The adventure of picking up the plane from Just Aircraft, part 1.

For the record, actually picking up the plane wasn’t really an adventure. The only thing that went “wrong” was that I expected to pull up Monday morning at 7am and find a plane wrapped, boxed, and ready to load. What I pulled up and found was the the plane was there, by the door ready to load, in all its pieces and parts. Nothing was wrapped or packaged. It ended up taking three hours with three of their folks working on it, to get everything packaged and ready to go. I remember thinking the charge for packaging of the kit was a bit excessive when I looked at the quote. After watching the amount of care, plastic, padding, and duct tape that went into prepping for shipment, I think they may be undercharging.

Also as I was standing there talking to people, I found out why the plane was not ready. Not because I asked the question, but because they started telling stories of the different ways that people show up to take their plane home.  Crazy stories. One guy apparently strapped the whole contraption to the top of a Jeep!  I guess they don’t package anything up till they see you pull up and see how it is going to be loaded. Makes sense.

As I said, the airplane itself wasn’t the adventure. It was the trip there and back.  I was about 20 minutes away from my hotel stop in Seneca, SC (4.5 hours into the trip), on Hwy 123, when I looked in the median and saw a mini van down towards the bottom of the grass. 123 is a divided highway with a wide median. The minivan had left muddy ruts through the grass on it’s way towards the bottom. I saw a man standing outside the minivan, looking a bit dejected. As I sped past at 70 mph, I thought, “Minivan = family. Dad is outside trying to figure out what to do, family is inside staying safe. Ugh, can’t leave a family there to rot. I have a jerk strap in the tool box. I can swing back around, run the jerk strap down to him and then hook it to my trailer. I’ll lock four wheel drive in, pull him back up to the asphalt edge, and then be outta here. 15 minutes, no problem.”

So I exit off, circle back around, and then come up on the minivan. I slow to about 30 mph as people barrel up behind me doing 75. I ease off the road, still pulling a 5000 lb trailer behind me. Just as I leave the asphalt, I’m on glass. The truck just keeps on plowing and I wonder if I’m going to stop. After a second I get control and get the truck stopped. Once stopped, I try to edge forward. Nothing. Backwards? Nothing. Even though I’m much closer to the road than our minivan, I’m stuck in what I now realize is VERY soft dirt. I turn the truck off, hop out, and with a big smile say to my new neighbor in stuckness, “Well at least you have company now to keep it entertaining. Now we are both stuck!”

He smiles and I reassure him we’ll get out. I take a look at the status of the truck. About 3-4″ deep mud where the tires have been. Beautiful roadside grass everywhere else. No indication that it would be this soft. Oh well. I ask if he has his family with him.


I ask who was driving when they pulled off.


I ask, “Is she mad at you?” with a big smile.


“Best stay over here with me then, it is safer!” I say with a laugh. I find you can either laugh or cry in situations like this. Better to laugh if you can. Nobody is shooting at us. Nobody is dying. So in reality it is just an adventure.

After taking a look at the truck and the soil, I harken back to my surfing days when I used to go surfing with my friends. I learned from Jim that before you go out on the beach, you let the air in your tired down from highway pressure to 15-20 psi. This softens the tires and improves the ground pressure. I’ve seen trucks buried nearly to the frame magically levitate out of a hole once the air pressure was dropped. My tires are setup for carrying a load on a 1 ton pickup. They run at 70 psi. As I chatted with the dad, I started letting air out of the tires.

While I was letting air out, a wrecker stopped at the minivan, which was still 100 yards ahead of me. He pulled 1/2 off the pavement and half on (he’s a professional). After a quick chat with dad, he decided to leave. Except that even 1/2 on the pavement, he got stuck. I watched him for a while slipping and spinning while I was letting my air out. He eventually used some of his wrecker equipment to get himself back onto the pavement and he left.

It took about 30 minutes to get me to 20 psi. I gave the truck a try. Nope, while I could move I couldn’t get back to the pavement. I let another 5 psi out and ran them at 15. After much back and forth, I was able to get one tire onto the pavement. Viola! With a 4 wheel drive truck, one tire is all I need. Thanks Jim! You never know when a life lesson from surfing will come in handy as an adult.

I pulled my now exceedingly muddy truck down to just ahead of the minivan and hopped out. I was 1/2 on, and 1/2 off the road, with no wrecker lights to guard me. Also, in the 1 hour we were there, no cop ever came by even though the minivan driver had called them immediately after getting stuck. Oh well.

