Sunday, May 22, 2016

Of Leland Snow

Leland Snow

By NORMAN ROZEFF, Valley Morning Star 

Part I: Coming of Age in the Valley

When the December 2015 Texas Monthly magazine ran an article, that was mainly about Leland Snow, in its business column titled “Great Planes,” I immediately knew that I had been derelict in not writing about this gentleman sooner. The fact was that his good friend and Harlingen associate Bob Anderson had brought Leland’s story to me several years ago, and I had put it on the back burner. Leland had even sent me a copy of his biography titled Putting Dreams to Flight after I had contacted him some years ago.

Henry Snow was Leland’s father. Although Henry E. Snow was a native of Vernon, Texas, the Snow family had come to the Lower Rio Grande Valley by May 1910. His father, Elbert C. Snow, had taken up farming in the Donna area. Henry likely had graduated college by the time that he served in World War I, for he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 315th Engineers.

The Snows would be residing in Brownsville at least by late 1927. At age 31 Henry had married Arkansas-born Carrie Beth Sewell. By April 1930 he was working as a civil engineer in Brownsville, owned a home at 2013 Jefferson, and had fathered MaryHelen, age 1 ½. Beth, besides being a mother, was also a piano teacher. Beth was in Brownsville when she gave birth to her first son, Henry Leland Snow, who came into this world on May 31, 1930.
By 1935 the Snows had moved to the farming community of Santa Rosa where Henry continued his vocation as a supervisory civil engineer.

The Snows were still residing in that town in April 1940 when son George E. Snow was born. By this time MaryHelen was 11 and in the 5th grade and 9-year-old Leland was in the 3rd grade. Perhaps to obtain better educational opportunities the family moved to Harlingen by 1942 and then resided in the two-story residence at 401 W. Buchanan Avenue for many years.

In the early 1940s Henry was superintendent of operations in the area for the Federal Work Projects Administration (WPA), a program known for improving infrastructure while providing hard-to-find employment.

In 1944, now with three children in the family, Henry was simply an engineer.

In 1946 he would commute to McAllen to continue his employment in his specialty.

In 1948 Henry established his own engineering firm in downtown Harlingen with an office in the Professional Arts Build. He was the principal of Snow Engineering Company at 112 ½ W. Jackson in 1949. He was, however, to die the following year on February 5, 1950, a month before his 54th birthday.

Leland had been graduated from Harlingen High School in 1947. Besides being in the National Honor Society, he was in the Shop Club and had taken part in theatrical productions produced by the Masque and Wig Club.

At age 15 he began working at the Harlingen airport in exchange for flying lessons. He received his pilot’s license at age 16 and soon started flying crop dusters to earn money. His fascination with flying had begun at an early age. At age 6 he had already made up his mind to be a pilot. At 9 he was building balsa wood and tissue paper models with wing spans taller than he was.

Just after graduating high school Leeland learned of an Aeronca plane that had been torn apart by winds in a bad storm. He purchased the wreck for $200, repaired it, and was able to fly it to College Station.

Leland attended Texas A&M, was graduated in 1952, and then went on to graduate school studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin from which he was graduated in 1953. In 1953 he was a member of the aeronautical club sponsored by the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, a member of the Theta Xi social fraternity and the Rio Grande Valley Club.

Once while home for the summer while attending college, Leland borrowed a transit from his father, surveyed, and laid out a farm to market road which later would become a main highway.

In his senior year, Leland returned to his Harlingen home and immediately began drawing up plans to build a purposed agricultural application airplane superior to any presently in use. He envisioned it with wings attached to the base of the fuselage thereby providing it greater stability. Leland used his mother’s car as collateral that enabled him to borrow $1200 from a Harlingen bank in 1951.

He used the family garage at 401 Buchanan to begin plane construction. With his S-1 completed in 1953, and needing to earn a living, Leland used his plane for crop dusting farms in the Harlingen area. He flew out of Harvey Richards Field, once the municipal airport of Harlingen and now the Harlingen Country Club golf course in Palm Valley. Running out of money after the current Valley ag scene was over, he then flew a crop duster to Nicaragua and began treating crops there. He returned in early December ferrying the plane to the Brownsville entry point in early December 1953.

