Now Comes Theodora

San Diego to Lock Haven, 2003

Len Buckel at Lock Haven
Two years after the Sentimental Journey chronicled here, Len Buckel of San Diego flew across the country for the 2005 fest, where Leah Jones snapped this photo

by Len Buckel

I normally go to the Sentimental Journey every other year. This was my year to go. This year will have the worst weather that I have seen on these trips since 1986. In addition to the clouds and rain, we will be on the wrong sides of the high and low pressure areas for most of this trip.  

East one: Gillespie to Deming

I left Gillespie Field on Wednesday, June 11th. My first fuel stop was at Tucson-Ryan AZ airport. (If I don´t have a head wind, I can make it there. If I have a head wind, I have to stop at Casa Grande, AZ to refuel.) The leg to Ryan took 4.18 on the tachometer. From Ryan to Deming NM took 2.30 on the tachometer. I usually stop for the night at Deming. The FBO will put the Cub in a hangar and the motels are inexpensive. This only made for 6.48 hours on the tachometer today but I plan on making it up tomorrow. Many times we encounter isolated thunderstorms between Tucson and Deming, but none this time.

I have been asked how high I must go on this trip and I had never really paid attention to that until a couple of years ago when I decided to get the answer. There is a ridge between Tucson and Deming where I gradually climb to 9,500 feet to clear it. The climb is so gradual that I had never been aware of how high I had went in the past. This year as I approached this ridge, I picked up an updraft and let it go up to 11,900. I had been doing a ground speed of 104 MPH at 9,500. From here, I started a gradual descent for Deming and indicated a ground speed of 111 MPH for most of the way.

East two: Deming to Cleburne

On Thursday, June 12th, I flew from Deming to Sweetwater TX adding 4.77 hours to the tachometer. On the leg, 68 miles west of the Newman VOR, I was at 6800 feet and crossing the ground at 93 MPH. I went to 7,500 feet and was doing 99 MPH.  After turning towards the south at the VOR I started slowing down. I was soon doing a ground speed between 62 and 65 MPH. Sweetwater was where they trained the WASPS during WWII. A nice airport with not much traffic. From Sweetwater, I went to Cleburne TX where I was stopped by HUGE thunderstorms. They were coming from the northwest and it looked like they were going right through the Dallas- Ft. Worth area. The Sweetwater-Cleburne leg only put 2.09 on the tachometer. I got a motel, as it was apparent that I couldn´t go any further this day. Only a total of 6.86 added to the tachometer today.

East three: Cleburne to Butler

On Friday, June 13th, I had to wait until about 10:30 to leave the Cleburne airport. The tail end of last night´s thunderstorm was still working over the area where I had to go. My next waypoint was the Terrell, TX airport so I couldn´t leave until the thunderstorm had cleared it. I got to Terrell and turned north as I was going to stop in Missouri to visit my sister and the daughters of my deceased sister. My first fuel stop was at Claremore, OK, the home of the Will Rogers Museum. This leg added 4.55 to the tachometer. The next leg took me to Butler MO adding 2.24 to the tachometer. Today´s total was 6.79.

East four: lay-by

I visited with relatives on Saturday, June 14th. This was probably the only clear day that I saw after leaving Cleburne, TX.

East five: Butler to Huntingburg

I left Butler MO on Sunday, June 15th and had only gone a short distance when I encountered weather. At 3500 feet I was indicating a ground speed between 61 and 64 MPH. I had to stay low and finished this leg at Mt. Vernon, IL adding 4.47 hours to the tachometer. I refueled and continued east getting as far as Huntingburg IN before being stopped by weather. Out of Mt. Vernon, I was doing 74 MPH at 1500 feet.  This leg added 1.52 to the tachometer. Only 5.99 hours this day. I refueled and tied down the Cub.

This is not my kind of airport. Most of the planes here are corporate type jets. I needed an oil change, but true to form at this type airport, I cannot change my oil but they would do it for me the next day. I said, No thanks. They loaned me a crew car and I gathered up my dirty laundry and took it with me. I checked motels until I found one with coin operated machines. I stayed there and did my laundry after eating supper at the restaurant next door. On these trips, I only eat the evening meal. This does make it bad if stopped at night at an airport without transportation. In the past I have had two soft drinks for supper on more than one occasion.

