One day he just showed up and asked if he could help around with the Cropdusters on the grassy field or in the open hanger. Most of the pilots saw him as a young image of themselves and gave orders to him just like others had done to them. He didn’t take the small handouts offered but just wanted to hang around and help.

During the first summer he was small for his age and had to be told to keep his distance at times from the swinging 450’s big polished steel prop. The belch of blue smoke off the dew soaked ground would cause him to grin and stand at the end of the silver wing during the long run-ups. Many times he held a hot cup of black coffee for his favorite pilot and they talked while the big biplane idled to warm the oil in the large radial engine.

Warm summer nights and the day’s load would be finished and the weary pilots would walk back to the dusty hanger to tally the day’s work. The kid would tag along on the khaki cuffs and listen to the banter that was traded and the respect for flying skills needed in tight treed fields. No one ever gave him a ride home for he lived just beyond the rise at a small ranch house rented by his blue-collar father who no one had ever met.

When winters came he learned to rib-stitch, dope, and hang wings with the cigar-smoking mechanics and learned all he could. He found new black stovetop boots just his size around Christmas setting on his bench by the side of the hangar door, and a Dzus tool engraved with his name slipped down inside that he would carry around everywhere he went. He became an expert at opening inspection panels without leaving a mark.

The kids legs finally reached the rudder pedals and he taxied the Stearmans to the fueling site and topped off the oil. We could hear his young voice call out “Clear prop” and hear the exhaust echo back at the shack on his deft starts. He works for an airline now and has about 5,000 hours flying a Boeing 777, but on his days off he brings his son out at sunset to fly him in the Stearman.