The Yellow Nose of Texas
The “Yellow Nose of Texas”
There's a yellow ‘plane in Texas
That I'm a goin’ down to see
No other pilot knows her
No pilot, only me
You may talk about your Ayers Thrush
And sing of your Paw-nee
But the Yellow Nose of Texas
Is the only plane for me.
Mid Valley Flying Service makes a last trim pass over a cotton field’s border. Using wind to drift the dust into the field’s tight corner, the pilot shows the farmer, driving an old and dented ’41 Chevy pick-up, that he’s “gettin’ the corners.” This event takes place somewhere off Highway 90 in East Texas around the early fifties.
The scene depicts an aerial applicator finishing the days work. DDT, the powdered insecticide of that day, is what gave rise to the commonly applied moniker, “crop duster”. The scene captures the tight quarters pilots in this hazardous profession work in and around as the pilot pulls up, closes the gate, shutting off the dust, and applies power along with heavy control input to avoid the obstacles.
“Never go over when you can go under” runs the saying. You can see the wires against the sky when you’re comin’ in underneath them, but they tend to disappear when you are looking down at ‘em. As the pilot pulls up steeply to avoid various obstructions like power lines, telephone poles, billboards and barns, the “flagger”, marking the rows for the pilot by stepping them off, gives him a hearty wave-off with his flag.
The aircraft, a surplus, war-weary Army Air Corps PT-17, traditionally known by its designer’s name, “Stearman”, has been converted to aerial application operations with a 450 hp, Pratt & Whitney 985 replacing the Air Corp’s contract, 220 hp Continental R-670, upgrading aircraft performance by doubling the available horsepower. The Continental’s fixed pitch propeller has been replaced by a Hamilton standard constant speed propeller, allowing for smoother engine performance due to constant rpm control. The large, bright yellow prop spinner, surplus from a twin Beech C-45, has been installed to protect the Hydromatic’s finely machined pitch mechanism from the corrosive dust and elements.
The “N” number displays the recently outdated system of putting an “R” in the number to indicate the aircraft’s restricted, agricultural status. “Restricted” is also posted below the cockpit. The “R” was dropped from the numbering system in 1948. However, aircraft with the old registration numbers were kept on FAA books until being repainted with a new number. The instructor’s cockpit of the former training plane is now occupied by a chemical hopper, smoothed over with a hatch cover. The “top dresser” is using a “spreader” to disburse the last of his DDT load. The hopper gate feeding the spreader is controlled by the pilot using a leaver in the cockpit aptly termed the “money handle.”
The dilapidated barn located on a deteriorating, yet still operating, farm is indicative of the besieged small American farmer, who yields not only to the increasing commercialization of agribusiness, but the encroaching urban environment as well, indicated here by a freshly graveled road, power and telecommunication wire installation and a streetlamp above the turnoff.
A white horse drinks from the polluted livestock “tank” as the tree, providing shade at water’s edge, is slowly poisoned and dies. The lineman above, strings new wire as a young lady leads her horse back to pasture. Farm hands load hay to take to other pastures while the farm foreman inspects the front tractor tire for wear. A black stallion rears in alarm at the low flying aircraft. The heavy traffic on the road is yet another indication of the progress encroaching on America’s agricultural treasure.
It’s the end of an era, marked by the second great global conflict, and the beginning of a new age of progress whereby wartime bombers will be made into toasters and obsolete training planes are put to work in yeoman harness.