About to pull the minivan out of the mud
About to pull the minivan out of the mud

I got out of the truck, pulled out the jerk strap, and handed it to the dad. I explained how I wanted him to hook it up to the minivan, that I didn’t want to damage anything while pulling it out. I also explained, quietly to him, that I was going to have him get down in the mud and hook everything up. He’d get muddy, but he’d be a hero to his wife and kids. If I did it, he’d be the idiot who got them stuck and I’d be the hero. No good. He nodded and went to work.

While he was finding a spot to hook things up, a kid came up to me from seemingly nowhere.

“What’s wrong?! Is everybody ok?!”

“Um, yeah. Just stuck. I’m getting them out. Where did you come from?”

I looked over his shoulder, and across the highway. A Ford Mustang was nose down off the shoulder on the opposite side of the road. I seriously doubted he’d be able to back up that incline even if the ground was firm. No way with as wet as it was. Ugh! Now I had to get him out as well.

I thanked the kid for stopping and told him his a very generous to risk himself to help. Just hang out a minute and I’d get him unstuck as well.

After some fiddling with straps, ropes, etc, we finally got hooked up, the lower A arm on the van hooked to the back of the trailer seemed to be the best way although we tried the tie down ring on the front as well. I explained how this was going to work, and we pulled the minivan through the mud and back up to the asphalt. While we were getting straps off and prepping to cross the highway and get the Mustang out, I hear some guy barking orders. I look up to see what looked like a fireman type guy in a pickup truck, yelling to the dad that my truck needed to be gotten off the road before we caused an accident.

“Thank you self important fireman looking guy for your completely asinine insight.”

I’d been really jovial up to that point. Helping people is fun. That guy made me pretty mad. But I just chewed my lip and he drove off. Thankfully I never actually talked to him or I may have said something not quite so friendly.

Mom and the kids took off, leaving dad to help me get the Mustang out. Mustangs have a solid rear axle because apparently 1960s technology doesn’t need to be updated. It also makes for an excellent place to hook a tow strap. We hooked the jerk strap to the axle, then to the front recovery hooks on my truck. This was after crossing a highway on wobbly tires, covered in mud, while pulling a trailer. Fun.

After taking up the slack, I backed the kid out and got him on the road. I thanked him again for being willing to stop and sent him back to Clemson where he was a student.

During this time, an Army veteran had stopped and was offering to help as well. With the kid gone, mom picking up the dad, covered in mud and grease, and wobbly tires, I drove the Army guy back to his vehicle which miraculously wasn’t stuck at all, and bid him farewell.

Then I hopped back onto 123 and went to the next exit on tires that were woefully under-inflated to be on the highway. I’m still pulling a trailer and now hunting around for a gas station where I can put air in them. It’s about 5:45 and getting dark on a Sunday night. I’m getting nervous that I won’t be able to find air in this tiny little town. I do carry a portable air compressor that runs off of 12 volts, but it takes FOREVER to pump any volume of air. It truly is a last ditch tool. Plus I haven’t used it in forever so who knows if it even works.

I find the only gas station in town, find their air compressor, drop 75 cents in it, and it springs to life! Yeah! So much for no good deed goes unpunished. I fill up as best I can the two closest tires and I can tell by the end that the little pump is doing about all it can. I pull out my tire gauge and it says 28psi. I run at 70psi. Ugh. That isn’t good.

Another 75 cents and I get 28psi on the other side of the truck. Now I can run at low pressure but not very far nor very fast. I look at my hotel directions and I’m only 15 miles from the hotel. It’s now full dark and Sunday night. Better to be at the hotel and figure it out tomorrow. I limp to the hotel, grab a bite, and grab some shut eye, on the way noting places that might have air at 8am on a Monday.

When I look at my distance from the hotel to the factory, I find that it is only 7 miles to the factory. So I could be at the factory at 7am and get air there, or I can wait till 8am, get air in town, and then show up at probably 8:30 or so. Since I have to drive 9.5 hours that day, I go to the factory where after grabbing every air hose in the place, we stretch out enough hoses that I can spend 30 minutes, even with their really good air pressure, filling my tires back up to normal.

Waiting to load the airplane while sweet, sweet pressurized air flows into the tires.
Waiting to load the airplane while sweet, sweet pressurized air flows into the tires.

Since I had three hours to spend, I was able to look at a lot of the factory again, and talk to a number of folks. But that is part of the next story.

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