1968 - 1988
On a dark night, late in the year of nineteen hundred and sixty eight, a band of wandering pilots gathered to conspire against the mundane means of flight. They numbered six in all and they were a breed of their own, full of fire and a lust for a better way. With names like Ned Barnes, John Embry, Ron Hicken, Charlie Staton, and Dick and
Without a leader, they were useless to their cause. Without a common name, they were meaningless to the cause. Out of the darkness came a flame of fire, fire that sparked a passion for flight. Out of the fire came LARKS. And as the flame grew brighter, a leader emerged. That leader was Dick VanDyke. And he needed help. And John Embry was chosen. As the first president and vice president of LARKS, they were to take this band of wandering pilots and prove that a few could use flight for the cause of many.
Now this gang called LARKS roamed the countryside flying here and there. They didn't have a home, but they did have some friends. So, during 1969, they gathered at a private airstrip belonging to Dr. George Hardy Vincent. There they furthered their fancy for flight.
Along about 1970 came the first AMA sanction for LARKS, and along came a fellow named Bo Hinch. Now this Mr. Hinch, he had acquired about 20 acres of land. And he figured that maybe LARKS could fly some of their contraptions out on the corner of his land. So in the spring of ‘71, LARKS found a grass field to call home. By now their numbers had grown to 10 or 12. And they all paid their dues of 50 cents a month.
Some of the contraptions they flew back then were called things like Tri-Squire, Citation, Quick Fly, Kaos, and Challenger. They controlled those flying machines with unpredictable and unbelievably large radio systems. They learned the hard way.
Now LARKS settled down at making the best of things. In 1972, they horn-swaggled the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury into giving up some money to make this field a public park. Sorta like a boat launch, only this was an airplane launch. And the police jury put it under the keen and watchful eyes of the LARKS.
In the summer of `73, a 20’ x 200’ concrete runway was poured and the fieldhouse was started. Since then, the runway has been added to twice and the taxiways were put down. The fieldhouse was put in commission in `74, but somehow, it just never really got finished. The pit area was originally out in front of the fieldhouse. Evidently it was eventually moved to where it is now (where's the umbrella with the wheel on it?). Anyway, over the next few years the police jury invested about $11,000 in this here park. A few of the LARKS invested their blood, sweat and tears in this here park.
Back in 1972, the Navy decided it had had enough of the NATS after 25 years in the business. The AMA had taken over the reins in 1973 and had held the NATS in
Things must have gone pretty good in `74, cause in 1975 the AMA came to the LARKS and asked if they could bring the NATS back to
The LARKS membership seemed to swell up after each of the NATS, and members were comin and goin like flies on a cow patty. At one time, LARKS had as many as 60 members, although many of them hardly ever showed up at the flying field. And, over the years, the dues structure had progressed to $36 a year (that's three bucks a month). Also, over the years the group was joined by Nick Nixon,
You know there are some stories that need telling about now. Can't understand why, but it seems like Ned Barnes always had someone pickin on him. Story goes that Ned had a Tri-Squire that was devoured by one of John Embry's planes being pulled by an Enya 60. Had to burp that Enya to get it started again. And we'll never tell who put their hands over Ned's eyes, while Ned was flying, and gave him his first lesson in IFR (that's “Instrument Flight Rules,” not “I can’t Find the Runway!”).
Now Mr. Embry was a pretty good pilot, even back then, and he knew that old Ned couldn't beat him in a Quickie 500 pylon race. That is, until Ned found out that John momentarily lost his concentration whenever Ned buzzed within 8 or 10 feet of John at about 90 miles an hour. It was the only way Ned could beat John in a race. And John once found out that it's really neat to land an airplane upside down, in front of a crowd. Don't know if the retracts were down or not.
And, back in ‘72, Nick Nixon walked in to join the LARKS just in the "nick of time". Seems as though LARKS needed 5 members to have a meeting, and Nick walked in and was made Vice President. Nick didn't waste any time getting down to entertaining the troops. He happened to have a near quarter scale plane, with about an eight foot wingspan, that he had brought back from
Getting back to business; the LARKS gang had nothing better to do in 1976, than build and fly airplanes and helicopters and get itself Inc.'d. On December 8, 1976, the great state of
Now along in 1977, Mr. Bo Hinch offered to sell to the LARKS, the land that they had been keepin an eye on for the police jury (remember them?). They were still paying the electric bill for LARKS. The LARKS gang figured that if they owned the park, then they wouldn't have to keep an eye on it for the police jury. And, that wasn't all, owning the park just sounded like a real good idea. Well, Mr. Hinch had himself a deal and the gang as a whole went down to the bank and signed a note and borrowed the money to buy the land. And, in order to pay the bank, membership dues were raised to $100 a year (that's $8.33 a month, for all you non-mathematicians). Boy, did the flies leave the cow patty! With membership down to about 20, times got real hard, but you know the old saying, "when the going gets tough, the tough go flying".
