Yesterday's Magazette

11 – A Boy In Flight

A Boy In Flight

By Hamilton K. (Knick) Pyles II


The recent heavy rains in San Diego County that caused extensive mudslides, loss of homes and property, and erosion of precious wild land soils, reminded me of a plane trip I took with my father some 62 years ago.

My father, Hamilton K. Pyles, was then Supervisor of The Cleveland National Forest. Having a chance to fly in a light plane is an exciting event for a 12 or 13 year old boy, but to fly with an experienced crop dusting and seeding pilot, along with my father, was an enchanting prospect.


I can’t remember the exact year, but it must have been 1948 or a year before or after, when a large forest and brush fire turned many acres of canyon sides and Laguna mountainsides from sage and tree covered areas into fields of grey/black ash, ripe for erosion if winter rains came before any chance of plant regrowth.

The solution was to seed mustard by air over the burned areas, with delivery timed just before or just after the first rainfall, often in September in the higher mountains, if memory serves. Mustard germinates rapidly, even in cool mountain weather, with little green plants showing above soil (or ash) in as little as five to ten days.

Before the actual aerial seeding began, the crop duster who would do the job, and my father, planned a flyover survey of the burned areas suitable for seeding. The pilot invited me to go along, which was a very exciting prospect to me!

My father drove us from San Diego to Gillespie Field, where we met the pilot. We soon boarded the plane and took off toward the Laguna Mountains. The plane was not a crop dusting plane; those are usually one-seaters. The pilot flew up and down the narrow canyons as my father took notes and reviewed maps of the areas. I sat in a back seat and had a view out both sides of the aircraft. Sometimes it seemed as if one or both of the wing tips would scrape the sides of the canyon—they seemed that close!

The pilot, whose name I’ve long forgotten, was an experienced crop duster who worked in both coastal and desert areas, depending on the season. I’m sure he has long been gone to Fiddler’s Green, or wherever good pilots go. It would be interesting to know if his firm is still in business these many years later.

I remember that he wore gloves while flying, which struck my curiosity as it was a hot summer day. He explained to me that he wore gloves so that if there was a fire in the cockpit, he would have the use of his hands for a few critical moments more than if he didn’t have gloves.

As I recall, when traveling with my father that winter, we could see the mustard growing out of the burned areas visible from the road or a short hike over a ridge. A wonderful thing for me to see the results of the trip I took that day in the air, over, around, and in the Laguna Mountains.

[Knick Pyles last wrote for Yesterday’s Magazette in the 2009 Christmas issue. A story of his appears in the anthology Toys Remembered.]

Vol. 38 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2011


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