Culver Encounter

Mike Stock’s memoir, Chasing the Four Winds, tells of a number of his flying experiences which reminded me of my own, less heroic, but nevertheless memorable flying escapades.

One minor example was when Stock was flying for the Saudi Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. One of the aircraft he flew for the company was a Otter, used to land and take off at remote desert locations. One of his flights involved needing to avoid a dead camel lying in the center of the runway.  That reminded me of an experience I had in 1975 (or there abouts). It involved the Culver Military Academy and the CEO of the Cummins Engine Company. Huh, … bear with me.

Our community of Columbus, IN, held an annual fund raiser in support of its civic programs. It included an auction of donated items from Columbus residents. One year, Jim Henderson, President and CEO of the Cummins Engine Company, donated one week’s use of his summer house on Lake Maxintuckee, adjacent to the Culver Military Academy in northern Indiana. My family was successful in winning the bid. Henderson has a long history with Culver going back to his father who first became associated with Culver in 1916. Jim, in recent years, was President of the Culver Board of Trustees. He had a reputation as a very effective fund raiser for the school. A fellow board member said Jim had a way of approaching someone who was thinking of a $2,500 donation but hoping not to be asked for $25,000 and then making a gift of $250,000 and feeling good about it.

Jim Henderson was a neighbor of mine and we had served together on the Columbus United Way Board. The house on the lake had several boats stored in a boathouse and although the boats were not included in the week’s stay, when Jim found out we had placed the winning bid, sent a key to the boathouse to my office with the invitation to use the boats.

One other interesting connection to Jim Henderson was my volunteer work with Junior Achievement teaching a business class in the Columbus Middle School. I had a class of bright students and as a special treat arranged for them to attend the Cummins Annual Stock Holder Meeting. Henderson made a big deal of my students presence at the meeting. During the question and answer period, much to my astonishment, one of my students raised his hand and asked the Chairman what the qualifications were to be on the Cummins Board. That of course gave Mr. Henderson the opportunity to sing the praises of the Cummins Board. At the conclusion of his comments, Henderson asked again for the sudent’s name because he said, “You appear to be a young man we might be interested in a few years from now.” Gad, I loved it.

So what does this have to do with aviation? I wasn’t ready for a week’s vacation when we won Henderson’s home for a week, but found that Culver Academy had a remote airstrip on its campus. After checking with Jim Henderson, I received permission to fly up every day after work, take a swim, have dinner with my family, and depart the next morning, flying to my office. How cool was that going to be.

One morning, after my wife drove me to the airstrip, I discovered a deer was lying in the middle of the runway. Okay, no problem. I would just taxi toward it and frighten it away. That worked, but after I returned to the runway’s end for takeoff, the deer reappeared, again lying down in the runway.

My routine of taxing toward the deer and having him (or her) step aside, only to reappear, repeated itself several times. Finally, I took my chances, applied full throttle and cleared the empty runway. Whew.

I can’t imagine the ramifications if I had collided with that deer in the middle of the Culver airstrip. “But Jim Henderson gave me permission to be there!”