Anecdotes from Agriculture Aviation

By Sheryl Hamlin

The recently opened Ag Air Exhibit was the backdrop for the panel on July 10, 2015 at Santa Paula’s Agriculture Museum. The exhibit features historic photos and film from Ventura’s use of aviation on farms. The panel featured Marie Murray, Rob Scherzinger, Janice Dickenson, Mitch Stone and Kevin Miskel, plus a wealth of history in the audience of more than 50 people.

Janice Dickenson, grand daughter-in-law of the founder of Santa Paula Airport, explained that all 19 of the original investors in the private airport were farmers. The airport opened in 1930 to a huge crowd, 65 airplanes, Doolittle and many other important VIPs attended. The money was raised quickly even in the aftermath of the great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Mitch Stone, local historian, and Ms. Dickenson are co-authoring a book about the Santa Paula Airport in honor of its 85th year. The August 2nd First Sunday at the airport will be a tribute to the anniversary.

Marie Murray, daughter of P.J. Murray, invited many of her relatives to the event. She said the whole family flew and drove trucks and tractors. Their mom was the bookkeeper initially. Her father is listed in the Agriculture Aviation Hall of Fame, as a pioneer crop duster. The photo display from the Ag Museum exhibit is Murray dusting a crop. Phil Murray was a successful entrepreneur who opened a manufacturing plant in Texas, a small airline company, a Cessna Dealership and Murrayair in Hawaii in 1948.

murry_cropdusting2

Murry Cropduster

Rob Scherzinger, a founder of Aspen Air, and Kevin Miskel, an early employee of Aspen, acquired flying skills in the military. Both Rob and Kevin indicated that flying opportunities were diminishing in the military, so they left for a more flight intensive environment. As a pioneer in using helicopters in crop dusting, Rob said he crashed more helicopters than cars and cited changes in technology like GPS that improved accuracy and results. Kevin also came from the Army and joined Aspen soon after leaving. He related a serious event comically about a buzzard flying through his windscreen and actually breaking the glass requiring him to fly at 80 miles per hour in the cold wind. The buzzard lived to tell about it. Scherzinger said that Aspen had two helicopters monitoring the recent oil spill near Santa Barbara for 45 days.

Mitch Stone and Marie Murray

Mitch Stone and Marie Murray

 

Janice Dickenson and Kevin Miskel.

Janice Dickenson and Kevin Miskel.

 

Rob Scherzinger

Rob Scherzinger

 

A surprise guest, Colonel Bob Cochran, U.S. Army Retired, spoke of his crop dusting record where he dropped 26,000 pounds in one load. Colonel Cochran worked for Phil Murray. In the Army, he was a Movement and Mobilization Officer and flew for 50 years. On visiting the Air Museum in Jackson, MIssippi, he was pleased to see a picture of Phil Murray prominently displayed.

colburn

Colonel Bob Cochran, U.S. Army Retired

Other notables associated with the Santa Paula Airport were Mira Slovak, daring pilot who hijacked his own plane to defect to the west, and Mike Dewey, movie stunt pilot, who opened his own flight school , training military and students on career path. Air and Space published a fascinating history of the Santa Paula Airport.

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Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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