Active Airstrips: Boston Brook, Budworm City, Charlo, Horne’s Gulch, Nictau, Renous (6)
9 Cessna 170s and 1 Cessna 180 under contract from Laurentide Aviation Ltd., Cartierville, Que.
83 Stearman sprayed in both New Brunswick and Quebec
The 1955 Calibration Report
The information on the aircraft for this year was largely based on an 18-page report: Ken R. Elliott, 1955. Rate of Flow Calibration for the 1955 Forest Spraying Project in Northern New Brunswick from the Canada Department of Agriculture, Forest Biology Division.
This was the fourth aerial spraying project since 1952. A total of 1 million acres were sprayed in northern New Brunswick and an equal number in Quebec’s Gaspé region. Forest Protection Limited’s Barney Flieger again directed the operation from its headquarters in Campbellton, N.B. Originally, 80 Stearman with boom-and-nozzle spray units were contracted by Wheeler Airlines of St. Jovite, Quebec, who in turn used Marsh Aviation of Mesa, Arizona, to sub-contract the US operators. However, series of non-fatal accidents during the operation necessitated the procurement of three additional aircraft, for a total of 83.
With the exception of Stearman #59 (N56940), all of the aircraft were calibrated at Nictau airstrip, the base airstrip of the operation. Method: the spray apparatus of each aircraft was checked and its features recorded, then spray runs were made to determine the rate of flow so that it is standard for the whole fleet. A total of 432 flights were recorded. As in previous years, the aircraft and their spray apparatus were in good condition, but there was little standardization of equipment.
Elliott writes that the calibration serves three purposes: 1) all pilots will have the same earning capacity as far as output time is concerned; 2) each pilot and contractor will know that his aircraft spray system has an output of 1 gallon per acre (at 100 m.p.h. and swath width of 100 feet); and 3) the mechanical means are provided by which a good spray job can be done with even spray atomization and spray deposit over the whole area. This is accomplished by three routines: a preliminary equipment check, priming during a running engine to check the nozzles, then timing runs in which a measured amount of “goop” (amount not revealed to the pilot) is put in the tank, after which the pilot makes a timed run until the pressure gauge falls.
It took 23 days, from June 7 to 26, to complete the New Brunswick portion of he project. “Because the season started earlier there, it was possible to deploy almost the entire fleet from the six operational airstrips before shifting part of it to Quebec.”
Areas for treatment and timing of applications are timed to commence after the opening of the balsam fir buds when the growing needles have flared sufficiently to expose the feeding larvae. This susceptible period lasts about three weeks in northern New Brunswick, and ends with the start of the pupation of the larvae. Spraying early in the period has the advantage of providing protection of the current year’s crop of foliage from heavy feeding that occurs toward the end of the larval stage (because the larvae are nearing maximum size).
Since the areas in Quebec were farther north and thus later in the cycle, the New Brunswick areas were finished before the shift to Quebec. The graphic below shows the areas sprayed in Quebec and New Brunswick for 1952 to 1955 and the airstrips used. Source: “The 1955 Aerial Spraying Program against Spruce Budworm in New Brunswick and Quebec”, reprinted from Canada Lumberman, November, 1955, Vol. 75 (11):34-35, under the title “No sign of Decline in Budworm Outbeak”; author F.E. Webb.
May-June 1955: Nictau, New Brunswick, and Cap Chat, Quebec
By the Skin of my Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story by William “Bill” Robinet was the basis of much of the following. In this book, Bill describes his years as a loader and a pilot cropdusting cotton with Stearmans and other ag aircraft in Arizona and Mexico for the years 1950 to 1957. He visited New Brunswick as a pilot to take part in the Spruce Budworm Spray Project for three of those years, 1955, 1956 and 1957, and his insights and descriptions of those situations are vivid and provide a real look at the program from the ground level up.
