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AC & Mary - Remembering Caddo Mills

With the tragic death of Mary and AC Williams a flood of Soaring memories have come over me and I want to share them with you.

Caddo Mills was typical of a glider airport. The town was a very small dusty forgotten kind of place that never changes or grows. The airport was a triangle type built on a huge flat piece of land with few trees in all directions. With the name Southwest Soaring AC and Mary started a small commercial operation that grew into one of the largest in the country.

Caddo became the spot to soar in Eastern Texas. In its day Caddo was right up there with Minden and Elmira. Many regional and National contests were held at Caddo concluding with the 87 Open Nats.

This race was one of the classics of American racing. Butler, Moffet, AJ Smith, Gimmey and Striedieck where the headliners and Hal Lattimore was the CD. This was the place that Hal built his reputation. I remember a pilots meeting in the Caddo hangar with rain pounding the tin roof and Hall saying that grid time was noon. You can imagine the comments as the meeting came to an end. Like some kind of black magic an hour later the rain had stopped and the first shards of sun were on the runway. By grid time the sky was clear and the first small Cu was forming. The day turned out to be one of the best of the contest.

Mary ruled the airport from her desk in front of huge windows that looked out over the whole airport. Mary had a gruff halting voice that could sound like the voice of God when it came over the intercom. There was no doubt who was in charge as she directed all activities from that desk.

One morning I was running back and forth from the gate to the hangar getting ready for a contest day when over the laud speaker came, "Charlie Spratt come to the office." It sounded like may days in high school when I got called to the principal's office. I look around and there are "Triscits" all over the floor and in every corner. Mary informs me that the kid I have traveling with me has done this as he was sleeping in the air conditioned office and I am told in no uncertain terms that Mary will not tolerate this.

I go and find the kid and after much hemming and hawing he tells me that he saw a mouse running around the office and we trying to catch it using the box of Triscits. We go back to the office and face Mary's wrath. She tells the kid that he as to clean up the office and he cannot sleep on the airport that night. It was a strange punishment but we agreed and after the office was cleaned up we found the closest place not on the airport and for the first time the kid set up his tent and sleeping bag. after a night in the heat with the chiggers, fleas, and skeeters may ward was ready to do anything to get back into that air-conditioned office. Mary had a slave if she wanted it for rest of the contest and every once in a while she would bark an order and this kid would jump to.

Just before the contest AC and Mary had a new septic tank installed in the yard in front of the office. Mary quickly realized that with the ground soft that someone could get stuck. She warned everyone who showed up to stay away from the newly installed tank.

Finally the night came when Hal was to hold the mandatory pilots meeting. All was going well when we saw Vic Peres sneak in the back door. He had just shown up and wanted to get to the meeting. We are all listening to Hal lay down the law when this terrible odor came over all of us. What Vic had done was show up and without any direction parked his motor home right over that new tank. We all see the back of wheels. This is the only time in all the years I knew Mary that I heard her curse.

Whith Mary in the office AC was in charge of everything else. AC was a lanky fellow with a cigar in his mouth, a limp from being a speed skater in his yourth and a wondering eye that I never knew how he got. AC worked for E Systems and was in charge of putting all the electronics in the first modern Air Force One a Boeing 707. AC would work a full day ad "E" then come to the gliderport and catch up on all the things needed to be done.

One day I was driving toward Caddo for another contest. As I drove down the Interstate I could see way off in the distance a pwere plane slowly flying around and around. As I drove up on the airport a Super Cub was above the airport with a real problem. The right wheel was bent back. AC was pacing back and forth in front of the hangar doors mumbling and chomping his cigar. Seems one of the guys practicing for the contest had landed out. He had landed in a field that had been towed out of many times so AC sent the Super Cub to fetch the landed glider. All went well until the take off. Unknown to anybody ther was a 55-gallon metal drum standing up in the weeds at the edge of the field. The tow pilot hit that drum with the right wheel. The tow went fine but after release the tow pilot called to alert AC of the problem. Ac told him to burn off as much fuel as possible and then land. Everyone on the airport was watching as the Cub came in for the landing. AC on the radio says, "Cut the engine and level the prop" which the pilot does. Slowly he glides in and with the plane as slow as it will fly the left wheel touches, the speed drops off and the drops to the right. It did a half spin and came to a stop. We all rushed out to see the damage. There was non other than the broken gear and after a night of hard work the Cub was in the line-up the next day.

Caddo is the sight of all the Dick Johnson flight tests. Many an early morning was spent towing Dick to amazing heights with tuffs on the wings of some glider. Caddo is also where Sherman Griffith got his Soaring education. Many a day when no one else would consider going across country with Dick and Sherman would load up the Nimbus and 604 and head out. Sherman was very young when Dick took him under his wing. The education lead to two National Championships for Sherm.

There are so many memories of Caddo Mills and Mary and AC that I will only touch on some.

AC called me in the winter of 72 and asked me to deliver 1-26s for him. He had a horse trailer that he had converted to a glider hauler. It would carry six unassembled 1-26s and with AC the largest Switzer dealer I had a real job. He sent me to Elmira where I picked up 6 gliders. My first drop was in Maine and my last was Ellsinore California. For a kid new to the American road it was a great adventure.