Yep, you guessed it. 1978 saw the NATS back at Chennault, and the LARKS proved that it was not just a lark. Time rocked along and just a few years back, in `85, Nat Penton arranged to have the Master's Tournament held here. Then in `86, the NATS came back to
1987 saw the LARKS membership grow in leaps and bounds. That's when I joined in on the fun. All the while, the grass grew ten times faster than the membership, and there just didn't seem to be enough pilot-power to keep up with it. The treasury seemed to heal overnight from a long terminal illness. The mortgage was finally paid off, and there seemed to be a sigh of relief.
And now, 1988 is drawing to an end. This year LARKS celebrates twenty years of takeoffs and landings. The membership is still growing, and the long-standing problem of getting the grass cut was laid to rest for a while. Mr. S. F. Valentine, an older gentleman most of us have never known, joined Ned Barnes as a lifetime LARKS member. LARKS finally got its very own post office box and should receive the property tax assessments there for the first time this year.
There have been the traditional fun-fly, helicopter fly-in, and pattern contests. LARKS has maintained its tradition of flying for various company picnics, and has started what may be the need for a special events calendar. The LARKS flew at the July 4th celebration for the town of
Al Guerrini was elected to his second term as president of LARKS. Nick Nixon resigned from the coke fund, which brought a tear to our eyes. Hopefully, Wendy Embry will let him be guest coke fund reporter every now and then. Dick VanDyke had to fill in as president at the November meeting, and along with secretary Rebecca Phelps, performed the best lip-sync act of the year. John Embry came back from
A lot of good folks have not been mentioned here. Someday, hopefully, there will be a spot of light on them so they can tell their stories. In the meantime, hopes for the future are for unity and a solid foundation in the membership of LARKS, for maybe a model museum where the older model aircraft can be displayed and memories of people like Fred Hendricks can be revived. Some of us hope to someday know half as much about R/C modeling as some of the members of LARKS who have been around for 20 years or more.
Now, back in `68, if the LARKS gang knew what they were getting into, what with all the good times and the bad, with the NATS, and with the way things are now, do you reckon they would have started this whole thing? You can bet your boots on it! You see these fellows LOVE flying model aircraft. Don't you ever doubt that some of these guys have made LARKS, and flying, a way of life. Their investment of blood, sweat, and tears in this here park is paying dividends to all that have followed under the keen and watchful Eye of the LARK.
Once a flock of birds would gather
In this field to play and visit.
They would fly in all directions,
When weather would permit it.
Their love of flight, they had in common,
And they knew just how to do it.
Sometimes there was difference of opinion
On just how to pursue it.
When weather was so bad
And flight was out of the question,
They would gather in their nest
To have some planning sessions.
Now grounded birds are grumpy
The longer they do not fly.
You see their feathers ruffle
As they gaze into the sky.
They plan some improvements to their field
From wince they took flight.
Sometime these discussions
Would go deep into the night.
Chirping, pecking, scratching,
Each bird would have his say.
But all the flock would see to it
Not just one bird would have his way.
Finally a plan is agreed upon,
And you could feel the peace prevail.
As each bird left the nest that night,
At least one feather was missing from every tail.
The flock went on to fly together, work together, too.
Their tail feathers grew back, most as good as new.
They repaired their nest, cage and field,
Each one doing their part.
I know for I am one of those birds,
And I’m proud to be a LARK.
1989 - 1998
It's been ten years since I sat down and interviewed some of our charter and long time members and put their remembrances into written words. Writing this story is reinforcing my love for aviation, flying model airplanes, and the people who fly them with me. There have been so many things that have happened since the close of Chapter 1. I hope I can do justice to the third decade in the history of LARKS.
