Agriculture and aviation

Agriculture and aviation

Kristen Kromer Staff writer

Agriculture and aviation

Taking peek at a Piper

International Flying Farmers hold conference in Spokane

By Kristen Kromer

Staff writer

Growing up on an Oklahoma farm, 102-year-old Cole Kugel said it was “one of those early barnstorming deals” that got him interested in flying. He had to put his new interest on hold during the Depression, but he soon picked it up again and continued flying until his 100th birthday.

“I thought that was a good time to give it up before I busted up an airplane,” said the Longmont, Colo., resident.

Though he no longer flies, Kugel keeps his love for planes kindled through his participation with the International Flying Farmers, a group whose members share an interest in agriculture and aviation. Nearly 250 Flying Farmers from almost every state and several Canadian provinces have been in Spokane since Saturday for their annual summer conference. They’ll leave Friday.

The group started in 1944 with a couple of Oklahoma farmers looking for other farmers with an interest in flying. They found quite a few, because many farmers owned and flew planes to check on livestock and crops, deliver mail and dust fields.

Flying Farmers, which has about 3,400 members, consists primarily of farmers or retired farmers. There are also crop sprayers, commercial airline pilots and aircraft mechanics.

Flying Farmers get together each year for a winter workshop and a summer conference.

Local chapters typically meet monthly, flying to a destination for a picnic, raft trip or tour of an agriculture- or aviation-related facility.

At one time, potential members had to be a farmer or a pilot to join the organization, but now it is open to anyone with a general interest.

“You eat food, don’t you?” asked Jim Whitesel, 60, who runs an irrigation business in Nebraska, Colorado, California and Kansas.

“Then you’re connected to agriculture.”

Some Flying Farmers started their conference week with a tour of the Silver Valley and Grand Coulee Dam. Besides meetings and seminars at the Red Lion Hotel – where they put a J-3 Piper Cub on display – they also have planned a jet boat trip on the Snake River. Wednesday, members toured Felts Field, while most of their wives toured the Davenport Hotel.

The group does have some female pilots.

Kelly Matson of Wichita, Kan., got her pilot’s license just over a year ago.

Now the International Flying Farmers office assistant, Matson said she applied for a job with the organization without knowing a thing about it. But with a dad and grandfather who are pilots, she fit right in.

“I’ve never met a Flying Farmer I didn’t like,” said Matson, 30.

The allure of the group, members said, is not only that Flying Farmers is family-friendly, but that it is family.

“Everyone in it has the same ideas,” said Howard Reid, 93, of Roggen, Colo., a member since 1974.

“It’s been wonderful to talk to these people and ask, ‘How do you raise your crops in Wisconsin or Iowa?’ “

During the tour Wednesday, Reid shared his stories about flying a Boeing 40, as members checked out the one being restored at Felts Field.

The Boeing 40 was one of the first passenger planes used for airline service.

With years of stories among them, common interests and lots of joking, it’s easy to see why Sheldon Kongable, 74, of Winfield, Iowa, hasn’t missed a Flying Farmers convention for 25 years.

“I’ve never been part of something that’s so much fun,” he said.

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