This is one of the many stories about $5 Frank from Fayetteville, WV.
He owned the Fayetteville airport there for many years and flew tourists for as cheap as $5 to sightsee the famous New River Arch Bridge in the area. This is the longest or deepest arch bridge in the world and closes down one day a year so that parachutists and rapellers can jump off the bridge to the rapids on the New river below. This is the same area where they hold the famous “Gauley Festival” every September.
Since we took up whitewater kayaking in the early 80’s, we have taken many of our friends for $5 Franks great rides as well as the rest of his entertainment.
Frank has written poetry and even a book of short stories over the years as well as his many devices scattered around the airport and in his spare hangar for entertaining tourists.These include a gallows, stockade, electric chair, coffin (in which the body pops up when you look in) and also artwork done by Frank himself.All of it is pretty cheesy and done in a taste to make you think it’s not quite on the level.
Now Frank was about 70 years old in the early 80’s and quite hard of hearing.He wore an old fashioned huge hearing aid and always asked you to talk into it’s earpiece which was not always near his head.For example, when he was flying in the plane, he would ask you to speak down towards the console area between the front seats when talking to him.
He rarely stopped talking once you were in his presence and recited poetry, told stories about the Rockefellers raping WV and the preachers trying to shut him down as well as his plane wrecks.
We bought his book more than once over the years to get it autographed as well as find out more about him.You never knew what was true and what was made up to scare you.He rarely took us up flying withoutasking if you wanted fly UNDER THE BRIDGE and even dipped the plane like he was going to.This always got the newbies blood flowing a bit.
Well of course there are many fine stories about Frank’s rides, told by us and others but this is my favorite:
We went back once again around 1998 with a new friend who had never been on one ofFrank’s famous rides.Frank had to be in his 80’s by now and when we got there, there was a line of about 6 people infront of us so we expected a long wait.
While waiting, another plane landed and a young man got out looking a bit shaken up.A little while later, Frank’s plane came in shaking from side to side and bounced pretty hard on the runway a few times.He often did this to scare people but it looked a bit more erratic than usual.
There was a walker (aluminum crutch device with 4 legs) sitting out near the runway and he turned around and parked the plane next to the walker,the door opened and Frank comes out, grabs the walker and heads over to the crowd.He was shouting “who’s damn plane is that parked on my airport?” He asked this a few times, louder and louder each time.Finally the young man who flew the plane in came back and said, that’s my plane and………before he could say more, Frank screamed at him “Get that thing off of my property”The man was saying “Excuse me but……………” “I said, get that thing off my property, NOW!”Frank didn’t seem to be putting on an act this time and was getting quite red in the face.He came right after this man hobbling as fast as he could on his walker.When he got in front of him, he threw the walker aside and said once again.You get that plane off this property or I’ll kick your ass.The man realized he couldn’t do much and tried to explain that his plane had problems and he needed to get it fixed before leaving.Once this information registered, Frank immediately turned around, facing the small crowd and said,“OK who’s next?”
Well the people in the front of the line wanted no part of a ride with this redfaced, old man, who was in the middle of a temper tantrum.Since we had been with Frank flying many trips before, we weren’t afraid to fly with him as he often scared most people.So, we said, ”we’re ready Frank” and skipped to the front of the line and out to the runway.
We all got in and Frank left the walker in the same spot, and got in last and immedietly started the plane and taxied to the end of the runway without making sure anyone was ready.
Now my buddy Henry who is quite a character himself had decided he would love to sit in front for once as that was the honor seat because he was the only person that Frank would attempt to listen to as his hearing aid was near that seat.
With Frank still red in the face and breathing hard and still cursing the young man, we turned around, went down the runway and took off.Frank just started talking a mile a minute as usual and headed out towards the bridge without even asking us where we wanted to go.
When he got near the bridge, he banked a hard turn and started saying something about this was the time to take your pictures.Before he could finish his statement,Henry’s door, on the right side of the airplane came open.And Henry’s seat belt was the only thing holding him from falling 2,000 feet to the river and cliffs below us.
So Henry reacted by grabbing Franks seat.Of course Frank was so riled up, he didn’t notice the door being opened and was shocked that someone would grab his seat.Especially after all the commotion that just happened on the ground.Well, Frank wasn’t happy about this.
He started yelling at Henry to get his hands off his seat so he could fly the damn plane.Henry was in shock and there’s no way he was going to let go.Some yelling went on in the plane and we don’t know ifFrank understood any of what we were all saying but someone finally convinced him to look and than he finally saw the door opened.
We had to turn around and head back to the airport like this and as we landed, Frank once again started in on this other plane being there almost as if he had forgotten it happened.
When we finally taxied up to the walker again and got out, Henry got down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground.Frank ignored him, walked over to the group of people seeing all this and said “Next?”And seem bewildered when no onecame forward to go for a ride.
Frank died that winter and it’s really sad that WV lost one of our favorite natives.
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