In 1989, LARKS lost one of its most memorable members. Ned Barnes went on to the great airfield in the sky. In his last few years, Ned fought to keep up his strength to fly. Chet Winkler had built Ned's Kadet Senior for him. John Embry would take the airplane off for Ned, and even then, Ned could only make left turns. Back on Halloween of 1988, Gary Holt had a party at his home and had invited the club to the party and to fly. Ned was flying his Senior when smoke started coming out of the tail end of the fuselage, almost like he had a smoke system on the airplane. Upon landing, Ned found that the muffler on his four-cycle engine had come loose, had rotated down, and had burned a hole plumb through the balsa windscreen, filling his airplane with smoke.
In 1995, Bobby Benoit finally finished construction on a Robin Hood 80 that Ned had started to build and had passed along to Bobby and Bo Hinch. It was named “Ned's Dream,” and was passed on, in an emotional moment, to Scott, Ned's son, who had just joined the club for the first time.
Some of us still remember the "words of wisdom" passed on by Ned, some of which were; "Always start screwing in a glow plug by hand.” "Keep the power up when you’re landing into a strong wind.” and "Hell no, we'll never have the NATS here again!" To those of us who knew him, Ned still flies with us.
1990 saw the Ned Barnes' Memorial Fly-in at LARKS airfield. Sonny Stokeld felt the sting of his first mid-air collision when a Chipmunk flown by Randy Perry plucked the tail feathers off of his Kadet Senior. This was only the first time one of Sonny’s Seniors would be involved in something other than a relatively normal flight.
LARKS’ first big bird fly-in, the IMAA District VIII fly-in, was held at Hinch Field. Those who came saw some solid flying skills demonstrated. Stinger Wallace from the Lufkin R/C Club flew a P-47 Thunderbolt inverted so close to the runway that he smashed the canopy. Bo Hinch flew the beautiful Polykarpov biplane, with the sweetest sounding radial engine. The airplane was scratch built and owned by Bill O'Brian. Bobby Benoit and Gary Holt demonstrated aviation from the era of World War I, flying their graceful Sopwith Pups in formation.
There was a pattern contest, a very successful helicopter fly-in, flight demonstrations for the city of
1991 almost turned out to be a bad year right from the start when LARKS was advised that a fire fighting school was scheduled to be built in the field just west of the airfield. This meant that oil fires would be started in pits so the fire fighter trainees could put them out. Through a lot of determination, co-operation, discussions, and some help from above, the plans were cancelled.
The IMAA Rally of the Giants was held in
‘91 was also a very busy year for LARKS. We flew flight demonstrations for CITGO, the Krewe du Lac, and the folks over in
The runway was extended from 250 feet to 350 feet, thanks to CWMI, so the big birds and the ducted fan fans would have more runnin’ room. Chet Winkler and Dick and
Buck Buchanan was presented with a Lifetime membership in LARKS at his 50th wedding anniversary party. Buck passed away in January 1992.
Ah! 1992. The year of the control tower. Started during a previous administration, the control tower was finally finished. It stands so proudly with its flagpoles pointing poignantly toward the boundless sky. If you’ve ever been up on the second level deck on a hot summer afternoon, you know that the slightest breeze seems to find its way to the tower to give a brief but cool sigh of relief from the heat. It’s also a hoot to fly a Kadet Senior from the control tower, when the wind is calm and there’s no one else on the flight line.
Sonny and I had a mid-air collision that, I swear, ended up to be one of the most beautiful sights in model aviation that I have ever seen. The mid-air occurred with our two Kadet Seniors, which locked up with the wings extending out in a side by side configuration. The engine on Sonny’s plane kept running for a short time and started the two “entangled” airplanes to turning, “helicoptering” down. We both stood, in amazement, watching the planes float slowly, twirling down to the ground. They were found sitting a few feet apart, looking straight at each other, as if they were saying, “Thanks for the dance!”
Richard King built for his dad, Leonard, a bright, shiny, new Kadet Senior, painted red and white, and with struts, no less. Only problem is, this airplane weighed in around fourteen pounds. For a plane that should weigh about seven pounds, that old bird flew pretty good. And one that would have made for a nice home movie; Nick Nixon was taxiing his Stik around during a radio check. The plane was moving just as slow as it could go, when turned east off of the runway, slowly crossed the grassy area, and rolled right down into the ditch. If you hadn’t known better, it looked like that was exactly where Nick wanted the thing to go.
The north canopy was built to provide a very much-needed expansion to the pit area. It also proved to be a good place for water to gather during heavier rainstorms. And, the LARKS gang did its usual thing in ’92, all the fly-ins, flight demonstrations, float flying and such.
A passage from Shakey Spear:
A big long slab of concrete, we always try to hit it.
