The first application of insecticide from the air was done in 1921 in Ohio. A crude metal hopper with a capacity of roughly 100 pounds was built by Etienne Darmoy and bolted to the side of a Curtiss JN-6H (Jenny) WW I aircraft alongside the observer’s seat. The hopper had a sliding gate, operated by a handle in the rear, and a small hand crank mounted near the top. The observer was to sit, or stand, in the rear seat of the aircraft and crank the insecticide out over the trees as the pilot flew across the grove at a low level. The material used was powdered lead arsenate, about the only thing available that would kill most pests when ingested. The Jenny was loaded on August 31, 1921 and flown with WW I pilot, Lt. John A. McReady at the controls and Darmoy in the rear seat operating the hopper, the aircraft flew the first load in the history of agricultural aviation. Excerpt from Low and Slow, An Insiders History of Agricultural Aviation by Mabry I. Anderson.
PHOTO BY PATRICIA JUNE SMITH, WIFE OF, DAVE SMITH, ONE OF THE CROP DUSTERS
The end of World War II in Chambers County found many pilots returning home and in need of a job. That coupled with the surplus of Stearman fighter planes opened an opportunity for the crop- dusting industry in Chambers County. Not all the WWII pilots who returned home became crop dusters, but many of them did.
Alvin Thomas "A. T." Morgan, born 1911 in Indian Bayou, Louisiana, was a pioneer in the field of crop dusting breaking into the ag flying game in 1945. After working with Ralph Sneed for a few years, Morgan organized his own Morgan Crop Service, based in Lake Charles, LA.
Morgan apparently introduced seeding rice by air to this section of Louisiana, in addition to offering modern weed control and fertilizing services. He developed an agricultural flying firm that was to become a leader not only in Louisiana, but throughout the country as well.
Morgan's early fleet was composed of Stearmans, converted to 450 horsepower P & W engines. His service became so sought after and well known that it attracted pilots from all over the country. Most operations at this time were "seasonal" by nature.
Among Morgan's early pilots were Mace Craft, Hank Gardner, Marvin "Lefty" Gardner, Lloyd Steen, Charles White, Charlie Tumminello, John Tunze Jr., Richard Donahue, Charles Dally, O. A. Broussard, "Penny" Rogers, Dale Kelly, and A. J. Harmon. A pillar in Morgan's firm was Leonce Bergeron, who became general manager in 1948.
Morgan operated satellite bases at Kaplan, Louisiana and Anahuac, Texas.
Morgan died an untimely death in 1984.
Sam Hill of Anahuac and retired crop-duster, Bob Wheat said there was an airfield in Bryan-College Station with such an abundance of Stearman’s that they sold them for fifty dollars each filled with fuel. They said M & M of Beaumont, and A. T. Morgan’s Anahuac Flyers of Anahuac each bought 100 planes and Farm Air bought 50-75. Most were stored at the air services with many being stored in later years at the old bowling alley in Winnie. They removed the wings and landing gear, stood them on their nose and stacked them in there like dominos. Whenever a plane they were using broke down they rolled another one out and reattached the wings and landing gear, putting it in service while they repaired the broken one.
Bob said when he flew into an airport in Tyler while logging his cross-country hours for his private pilot’s license the manager of the airport said they had such an abundance of planes after WWII that the army arrived one day with a bulldozer, pushed them all into a pile, and set fire to them. The following photos are of Chambers County World War II pilots, some of whom became crop dusters.
Information provided by Sterling's nephew, Sam Hill
Sterling enlisted as a private in the US Air Corps on March 23, 1942, in Houston, Texas. He was a member of the 27th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flying reconnaissance missions in China, Burma, and India. He served from 1942-1945, then went into the reserves. In 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War, he returned to active service and remained in active service through the Viet Nam War, receiving an honorable discharge in 1973 or '74.
Sterling flew P-39s and P-38s, with the P-38s being the last planes he flew. The P-38s were actually called F-5s, said Sam Hill, but most people do not recognize that name. The original P-38s were fitted with 4-50 caliber machine guns and a 20 millimeter gun in the nose, but the reconnaissance planes had them removed and were fitted with cameras intead.
