1956 – Bigger and More Complex

Latest draft 31 March 2020

New Brunswick

Airstrips and Aircraft

The eleven airstrips used in New Brunswick were Boston Brook, Budworm City, Charlo, Dunphy, Juniper, Tabu, Taxes, Horne’s Gulch, Nictau, Rose Hill and Sevogle. Renous was not used in 1956 and Nictau was not used in 1955.

Dunphy, Juniper, Tabu, and Taxes airstrips were constructed after the 1955 spray season and were used for the first time in 1956. Two new airstrips, Grog Brook and MacFarlane, were built after the 1956 spray period for use in 1957. The fields were strung out along a circle reaching the Quebec line to the north and the Miramichi River on the south.

12 Cessna observation aircraft supplied again by Laurentide Aviation, Cartierville, Quebec
89 Stearman, few details, two aircraft lost during operations, with no injuries to pilots

Information is severely lacking on the identities and distribution of the 89 Stearman that worked in New Brunswick in 1956, so I’m not going to try to make assumptions, except that the individual aircraft would be mostly the same ones as in 1955, plus a few more. However, we can assume that all 7 Wheeler Stearmans were present.

Dunphy165,000
Taxes80,000
Juniper45,000
Nictau76,000
Boston Brook64,000
Horne’s Gulch101,000
Budworm City95,000
Rosehill108,000
Sevogle153,000
Tabu79,000
Charlo48,000
TOTAL1,024,000
The table shows the approximate number of gallons sprayed at the eleven airstrips during the 1956 spray season, and approximates the amount of Stearman activity at each one. Those that sprayed more than 100,000 gallons are bolded. [Forest Protection Limited – Progress Report for July 1956, Montreal, July 11, 1956]

Dunphy Airstrip

I’ve managed to obtain copies of many images from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB), located here in Fredericton. These appear to be all from the Dunphy airstrip, a most accessible place as it is located beside Route 8 from Fredericton to Newcastle/Chatham, now together called Miramichi City. The site is now all overgrown, but the white church is still there and is easily recognizable in some of the images below. For more Dunphy images, see HERE.

From the images, it appears that all the Bradley and Skyway Stearmans were stationed there, along with a few Aero-Agriculture aircraft and possibly a few others. The aerial image above shows 18 Stearmans parked.

The possible 18 Stearmans at Dunphy Airstrip, 1956

Based on images from the New Brunswick Provincial Archives, here is my best bet on the 18 Stearmans that were based at Dunphy airstrip in 1956. Starred (*) registrations have an associated image.

Unknown U.S. Spray Company
#25 N65736 *

Unknown U.S. company N65736 #25 at Dunphy airstrip, 1956. [Provincial Archives of New Brunswick P342-2556 1956_PANB_0083]

Aero-Agricultural Service, [location?]
#40 N5214N
#41 N66301 *
#43 N75868
#44 N75669 *

Bradley Air Services Ltd., Carp, Ontario
#70 CF-HKZ *
#71 CF-FBD *
#72 CF-DZC *
#73 CF-DQP *
#74 CF-IBA *

Leavens Brothers Air Services Ltd., Essex, Ontario
#75 CF-FRY
#76 CF-FRW
#77 CF-FRZ * D. “Doug” Worgan
#78 CF-GAR

Doug Worgan in one of the Leavans Bros. aircraft, probably CF-FRZ, Dunphy airstrip, 1956. [Provincial Archives of New Brunswick P342-2556 1956_PANB_6491]

Skyway Air Services Ltd., Langley, British Columbia
#81 CF-DFC *
#82 CF-DQL *

Ueding Flying Service, Vincennes, Indiana
#95 N9955H
#96 N55898

Other Aircraft at Dunphy

Laurentide Cessna 170B CF-HIM (msn 26093, was N1948C) with unidentified partner, Dunphy airstrip, New Brunswick, 1956. The 18 Stearman can be seen in the background. [Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, P342-2556 1956_PANB_0079]

The 1956 Season

The 1956 operation was the biggest to date and covered approximately 2 million acres. Half of this consisted of covering areas sprayed chiefly in 1953, and the other half of new areas of severe attack in the central and northeastern areas of the province. Plans for 1957 involve a continuation of the program on the largest scale yet, possibly to 5 million acres. [F.E. Webb 1957]