Leland had a neighbor’s son living next door at 405 W. Buchanan by 1948. This teenager was intrigued about the activities being conducted in his neighbor’s garage and soon would be spending many hours there. The young lad of 15 was Robert Vann Anderson, the son of William C. and Ola Anderson.

Mr. Anderson was a member of a well-known Harlingen family. William, during his Harlingen High School years, was athletically gifted. He would go on to study at the University of Texas in Austin. Anderson, who first owned Andy’s Confectionery Store at 123 W. Jackson, then went on to create Andy’s Drive Inn at 220-22 E. Jackson and Wings (formerly the Manhattan) Grill at 206 W. Jackson.

He served as a City Commissioner 1939-53. On November 27, 1956 the city dedicated Fire Station No. 3 at 2112 North Commerce Street near the north end of Commerce Street as the W. C. “Bill” Anderson Fire Station in recognition of his long service to the community. This station would be closed in 1993 when the Grimes station was erected, and the Anderson personnel were shifted to that station. The former site is currently Aguilar’s Salvage Store.

Robert would grow up to have a long storied career as a lawman, over time filling positions from city patrolman to Border Patrol and U. S. Marshall and an arm’s length list of law enforcement positions in between those noted here. His story, too, would be well worth recording.

Robert would one day write memories of his teenage days working with his neighbor Leland. For that we are indebted, and I present the following verbatim from Robert’s notes regarding his mentor.

“ I would go into his dining room as a young wild-eyed teen and stand by him as he was trying to figure out which design that he was thinking about would be the best,the slide on his slide rule almost smoking as it was moving so fast back and forth. I watched as he first designed the plane as a ‘pusher’ and then on to the design that he chose to be the best.

“We then went out to the garage behind the house, cleared off the existing work bench that was there, and he began to draw with a pencil the shape of the ribs onto the work bench. He then went to a carpenter shop where he bought a board and had it cut into 3/8 inch stringers. He tacked these as guides along the outer edge of the design that he had drawn on the workbench, bought a small can of powdered weldwood glue, added water to it in a small container, and began forming the stringers into the shape of the pattern, tacked thin pieces of plywood that we cut with tin snips, onto each junction of the stringers, glued them in place, and tacked it on with small nails. This is how we made all the ribs for the S1 model.

“When Leland had finished making the wingwalks out of plywood, he took them outside the garage, laid them down in the grass and began boring holes with a brace and bit into the wood to lighten them. He didn’t even have any power tools then, only hand ones such as one hacksaw that we used to cut the wooden stringers into their correct lengths, one pair of tin snips that was used to cut the gussets out of the thin plywood, one hammer, and one brace and bit. Pieces of the stringer were used to stir the glue.

“One time when I was flying in a J3Cub and was approaching the airport to land, I passed right over the top of Leland going down the highway in his mother’s 1952 Chevy, and I noticed that he had his left arm out the window with his hand moving up and down in the air as if he was studying the wind affect on controls of a plane.

“As Leland stood in his dining room while he was drawing up his plans, he would comment that he was as physically worn out at the end of the day as if he had been digging ditches all day.

“One time while preparing to go flying he was giving the craft a preflight inspection. When he grabbed one of the ailerons it fell off in his hand. That was just one of the many incidents that he lucked out on, again.”

Original article can be found here:

Part II: Bob Anderson’s Leland Snow memories continued

“He was also quite a joker like the time that he painted an upper classmate’s toilet seat with varnish. Once we neighborhood “Goons” were playing football under the screened upper porch of his house when he dumped a whole trash can full of water on us from the porch. Still another time he approached us goons and began to hit what we thought was his eyeball with a pencil. Turns out the “Click. Click. Click.” was against his new glass contacts.

While Leland was in the process of “dusting” for a friend, he was needing to wear eyeglasses for his vision. He also needed to wear goggles because he was dusting with powder in an open-cockpit plane. He solved the problem by taking the lenses out of the eyeglass frame and sticking them into the inside corner of the goggles.