During this portion of the trip there was a weather system that appeared stalled over most of the central and eastern part of the country. It seemed to just sit in place and rain.

Flying Tigers

East six: Huntingburg to Lock Haven

The next morning, Monday, June 16th, I again headed east. My original intention when leaving Missouri was to go east until I came to a point on my normal route to Lock Haven. This was going to be at Falmouth, KY, but it was raining so hard and the ceilings were so low that I got on top and headed more to the north as it was supposed to be open in that direction. I had Flight Watch dialed in and was hearing pilots being told that numerous airports in Kentucky and vicinity were closed because of "standing water." I was trying to get to Circleville OH after it became clear that I couldn´t get to Falmouth. Circleville was being reported as clear. As I continued on, the clouds under me started getting higher. I was soon to 11,500. I carry enough fuel that I can usually get to better conditions. After a while it became apparent that the way the clouds were getting higher, it wasn´t going to get better.

I finally called Flight Watch, told them where I was, and asked for the nearest “clear airport’. It was north of Cincinnati. I was south of Cincinnati and had to cross the Cincinnati TCA to get to it. The top of the TCA is 10,000 feet but I was that high already. I started over at 10,500 trying to stay to the east as much as possible to stay away from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport. I was looking down and occasionally seeing an airliner coming out of the clouds and wishing that I had a transponder. Fortunately none were coming my way. They came out several miles west of me. Before I got to the broken area, I had again been to 11,500 on the altimeter. I don´t know what the density altitude was, but the Cub wasn´t climbing that well there.

After getting north of Cincinnati, I came to broken areas and got down lower. I never got to the airport that Flight Watch had advised as open as there was another open to the east. I had plenty of fuel so I continued on to Middletown, OH. I had 2.92 on the tachometer for this leg. There were about six DC-3s sitting in front of the main hangar here. I asked the line boy if they flew them. He said "every day." I asked what they hauled and he said automotive parts. I left Middletown and continued under the clouds. The ceiling wasn´t very high but I had enough for clearance above me and was about 200 feet above any tower or obstruction listed on the Sectional. I flew this way for a while and then the ceiling got higher and I was in a light rain. As I continued on the ceilings started to get lower. Finally the clouds were on the tops of the ridges and the valleys were so narrow that I didn´t want to fly in them. I picked an airport just a little bit to the left of course and headed for it. I checked the Airport Guide and it is listed as “unattended’. Well, no supper tonight. I hope that I can tape up all the holes to keep the mosquitoes out! I got to the airport, announced “down wind’, “base’, and just as I was about to turn final, I saw a light spot under the overcast.

I aborted the landing and headed for the light spot. It led to a larger valley across the next ridge where the ceiling was much higher. I then went direct to Washington, PA where we have friends, made during these trips. Tachometer time on this leg was 3.27.

I refueled and took off on the last leg to Lock Haven. I leave and fly south of Pittsburgh to clear its TCA, then angle up over Indiana, PA.  Indiana, PA is the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart, who owned a J-3 Cub for a long period of time. The airport there is named after him. We landed there in 1986 with a driving rainstorm and a very low ceiling!  From there we go to Clearfield, PA and then to Lock Haven. The tachometer time on this leg was 2.53 hours. The tachometer time today was 8.69 hours. The total time from Gillespie to Lock Haven was 34.81 hours tachometer time.

Sentimental Journey

I was there a day earlier than usual and am the first plane to arrive this year. I usually pull up to a friend´s hangar and change my oil if it is needed. It was needed, as I was almost 10 hours overdue. My friend wasn´t at his hangar so I went down to the tie down area and screwed in my "dog stakes." There has been a lot of rain and the tie downs went down into the sod very well. My friend found me a little later and I learned that he had been at a meeting for the volunteers. The engine had cooled down, so we decided that I would change the oil the next morning after flying the Cub around the patch. I called the motel where I had reservations and got an answering machine. I wanted to see if I could get in a day early. Everyone knows everyone else in these small towns and someone said that the motel´s owner´s grandson was in the hospital so that was probably where she was. My friend took me home and put me up for the night. I told him that I had to buy supper for the three of us if I were going to stay with him. Lock Haven (actually Mill Hall) prices are so reasonable that all three of us ate supper for less than $15.00. And it wasn´t fast food hamburgers. I couldn´t believe it!

