The Liberty Gazette
December 9, 2008
December 9, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: Enjoyed a visit with Charles Wiggins over Thanksgiving weekend and heard some old Liberty flying stories we think need telling.
Born in Tomball, Charles’ earliest memory of the notion of flight was seeing a bi-plane fly low over their house, recalling, “I said I’d like to fly that, even before I knew anything about airplanes.” Just a little tyke when his family returned to Liberty, from time to time he would think of that bi-plane. “I didn’t have any money then,” he says, “but when I was a teen-ager I scraped together what I could to get some flying lessons.” He soloed in a J3 Cub, but couldn’t afford to finish training before college at Sam Houston, and then being drafted by the Army.
But by the mid-1960’s Charles was in a position to pick up where he had left off. The Wiggins Grocery business he and his brother acquired from their parents was doing well, “Thanks in large part,” says Charles, “to Wiley Smith,” who started what is now the Gazette. “Wiley gave us the first couple of full page ads and once we started advertising our little neighborhood store grew and grew. It made such a difference in our business that soon we were knocking out walls and enlarging.”
An Aeronca Chief was his first of “probably half a dozen airplanes” over a 20-year period, and in their advertising Charles and his brother would include an invitation to fly. “I loved sharing the adventure and wonder of flight with people, so we’d put in our ads: ‘Come fly with us!’”
About that same time Earl Atkins was promoting aviation and by then Charles could afford it. Instructing in a Cessna 150, Mr. Frazier, who crop-dusted for Earl, took Charles on as a student. “You know, speaking of Earl Atkins,” Charles offered, “Earl had been a WWII instructor pilot and he was teaching Patti to fly. He asked if he could use my Citabria for her to learn on. The next thing I knew, I hear Patti’s flying a Lockheed Constellation across the country!”
Mike: That Citabria had a 150 HP engine, inverted fuel system and smoke system, and, as Charles said, “It’s really good for aerobatic maneuvers because you can fly away and take a look at what you did by checking the smoke.” Reminiscing with pilots from this area, inevitably the name McNair comes up. Charles ate many Sunday morning breakfasts at the McNair’s in Dayton before taking Craig up in the Citabria. He says Mark, who was in the Air Force Academy at the time, would come in and show them some new maneuvers. They’d practice until he came back again and showed them more. “I told Craig, on the 75th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, ‘We have to do something to celebrate.’” Imagine the daring duo in the Citabria. “We were going to celebrate by flying inverted as long as we could,” he laughs. But the Citabria inverted tank holds about a gallon or so of fuel, and they soon found out, “It was longer than I cared to stay inverted.”
Charles says his most interesting story is about finding a disassembled PT-22 in a widow’s garage in Vidor. We’ll give you that one next week. Till then, blue skies.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.