During this period of time I was working for a crop duster, Roy McCardle who was also a good friend of Leland. Roy was teaching me to fly in lieu of paying me for the hourly work. Roy and Leland went down to Nicaragua several times, and Roy recounted this incident to me. He and Leland had taken off at daybreak to dust fields across a large water lake that harbored fresh water sharks. Roy looked over at Leland’s plane to then observe Leland standing outside the plane while holding on to a strut. And putting the gas cap back on. It had come loose at takeoff. Because of his prior experience when a similar incident had occurred while he was spraying cabbage, Leland knew that the plane wouldn’t make it across the lake with fuel spewing out the uncapped tank so that is why he found it necessary to put the cap back on.

While Leland was conducting the FAA test for the landing gear of his newly designed S2 aircraft, the wingwalks, cockpit, and hopper were loaded with 50 lb. sacks of powder to a maximum of 2500 lbs. then raised to the ceiling of the hanger by a larch winch and released. Upon hitting the floor the right gear strut broke at the weld allowing the right wing to slam into the floor and become all twisted. If that was a hair-raising incident so was the following. This was the same wing that flew off later while he was testing G stresses for the FAA. The left wing sheared during a steep dive. Leland had to bail out. This was difficult with the plane spinning so tightly. ( It turns out the design had been miscalculated when Leland misplaced a decimal point in his slide rule calculations. From that time on Leland always double-checked his numbers.)

In one of the tests for the FAA, he flew right in front of the investigators about two feet off the ground with both hands up over his head waving at everyone.”

Such an escapade was nothing new for Leland who had an earlier history of adventurous actions as Anderson was to recall. “Leland (once) stated that when his high school graduating class had a party on Boca Chica Beach, he and a buddy flew the old J2 Cub to the party, hung a rope between the landing gears like a trapeze and took turns swinging on the “trapeze” while dragging one another in the water as they flew back and forth in front of their classmates on the beach.

One time when Leland was in college he bought a new war-surplus Harley 45 motorcycle still in its wooden crate. He assembled it in his garage.

He rode this cycle to and from school. One time while at home for the weekend a large rainstorm came up, but he needed to be back at school at a certain time. He took off on the cycle but later returned soaked to the bone. He then proceeded to put on goggles and a raincoat backwards and took off again, only to return home when the bad storm continued and his goggles filled with water. He later found a ride back to school.

During this time, I was in high school and taking a leather working class, so his mother asked me if I could make him a wide belt with back support to help in those long rides back and forth to school. She instructed me to tool the name “Zip” in the middle of the belt and tool a design around it. I gladly did this as he was my “hero”.

Leland and his partners in his Piper Cub (J2) used to fly every chance that they had. During one period they would look for a field of melons, load up the plane, and fly around looking for tractor drivers and field workers to bomb with the melons.

Bored with just flying around they bought a surplus parachute and began taking turns jumping out of the their plane. Of course, they learned to repack the parachute themselves. Leland says they even got so crazy that they started jumping at night. One night Leland landed in a cotton field, repacked the chute, and jumped again, but the chute almost didn’t open because he had repacked it with a cotton stalk stuck inside it. Still that parachuting experience saved him when he had to bail out of his radial engine S-2A when its wing flew off during the “G” test in 1957 that he conducting for the government.

One day Leland showed me a government letter that had come that day in the mail. He was ordered to report to Wright Patterson Air Base to begin his military time. He had been graduated a second lieutenant. He had however asked for and received a deferment in order to work on his plane. Later he was to receive another letter ordering him to report to the Edwards Air force Base. Again he was given a deferment and no more orders were to follow.”

Bob Anderson concluded his reminiscences with the following: “The depth of the influence that Leland had on every part of my life will never be known but will always be greatly appreciated. What a Man! I will always cherish the memories of knowing this dearly loved man, Leland Snow.”

Leland was later to write : “My first employee was my next door neighbor’s boy. He was about 14. maybe 15 I paid him 25 cents an hour to help me make wing ribs for the first S-1 airplane that I was building in my garage in 1951. In those years that’s what kids made working in bowling alleys or washing dishes in a restaurant. I had a rib jig attached to my workbench in my garage. It was fairly easy work, nailing the 1/4-inch square strips of spruce to the jig, and then gluing the truss structure to the top and bottom contours. Just a big model airplane. The boy’s name was Bobby Anderson.”

