SHORT FINAL By DEB McFARLAND
Every now and then magic happens. It can happen in a certain time, at a certain place or with certain people.
Mine came on a Saturday with a group of pilots from a friendly country airport called Jackson County in northeast Georgia. This particular day and time, these folks shared with me a wonderful place called Hudson River Landing. This little slice of aviation heaven is the home of Gene Linville, a couple of airplanes and 2,000 feet of sweet Georgia grass.
Linville wasn’t home when this motley group of taildraggers and tri-gears came visiting, but from what I understand, this is not unusual. I learned this circumstance from Linville himself in one of the most endearing pieces of correspondence I’ve received since I began writing professionally in 1995.
“Bob left a message on my phone that I had five taildraggers and one nosewheel at my place,” the message began. “No big deal as this happens several times a week now, then I find out you were here. Oh no, my big chance to meet a writer and I missed it.”
The Jackson County boys were flying two Citabrias, a Champ, a Chief and a Piper Cherokee. I rounded out the group in my Luscombe 8E. Three landed in front of me and two were behind. The field was one-way-in and one-way-out due to sloping. I’m used to rolling strips — and 2,000 feet with a good approach is plenty for a Luscombe to land, if flown properly, especially with good thick grass to slow the roll.
Hudson River has good thick grass.
Linville is a fellow Luscombe owner. “I bought my little 8A in 1968 and flew like the guys at Jackson County (every lunch hour, every morning, every evening) until 1980 when I bought the property that might make an airstrip some day.”
He searched for that land for a while.
“The strip had been my dream for 12 years and I had stopped at places all over the southern U.S. asking, ‘will you sell that little strip of land out there?’ ‘Maybe I will,’ they’d say. ‘Will you finance it,’ I’d ask. That’s when they would start laughing at me.”
His persistence paid off. A gentleman at General Motors, where Linville worked, told him he had property that might suit his needs. “I was looking at it the next weekend and was in the lawyer’s office shortly thereafter. I think I had 15 years to pay off the $500 an acre, but the dirty deed was done in five years.”
Magic doesn’t just happen. It is nurtured.
“I had a 22-horse Allis Chalmers and two hands for picking up rocks for 2,000 feet of runway. Every time it rained, rocks were to be picked up again and again. Finally, she was finished, and I landed the Luscombe to never be bothered again by the FBO giving me heck for a low fly-by or washing my plane out of a bucket brought to the airport.”
My approach to Hudson River was interesting. There were trees, and of course the river, but there was also this unsettling hill at the start of short final. I avoided any encounter with this particular hump and decided I would land just past the little dirt track (which basically put me on those imaginary numbers). That gave space for the airplanes ahead of me to exit and gave me space to slow my roll. It turned out I didn’t need the space. I could have landed in the middle of the strip. There was much more slope than I realized and the grass was divine.
So was this part of Linville’s message: “As with all other pilots who read of lady authors, we all think of you as our sister and feel as if we are kin, although you know nothing of us.”
Although you know nothing of us. Having been to Hudson River, I think I do know a little bit about a man who dreamed of a grass strip basking under a hot Georgia sun, of round-top Quonset hangars and Monocoupes, of backbreaking labor and hopes of better things to come. Dreams entwine with sultry green grass and cotton-topped clouds and the result is…
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.