“Robert Rychlicki, general manager of Wheeler Airlines, scoured Canada and the United States rounding up ninety Stearman sprayers.” Four new airstrips were constructed. This was the first year that Forest Protection Limited formulated and mixed its own insecticide in the province. In previous years it had been purchased ready-made in the U.S. The mixing plant, the Chatham Formulating Plant, was built beside a siding in Chatham where the oil solvent could be shipped in from Halifax by tank car. The DDT, which looked like soap flakes, arrived in 50-pound bags from the U.S. The resulting insecticide was then trucked to storage tanks at each of the airfields. [unpublished FPL report]

On May 28, 24 Stearmans of the expected 90 arrived at the Fredericton airport, along with six guide planes. A group of pilots visited City Hall in Fredericton where they were welcomed by Mayor H.S. Wright, who was then conferred the “Order of the Crash Helmet.” It is not clear from the article if all 90 Stearmans arrived in one day, but the article does report that nine remained overnight and that many flew on to their assigned airstrips the same day.

Spraying started along the Main Southwest Miramichi River region on June 6 from Dunphy airstrip when Bradley air Services Stearmans #70 CF-HKZ and #71 CF-FBD became airborne. A Piper aircraft piloted by Rusty Mulcahy of Yakima, Washington, carried Dr. Frank E. Webb, entomologist in charge of the operation, who was there to observe the first of the 1,300,000 gallons of DDT to be administered. Mulcahy was a supervisor for Wheeler Airlines, the prime contractor. On hand below were B.W. Flieger, manager of Forest Protection Limited, and Harry Gardener of Washington State, in charge of Wheeler Airlines. [Telegraph-Journal, 9 June 1956]

The last flights were conducted June 27 from Horne’s Gulch airstrip, Restigouche County, in the northwest corner of the province, for a total period of 21 days. After the spray period, aerial surveys and ground checks will be conducted by the entomologists to determine the effects of the applications. Thirty-eight of the Stearmans were sent to three airstrips in Quebec.

No personnel were injured due to flying incidents. Unfortunately, the arrangements regarding the rescue helicopter were not as satisfactory as in previous years.

End of season group picture, Dunphy airstrip, New Brunswick, 1956. [Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, P342-2556 1956_PANB_0071c]

Large flights of adult moths were recorded less frequently and captures at light traps were smaller than in 1955. However, there were record catches in the northwestern part of the province on several nights in early August and an extraordinarily large invasion in the town of Campbellton on the nights of August 6 and 7. The gallery below shows the conditions at night, and the disposal of dead moths in the river the next day.

By the Skin of my Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story

By the Skin of my Teeth: A Cropduster’s Story by William “Bill” Robinet (Billville Press) is again 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. The stories below are told mostly in his own words.

Bill Robinet was invited back to the Budworm Project in New Brunswick in 1956. The departure date was to be early in the morning of May 15, and he would be flying with 19 others from the Marsh Aviation fleet. He would be flying one of Steve James’ airplanes, and Steve would fly the other one. He did not work in Quebec in 1956, and his descriptions of the events are much less than in 1955.

Considerable planning went in to moving twenty airplanes for a 3,000 mile trip across the continent, with stops 150 miles apart and several RONs (rest over night) stops. Heading the Marsh fleet was Gayle Bishop, an ex airline pilot making his second trip to New Brunswick. The last RON on the trip east was Hancock Field at Syracuse, New York, where the Canadian Department of Transport Chief Engineer examined all the U.S. aircraft before allowing them into Canada. Gayle Bishop, Steve James and Bill Robinet were photographed and interviewed for the local newspaper after they had washed down several of the Stearmans. This article is included in Robinet’s book and is reproduced below.

Robinet’s group of 12 aircraft was cleared to fly to Fredericton, N.B., where they would be checked through Customs and handed over to Forest Protection Limited for escort to Nictau for calibration and assignment. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a report for the calibration, thus there is no final list of spray aircraft for 1956.

This article was in the image section of Bill Robinet’s book, and describes the time at Hancock Field in Syracuse, New York in May 1956.
From a letter to Forest Protection Limited dated April 24, 1956, from Lee Saucier of Marsh Aviation.

Taxes airstrip

Robinet was part of a group of 16 aircraft that departed for Taxes airstrip, near Boisetown, a location where the pilots and crew could partake in many recreational pursuits. The Chief pilot was P.E. Buckley, who ran a small operation out of Mesa, Arizona. Robinet spends several pages relating stories of that period, too long and involved to describe here, so you will just have to order the book and read them yourself!

