Adventure in Benson, AZ

Last Friday, my friend Tony finally made good on a promise. For months he’d been telling me about his friend, Charles, who owns a small plane and regularly flies it to Benson for breakfast. Tony kept promising me that on one of these trips, he’d get Charles to take the two of us with him. It finally happened.

I had to be at Tony’s house by 7:15 AM, so I left home about 6:45 – just as the sun was coming over the Rincons:


When I got to Tony’s, Charles was already there, so the three of us piled into the truck and drove to Ryan Field, where Charles hangars his plane. He keeps it in a unit with another plane (the unit and the other plane both belong to yet another friend of Charles’), so before we could go anywhere we had to pull out the other plane, pull out Charles’ plane, and then put the other plane back in the hangar. The planes are *very* cozy when they’re both inside:


After moving everything around appropriately, Charles, Tony and I got in Charles’ plane (a Cessna 180 Skywagon). Tony let me have the right seat on the outbound leg, while he took it for the return flight. We each got our chance to “point and steer” while the plane was flying straight and level – there wasn’t a lot for us to do, but it was fun anyway.


Charles had called ahead to make sure there would be a courtesy vehicle when we arrived, and was assured there would be one there. After we chocked the plane and tied it down, we walked over to the parking lot just in time to see a mini-van leave. Since it had “Benson Airport” on the side, we figured that was the courtesy car. But Charles remembered there was a second one, so we headed for it:


Yup, that’s the one – a rusty dusty early-’60s Chevy pickup. Charles looked for the key (which he said would typically be left on top of the visor – but there wasn’t any visor), but then called the airport guy. Airport guy said we didn’t need a key – just turn the ignition switch. O-o-o-o-kay… We got in and Charles turned the ignition switch. Grind grind grind. Grind grind grind. Hmmm, maybe it needs choked. Pull a likely-looking knob – nope, not that one; it’s the cigarette lighter. Try another – yup, this might be the one. Grind grind grind START! YAY! Now to find reverse! Left and up – nope, that’s first. Left and down – nope, that’s second. Right and up – third. Right and down – fourth. Okay, HARD left and down. BINGO! We’re now backing up. We back out of the parking space and Charles hauls on the Armstrong-power steering to crank it around. He tries first, but discovers that the gear is so low he has to shift to second in about 20 feet. And the clutch chatters – a LOT! So here we go, chattering and lurching out of the parking lot, in a 50-year old truck that doesn’t need an ignition key. And has a broken rear window and a cracked windshield. And no door handle on the passenger door – to open the door, you have to roll down the window and reach outside. But it runs, by golly! [Note to self: Don’t lean on the door – there’s no telling how securely it’s latched. Or *if* it’s latched.]

Our next major challenge is stopping the thing. Fortunately, Charles figured that one out before we really *needed* to stop, but not by much. We never got going too fast, although it felt faster than it was and none of us knew for sure how fast we were going anyway because the speedometer didn’t work.

But we got to the Horseshoe Cafe in Benson safely and had a delicious breakfast. I had a Western omelette with an English muffin (and apple butter) and fresh fruit, and coffee to drink. YUM! Good food and good prices, and a fun atmosphere.

After breakfast we trooped out and found the truck still there (imagine that!). We piled in and drove (chattered, shuddered, gear-ground) back to the airport. All the time we were in the truck, all I could think of was that we should be driving down some dirt road about 70 miles from anywhere, with a bunch of folks in the back and six-guns on our hips. *sigh* Oh, and a couple of times Charles found reverse instead of second when he wanted to pull away from a stop (he never bothered with first gear after the first couple of times because it was so low). Thank goodness there wasn’t any traffic behind us!

We finally arrived back at the Benson Municipal Airport in the proper number of pieces. On the fence separating the parking ramp from the parking lot, there was this:


Naturally, I giggled at that, and then had to laugh at myself when I promptly stumbled over the track for the gate! I started to think maybe I’d be left in Benson that morning, if Tony and Charles were paying any attention.

But no, they let me onto the ramp anyway. While Charles was getting gas for his plane, Tony and I wandered over to a Super-DC3 that’s been parked there for years (I did some research on it when I got home). The tires are rotted, the paint is faded, and the fabric parts of the control surfaces have disintegrated. There’s no way to tell what condition the engines are in, although Tony was able to move one of the props a little bit. There’s a cargo door on the left side of the plane; the weatherstripping is all gone and you can see between the door and the fuselage into the plane and across to the other side of it.


If you’re interested, Google “N34AH” – that’s its registration number. It was originally built in 1942 as a USAAF C-47 and was rebuilt in 1952 as a Navy transport before being sold into the civilian world. It was impounded once in the ’80s because the people flying it were running drugs; for the last 10 years or so it’s been owned by Classic Air Transport – a one-man shop in Las Vegas. I don’t think it’s flown in all that time. I *really* wish I had the money, time, and expertise to put into a project like this, because I would truly love to bring it back to airworthiness and fly it. Maybe the next time I win the Power Ball lottery – it might still be sitting in Benson.

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