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Chapter 48

The Judge

Me Again: No, this is not about my dealings with the court. This is about an airplane we called "The Judge." The specs are at the bottom of this tale.Back in December 1968, I was working for Bill McDavid Pontiac with the title of Owner Relation's Manager. Pretty fancy name for a "GO-FER." The job is not the reason for this story, it just establishes a time line. The characters are Bob Allen, account executive for Channel 11 who came up with the "Wide Track" dog commercials that were so popular in this area. "Crazy Leroy Rogers," Used Car Manager and Ken Yeatts, New Car Manager.

Allen had started taking flying lessons and was pretty close to taking his check ride. After listening to him, I decided right away I wouldn't fly with him unless I was pilot in command but more about that later. We were all in pretty good shape financially, business was good. Pretty soon Allen approached us with the idea of buying an airplane and he knew just the one. I will give him credit here. It was the best used airplane on the market. It had been hangared from the beginning. Twelve hundred and fifty hours total time on the airframe, less than four hundred on a new engine. It was owned by the Service Manager at Frank Kent Cadillac who had failed his physical and needed to sell the airplane.

Allen, Yeatts and I set up an appointment to look at and possibly fly the airplane. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it in the hangar at Luck Field south of Fort Worth. I looked over the paper work, which was immaculate. Satisfied with that, we arranged for an instructor to test hop the little darlin'.

I was in the driver's seat and after a quick check during engine run up, we took the active and I put the airplane through it's paces. It passed everything with flying colors. I even stalled it to check recovery and rigging. That brought a couple of gasps from my soon to be partners.The next few days were spent haggling with the owner while arranging for a loan and insurance. We had all decided to pay the asking price but being in the car business, it just seemed natural to try to sweeten the deal. We agreed to the price of $4200.00 with a fresh annual. I flew the airplane to Red's at Meacham field and a week later received a call that it was ready. I met the A&P on the ramp and noticed the airplane was shining. They had tossed in a polish job with the annual. I asked him if he thought the airplane was safe and he assured me it was. I said, "Okay, hop in the right seat" which he did without any hesitation. We flew around the pattern and he gave me some excellent tips on engine management and recommended some maintenance that should be performed on a regular basis. It was about this time that Pontiac came out with a muscle car, a GTO called "THE JUDGE." I obtained some decals and our Cessna 172 became, "The Judge."

Me and The Judge, 1969
Me and The Judge, 1969
We drew up a pretty elaborate agreement about the airplane. Who would fly it and when. Allen's first soloed in a Cessna 152, but had to make an emergency landing in a field next to the airport. He said the engine quit while he was attempting to make one of three landings. When the instructor went to fly the airplane out, he found the mixture pulled instead of carburetor heat which accounted for the "engine failure." He finally got his Private rating and then took some dual in our 172. His first incident with the 172 occurred one day as he was taxing up to the gas pump. He drove through a pot hole and bent the prop. Of course that grounded the plane for a couple of weeks and cost him dearly for the new prop. His excuse was, "It didn't look that deep!"

In the meantime, when the airplane wasn't grounded for something Allen did, Rogers and Yeatts were taking flying lessons. When Yeatts soloed, he ground looped the airplane on landing. No damage to the plane, but his pride took a beating and he decided not to pursue a flying career. He still wanted to be partners but would have me or Allen fly him when it was his weekend.

Crazy Leroy Rogers was coming along with his lessons. He was also in the horse racing business and asked if I would fly him and his wife to Salisaw, Oklahoma where he had a horse running. With our wives, we left Luck Field bright and early November 9, 1969. When we arrived at Salisaw, I tried to cancel our flight plan but the radio, a Narco Superhomer II, wasn't saying anything and I had to cancel by phone after we landed. We had a ball at the races, won a goodly amount of money on Leroy's horse and started home.

My turn to pull a dumb stunt. When I turned the radio on, it seemed to be working. I tuned a VOR south of Salisaw, climbed above some scattered cumulus and headed home. My sucker holes in the clouds closed up about half way home and the radio quit again. There is some terrain in that part of Oklahoma that can be very unforgiving if you impact it too hard. I knew if I flew southwest at a safe altitude, I would eventually wind up in Texas and that is what happened. Just as we crossed the Red near Denison-Sherman, the clouds opened up. First thing on the list for Monday, get that radio fixed!