Billville Press is a book publishing imprint of WJR Enterprises, Inc., which is a company that buys and sells aircraft, repairs them and gives flight instruction. Bill Robinet is the president of the company. He is a Mechanical Engineer, Flight Instructor, A & P mechanic and IA. He is also a recipient of the Orville and Wilbur Wright Master Pilot award. He has written two books and has a third nearly ready to publish. Leslie Robinet, Bill’s wife, is the company Secretary/Treasurer and a flight instructor. The stories below are told mostly in his own words.
Wheeler Airlines was the chief contractor, and in turn, it contracted with Marsh Aviation to obtain the necessary American Stearmans, which came from 15 U.S. companies, including Marsh. Wheeler employed four Canadian companies. “Each year I flew on the project, twenty airplanes would originate out of the Phoenix area with others leaving from California, Texas, Oregon, Louisiana, and even British Columbia, Canada. We would all converge on a staging area outside of Canada on or about May 20.” Robinet flew for three seasons in New Brunswick, and the staging areas were Watertown, N.Y. (1955), Syracuse, N.Y. (1956) and Old Town, Maine (1957).
|Origin and number of Stearmans in New Brunswick|
and Quebec in 1955
|5 Bradley Air Services, Ontario|
|4 Leavens Bros. Air Services, Ontario|
|2 Skyway Air Services, British Columbia|
|7 Wheeler Airlines, Quebec|
|2 Aerial Crop Service, California|
|5 Aero-Agricultural Service, ?|
|1 Agriculture Aviation Service, Ohio|
|2 Arizona Aviation, Arizona|
|10 Central Aircraft, Washington|
|6 Farm-Air Company, California?|
|3 Farmer’s Air Service, Oregon|
|10 Hammer Crop Dusters, California|
|6 Marsh Aviation, Arizona|
|2 Medford Air Services, Oregon|
|1 Piller Air Service, ?|
|6 Quaadman Dusters, California|
|3 Russell Dusting Company, Texas|
|3 Simsbury Flying Services, Connecticut|
|2 Sprayair, California|
|2 Ueding Flying Service, Indiana|
History of Arizona’s Marsh Aviation Marsh Aviation Company, Inc. “was the largest and most successful crop dusting and spraying operator in the country, if not the world.” Their main office was in Phoenix, and they had branch offices in several locations in Arizona and Washington states, each of which had scattered satellite offices. Bill Marsh founded the company in the late 1940s, and after his death, John Neace took over as president and CEO.
In March of 1955, John Neace of Marsh asked Robinet to fly for him on the spruce budworm project in New Brunswick. He had subcontracted “for two airplanes out of Safford, Arizona, owned and operated by a local named Abe Sellards. Abe had one pilot, Sam Steele, who had tree spraying experience. I was to fly the other one.”
A.B. “Abe” Sellards had started out operating a lone Stearman duster (N4769V, flew out of Budworm City in 1952 under the Central logo) based in Safford, Arizona. Sam Steele, his good friend, was an engineer who helped Abe add the first spray tanks to his aircraft. Later, Sellards partnered with Gene Packard and Floyd Stilwell to form Aircraft Specialties Inc. There is a nice U-Tube interview of Abe Sellards conducted by his son Avery, published on 2 January 2016.
The ferry to New Brunswick From Safford, Arizona, the Stearmans flew via Socorro, New Mexico, up to Albequerque, then east to Liberal, Kansas, where they stopped for fuel. It was necessary to stop every 150 miles for fuel, which was 1.5 hours of flying time with a 30-minute reserve. They spent the night at Ashland, Kansas, and the next day made it to Sandusky, Ohio. They had five days to make rendezvous at Watertown, New York, with all the other Stearmans on the project. It was at Watertown where the airplanes were inspected by Canadian DOT [Department of Transportation] officials. After that, they flew up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal then Rimouski, Quebec, where they met with the Chief Pilots of Forest Protection Limited, and obtained charts.
