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Chapter 19

Cross the Brazos at Waco

February 1966, and I was not a happy camper. I was Service Manager for David McDavid Motors in Weatherford. The Sales Manager and I had a personality conflict when it came to management styles and when my old boss, M. M. Jackson from Convair came in one morning. He asked if I would be interested in returning to work for him with a promotion to Labor Grade One, "A" Electronics Technician. Convair had landed a huge contract to modify and update the B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber fleet. I would be working on the Doppler Radar, a part of the Inertial Navigation System that supplied ground speed and my favorite package on this great airplane. It meant a raise in pay, I would only be working forty hours per week instead of sixty and best of all, I would be separated from the Sales Manager.

I reported for work a week later and was assigned to the lab where I tested components from the airplanes as they entered the modification phase. It was a bird nest on the ground. Sam Petty was my immediate supervisor. Sam had come up through the ranks. He outlined the tasks and as long as schedule was maintained, he left me alone. Needless to say, I didn't let him down. When the first airplane moved to the flight line I moved with it. I was the only Doppler Technician on three shifts and had all the overtime I wanted. Things could not have been better.

The F-111 needed the run stations the B-58s were using and an old wheel horse named E.E. Finch was given the task of establishing a facility in Waco, Texas at the old Air Force Base. My new supervisor, John Harkins, was selected as General Foreman, first shift, Field Operations. He began a campaign to get me to move to Waco with him as a supervisor. When he finally hit the magic numbers in the pay bracket, I accepted.

We had almost a year before the move and I spent that time writing lesson plans, scrounging parts and ground support equipment for the B-58s. I put all the goodies in the yard behind he main building and started hounding logistics to move it to Waco. John left a week before my scheduled departure and one of his first phone calls expressed concern for the equipment we would need to receive the first airplane. As soon as I hung up, I made another call to logistics. Promises, promises. Friday, my last day in the plant. All the equipment was still where I had left it. I called Wayne Worden, no kin but a friend and traffic manager. I asked him to send enough vehicles and a fork lift to the yard to load all the gear which he did. When he had it loaded I told him to take it to Waco. We almost made it. An alert guard on the gate stopped the driver and wanted to see some paperwork authorizing the move. I received a call from the Logistics Manager, mad as a Jap. I had interrupted his lunch when he was forced to draw up a manifest for the drivers. The trucks made the trip to Waco and returned the same day.

John had told me he had made arrangements for lodging, an apartment. I drove the ninety-six miles from Weatherford to Waco on Saturday morning and found the "apartment." It was one room in an old boarding house for three dollars a day. Operated by two old maid sisters who laid down some rules I could not live with. No smoking, drinking, cooking or guests of the opposite sex unless it was your wife. We were on per diem, actual and reasonable so I started looking right away.

We had a week before the first airplane was due. I was assigned Assistant Foreman, first shift. My counterpart on second shift was a retired Chief Master Sgt., B.F. Thomlinson and a jewel. We found a nice little efficiency apartment a mile from the base. It had two double beds and a couch that folded out for eighty-five dollars a month.

I have to explain something here. Waco was deep in a depression. The Air Force Base was closing and unemployment was high. The apartment manager, a lady, had a tongue that dripped with honey. We signed a lease for a year, gave her a month's rent and a security deposit. Before we signed the lease, I inspected every inch of the apartment for damage and found quite a few discrepancies including the stove and icebox which were filthy. I had her initial each of the items and filed our copy. Good thing. She slow walked us on every item that needed attention so B.F. and I wound up making the repairs. When it came time to negotiate a new lease she doubled the price. We told her no way, that we would find other lodgings and asked for our security deposit. The honey disappeared from her mouth. She claimed we had done irreparable damage to the apartment, had left the stove and icebox filthy, etc. Then I got mad. I told her I knew the eviction laws, that it would take her ninety days to get us out and we would not be paying rent. My copy of the lease and security agreement with her initials was brought out along with receipts that showed where we had made repairs. Then I told her, I would have her apartment complex declared off limits and file a complaint with the Chamber of Commerce who romanced us once a month. Employees made up about ninety percent of her customers and that got her attention.

Our first B-58 arrived Monday, June 5, 1967. The mechanical crew set about pickling engines, purging fuel tanks, readying the aircraft for an extended stay in the modification department. My people removed the electronics packages and moved them in to labs for upgrades and operational checks. Aircraft arrived and left on schedule, things went really well.

Before the first airplane arrived, B.F. "Tommy" Thomlinson and I went looking for an old army buddy of mine, "Sugar" Fuller. We had roomed together the first eight weeks of basic at Fort Bliss and had hoisted a few glasses together. He had told me he visited a lot of places on the Mexia Highway so that is where we started. The first likely looking place was THE LONESTAR TAVERN. Back then, supervisors wore suits. Tommy and I walked in, moseyed over to the bar and ordered a beer from Irene Mueller, the owner. After she served us, I asked if she knew Sugar. She denied any knowledge of anyone named "Sugar." About that time, I smelled steak cooking and asked if we could get a steak sandwich. She told me the cook, her husband Charlie, didn't like to make sandwiches but we could get a chicken fried steak and she would give us enough bread to make a sandwich. We ordered and soon were eating the best chicken fried steak you can imagine. I also saw Irene on the pay phone. She came to the table and asked my name. I told her and she returned to the phone. She came back and said I was wanted on the phone. Strange I thought. I picked up the ear piece, said hello and Sugar Fuller answered! Irene had tracked him down at another watering hole. He told me to hold fast, he would be there in five minutes. We had a grand reunion that lasted quite a while and way too many cold ones. When I asked Irene why she had denied knowing Sugar, she told me she thought we were cops, the way we were dressed.

This started a friendship that lasted to this day. Charlie died a few years ago and Irene sold the tavern. More about the LONESTAR TAVERN next time.

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