe trivia here. A placard on the instrument panel is usually placed there by the manufacturer to alert pilots to limitations. The Luscombe has a placard stating Carburetor Heat must be applied during takeoff. This is unique to Luscombe since heat usually robs the engine of r.p.m.s thus reducing power. My A&P supplied the answer. The location of the fuel tank is such that if the nose is raised too high, the engine will starve for fuel. It was an inexpensive way to limit the angle of climb on takeoff.

I flew the airplane as much as possible the next few months and liked it more every time. It had a reputation as a "ground loop looking for a place to happen" but I never had any problem as long as I flew the airplane and paid attention. Well, there was this one time.

I wore cowboy boots every day, still do and this day was no different. Taking off to the North, I had to hold left rudder. As I picked up speed, less rudder was needed and when I tried to release the pressure, I found my boot heel was hung in a worn hole in the floorboard. At the last minute, just before I ran off the edge of the runway, I applied even more left rudder and was able to free up my left foot. Thanks to the excellent rudder on this airplane I was able to realign it with the runway and complete the takeoff. I made an exception to the boot rule after this and flew barefoot until the A&P could fashion another floor plate.

Since it was strictly VFR (Visual Flight Rules) I only flew in good weather and most of the time by myself. I like to fly low when possible and this is where the friendly fire comes in. A friend of mine owned a ranch with two large lakes on it, about a hundred surface acres each. Several times I had flown below the level of the dam on one lake, pulled up at the last minute and skimmed the surface. As you can see, I was a frustrated fighter pilot.

I lined up on the dam from about two miles away. As I popped over the top, ducks went everywhere. I looked down to see my friend's father and mother in a small camouflaged boat. They had been stalking the ducks and when I flew over it ruined an hour of work. The man stood up with a twelve gauge shotgun and here he demonstrated a lot of will power. He didn't shoot and I am certainly glad he didn't. Better yet, he didn't recognize me or the airplane.

I flew the airplane one more time. On takeoff, the engine started to backfire. I don't know to this day what prompted me to switch from both to left magneto but when I did, the backfire stopped and I was able to limp around for a landing. The A&P diagnosed it as a bad magneto. Not an expensive repair by today's standards and I told him to order one and install it.

A man had been pestering me to buy the Luscombe from day one. As I started to get in my car he came over to tell me he really wanted the airplane. He offered a lot more money than I thought the airplane was worth. I was in the process of selling the dealership and heading for Las Vegas so I agreed to sell as is, where is. He knew about the magneto problem. I really hated to see that little airplane go. Fun to fly.

An excellent article in this months AOPA Magazine features a Luscombe Silvaire, the Cadillac of Luscombe models. My little bird would appear to be worth about $14-16 thousand dollars. I sold it for $2850.00! A nice profit at the time.

As Paul Harvey is so fond of saying, "And now, for the rest of the story." Cyrano doesn't have a thing on me when it comes to "nosy." I had to find out if my little bird was still around or in some junk heap. Only one airport in Galveston. A phone call to the FBO put me in touch with Ralph Royce, owner of the LONE STAR FLIGHT MUSEUM. To make a long story just a bit longer, he told me the airplane was sitting on the ramp at that moment, fresh annual, needed a paint job, the primer was still disconnected and it had been repaired after a wreck. And I was correct about the value. He said it would fetch between 14 and 16 thousand dollars. Grrrr!

Hope you enjoyed this bit of trivia.

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