"All of the reconnaissance missions were pretty dangerous," said Sam, "and most often the enemy would give chase. That is why the pilots were told to fly at a high altitude. There was one pilot who flew with Sterling who always flew low, even though he was reprimanded ofter for doing so. One day he just never returned from his mission."
Sam Hill said he was told the leather flight jackets the pilots wore had two gold coins sewn into the lining. They were to be used to bargain for their freedom if they were captured behind enemy lines. His Uncle Sterling told him he was going on a short mission one day and wouldn't be flying very high, so he did not believe he needed his jacket. One of the men stuffed it in the storage bin on the side of the plane. Right after take-off he looked back and saw the door fly open and out flew his jacket. He circled back around to see where it was and saw a little Chinese boy running after it. I’m sure it was a great loss to him after all the hours he had flown wearing it.
Sterling was a career military pilot and did not become a crop duster.
Bill Brown began flying in the 50s with A. T. Morgan and then flew with Harmon Air until finally starting his own agricultural flying service.
More information will be posted here soon on Bill's career as a crop duster.
Ronnie Jo said when he was quite young flying with his dad his dad flew over their home and did a roll. Ronnie Jo was not harnessed in and during the roll the hatch came open and Ronnie was hanging upside down hanging onto the dash. His dad struggled to hang on to him and control the plane at the same time. Thankfully, all ended well. I said, "I bet your mom had a few words for your dad." Ronnie said, "I don't think she ever knew about it." I told him she will now!
In 1988 the engine in Ronnie Jo's plane failed soon after take-off and he landed upside down in water. with his plane on fire. Ronnie said his two greatest fears were drowning and being burned. He almost experienced both in one day.
I believe Alva Joshua 'A.J.' Harmon Jr. had his fascination for flight instilled in him by his Creator, when he was woven together in his mother's womb. His Uncle Johnny Harmon said of A.J., "Alva's oldest boy, A.J. was closest in age to me. One day, he came running and stumbling down the dirt road carrying a bunch of sticks that he wanted me to make into an airplane. A.J. was probably three years old no bigger than a tumbleweed at the time and I was eight. We fiddled around with the scraps of wood we found around the saddle shop and soon had a pretty good airplane. There went A.J. swooping his airplane down the dirt road. It was only the beginning of his career as a bomber pilot and crop-duster. We shared a love of flying and remained close friends throughout our lives. In later years, A.J. became a B-17 bomber pilot in World War II. Because I couldn't go to war, I lived the war vicariously through his letters."
A.J. graduated from Anahuac High School in 1942. There was no draft at that time so he worked and studied for the test that would allow him to be in the Air Corp.
A.J. reported to the recruiting office in Houston on January 20, 1943 as a private. After training at Sheppard Field, which is now Wichita Falls Municipal Airport, he was sent to Ada, Oklahoma on March 29, 1943, for ground school at East Central State College. In August 1943 he was sent to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio. From there he went in December to Parks Air College in Sikeston, Missouri. While there he was attached to the 309th Army Air Forces Flying Training Detachment to learn elementary flying instruction, then on to Strouther Field in Winfield, Kansas in February 1944.
He was promoted from student pilot to Aviation Cadet on October 2, 1943. He became a flying 2nd Lieutenant in June of 1944 at Lubbock Army Air Field in Lubbock, Texas and classified as an Army Air Corp Pilot. He had his B-17 co-pilot training in Gulf Port, Mississippi and was shipped to the UK on the J. W. McAndrew in January 1945.
By February 1, 1945, A.J. was working on a pre-bombing orientation in the UK. He was part of the Air Force 3rd AD Command, 45th Wing, 96th Group, 339 Squadron stationed at Snetterton Heath USAAF, near Attleborough, England.
