FLYING THROUGH THE SNOW
By Steve Moreland, January 21, 2018
Sometime in the early 1980’s, my dad and sisters, Sandra and Sybil, drove from Merriman, Nebraska to Castle Rock, Colorado to look at some registered Red Angus cows that were for sale. When they reached Big Springs, a friend Sue Springer jumped in and accompanied them on the rest of the trip. Dad purchased 30 head of nice big registered Red Angus cows from Sherman Jones, and these were to belong to my three sisters, including our youngest, Nancy. Dad would find a suitable herd bull to use on these cows. He would get the bull calves for keeping the cows, and my sisters would get the heifer calves to build their herd. As time went on, any cull cows and heifer calves not worthy of retaining for replacements would give the girls some cash flow. Somehow, no registration papers were ever procured, but the cows were real good and quite suitable to use as seed stock production.
In the quest to find an appropriate bull to use on these new cows, Dad had an excuse to attend a few bull sales. On one occasion, and I think this would have been in early December of 1982, I rode along with Dad and Sybil when they went to the Panhandle Cattle Company Red Angus sale north of Lakeside. It was a fairly pleasant afternoon, cool but sunny, when we arrived at the sale. An airplane circled the area, and when it put down, I recognized Butch Shadbolt and Butch White as the two men who emerged from the plane. In saying our “howdies,” Butch Shadbolt mentioned that Butch White had been helping with cattle work near Merriman, and was being picked up by his wife at the sale. Butch White was foreman on Shadbolts’ Ashby ranch, known as the JHL.
Knowing that Butch Shadbolt would be flying home by himself, I asked if he would have room for a passenger on his return trip. He said that would be fine, as he had a vehicle at the Gordon Airport, and would be leaving the plane there but driving his automobile back to his home ranch south of Merriman. I had left my pickup in Merriman at my grandmother’s house when I jumped in Dad’s car to ride with him and Sybil to the bull sale, so this was all going to work out well.
Butch sat with Dad, Sybil, and me on the bleachers at the sale. A lot of nice bulls flowed through the ring that afternoon, but Dad didn’t end up purchasing any of them. About half way through the sale, it started to snow outside. The bulls were coming through the ring with quite a bit of white on their backs. Butch said to me, “Instead of you riding home in the airplane with me, I might ride home with you and just leave the plane here.” We said that would be fine, as there was plenty of passenger room in the car.
The sale got over, and amazingly the sun came out and it was a real nice afternoon again. Butch looked at the weather conditions and proclaimed it to be good flying weather. He told me to jump in the plane, and we would fly to Gordon. Dad and Sybil headed out in their car, and Butch and I soared off into the wild blue yonder. The ecstasy of fine flying didn’t last long. We hadn’t gone but five or six miles, when the weather closed in and snow was coming down hard. There were super big snowflakes but very little wind. It was difficult seeing the ends of the wings. Butch wasn’t yet instrument rated, but he knew by the compass what setting to follow. He kept the plane low so he could see landmarks on the ground, and flew just high enough to avoid any electrical high-lines or overhead telephone lines. It has been said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I will vouch for the fact that there are also probably not many atheists riding as a back-seat passenger in a two-person plane socked in by a snowstorm. I was doing a fair amount of silent praying, even though I had all the trust in the world with Butch as the pilot.
We flew over an east-west oil strip, and eventually found Highway 27 which goes between Gordon and Ellsworth. This he followed closely all the way to Gordon. When the feedlot south of town came into sight, Butch veered the plane to the northeast through the snow and fog, and eventually we came out at the Gordon Airport. He has always been a first-rate pilot, and he did a commendable job of landing the plane in several inches of new snow.
We put the plane in a hangar, and got into his pickup. Butch’s son Quentin was about nine or ten years old, and he was visiting in town. We picked him up. Quentin had recently been given a new gum ball machine, and he needed gum balls to put in it. Even though the snow was still coming down hard, we made a necessary stop at the local dime store (they were still part of many small towns yet in those days) to get some gumballs. Quentin went in by himself, and made his purchase. Then we were off on the thirty mile drive to Merriman.
The snow was still coming down, but it seemed to have let up some. Fortunately there was very little wind, so drifting didn’t seem to be a problem. Butch and Quentin dropped me off at my grandmother’s house, where Dad and Sybil were waiting to see if our flight had gotten through. Enough time had elapsed, and the fact that they beat our air time by traveling in a car, had given them concern that maybe we had gone down in the poor visibility. It was an eventful trip, and I’m glad to have had the experience. I’ve asked Butch a time or two through the years if he ever flew in any poorer visibility. He has always assured me that the prize goes to that time, in all of his piloting experience.