Nictau, New Brunswick, the base of operations Ten of the group then proceeded under escort to the New Brunswick airstrip called Nictau, an airfield configured in the shape of a giant “U” where one landed in one direction, turned into the pits, then flew out the takeoff runway in the opposite direction. Nictau was the base of operations for the 1955 project and also the place where the spray systems on each airplane were checked and calibrated (see the calibration report). As more airplanes arrived, they were escorted to other airfields around the province. Sam Steele and Bill Robinet were assigned to Nictau. They waited until the budworm larvae reached the fourth instar, as determined by the federal biologists, a period of a week to ten days. After the final preparations, eighteen Stearmans were stationed at Nictau. Of those aircraft in 1955 were #28 N1310N, flown by Sam Steele, and #29 N56716, flown by Robinet.
See the year 1953 for a gallery of images of the Nictau airstrip.
The Nictau airfield was constructed around an existing farm, a situation unique among the budworm airstrips in New Brunswick. There was a house [the former Miller Hotel], a large barn and an office-type building, to which were added “more sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a dining hall, central bath, shower facilities, control tower and a small shop building.” Every room of the house was converted to a bedroom and the barn had been converted to a two-story barracks. As of 2019, none of the buildings associated the operations are present, although the airstrip is still usable.
Accidents – New Brunswick
Hammer Crop Dusters N56940 #59
The first accident at Nictau involved a California pilot who Bill calls “Red” and who crashed into trees during a calibration run on 2 June 1955. He was flying Hammer Crop Dusters N56940 #59. The accident card and the 1955 report list the pilot as M.L. Karshner, which reads that the aircraft stalled after an engine failure while attempting to return to the airstrip. Bill Robinet takes three pages to describe this incident. The nose of the Stearman pitched straight down and the aircraft hit the ground in an exact vertical attitude and hard enough that the engine cylinders became completely buried. This is evident in the image below. “Red” survived and was in hospital for only three days; after this he was hired by the corporation to shuttle mail and people in a Cessna 172.
Hammer Crop Dusters N53178 #52
The second accident at Nictau occurred on 9 June 1955 and involved Hammer Crop Duster N53178 #52 flown by C.N. Proctor, who Bill refers to as Jeff Anderson. During this day, VIPs from the lumber companies had come to see the normal operations. The accident card reads that the pilot turned downwind throwing the aircraft out of control and into heavy bushes. This was out of sight of the airstrip, so the mishap was not seen by the officials; the crash site was actually on a nearby island in the river. The pilot had come in at nose high and with wings level between two trees, shearing the trunks close to the tops and removing all four wing panels. The Stearman hit the ground flat on the fuselage but spun around, driving a two-inch branch through the fuselage behind the cockpit, narrowly missing the pilot.
An RCN Piasecki HUP-3 helicopter (#945; 51-16621, as seen on the fuselage), piloted by two Navy pilots, who were also bunking on site, was engaged to pick up the pieces of the wreck and take them back to the airstrip. This is actually recorded in two images from the Forest Protection Limited files.
Bill Robinet describes the extraction process this way: “A large raft was constructed to obtain access to the area. Over the next several days, people, equipment and pieces of airplane were shuttled to and from the island quite frequently. To get [the] airplane out of the trees, the fuselage was cut just behind the cockpit into two sections. The rudder, elevators, horizontal stabilizer and other small parts were transported back to the strip by raft. The engine was taken back by helicopter, as was the fuselage from the firewall back to the cockpit.”
“For the next few days, Sam and I watched the Navy pilots … ponder over manuals and weight and balance data, for some divine guidance to justify going after [the] Stearman. To lighten the load, everything they could take out of the helicopter came out.” A cool temperature and light wind would also be favourable. It was made clear that “if at anytime during the lift, if things didn’t feel right, they would drop the load no matter what was below them.”