Original article can be found here:

Part III: Developing a world class company

Leland had begun working on the design of his S1 aerial application plane in 1951 while still attending Texas A&M. At that time pilots were still flying Stearman bi-planes and J-3 Cubs that had been converted as best possible to apply agricultural chemicals. Being underpowered and not particularly safe in an emergency, they were risky to operate. In 1954 Leland, listed as an engineer in the telephone directory, continued to live with his widowed mother.

By 1956 he had set up the Snow Aeronautical Company, manufacturers, at 2 ½ miles West State Highway 83, Harlingen.

When, in 1955, he had designed his advanced S 2 model applicator, he needed working capital to advance his dream. It was not forthcoming in the Valley, but chance would have it that in Olney, Texas, a small community about 45 miles south of Wichita Falls, not only was capital to be made available to him but also a manufacturing location.

Olney during WWII had been the site of U.S. Navy bomber pilot school with its sizable airfield. As an oil and ranching town it was susceptible to economic ups and downs.

The local business leaders sought something more stable, found what they liked in Snow, and advanced him funds to pursue his dream.

Snow’s two partially finished planes were moved in five cattle trucks to Olney in January 1958. The existing facilities at the Municipal Airport would suffice to commence Snow’s aircraft production. In the summer of 1958 Snow’s S-2B was certified and two orders for it soon followed. As saying goes, “The rest is history.” By 1965, 300 of Snow’s aircraft had been manufactured and delivered. Early on Snow designed six basic designs. He considered the best to be the Air Tractor completed in 1972, but this was to be only the beginning, for he would design nearly 30 aircraft overall.

The company’s upward rise would be interrupted by a customer lawsuit over a crash unrelated to wing design. Snow was forced to take on two partners to avoid closure. The partners in turn forced a sale in 1965 to Rockwell-Standard, later to become Rockwell International involved with space programs. Snow was made a Rockwell vice president but was unhappy, especially when the Olney plant was closed in 1970. Leland resigned from Rockwell and by 1972 having designed a new ag plane launched Air Tractor. The name Air Tractor Inc. came into being when Snow acquired it from a defunct manufacturer. Two years later saw the new plane roll off the production line in a new facility in Olney. The 147,000 square foot manufacturing facility would eventually be capable of producing a plane every two working days.

Ag Tractor aircraft are used primarily for spraying, seeding, fertilization, mosquito control, cleaning up oil spills, and firefighting work. Some planes have been utilized for drug eradication in South America. A very unusual modification was instituted in 2008. Named the Air Truck AT-802U the Air Tractor manufactured airplane was designed as a two seater armored light attack plane. It was outfitted with 12.7 mm GAU-19A three barrel Gatlin guns, MK-62 rocket launchers and MK-82 bombs.

One thing was for sure, it costs considerably less than other military aircraft and, being able to fly at lower speed (210 mph maximum) and altitude, may be better adapted to certain combat conditions.

After the Rockwell era, Leland was concerned about the people of Olney. He never again wanted to see the trauma of closure and abandonment in the community. In 2008 Snow made sure that this would never happen a second time. In 2008 he sold Air Tractor to its employees. The employees took up the baton and the challenge. In the years 2012 and 2013 the company produced 180 aircraft a year.

Snow received numerous aviation and industry awards during his career. In 2000 he was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2005, Air Tractor received the Better Business Bureau International Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. Snow was a generous financial supporter of the National Agricultural Aviation Association and its programs for pilot safety and drift minimization. He and his wife Nan also supported the arts in Wichita Falls and had been long-time sponsors of the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra. He enjoyed listening to classical music and playing the piano.

Snow sought to be physically fit and took up running. He became so adept that he even ran in three marathons after age 65. He logged more than 17,000 miles of running since 1990. At age 80 on February 20, 2011, while jogging near his Wichita Falls home Leland died.

The company that he had founded had become the world’s leading manufacturer of agricultural and firefighting aircraft, and Snow was actively involved in engineering and management of the company until his death.

This son of Harlingen made his hometown proud. As his Wichita Falls obituary stated, “He will be remembered for his quiet kind nature, dogged determination, and generosity to people and causes he cared for.”

No comments:

Post a Comment