Bill Robinet describes two accidents (see below) that occurred to planes flying out of Taxes, including one of his own, one fatal and the other serious but reparable. In fact their were no fatalities during the Quebec-New Brunswick spray season and I have not been able to identify the one Bill describes.

The crew eventually ferried over to the isolated Budworm City for more spraying and then to the much less isolated Charlo airstrip to work for the remainder of the season. Bill’s group finished the project and headed home to Arizona through Quebec via Rimouski and Montreal.

Gallery: Bill Robinet in Marsh Stearman #92 N67884, 1956.

N.B. accidents

On June 13, Marsh Aviation pilot G.G. Cornia was taxiing Stearman N67884 owned by Steve James at Taxes airstrip when he collided with a parked Cessna 170 CF-HPX owned by Laurentide Aviation and piloted by Jerry Bulkley. Resulting damage was minor to both aircraft, and there were no injuries (DOT card).

On June 14, Bill Robinet damaged the lower right wing panel of (again) N67884 while attempting to land at Taxes. The DOT card describes it a “pilot error”, but Bill takes almost two pages to describe how he hit a dead snag. The wing was replaced, but it was a bright yellow that stood out against the normal silver wings and fuselage.

On June 15, John A. Meaders was piloting N4825V for West Coast Air Service when the engine failed and he was forced to make a landing in unfavourable terrain 1.5 northwest of Rosehill airstrip. The damage was substantial but Meaders was not injured (DOT card).

Robert K. Annan was piloting N1309N on June 23 when the aircraft suffered an immediate loss of power on takeoff at Sevogle airstrip, causing a forced landing 1/4 mile north of the runway. The Stearman, owned by PMP Aviation of Salem, Oregon, was destroyed by fire, but pilot Annan was not injured. (DOT card)

Mosquitoes

Although the mosquito nuisance was expected to be less than in 1955, Moncton city officials still ordered the spraying of marshes in the city area. Charles McEwen’s field on the Irishtown Road was again used as a base for the two Stearmans from Wheeler Airlines. These were piloted by 33-year-old Marcel Beluse of Montreal and 26-year-old Peter Holttendorp of Brantford, Ontario. The guide pilot is Rheese Dickie of Moncton. Another spray was planned later in the summer. [Moncton Transcript, 19 May 1956]

Quebec

DDT on 446,000 acres were treated by 32 Stearman [Webb et al. 1961; Blais et al. in Prebble 1975] in this third consecutive year of operations in Quebec. The operation was sponsored by the Quebec Forest Industries Association Limited (Q.F.I.A.) and the cost was shared jointly by the Provincial government and the participating companies. Budworm populations were generally higher in 1956 than in 1955. Emergence was later and development more retarded than in 1956. Regions treated were again the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé Peninsula, based on the 1955 operations. Airstrips used were Patapedia, Cap Chat and Farm Lake (Webb et al. 1961), and Nouvelle. Spraying began June 18 and was completed July 1; areas at lower elevations were treated first. Treating of these areas will continue in 1957.

Perhaps the toughest test encountered by the Stearmans came near the end of the Quebec operation when 22 planes were loaded onto the Nouvelle airstrip to clean up the job. They were flying on short hauls from a small airstrip that could accommodate only six planes at one time, four loading and two on the runway. So that they could land in some kind of order, a holding pattern was established; at one point, six planes were circling the field at one time. [unpublished FPL report]

Accidents in Quebec

Hammer Stearman N62834 piloted by Roland Eckman and under lease to Wheeler Airlines crash landed 10 miles west of Matapedia. Damage was substantial but the pilot was not injured. The DOT card states that there was no other information as this aircraft had left for the U.S.

Wheeler Airlines CF-EQU piloted by Michael Gordy crashed July 3 near Riviere du Loup. The pilot had misjudged his approach to a small turf field and undershot the landing area, nosing over in a ditch. Damage was minor and no injuries occurred (DOT card).

British Columbia

Experimental spray for Black-headed Budworm in northern Vancouver Island was conducted by one Stearman from Skyway Air Services in June. [Lejeune in Prebble 1975]

Maine

The government of Maine hired FPL to assist in its spruce budworm program by providing equipment and personnel. This assistance was granted up to 1975.