The next morning I stopped at "Hangar 1" and bought the oil to do the change. I flew the Cub around the patch to warm up the oil and changed it....

Tuesday, June 17th through Saturday, June 21st was spent renewing old acquaintances, meeting new people and “hangar flying’. I would watch the weather channel each evening before going to bed. The forecast was always the same. Cloudy with a 30% chance of rain. Out here, 30% means NO RAIN to me. There, 30% had it raining every day. It has rained during some of my other visits to this Fly In, but it had always been hot and muggy. This year, it was cold. I had debated if I should take a sweatshirt. I did and next time I will take a jacket. Usually there is a grass strip tour every evening. We take off from Lock Haven and visit many of the numerous grass strips that are nearby. One evening each year, we fly to a dairy farmer´s ranch where he provides supper for all. It rained every day this year and we did not do any of the evening tours. The day of the supper flight, it looked like we might be able to fly there. The dairy is located about two valleys away from Lock Haven and we must make sure that we will be able to return. At the last minute, things started to deteriorate and we decided not to fly. Another thing to ponder was the question of how soft the grass strip would be. He rolls it, but no one had landed on it for several weeks and there had been a lot of rain since then. A large crowd drove over but they had all left before we decided not to fly. There is a different type of band each night during the Fly In. They have a German Ompahpah band one night, a Dixieland band one night, a Swing band one night and so on. We stayed and enjoyed the music and the crowd there.

During the first days of the Fly In we were joined by Keith and Molly Littlefield and sons Ben and Sam. Many of you know Molly as Molly Flanagan who lived in Merced. Since marrying Keith, she has moved to Kent, WA where they reside in an airport community. They have two small boys. Keith has Piper PA-18-95 Super Cub, Serial Number 4. He flew this with one of the boys and Molly brought her Cessna 140 with the other boy. We met Keith in Lock Haven in 1992 and it seems like we have known Molly forever. Molly was one of Deb Schmidt´s best friends. Keith won the Best Super Cub award, and Molly´s Cessna 140 won the best in her class. Molly is a 757/767 Captain for United and Keith is a 737 Captain for Alaska. If you ask the boys what their parents fly, they will say “Daddy flies the little jets and Mom flies the big jets’  

The Only War We've Got

West one: Lock Haven to Bowling Green

The next morning after the awards banquet, Sunday, June 22nd, I left for home. I had to wait a while before leaving for it to clear up a little and get a better ceiling. My first landing was at Circleville, OH. It put 4.28 on the tachometer. From there I went to Bowling Green KY with 3.31 hours added to the tachometer. Only put a total of 7.59 hours on the tachometer today. Now I have headwinds from the other direction and did not make very good time today. The FBO here will take you to a motel and pick you up at any time that you specify.

West two: Bowling Green to Sweetwater

Monday, June 23rd found me heading for Stuttgart, AR. I land there and refuel after putting 4.46 hours on the tachometer. It was noon, and the FBO insisted that I share some hot dogs that he was grilling. This airport is a WWII facility where they conducted training for glider pilots. Nice big runways with very little traffic at any time that I have been here. It has been real hazy and visibility has not been very good. I still am not making very good ground speed. The next leg was to Terrell, TX where I stopped for fuel with another 3.90 hours added to the tachometer. The last leg of the day was to Sweetwater, TX where I had added another 3.08 hours to the tachometer reading. Total tachometer time today was 11.44 hours. East of Sweetwater, I started to get a little better ground speed. I was up to 53 MPH!

West three: Sweetwater to Casa Grande

Tuesday, June 24 found me headed for Pecos. TX where I stopped and refueled with an additional 2.93 added to the tachometer. Still have the headwinds and am not making very good ground speed. When I left Sweetwater, I had about a 40 degree crab to the left and my ground speed was 53 MPH. At 49 miles from Big Spring, TX I had a 49 MPH ground speed that soon was back to 53 MPH when 34 miles from Big Spring. At 25 miles from Big Spring, I came to a low broken layer of clouds and went on top. 33 miles east of Midland, I had a 45 MPH ground speed. At 29 miles, I was down to 35 MPH. TERRIBLE. If I didn´t have the big tanks, I would have to wait out the winds.