But even with all the practice, sometimes we just can’t git it.
We land on the grass and out in the field, till it just don’t make sense.
But believe me you haven’t done bad at all, till you strain one through the barbwire fence.
1993 was ushered in with the birth of SOLATEX (South Louisiana Texas). The LARKS, Orange County R/C Club (Eagles), Mid-county R/C Club and the Beaumont R/C Club, all got together to arrange to have fly-ins at each other’s airfield, rotating from one to the other. It was a good demonstration of co-operation among folks. The first SOLATEX fly-in at the
The second SOLATEX fly-in was held at LARKS where
LARKS was recognized by the AMA as a Silver Leader Club for meeting and maintaining certain standards in promoting model aviation, modeling safety, and community services. Every member of LARKS should be proud of this recognition. LARKS has maintained its Silver Leader Club status ever since.
A new club membership classification “Charter Member” was created. Charter Members became Life Members of LARKS. A beautiful memorial plaque was designed by Sonny Stokeld and was installed in the fieldhouse. The plaque bears the names of our six original charter members, of who all but Ned are still alive and kicking. It will bear the names of our general membership in good standing when they join Ned at that great airfield in the sky.
And yes, we did all the flight demonstrations, some excellent float flying, a glider fly-in and LARKS has become a permanent part of the Louisiana National Airshow.
Along about ’94, it just so happened that there were some power lines that border one side of Boys Village out east of Lake Charles. During a flight demonstration at that particular location, a certain individual’s yellow and red Kadet Senior met its match when it parlayed the power lines with shocking results. Sonny only had to build a new wing this time if recollections are good.
Chet Winkler had scratch built a Stinson SR-9 and had been carrying it around in his van. He went on vacation to his “homeland” that summer and took the Stinson along. Upon returning, Chet reported that the Stinson now had about 3,200 miles on it, had been over 900 feet in altitude, and still had not been flown. To this day, the Stinson has not been flown. She truly is “Queen of the Hangar.”
’94 was also the year of the prodigal Robin Hood. Tom Cummings was out flying his Robin Hood 80 and was having so much fun, the on board battery pack ran low. The airplane flew off into the sunset. Tom set out on a search and rescue mission that would have left most of us building a new airplane. Tom rented a full size Cessna (he’s a licensed pilot) and with Bo Stine along for a ride, went looking for his airplane. They spotted something white down there, and thinking they had found the lost Robin Hood, they landed and went to the spot, only to find some old cow bones. Tom took a boat ride up and down Choupique Bayou looking for his airplane. Tom walked through marshland, timberland and prairieland, over cow patties and under brush, looking for his airplane. After about three or four weeks, Tom found his airplane about a mile from the airfield. Tom still flies his Robin Hood whenever he can.
Leonard and Richard King built a P-51 Mustang weather vane and installed it on top of the windsock. SOLATEX continued with a fly-in at the Orange County R/C Club field. Sadly, the tradition of having a helicopter fly-in fell by the wayside due to lack of interest. A big bird fly-in and an open fly-in rounded out the year’s activity at LARKS. There were of course the flight demonstrations for the local industries, and our participation in the Louisiana National Airshow.
A passing thought to remember:
The average person spends about 220,000 hours sleeping during his or her lifetime. Just think of all the flying we’re missing!
Just to get 1995 started off with a bang, a P-51 Mustang, a gallant symbol of “Warbirds” in all its fame and glory, was shot down by a little old yellow Piper Cub. Yep, it was the Mustang that so proudly perched on top of the windsock. Joel Bush showed everyone that a Mustang ain’t so tough. That P-51 was shattered into little strips of wood with only minor damage to the Piper Cub. And wouldn’t you know it, Joel’s wife, Jo Ann, was standing right there with a video camera and has the whole thing on record.
Bo Stine lost a fun Telemaster Funster to a spin and a power line. The airplane had been “extended” and had full 90 degree flaps that allowed the plane to dive almost straight down toward the end of the runway and land like it was a feather. And, at the LARKS 5th annual big bird fly-in, Bill Davis lost one of his engines. The engine fell off the airplane in flight and was never found.
LARKS held a fly-in at the
SOLATEX held its fourth fly-in at the Mid County R/C Club field. It was a new experience for those of us who attended. Their field was a recovered land dump with a sloping runway covered partly by grass growing in sand. Makes for some interesting landings!
Yeah!!! The entrance road to LARKS airfield was blacktopped.
