The Liberty Gazette
March 4, 2008
March 4, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Years ago in Dayton, Texas Veda Keck’s son dreamed of flying. Riding in the family car, her child’s eyes widened and fixed upon the ag spray planes along Hwy 90 on the way to Beaumont. Sometimes the drive was perfectly synchronized with airplanes taking off or landing; catching that moment made Patrick Griffitts feel lucky.
Aviation books and magazines were hard to come by. “The Dayton Elementary School library had exactly two books on aviation and I cannot tell you how many times I looked through them. One was Ann Can Fly, about a girl and her father flying in his new Cessna floatplane. The other was a reference book with a lot of pictures,” he says. He still has the book of aviation stories he found for sale in the drug store on Main, and reminisces over the 200 airplane pictures he cut out of papers and magazines and taped to his bedroom wall. “A Houston TV station started its broadcast day with the National Anthem and the Thunderbirds in their F-100's…how many times I got up early to watch that.”
But around here “most things that flew were ag planes and buzzards” so when the Civil Air Patrol formed a cadet program in Liberty, Patrick’s dream came a little closer. Imagine yourself that boy: “We took a field trip to Ellington Air Force Base which was quite busy during those days of the Vietnam War. We washed and waxed an airplane for a lady who was going to be racing it in the Powder Puff Derby and of course the big deal for me was getting a ride in the CAP T-34 based there at Liberty. We were to be there Saturday morning – and I was the only kid who showed up. This was my first time to fly and for a 12-year-old that T-34 with its military paint scheme was a major war bird! And being the only kid there I got a whole hour of flight!”
Mike: One can’t help but be captivated when Patrick shares fond memories of the Liberty Airport. “In those days a lot of working Stearmans were still around. Once I got up close to the white and blue Stearman of Liberty Air Service.” He’d like to find a photo to paint a model of that Stearman.
Working for local rice farmers in his teen years, Patrick says “It was always a thrill for me to work close to the ag planes. Some of those pilots were colorful. I remember one from M&M Air Service who wore a beat up white helmet with air holes drilled in it,” an unusual sight since most weren’t wearing helmets back then.
Bob Jamison, you’ll appreciate this: Patrick remembers fondly your Citabria. Though he never rode in it, it was always a thrill for him to see you come and buzz around the combines and auger carts as they were working. You didn’t know it then, but you were encouraging a future world-class pilot.
Be sure to come back next week so we can tell you how that little kid from Dayton became a globe-trotting pilot. Till then, blue skies.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.