On the day of the lift, a large crowd gathered to see the operation. This was made up of everyone from the airstrip who could attend and members of a fishing club that was actually situated on the island. The operation started at 10 AM but by then the wind had picked up. The lift of the cockpit and hopper section went alright, but the engine posed a problem. While the helicopter was approaching the airstrip, “the load went wide, pulling the copter out with it” after which the pilot let go, smashing the engine into the ground from 150 feet.
The images above show the successful transport of the fuselage and landing gear. It seems that the HUP-3 was still numbered 945 in May-June 1955 while stationed at Nictau.
|The RCN Piasecki helicopter|
First date: 11 May 1954.
Taken on strength. Ex USAF H-25, kept US serial number in RCN service. Arrived at RCNAS [Royal Canadian Naval Air Service] Shearwater, in US Army markings, on 18 May 1954. To VH 21 at Shearwater in 1954, coded “945”. Renumbered as “245” in 1955. Still numbered “245” when transferred to VU 33 at NAF Patricia Bay, British Columbia, in 1958. Transferred by rail, arrived 10 July 1958. Later marked “405”, “921” and “621” while on the west coast.
Last date: 18 January 1964 – Struck off. R.W.R. Walker page
An RCN publication called “Squadrons and Shore Bases 1945-1962” briefly describes the events of 1955: “Detachment No. 3 of the helicopter squadron, which since April had been known as HU 21, was sent to provide search and rescue facilities for civilian aircraft spraying the New Brunswick forests against spruce budworm infestation. During this hazardous business, commercial aircraft were involved in seven crashes and a mid-air collision, two pilots being rescued from dense bush by the Piasecki helicopter.” [pages 59-60]
Hammer Crop Dusters #53 N9719H
One Stearman, #53 N9719H, crashed into heavy woods out of Budworm City on 15 June 1955, with no injury to the pilot, F. Church. The cause was engine failure.
Aero-Agricultural Service #41 N66301
N66301 #41 piloted by W.F. Meyer crashed at the end of the runway at Charlo airstrip, New Brunswick, 20 June 1955, after an aborted takeoff. The aircraft received substantial damage. No images.
Accidents – Quebec
Agricultural Aviation #99 N4787B
“Less fortunate was pilot Sam LeFever of Lancaster, Ohio, who ended up in hospital with a fractured shoulder when his plane [#99, N4787B], crash-landed in a heavily wooded area near Horne’s Gulch airstrip.” This location, pictured below, according to the Department of Transport accident card, was actually 40 km northwest of Kedgwick, NB, which puts it in Quebec, 14 km west of L’Ascension-de-Patapedia, if the coordinates on the card are correct.
Two Canadian and one American Stearman also suffered accidents in Quebec during the 1955 spray season. Descriptions are from the DOT accident cards, but we do not have any images.
Bradley Air Services CF-DZC #72 piloted by E.A. Waters suffered engine failure and crashed 4 mi southwest of Nouvelle Airstrip on 19 June 1955. Damage was substantial but the pilot was not injured.
Leavans Bros. Air Services CF-GAR #78 piloted by H.M. Hodgins crashed 1 mi east of Matane on 25 June. The pilot had noticed oil spraying on the starboard side. The oil pressure dropped and the engine began losing power, forcing the pilot to make a forced landing on a nearby road. Damage was substantial but the pilot was not injured.
Central Aircraft N1729B #20 piloted by Deane R. Brandon ran out of gasoline crashed near Upper Town, Quebec City on 27 June 1955 while on ferry after the end of spray operations. Damage was substantial but the pilot was not injured.
List of Stearman spray aircraft in New Brunswick and Quebec in 1955. Tail number, registration and pilot.
FARM-AIR COMPANY, West Sacramento, Calif.
#1 N1065N A.C. “Mac” McGlothin, Owner of Farm-Air Co.
#2 N56806 C. Klein
#3 N53084 E.F. Coulter
#4 N1074N G. Waage
#5 N64736 D. Whatley
#6 N1309N R.E. Poet (Destroyed by fire in 1956, Sevogle, N.B.)