A newspaper at the time reported, "Second Lieutenant Alva J. Harmon, co-pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress, has been awarded the Air Medal for "meritorious achievement" while participating in Eight Air Force bombing attacks on Nazi war industries." During the occupation of Germany, he was stationed at Eschborn, Germany.
His records show that he flew 18 combat missions for a total of 138 combat hours while in the European Theater of Operations flying a B-17 bomber. Decorations and Citations: Victory Medal, Air Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, EAME Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Stars Theater Campaign Medal, and Army Occupation Medal.
A.J. was placed in the Reserves 14 September 1946 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He remained in the Reserves until being called back to active duty on 3 October 1951 during the Korean Conflict.
While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio he learned to fly the B-29. On May 15, 1952, he was transferred to Walker Air Force Base near Roswell, New Mexico. In 1952 he was stationed in San Francisco and would fly from to Hickman in Hawaii and then to Kwajalein, in the Marshal Islands, the site of Operation Ivy, a nuclear bomb test site. In 1953, he was stationed at Bergstrom AFB in Austin and assigned to the 307th Air Refueling
Squadron. In March 1954 he was honorably discharged from the Air Force as a Captain with a total of 3,530 hours of pilot time.
A.J. moved his family back to Anahuac where he continued to farm rice with his grandfather, Lester Moor. He became a crop duster with Anahuac Flyers.
On July of 1955, a year after his discharge from the Air Force, A. J. narrowly escaped death or serious injury when the engine failed on the plane he was piloting and he crashed into the woods on Sykes Extension Rd.
Tragically in June of 1981, A. J.'s son, Alva Joshua 'Josh' Harmon III was killed, along with passengers, Allen Pierce and Kim Harrington, in a single engine plane crash in Chambers County.
The love of flight that captured A.J. Jr's heart from his youth both gave him life and took it. On the 15th of April 1986, witnesses saw A. J. and Floyd Walters approach each other in the Jenkins' Farm rice field. A. J. was coming in to reload his crop-duster and Floyd was taking off with a full load. In an attempt to avoid a collision, they clipped wings, and both crashed in the rice field. Jay Jenkins, who was at the family farmhouse when the crash occurred said he was coming out the front door when he saw a ball of smoke coming from the adjacent field. "I knew a crop-duster had crashed," Jenkins said, adding he arrived at the scene within minutes of the crash. A. J.'s plane had burst into flames immediately after the collision and Floyd's plane disintegrated upon impact with the ground. A. J., who owned Harmon Air, and Floyd were longtime friends, businessmen, and veteran combat pilots.
Ron Gibson of Whitney, Texas has identified this pilot as Harold Jung. He said Leroy Edmonds brought Harold Jung and John Richard 'Jack' Tunze to Anahuac to help with the rice industry spraying. An article in The Progress, Aug. 21, 1947, states that John Tunze and Harold Jung of Lake Charles are now carrying on the operations of Skyharbor where Paul Alexander left off. They began rapidly completing plans for a GI veteran's flight school so our local veterans could get the free flight instructions to which they were entitled under the GI Bill of Rights. Henry McCord, high school band director was the ground school instructor as well as carrying on the high school aeronautics course.
In an April 1947 Progress article it was stated by Paul M. Alexander, former owner, that Anahuac and Chambers County were credited as having more flyers per capita than any other place in the ____. He further stated that John R. Tunze Jr. and Harold F. Jung Jr. would be their flight specialists. During the week of Dec 7, 1947, Skyharbor was approved for GI Flight Training by the VA.
A. J. Harmon must have joined the team in March of 1950, as that is the first ad where his name is included as a contact pilot. Perhaps he was brought on board due to the upcoming departure of Harold Jung.
In 1949 the newspaper wrote that Harold Jung had made a trip to Lake Charles to visit his mother, who was sick. Then in July of 1950, Harold left Texas to begin a job with a crop dusting company in Monroe, Louisiana. Nothing is mentioned as to the reason of his move.
Charles Guidry, a Monroe City resident in 1947 and 12 at the time, said Harold Jung was about 30 years old when he first met him at that time, which would put Harold being born circa 1918.