Then in 1996, the IMAA Rally of the Giants was hosted by LARKS out at the Chennault Industrial Airpark. Although the low attendance was disappointing, it was a very good Rally and those who missed it missed one of the best. Five days of big birds owned by some 220 pilots takes a whole lot of work by a whole lot of folks. A “Resolution of Commendation” from the Chennault Industrial Airpark Authority commending LARKS for the Rally of the Giants is proudly displayed in the LARKS fieldhouse.
We were fortunate to have an unfortunate event occur a week before the Rally. An Air Force B-1B bomber flying maneuvers over the
The club held a big family day barbecue at the airfield. A lot of the better halves brought side dishes and deserts and no one left hungry. Also in ’96, the south walkway was rebuilt making it a little easier to get from the pit area out to the taxiway (at least on the south side).
One of the most significant events of the year happened in
Tommy Keill built a Kadet Senior and donated it to the club as the LARKS trainer. A few of the other members donated stuff to help get the Senior in the air. Since then, a lot of folks have had the opportunity to try their hand at flying a radio controlled model airplane.
Also during 1996, we held a little “competition” fun fly that ended up being a lot of fun. LARKS participated in the 35th anniversary celebration of the
Dang! Don’t these guys ever rest?
’97 ICE STORM SHUTS DOWN ALL FLIGHTS!
There was a whole bunch of fly-ins in ‘97 that helped revive the club treasury. At one of the fly-ins, there just happened to be an old twin engine Cessna 310 that had been passed around between owners over the years and Bobby Benoit had just purchased it. That Saturday evening, Bobby was out flying with Stinger Wallace, chasing Stinger’s gorgeous twin engine Mosquito doing low, high speed passes down the runway, when a fence post jumped up and grabbed the right wing tip of that old Cessna. Stopped that puppy right there, too. Bobby commented that he was planning on redoing the Cessna anyway.
’97 also saw a whole bunch of folks learning how to fly, from a young 12-year-old by the name of Andrew Fraser, to a young 74-year-old by the name of
A crossover walk was donated by
Just to show what kind of folks makes up the LARKS gang, Chet Winkler, Dick VanDyke and Nick Nixon visited with some of the students at a DeQuincy school for a show and tell with Nick helping the students build a Delta Dart. Many of the LARKS family helped sell raffle tickets, trying to raise money for the Louisiana National Airshow. They stood in parking lots selling tickets, they took the tickets to work and sold them, they sold them to family and friends, and they bought tickets themselves. They all did it with a smile on their face and with a huge gracious heart.
And then, just as a lot of the LARKS gang figured it would happen, here we are rounding up another chapter in the history of LARKS. Another ten years has flown by and LARKS turns thirty years old.
’98 has come and gone with other big bunch of fly-ins and flight demonstrations, including the revival of the helicopter fly-in, a fly-in to celebrate the LARKS 30th anniversary, and a float fly-in that didn’t really happen, and participation in the Louisiana National Airshow. Our neighboring R/C clubs have again shown their undying support for LARKS, and hopefully LARKS has shown its undying support for them. Tommy and Doris Keill, their family, and others are getting to be experts at flippin burgers.
The AMA recognized LARKS for attaining five years as a Silver Leader Club. The north walkway was finally rebuilt giving better access to the taxiway. And, in a moment of jest, the control tower was named the “
Lifetime member S.F. Valentine passed away. Again, most of us never knew him, but those that did have a lot of good things to say about Mr. Valentine.
Our dear friend Bobby Benoit has suffered through a series of diabetic related health problems that have been extremely hard on him. He spent Thanksgiving in the hospital after undergoing open-heart surgery with some serious complications. He has endured three surgical procedures within three weeks. Bobby will hopefully be home for Christmas. Our prayers and hearts go out to him.
LARKS ends its 30th year with about 60 members. John Bult has just been elected to serve his second term as club president, dues are still a hundred bucks a year so it doesn’t take pilot power to mow the grass, and the treasury is as healthy as its ever been.
Throughout this third decade in the history of LARKS, there have been some sad times, but by far, mostly happy times. And, there have been times when we thought that there should be a guardian angel placed at the field just to keep an eye on things. There have been the usual disagreements that every club that has more than one member might have; the insight to keep LARKS on a fairly level flight path has hopefully prevailed, as it has for thirty years. The faith and comfort of knowing that you have some very dear friends in the LARKS family and knowing that you will continue to have a beautiful place to fly and to make peace with yourself, keeps some of us going forward with our lives.