The Liberty Gazette
October 26, 2010
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Our recent visit with Benny Rusk netted many interesting chronicles of aviation, farming, friendship, and life. In the past three weeks we’ve shared a few of those, including some of the important history of the Liberty Municipal Airport.
As we followed him down the hallway of his modest farm home “Mr. Benny” pointed out framed photos hanging on the walls. Some were of him in his boxing days when he was a heavy weight contender from 1946-1948. He fought the heavyweight champion contender, Roy Harris, of Cut-N-Shoot, at the 1958 Trinity Valley Exposition. The match ended in a draw.
Others were shots of him with airplanes; trips he’s taken with family; a Curtiss C-46 “Commando,” (once used by the Army Air Corps in WW-II to fly the “Hump” from India into China) that he and Earl Atkins picked up in Alaska and flew back to McAllen; and a Northrop T-38 “Tallon” (a supersonic trainer jet used by the U.S. Air Force) he flew for an hour, as did folk singer Gordon Lightfoot and friend Charles Wiggins. When I commented on how exciting that must have been to fly a T-38, he said the power provided by the jet’s afterburners shot them straight up to 14,000 feet, “and it flies even better upside down!” After his ride in the rocket someone asked him, “So what do you think of the T-38?” Benny responded with the kind of enthusiasm aviators have, “I think every family should have one!”
Mike: Benny has confirmed many of the stories the Mitchells, of M&M Air Service, have told us, including that there were grass strips on nearly every farm in the Tri-County area – 175 of them – but that crop dusting in this area has dwindled. Fewer than 8,000 acres are planted in rice now – “Can’t make a living growing rice anymore,” says Benny, so he runs cattle on his property and laments along with many of us that our country is in a downward spiral. “No one knows how to plant a potato any more, and you can’t raise a farmer in 30 days. We have a great country. Somebody better wake up and save it.”
Aviation has been an enriching part of Benny’s life. Today, alongside his mile-long grass runway, which he says at one time was designated as the auxiliary airport for Liberty, sits the hangar that once housed his Piper Comanche, Cessna 310, and others over the years.
While Earl Atkins is properly credited as the founder of the Liberty Municipal Airport, it didn’t happen without Benny Rusk. In him, we met a hard working humble man who speaks generously of the good in others.
Looking forward to the recently announced plans for repairs and upgrades, approximately $1.6 million to be invested in our 54-year old airport, while Benny may not have realized then how important his little grass strip would become, he is one of the people who made it all possible.
Today, when our area faces a crisis and roads are jammed or closed, help is able to come by air.
When business people need to fly in to Liberty, they have a place to land and contribute to our economy. Benny’s passion and enthusiasm not only sparked so many friends and family members to earn a pilot license, but has become an integral part of the National Transportation System, a gift to the community that will outlast us all and will keep on giving in immeasurable ways.