#7 not used
Below: several of the Farm-Air Stearmans spraying or parked, possibly 1955. Sources: Provincial Archives of New Brunswick file P342-4666-001 and FPL files, showing possible images of photographer Joe Stone.
CENTRAL AIRCRAFT, INC., Yakima, Wash.
#8 N1262N E.O. Ducrest
#9 N57049 J. Kellog
#10 N49268 R.H. Dobrinska
#11 N56464 R.J. “Buck” Wheat
#12-14 not used
#15 N68441 R.K. Brown
#16 N58850 J.B. Crom
#17 N59553 W.T. Edgecombe
#18 not used
#19 N1728BR.E. Hudson
#20 N1729B D.R. “Dean” Brandon Crashed Upper Town, Quebec City, Que., 27 June 1955, while on ferry home, substantial damage (DOT card)
#21-22 not used
#23 N75521 R.F. Schmidt
#24-27 not used
ARIZONA AVIATION, Safford, Ariz.
#28 N1310N S. “Sam” Steele
#29 N56716 W. “Bill” Robinet
QUAADMAN DUSTERS, Corcoran, Calif.
#30 N59448 Zak
#31 N1318N E.A. Turner
#32 N68456 P.R. Cook
#33 N56843 D.L. Carrier
#34 N68461 G. Mower
#35 N62630 A.A. Fafleur
#36 not used
Piller Air Service, [location?]
#37 N1152N J.F. Welton
#38-39 not used
Aero-Agricultural Service, [location?]
#40 N5214N D.E. Royal
#41 N66301 W.F. Meyer Crashed 6 mi sw Charlo airport, Charlo, NB, 20 June 1955, substantial damage.
#42 N75867 W. Myers
#43 N75868 W.G. Thomas
#44 N52600 W.F. Kane
Russell Dusting Company, San Antonio, TX
#45 N4747N R.F. Trimble Crashed nose down, appears undamaged in image, no accident card.
#46 N64358 L.B. Lindburg
#47 N4740N M.L. Suhr
#48-50 not used
Hammer Crop Dusters Inc., Sacramento, CA
#51 N4825V J.E. Meader
#52 N53178 C.N. Proctor Crashed 0.5 mi nw Nictau airstrip, NB, 9 June 1955, destroyed. Described in Robinet book.
#53 N9719H H.I. Coones / F. Church [N9717H on accident card and in report; image of crash shows N9719H on tail] Crashed 4.5 km nw Budworm City airstrip, NB, 15 June 1955, substantial damage, pilot F. Church (on DOT card). See images above under Accidents.
#54 N62834 G.L. Dehay
#55 N62955 Joe K. Hammer
#56 N4826V F. Church
#57 N9129H W.C. Swanson Bill Swanson crashed N1316N in NB in 1952; he purchased N9129H in 1956 [Aerial Visuals]
#58 N1313N N.N. Varain
#59 N56940 M.L. Karshner Crashed 300 yds (275 m) n Nictau airstrip, NB, 2 June 1955, destroyed. Described in Robinet book. See images above under Accidents.
#60 N75100 J.O. Payton
Wheeler Airlines Ltd., St. Jovite, QU
#61 CF-EQS M. Beluse
#62 CF-EQT B. Pullman
#63 CF-EQU J. Tichopad
#64 CF-EQV D. Zaglavira
#65 CF-EQW G. Levitt
#66 CF-EQX P. Papillon Destroyed in Quebec 1960.
#67 CF-EQY H. Lewin
Sprayair Ltd., Sacramento, CA
#68 N1712B V. Leach
#69 N73796 A. Quensel
Bradley Air Services Ltd. Carp, ON
#70 CF-HKZ K. McLennan
#71 CF-FBD J. Watson Was N1632M, exported to Canada 1952.
