TAAA: How it All Began
[This article was written by Jack LeClair and printed in the 1979 edition of the “TAAA Flyer.”]
No one seems to know just when or where the first aerial application of farm chemicals occurred in Texas, but a safe guess would be the Rio Grande Valley of the rice belt of the Coastal Bend area. Certainly these two areas had the early developers of the application industry in such people as Pappy Blackwell of San Benito, Heard Cardin of Harlingen, the Mitchell brothers of Beaumont, Parker of Port Arthur and many others whose contribution to the industry will probably remain unrecognized. One thing we do know if that the Texas Agricultural Aviation Association originated in the Rio Grande Valley in 1951, and that is what this story is about.
When World War II came to an end in 1945, millions of people were released from the services with thousands of different skills, some usable in a peaceful world and some not. Among these people were thousands of pilots, some wanting to continue flying, some hoping to never see another airplane, but in either case 99 percent of these pilots had no airplane to fly nor anyone who was going to furnish them one. Some of the more imaginative, more adventuresome, and more innovative ones decided to try the new-fanged way of dispersing cotton dust, citrus dust, rice, et cetera through and airplane, a thing that they had heard about before the war, and in some areas had actually seen. Airplanes were cheap and pilots were plentiful and so an industry that had grown slowly before the war began to expand rapidly in 1946 and 1947.
In the late 1940s in the Rio Grand Valley all the applications from airplanes were in the form of dusts until someone decided to put booms on an airplane and play like a tractor rig. It worked and then a few others tried it, more as a protection from their competitors than any deep-seated faith that the thing would actually work. At the same time, the chemical companies were taking advantage of the things they had learned in World War II and were turning out some new chlorinated hydrocarbons that fit the idea of large volume, fast-acting spraying that airplanes provided perfectly. So a new spraying and chemical use technique was underway. The only problem in the Valley was “what to charge” for this new service. Some were charging by the gallon, some by the acre, and some thought the others were not charging at all. This led to the first meeting of aerial applicators that was to later form what we now call the Texas Agricultural Aviation Association.
Charles McMillan and Bull Kuby worked in the same area of the upper valley and their paths crossed frequently. One day over coffee they wondered if they could get other valley operators together long enough to work out the price problem and they decided to give it a try. Charlie told Bill Austin, his chief pilot, office manager and bookkeeper, to order some steaks and beer and get ready for a party. Bill called everyone he knew and some he didn’t, and told them to “come to Edinburgh on a certain night, bring your tire tools, your shotguns, and whatever you think you need and we will work out this price thing.” Bill Kuby and Charlie McMillan, both deceased, are the first two who really tried to do something about our problems as ag operators. Bill at the time of his death was working on six airplanes and Charlie had retired from the flying business and was operating several bulldozers clearing land in New Mexico.
The first meeting was a matter of feeling each other out and getting acquainted, but they did recognize a need for cooperation. They decided to meet again. The second meeting was held in Bill’s hangar at Pharr. Some of the problems had been worked out, but they decided to have an organizational meeting, form an association, if they could, and plan for a third meeting at Lloyd Molen’s place in Mercedes.
In the meantime, the new year of 1951 came along and with it the big freeze in which virtually the entire citrus industry of the valley was wiped out. The agricultural crops had changed overnight to cotton and some other row crops, the crop dusters were left sitting with their duster planes with nothing to dust. At the third meeting at Mercedes everyone came, the operators, the pilots, the loading boys, everyone, and this time they did put together an association. They called it the Associated Airplane Dusters and Sprayers of the Rio Grande Valley. That was the beginning of what we now call the TAAA. Officers and directors were elected at this first association meeting. They were Bill Kuby of Pharr, Vice President; Ken Medders, Sr. of San Benito, Vice President; Bill Austin of Edinburg, Secretary/Treasurer; Charles McMillan of Edinburg, Maynard “Spud” Pineck of Brownsville, L. H. Ward of Raymondville, Lloyd Nolen of Mercedes, Heard Cardin of Harlingen, as directors. Janice Medders, Ken’s wife, took on the job of writing the original constitution and bylaws. For this big, non-paying accomplishment, the association owes her many thanks.
In 1953 and 1954 under the leadership of Dave Setters of Weslaco and Lloyd Nolen of Mercedes and with the assistance of Ken Medders of San Benito, Jo Jones of Rio Hondo, plus many others, a great effort was made to organize state-wide. These men, using their own money and airplanes for traveling, flew to Pecos, Lubbock, Fort Worth, Houston, and any other place they could get two or more persons together to sell the idea of the association. In 1955 they held their first convention out of the valley at Galveston, and here Ralph Crosnoe of Texarkana was elected the first president not from the valley. They were now a state association.
From those early, doubtful, cautious days of the ’40s and ’50s and from the ideas of two men trying to work out a problem for an industry, our association has grown to over 600 active members. This success has not been easy and it has come with the constant attention of the directors and officers. The leaders of these dedicated people started with Bill Kuby, our first president and has continued through today.