In the spring of 1970, the McDavid family was at the ranch looking over a new cutting horse and all taking a turn to see if we could ride him. The ranch has a 3000 foot grass strip with a wind sock with the wind about 15 knots from the south. We looked up to see our Judge trying to land downwind to the north with Allen flying. He sailed off the north end, turned and came back for another try. We ran out on the runway to wave him off and point to the sock which was sticking almost straight out. He got the message and set up for a landing to the south. When he taxied up to the barn, I could have shot him. Inside was the Great Dane, "Wide Track." The dog had been sick and had relieved himself all over the airplane. It was a mess to say the least. Allen was covered in vomit, feces and urine and I was livid. He said, "I just wanted Wide Track to have some fun too." It cost him fifty bucks to have the plane detailed.

The next horse race Leroy and his suffering wife Eva wanted to attend was April 12, 1970. By this time, Leroy had almost enough time for his private check ride and I thought it would be a good chance to fly the cross country. I took the right seat with our wives in the rear and we headed for Lubbock. Our wives had brought along their small bladders and suggested a pit stop. We were pretty close to Abilene Municipal and I knew they had a good coffee shop. During the flight I had pointed out some things to Leroy that he was doing wrong and would cost him on a check ride. I didn't realize he didn't like to be criticized with Eva around. I called Abilene and was instructed and cleared to land on 35 right. We had to follow another airplane and Leroy lined up on 35 left. I pointed this out to him but didn't get a response. The tower called and asked our intentions. I told them 35 right and pointed out the runway to Leroy. When I did, he took his hands off the controls and said, "You fly it. All you have done on this trip is gripe about my flying." The airplane was trimmed up for descent and though I didn't take the wheel, I gently pushed right rudder to line up with the proper runway. My wife slammed me in the back of the head and told me to land, she had to go potty! I made the landing, we had coffee and the pit stop but back outside, Leroy took the right seat. I didn't say anything but I knew trouble was brewing. When we arrived at the race track, Leroy headed for the Jockey Club and Jack Daniels Black. Sure enough by the time we headed back to Fort Worth, he was drunk out of his gourd. I didn't relish the thought of a drunk in the plane but Eva came to the rescue. She put Leroy in the back seat, I climbed as high as I could and the lack of oxygen and JD put him in to a coma. He didn't remember anything about it the next day but said he was through flying. He would stay in the partnership until we broke it up or sold the airplane. Allen and I were the only pilots who used it.

June 7, 1970, I took my son David, daughter Dianne and wife Dawn to Matagorda Island to do some fishing and beach combing. We landed on the shell runway, got our gear. The kids split for the beach while Dawn and I tried our luck in the cut for whatever was running. We caught a few specks, nothing spectacular and I iced them down in the chest we had brought along. On the way home, it was a typical hot Texas day and I climbed above 5000 feet to get some relief and smoother air. Dianne was in the front seat flying. She couldn't see over the instrument panel and relied on the gauges to keep the airplane on course. She was only eight but had the makings of a first class instrument pilot. I noticed the manifold pressure dropping and adjusted the mixture. No gain in pressure or RPM. The throttle was at the stop and the pressure kept dropping. I started looking for an airport and saw College Station off our right wing. I called them and told the tower I wasn't declaring an emergency but wanted them to know I might have to have a runway pretty quick. As we lost power, we also lost altitude. As we descended through 3000 feet the engine picked up and was producing full power again. I orbited around College Station for a few minutes and then headed on home. On the ground, I advised the local A&P who tried to duplicate the problem without any success.

The recommended time between overhaul was fast approaching and we would have to make a 3-4 thousand dollar decision. For some reason I just wasn't comfortable with the Judge. The problem never repeated but in the back of my mind, it was still there. Ken Yeatts called to say he had a buyer as is with the engine run out. The price he quoted paid off the remaining balance on the note and left us with about 500 each. I said, "Sell it!"

Almost a year later, I received a letter from Cessna. It stated that if the airplane was flown above 5000 feet on a hot day, both tanks selected, it would vapor lock and cause loss of power. No kidding. The fix, a decal and fly on either right or left fuel tank during those conditions.

Aircraft Serial Number28219
Aircraft ManufacturerCESSNA
Aircraft TypeFixed wing single engine
Aircraft Model172
Engine ManufacturerCONT MOTOR
Engine TypeReciprocating
Engine Model0-300 SER
Year Manufactured1956

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