Blakesburg: A field of family

A couple of months ago I was in a particularly optimistic mood and booked us a couple of days at the world’s biggest fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Almost immediately, I realized that trip wasn’t going to work. Even if we drove and weather was no issue, Keely had band camp one week, there was a four-day break, and then she was scheduled to attend the open house at her school. The family budget didn’t allow for airline tickets and a rental car. The trip would have been a rushed affair, and we all know Oshkosh is an event best savored at one’s leisure.

So the Luscombe List suggested we try attending the Antique Airplane Association/Airpower Museum Invitational Fly-In in Blakesburg, Iowa, instead. For 40 years “Blakesburg” has been the gathering field for folks who want to keep old airplanes in the air. For us, this year was the time to find out what inspired such devotion to a small grass field and the Taylor family who have spent their lives promoting the preservation of aviation history.

I had to make some realistic decisions. Iowa is a long way from Georgia. Luscombes fly slowly. Although the fly-in is held over Labor Day weekend, I still have a child in school. Modern schools do not appreciate the benefit of real-life experiences and adventures. I planned to take Keely out of school for one day and didn’t want to risk more.

A row of Luscombes at Blakesburg. (Photo by Sparky Barnes Sargent)

Flying to Iowa from Georgia in two Luscombes is an expensive proposition, especially with fuel at $6 a gallon. We could fly to Blakesburg, but we would have to remain ground-bound for the other fall fly-ins that we enjoy locally. Plus, it was hot — really hot — and I didn’t relish the idea of six-and-a-half hours in hot bumpy air.

So on Thursday afternoon we met Keely at the bus and started the McFarland family road trip adventure to Ottumwa, Iowa, a place where no McFarland has gone before. I did not regret my decisions. As we traveled north and west, it got hotter and I truly appreciated the comfort of our air-conditioned car. While crossing the bridge into St. Louis on Friday, the car thermometer read 105°F.

We arrived at Antique Airfield around 4 p.m., registered and parked. It could have been coincidence, but I personally believe it was divine intervention that the first airplane we approached was Dick Ramsey’s beautiful 1946 Luscombe 8E. Under her wings sat the group that I would affectionately come to think of as the Luscombe Horde. Most were from Texas, a few from Tennessee, one or two from Kansas, and one from Michigan. We were the southeastern chapter of the Horde.

Part of the Luscombe Horde at Blakesburg enjoys the shade of Dick Ramsey’s beautifully restored 1946 Luscombe 8E . Left to right: Dick Ramsey, Cynthia Grant, Katie Jarrett, Ron Shank, Howard Hollinger, Mark Mitchell, and Henry McFarland.

I came bearing gifts (Henry’s homemade blackberry wine and my pickled okra) in order to secure us a spot under some kind Luscombe owner’s wing. Mr. Ramsey was a gracious host. He declined my offerings, saying none were needed. Like any devoted fly-in attendee, we moved in with chairs and coolers, and there we squatted for two days.

In spite of it being hotter than blue blazes, I was in heaven. I was surrounded by hundreds of old airplanes, some of them very rare, but the best part was that 23 Luscombes and their owners were in attendance. It was a family reunion.

This gathering was unique for me. Beside ourselves, there were several Luscombe pilot/owner couples represented: Bill and Sharon, Cynthia and Howard, Katie and Ron. That I was attending a fly-in with four women Luscombe owners was unusual. It was special for others, too. Cynthia and Howard were married at this field two years ago. Bob Gandy fulfilled a dream and was there with his two grown sons. One just completed a successful tour of duty and was now home safe.

Gary is restoring his Luscombe and is anticipating the arrival of a new grandchild. Monte from Oklahoma had his own shade. So did friends Rusty and Louie from Indiana, but they checked in on a regular basis. Joe and John Pribilo flew from Oregon and California. They garnered the most respect for having verified and certified cast-ironed bottoms. Ron Shank is particularly fond of prewar Luscombes, and Bill Bradford’s clipped wing 8A was stunning. There were no Luscombe dogs on this field and each owner had his or her own special story to tell.

The Horde moved and ebbed as the day continued. At dark, we descended on Ottumwa and the local Mexican restaurant. My dinner companion was Russell Williams. He wasn’t there in a Luscombe. He has an extensive antique airplane collection and flew to Blakesburg in the most beautiful airplane I’ve ever seen in my life, his polished 1938 Ryan SCW. But even such fascinating subjects couldn’t stop the flow of all things Luscombe. And for the first time since owning one of these contrary little beasts, I realized that a Luscombe pilot can’t talk flying without moving his or her feet and holding an imaginary stick.

Poor Keely endured airplane talk as she normally does, and it was nearly midnight when we finally fell into bed.

The next morning found us at Antique Field bright and early. There was a high overcast that kept the temperatures at a more tolerable level. Henry and I made a conscious effort to walk around and peruse the aircraft in attendance. Monocoupes were the featured aircraft this year and there were several variations, all meticulously restored. There were antiques of all kinds (both mechanical and human). There were classics, homebuilts, and even some contemporary varieties.

At 2 p.m., a Luscombe forum, hosted by Ron Shank, was held at the library, attacting 36 Luscombe owners and/or enthusiasts. We discussed maintenance issues and options for a Luscombe fly-in at a central location, as well as the possibility of combining an established fly-in with a Luscombe gathering, allowing flyers to attend two events for the price of one, kind of like we did unintentionally at Blakesburg.

It was an honor to meet aviation author John Swick who spoke to the group. He commented on the camaraderie Luscombe owners share that isn’t often found within other groups. Some type clubs are more prone to argue at their gatherings, which he found to be very frustrating when researching his books.

After the forum, I promised myself that we would head back to the hotel for an early evening, but instead found myself sitting back under the wing of Mr. Ramsey’s Luscombe. It had become home away from home. Before long, the horde was reassembled and soon spilled over under Bill Bradford’s clipped wing. The gentle rain that began to fall in the late afternoon was welcomed as it cooled the air and hindered the activities not at all.

Once again, we stayed until nearly dark. This time it was suggested that we try the Appanoose Rapids Brewing Co. to quiet our rumbling stomachs. What is it about fly-ins that makes a person so hungry? I really would like to recommend this establishment to other AAA members. They went out of their way to accommodate the Horde on such short notice. Todd was our server, and he did a great job.

We were sitting at a grouping of high tables with bar-height chairs when Bill and Sharon joined us. Bill is in a wheelchair, so the owner Tim brought standard chairs so the guys could be seated eye level with Bill. We girls sat at the tall chairs and gabbed. Henry claimed it looked very intense and somewhat intimidating to him. Where else can a lady Luscombe pilot find others like her? We own and fly the same airplane, which we talked about in depth. We are married to pilots, which we talked about in depth. We talked about kids and grandkids and all those other things that we women have in common.

I’ve heard it said that Antique Airfield is a field of dreams. This year, I think it was a field of friends. No, a field of family. And there’s a beautiful 1946 Luscombe 8E that now holds a special place in my heart. Thanks Mr. Ramsey for sharing your airplane and your shade with the Horde. Your generosity led to memories that will be with us for a lifetime.

By the way, the next morning we ate breakfast at the Country Kitchen before we hit the road for the trip home. Our server was Todd! Ottumwa is not that small. I think the Good Lord just wanted us to be in good hands, and we were. Maybe we’ll see him next year.

 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. Deb can be reached at


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