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Old friends and family gather in the North 40 campground

STORY AND PHOTOS BY JACK HODGSON
Joe Wold
Joe Wold relaxing among friends in the
North 40 campground.
Joe Wold
Rich and Donna McKamy with their Cessna 185.

Camping at AirVenture is legendary for the special friendships born and maintained here. People enjoy lifelong friendships with folks they see only for one week each year, yet they greet each other every year like family. Which, in a way, I guess they are.

We initially mistook the man and woman sitting beside the beautiful Cessna 206 to be father and daughter. But not really.

Relaxing in a camp chair, book in hand, is Joe Wold. Joe’s been coming to AirVenture for 10 years from his home in Laurel, Montana. He drove in this year in his yellow sports car, but back home he flies a 1950 Piper Pacer.

Before the Pacer he had a J-3, the plane he learned to fly in back in 1946.

“I bought my first J-3 airplane for $600, and then I traded a friend a half of beef for flying lessons.”

A “half of beef”? A half of a cow?

“Yes, I was in the cow business. I traded half a cow. At that time it was worth about $70.

“And then I soloed in six hours.”

In 1960 he traded the J-3 for the Pacer.

“I went too far one day and picked up a head wind coming home and decided I needed something faster. So I bought the Pacer. A guy offered me $1,000 for my J-3. The sucker sold it the next day for $2,000 cash.

“He knew something I didn’t know.”

Joe still flies that Pacer he bought back in 1960.

He used to be a volunteer campground greeter here at AirVenture. “I used to volunteer as one of the guys who went around and made people pay their camping fee. But now I’ve gotta pay my own.”

The woman we mistook for Joe’s daughter is Beth Sprayberry. She’s sitting with Joe beside the 206 while her husband, Jerry, unloads groceries from the car.

Jerry and Beth are from Dallas, Texas. They made the trip here to Oshkosh in the 206 in about six hours, stopping on the way in Moberly, Missouri.

Back home they use the 206 for all sorts of personal and business transportation. Beth says, “We’ve gone to New Orleans several times. We’ve gone to Arkansas. Hot Springs. Eureka Springs. We’ve flown to Montana; that was my longest flight.”

Beth’s not a pilot, but she’s thinking about it a little bit. “I intend to take the pinch-hitter course. I’m going to pursue that. I’m just retired; I’ve been retired for three weeks.”
This is Beth’s first time to AirVenture. Jerry, though, has been to 19 of the past 25.

Jerry is in the telecom business and uses the 206 to travel for business. “We have an office in Houston so I make a trip about every other week.”

Like so many, Jerry’s passion with aviation started young but was interrupted. “I started flying in ’62 when I was in college, but I ran out of money and had to wait about another 10 years. I got my license in the early ’70s.”

Jerry has camped here, in the first few rows of the North 40, for 13 years. He likes the closeness to the tram and the new showers. And he has friends here. Like Joe, who he returns to each year.

Next plane to Beth and Jerry are Rich and Donna McKamy from Billings, Montana. They flew into AirVenture 2011 in their 1980 Cessna 185.

On the trip to Oshkosh they stopped at Aberdeen. Have they stopped there before? “Only for the past 35 years.”

What’s special about Aberdeen?

“Cause it’s halfway.”

We asked Rich when and why he started flying, and he blames it on Richard Nixon. “Nixon was president, and we went with that 55 mph speed limit. You can’t make a living driving 55 mph.”

The airplane thing has worked out so well that he now has four of them: the 185, a Stearman, an American Legend Cub, and a Maule. “I picked the 185 up in Wichita; it had 20 hours on it. I’ve had this plane 31 years.”

Why have such a variety of airplanes? “Cause you never get one plane that does it all.” For Rich each of his airplanes has its own character:

185: “300-hp engine, you can haul as much as you can fit in it.”

Cub: “It’s a light-sport. I’m anticipating one of these days being light-sport.”

Maule M-4: “It’s serial number 26. It was one of the first ones built, and we restored it so it looks pretty sharp.”

Stearman: “It’s got the round engine on it. It’s got an R-680. Lycoming, nine cylinders. I just like the sound of that engine. It’s the second Stearman we’ve owned.”

Is one of them your favorite? “It depends on the application. The Cub is fun to fly ’cause it’s like you’re flying a glider—and you’re burning about 4-1/2 gallons an hour. The Stearman’s got a good sound to it. And the 185 is just the workhorse of the whole bunch.”

All sorts of people, from all sorts of places, with all sorts of planes, here in the North 40 campground of EAA AirVenture 2011.

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