I've always enjoyed people's stories. Hearing the challenges and the achievements of their journey getting to where they are in their lives and their careers I find fascinating. The aerial application industry is especially interesting since it is a small community of passionate, hard working people who dare to work in a fairly dangerous job but most often they find it rewarding.
I've known Buck and Patsy Everett for many years. However after my interview today, I learned to appreciate their work even more. Buck has been a man of many talents including farming, bulldozing, draglines to name a few. In the early seventies his family started the "Penrose Grain Co." where they worked with grain elevators in the fall and sold fertilizer and chemical in the spring.
Buck knew his parents wouldn't approve of a career as an ag pilot, so he secretly saved up his money and started taking flying lessons from Frances Morris, a local instructor for Red Burnett's Flying Service in Wynne, AR. He said he was the first student pilot that he knows of where he had to do a "forced landing" because an engine quit on him. He laughed when he spoke as if it was yesterday, "I coasted right up behind Mr. Earl Benny Hamilton who was planting rice and stopped right behind him to his surprise!"
After he received his private license he had to save up his money to get his commercial license which took 2-3 years. He finally got his license and flew his first job working for Ernest (Rat) Reynolds in Morton, AR. As he flew in on his Cessna Ag Truck, his mother (who had just found out about his new career) pleaded "Please don't do this again!". His father never said a word.
Several years later, Buck said that noone wanted to spray 24D in the Woodruff County area. He decided to contract out this work so he bought his first Pawnee. However he needed something bigger in order to also put out fertilizer and later moved to a 600 Thrush.
In the early eighties Buck went through a divorce and eventually married his now wife Patsy. She fit right in as a bookkeeper among many other things. She said "If I'm going to work for you I need an IBM typewriter, a check writer and a good calculator!". They laughed at the first "Victor" computer and dot matrix printer they purchased at a whopping $14,800. I was proud when she talked about how much she loved being able to work from home now with Chem-Man's online program and discussed how much things have changed.
Buck decided to expand and purchased another 500 gallon Thrush. He dedicated one for wet work and the other dry. He also purchased a Wasp (Bell) helicopter which he also learned to fly. However the heli was short lived. When working late one day the sun hit his eyes just right and he couldn't see. He crashed after hitting a highline wire breaking his back, knee and ankle. "That was the last of my helicopter". Ag pilots are known to be tough and he was back flying within a month.
My husband Jerry chimed in about the days of when he was a flagger. I found it curious to hear about the "toilet paper" that was often used. (I'm still not sure what that was about. Lol.)
Of course these were the days before GPS. Buck was proud to say that he had purchased the 1st two Satloc prototypes. He paid $98,000 for the two of them. Patsy and Buck smiled as they recollected the day that they had a big gathering of around 40-50 people at their shop to convince them that GPS systems were an upcoming reality. Satloc representatives were on hand as a jeep accompanied by a GPS system were used to show how they could work. Buck said "Noone believed it would work but after seeing it were convinced." In the early days they worked off of ground transmitters and they put one on top of his hangar. They later moved it to a tower to nearby Vanndale.
He noted how Sam Walton's son John Walton played a big part in the Satloc gps technology. He loved technology and was an investor. He worked with John Goodwin of Custom Air in Casagrande, AZ. Buck and Patsy became friends with John Goodwin and would often fly to AZ in their dual cockpit and work for about a month. Buck said he'd have to fly at night due to the high temperatures and also due to the bees who pollinated the crops during the day.
In 1995 he moved up to two 802 Air Tractors for bigger capacities. This helped his work flow a lot better. However due to a slower economy in 2013 he moved back down to an AT 502 and two AT 402s.
He currently has 3 airplanes and 2 pilots, himself and Pete Van Houten.
His biggest challenges throughout his career has been "Always trying to make ends meet and finding ground crew labor." Five years ago he hit a hawk and it scared him to death. "It hit me right in the shoulder and split the hawk in half. I had to bust out the rest of the windshield and land with a load."
All in all Buck feels he chose the right career. "The industry has been good to me and I've made a good career out of it. I've done my share." He's flown in the Texas boweevil eradication and multiple times in the Iowa corn run. As a flight instructor he's started four ag pilots out. "I've made a lot of friends and I've been able to travel." He figures he'll work another 3 more years before retiring.
As I listened to Buck and Patsy's story, I think how many others can relate. Watching an industry evolve through time can be fascinating as technology advances and other factors face our industry. Through people's stories I'm learning how they've adapted, faced challenges and at the same time enjoyed what they do. Thanks Buck and Patsy for sharing!