At 10 miles from Midland, I was at 3500 feet and was getting a ground speed of between 86 and 90 MPH. It was a little rough, but worth it. 13 miles east of Pecos, I had a ground speed of 75 MPH. As I cross the Rio Grande River Valley, there are large clouds of blowing dust on the east side of the valley. I get to Deming, NM with an additional 4.23 hours added to the tachometer. I often stop overnight at Deming, but it is too early in the day for that this trip. The FBO at Deming remarked that Old Guy from California in a Super Cub had stopped in past years with a young woman doing the flying. I asked if hadn´t it been a J-3 and wasn´t her name Evie? He said yes. He remembered her name. It was Evie and I!  OLD GUY? He is right!

Ninety-four miles east of the Cochise VOR my ground speed was 51 MPH. 58 miles east of Tucson-Ryan, it was 50 MPH. I got to Tucson-Ryan, AZ, in 3.70 hours. I refueled and planned on spending the night there as the Flight Guide had a reference for a motel that would pick up. That didn´t work out and I looked to see if Casa Grande had a motel listed that would pick up. It did, so I untied the Cub and headed for Casa Grande. It was getting late enough that I was starting to worry about sundown. I went to Casa Grande, running 2300 rpm all the way and doing 64 miles per hour over the ground! I got to Casa Grande and tied down. This put another 1.0 hour on the tachometer for this 65-mile leg.

I found telephone numbers for the motel and after hours fuel service posted at the FBO. The trouble was that I could not find a telephone. I have been to too many airports where the telephone is inside the terminal building and the building is locked up after business hours. This was disgusting! I saw a man at the fuel pumps and asked him if he knew of a telephone on the airport. He said that there had been one on the west end of the old terminal building but he didn´t know if it was still there. I got into his pickup and we drove to the old building. I was happy to see that the telephone was still there. I called and the motel said that someone would be right out. Total tachometer time for today was 12.46 hours.

West four: Casa Grande to Gillespie

The next morning, Wednesday, June 25th, I topped off my fuel before leaving Casa Grande. On every trip that I have made east, either in my Cessna 180 or my J3 Cub, I have always landed in the Imperial Valley on the return trip in order to put in some fuel and KNOW that I have enough to reach Gillespie safely. I hate having to climb out of the Valley with the ground temperatures always over 100 degrees. More that once, I have had to “step climb’ to keep the oil temperatures within limits. If I am lucky with the winds today, maybe I won´t have to land at Imperial. I leave Casa Grande, and immediately notice that the headwind is gone! There appears to be a no wind condition. This is the first time on the return trip that I see an 80-MPH ground speed. We must have a little tail wind! Towards the end of the leg we even got to see high 90´s for a short time. I completed this last leg with an additional time of 3.67 hours on the tachometer. The total tachometer time for the trip home was 35.16 hours.

Flying the long hours on Monday and Tuesday on the return home really tired me out. I got plenty of sleep on those nights, but I guess that flying with the poor visibility was just gotten to me. When I got home, it was about three days before I recovered. I don´t drink very much liquid during these flights so dehydration may have been a big part of the problem.

Summing up

The total tachometer time for the round trip was 69.97 hours. The least tachometer time that I ever had for one of these trips was 62.5 in 1995 and the most was 80.7 in 1986.      

I used 376.37 gallons of fuel for a total cost of $909.72. The least that I paid for fuel was $2.05 per gallon at Terrell, Texas and the most was $2.82 per gallon at Mt. Vernon, IL. The fuel price per gallon for the trip averaged $2.41 per gallon.

I used just over a quart of TCP fuel additive (thanks to Tom Valenzia, who loaned me a gallon)

I changed oil two times. Both times I had more time on the oil that I like, but I was at airports where I couldn´t change my own oil. It looks like I added 6 quarts of oil during the trip besides the oil used for the oil changes.

Motel costs run from $38.30 to $68.45 on the road. The motel total costs were $536.12

Additional cost was an update card for my GPS that cost $193.15 and a set of Sectional Charts for the trip at a cost in excess of a $100.00. Thanks to Bill and Joan Loob for the loan of the Volume II Central and Volume III Eastern States Airport Guides. This saved me quite a bit of money.  

I only go to two Fly Ins. One is the West Coast Cub Fly In every year and the other is “Sentimental Journey’ every other year. This was my ninth trip to “Sentimental Journey’. I hope to do it again in two years. I hope that the next time will be easier. It would be nice to be in the right position in relation to the high and low pressure areas and get some good tail winds.  

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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