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Jun 03, 2006, 12:22 AM
Modeling Retread
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Retread - Flying Field Daze

Once I built a railroad
I made it run
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad
Now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

I was thinking about the travails of our club (San Antonio Prop Busters) in keeping a flying field and I was reminded of these lines from the famous depression era song. We’re on our third field now and the trip has had some unusual twists. I write this to warn of pitfalls and offer hope to those who have lost or are about to lose a field.

Twenty years ago I was the President of the club in a trying time. Shortly before assuming office we received a notice that we would loose our field within six months. We had a little money to work with, because of the prescient efforts of a former President who persuaded us to double our dues, but not much. We, as a club, were blessed by the crash in the oil boom that resulted in hiatus in land development. The property owners continued to tell us it was a temporary reprieve.

We were afraid that we would loose members to the other established clubs in town. I pushed hard to do more activities that would keep us unified. Maybe too hard as the money spent was used as a reason to find my replacement for the next year. I still believe that club activities are important at all times but critical when times are tough.

Fearing the end could be near we did strike out to find a new field. We found several potentials but they were ruled out for various reasons but the biggest was “too far”. Our existing field was very close to the majority of our members and they just could not see spending money on a field no one would use. While I was part of the group that was looking and was sometimes frustrated by the decisions there is real truth in the common wisdom that there is no use spending money on a field no one would use.

We did some stupid things. Several of our members were interested in float flying. They found a spot the county would let us use and we engaged in some successful events. The field was also suitable for land flying so we approached the county and they were amenable to leasing it to us on a permanent basis. The club said “No! We only need it for float flys, why waste the money?” Imagine their surprise when another club snatched the site. Another time we were in the hunt for the use of a closed runway next to the city dump. Unbeknownst to us, one of the club officers wrote a letter to the owners saying the model flying was “… better than sex!” Not surprisingly, the religious owners of the property would not take our calls after that.

So we rocked along putting money in the bank and continuing to look around. A few years later the aforementioned runway changed hands and we got another opportunity to acquire it. The city dump, uhmm landfill, was closed and a new commercial operation was opened next door. The runway was in a buffer property between the two and we made contact and negotiated a deal that would give us exclusive use of the property guaranteed to about 2020, at least that’s what our negotiator told us. The company did resurface 700 feet of the runway and help us clear the junk off the property but we were shocked when we were presented the actual lease. One year, renewable at one year increments, with a 90 day notice to leave. The shock was driven by the fact we had just spent about $25K building the best site in the area. I don’t think our guy hosed us on purpose, he just heard what he wanted to hear. If we had been told the real deal, we would have still taken the deal but we would have spent a lot less money. The moral here – don’t let one person negotiate your deals and don’t spend the money until the deal is set.

Man, the dump field was a swankienda. Paved taxiways, paved pit area, large shelter with concrete floor, enclosed kitchen, and a second story observation area. We had many excellent events there (IMAA regional. Yearly Charity Big Bird, IMAC Contests, etc., etc.) during the few years we had it. We could have had all the events with grass pits and a small hail shed for frequency control. It was used for a couple of years beyond its premiere status but that was some sad flying. We did not come close to getting our value out of the field. I felt personally responsible because I was part of the group that helped sell the plan to the club. I still kick myself for not questioning the deal regardless of how logical it sounded and how much I trusted our guy.

Meanwhile the field we were to loose in ’86 continued to crank along. We finally lost it last year shortly before the last flight at the dump (and it was by the time we left). Fortunately, the club had found a new site on the south side of town. The members finally grasped that there just was not going to be a ready location in the middle of the hottest real estate area of San Antonio.

The new field is located adjacent to a good road with ready access. At present it is grass and it may just remain that way. I find it to be very pleasant. It’s far enough removed from the city to be quiet, except for the flying of course. We have kept some artifacts from our former fields. The frequency board was used at both fields. The concrete slabs under the hail shed were pit stations at the old field. The work tables were built for the dump field. The property that is not flying field is used to run cattle so we have an electric fence around the runway. To me its very much like the old field we had when I joined the club. (We also have shared use of a runway at a residential airpark. I’ve been there but not since we made the arrangement.)

Once again I return to the opening lines. We had the big field, the high profile, and the giant roster… Now we wonder if we can spare a dime. Do I miss it? I’m not sure. The big field kind of led to big time flying that often left the little guy feeling unwanted. Many members thought we did more flying when we just had the smaller field. In the end, you have to be careful about what you want. It’s important that you make your choices match your actual interests.
Last edited by GRW3; Jun 03, 2006 at 12:31 AM.
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