Caddo Mills was the sight of the greatest tow-plane contest ever. Leo Saureman and Hugh Grandstaff started putting money on who could land in the shortest distance. Leo was flying a Cessna 180 and Hugh was in a TSA Bird Dog. With gate kids as judges the two went at it. Never have I seen towplanes fly so slowly. Both these guys were very talented and the rollouts got shorter and shorter. Leo did a touch and stop in 32 feet and Hugh beat him by 8 feet. Both planes looked like they were hovering as they touched down.

Caddo is the sight of Dan Striedieck's change in thinking about Soaring. Dan was 12 when he went on the road with me. He was sour on Soaring because he felt he could never come up to his uncle. I finally convinced him to take a ride with Robert Williams AC's son. Soon they were flying the 2-33 twice a day as Dan traded flying for work. I knew Dan was close to solo when I saw him perform perfect rope breaks. Today Dan is a Lt. Col. in the US Air Force flying F-16's.

At one of the regional contests AC decided to buy one of those big round metal tubs that ranchers use to water cattle. He filled it with water and soon every kid on the airport was in that tub. During the contest we had a downpurt that litterly flooded the whole airport. As soon as the rain and thunder stopped those kids were out there turning the tub over and dumping the water out of it. With several kids in the tub and a couple acting as the motor they pushed that tub full of kids all over the airport.

Behind the hangar were two old mobile homes that AC bought at auction to use as bunk houses for all the folks who come to fly in the famous Caddo Mills Soaring weather. Of course all the young folks also used them for other purposes at times. Soon AC's son Robert had moved into one of the homes and now we had a place to "party" when all the adults were tight in their beds. We were in the middle of a regional when Robert declared a party nite. We gathered quietly and when the last contestant drove off the airport the party started. Because Caddo County was under heavy "blue laws" beer came at a premium because you had to drive so far to get it. We had all chipped in and six cases of brew were in hand. This along with a few "Hollywood cigarettes", were all the ingredients we needed for a real night of airport fun.

"BOOM, BOOM, BOOM" came the knock on the locked door of the mobile home. Couples smooching on the couch looked up in real surprise. Hands cupped those "Hollywood joints" and lots of beer cans hit the table. It is Maylon Weir looking for his oldest son John Maylon. The whole place is silent except for the record playing the Stones "Can't get no satisfaction." Again "BOOM, BOOM, BOOM," and by some agreed upon code of silence no one answered or spoke a word. We wait a few minutes and someone braves looking out. No one in sight is the report and a huge sigh of relief is heard throughout the house. We are getting back to the party when the lights and music go out. Maylon has found the switch to the house and pulled it. "That's is John Maylon shoulted and in a panic headed for the back door to escape the wrath of his father. Unknown to John Maylon there were not stairs and it was a five-foot drop to the ground. Not ony that bu a young couple had set up their tent at the door because we had agreed to let them use the bathroom. John Maylong jumps out of the mobile home right into the mist of that young couple. Ater the confusion and screaming cam to an end John Maylon disappeared into the dark.

Now comes another knock at the door and because I am the oldest and most sober I am assigned to open the door. Maylon comes in like a bull moose in heat. He snorts and stomps around demanding that John Maylon show himself. I explain trhat he is not here and we have not seen him all night. Maylon looked at me and said one word, "liar." He started going through the bedrooms opening closets looking for John. In the back bedroom he jerks open the closet door and there is Robert and his girlfriend standing in the closet in the dark. Robert has on a pair of boxers and she is in a bra and panties. Maylon asked "where is John," all Robert could say was, "Sir he is not in here with us." I have no idea how Joh explained himself but I can tell you that this was the quickest ends to a party I have ever attended.

Through all these adventures Mary and AC were the rocks that held Caddo Mills together. Since AC won the 1-26 Championship it had been both their dream to own and operate a Soaring site. In its golden age there were fifty gliders based on the field and on any good weekend a swarm of gliders could be seen above Caddo as Mary directed the launch and landings from her place in the office.AC was everywhere doing everything from checking ropes to gassing towplanes.

Time and poor health finally ended the dream. AC was the first to give up but Mary held on for another couple of years before she too quit coming to the airport. Finally the place was bought by Red Smith who still runs Southwest Soaring today. The door to their home was always open to me as I traveled the circuit or towed gliers. After thundering down the Interstate for a couple of weeks it was always a place to rest up and eat some of Mary's home cooking. We became great friends and stayed in touch often on the phone. I spoke with AC and robert two days before the accident.

A door in my soaring life has been slammed shut. Mary and AC were true givers to the sport and the kind of icons we can be proud of . For so many years they lived their dream and soaring is much better off because of it. I know that many in soairng never had a chance to meet these two and their dream faded as the years went by. For all of us who knew them we are better for it. People like AC and Mary are the reason soaring is the sport it is.

Posted: 2/1/2006

Final Glide 

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