#72 CF-DZC J. Watters / E.A. Waters Crashed 4 mi southwest of Nouvelle airstrip, Que., 19 June 1955, substantial damage, piloted by E.A. Waters (on card).
#73 CF-DQP D. Debliquie
#74 CF-IBA D. Hamilton
Leavens Brothers Air Services Ltd., Essex ON
#75 CF-FRY T. Foster
#76 CF-FRW B. Croft
#77 CF-FRZ D. “Doug” Worgan
#78 CF-GAR R. Hodgins / H.M. Hodgins Crashed 1 mi e L. Matane, Que., 25 June 1955, substantial damage.
#79 not used; #80 was Cessna CF-EKZ piloted by T.H. “Tom” Wilson and included in the calibration tests.
Skyway Air Services Ltd., Langley, BC
#81 CF-DFC E.W. Batchelor
#82 CF-DQL F. Legrice
Farmers’ Air Service, Klamath Falls, OR
#83 N58680 L. Olsen
#84 N62775 M. Hartley
#85 N56773 J. Genever
Marsh Aviation Co. Inc., Mesa, AZ
#86 N68162 A. Richardson
#87 N56383 W. Goswick
#88 N53025 G. Rye
#89 N56805 G. Bishop
#90-91 See Medford
#92 N67884 C. Rich
#93 N53090 S. James
#94 not used
Medford Air Services, Medford, OR
#90 N1054N J.W. King (Destroyed at Budworm City, N.B. 1957.)
#91 N1055N A.L. Cleven
Ueding Flying Service, Vincennes, IN
#95 N9955H C.D. Richardson
#96 N55898 C.L. Landis
Aerial Crop Service, Carlsbad, CA
#97 N50087 P.E. Oakes
#98 N69881 R. Cox
Agriculture Aviation Service, Lancaster, OH
#99 N4787B S. Lefever Crashed 14 km west of L’Ascencion-de-Patapedia, Que. (= 40 km northwest of Kedgwick, NB) 19 June 1955, substantial damage.
See images under accidents above.
Simsbury Flying Services, Simsbury, Conn.
#100 N51071 J. Slovak
#101 N9386H H. Lindsay
#102 N58065 G. Bailey
DDT on 1,040,000 acres via 40 Stearman [Webb et al. 1961; Blais et al. in Prebble 1975]. This was the first year that the Gaspé Region was sprayed for budworm but the second for the Lower St. Lawrence Region. The operation took place in three separate districts, Rimouski, Matane and Baie des Chaleurs. In Quebec four newly constructed airstrips used were Cap Chat (Matane District), Laverendrye, Nouvelle and Farm Lake (Baie des Chaleurs District) and, just over the border in New Brunswick, Horne’s Gulch (Rimouski District) (Webb et al. 1961). The locations of the spray areas and airstrips are shown on the map at the beginning of this page.
The operation was sponsored by Quebec Forest Industries Limited and the cost was shared jointly with the Government of Quebec and private leaseholders. Spraying was carried out by Forest Protection Limited. Spraying commenced on June 19 for the Rimouski District and June 19 for the Matane and Baie des Chaleurs districts, which were farther north and thus later in insect development. Spraying wound up for the year on June 29.
Cap Chat airstrip, located on the north coast of the Gaspé about 60 miles inland from Matane and the nearby coastal community of Cap Chat [English: Cape Cat], was a newly constructed facility. This Gaspé airfield was configured such that the departure was the same direction as the landing, with the pits situated in a dogleg in the middle. The landing approach was from the east, then a right turn into the pits and a left turn to leave them for the takeoff runway. Bill Robinet and colleagues spent the remainder of the season at Cap Chat. Compared with Nictau, the flying in the Gaspé was difficult, as most of the flying required a flight over a mountain range.
At the end of the season the Cap Chat Stearmans were ferried under escort to Rimouski and then to Montreal and home to Arizona.