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Letter: Adios, my friend Ray Pool

I moved to Madera in 1971 and bought 30 acres on Avenue 16, west of the airport. On the adjoining property was a house rented by Ray Pool. I met him and his wife, Audry. They had a son, Shannon, who was a little younger than my sons.

Always interested in airplanes, Ray and I became friends. I would stop by his operation when he was on the north end of the main runway. The City wanted some changes to the airport so they made Ray a deal to move to the East/ West runway. I think they gave him the building if he would move it. They did. Kenny Robbins was his friend and (engineer) for the job. When they set it, one bolt was a half inch off, otherwise no problem. A couple of farmers pulled it off. How bout that?

Avenue 16 was open to Highway 99 at the time, so it was a daily passing for me. I would pull in on the way home just to see what was going on. Blackie, Sam and Keith were usually busy putting things back together. I lived close enough to hear the engines warming up in the mornings.

I never forgot a morning in May of 1972, I think. I could hear the engines at 5 a.m. It was foggy. That seemed strange. The airplanes took off. One came right over the house, low. He was heading back to the airport. Lights flickered and I heard a thump. Then I heard the airplane in a turn. Good, he got away from it, I thought.

I went around to see if the line was down. I didn’t want to alarm Audry, so I drove around and it seemed okay. Then, I could see an airplane in the field. It was a pilot named Richard. I didn’t really know him. He didn’t make it. The other airplane I heard in the “Turn,” was Ray. He hit the fog and turned towards the foothills and landed out there.

I would “help” at the airport if Blackie or Sam needed something. I also flagged a little for Ray. I learned a lot and had a ball. Ray inspired me to finish my flying lessons. He also introduced me to the Stearman. I even got to fly the AgCat. Ray taught me how to fly AG. I flew pollen and insects.

We talked about the “crash” and how to survive it. He was an expert, at least seven or eight of them. I had one. I hit the power line. Ray said, “Fly it as long as you can and do whatever you have to do to keep the nose where you want it.” Then he said, “Protect your head.” I did all that, and when I hit the trees, I grabbed the seat and put my head down. It worked. Not a scratch.

As we grew older, we met for lunch. Tried to to do that once a week. Farnesi’s, then IHOP was our place. With COVID, he would come by every Saturday on his way back from his ranch. He liked our dog Rover. He reminded him of a dog he had, or borrowed. It lived at the 23 ranch, but would ride with him to the other ranches. Then, Ray would drop him off on his way home. Rays favorite Gospel was “I’ll Fly away.”

He also signed off on his phone call with “Adios.” So with that, “Adios my friend; enjoy your flight.”

Thanks for the memories.

Was our meeting divine? I think so. I started out in Illinois. How did I get here?

I loved that man.

— Bill Hoffrage,


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