Some Good Ole Boys,
a John Deere Tractor,
Palouse Wheatfields
and an Australian Lodestar!

by Greg Otterson


Photographs by the Author and the Schoepflin Family


In September 1947, a former RAAF Lockheed Lodestar came on to the Australian Register as VH-GRB, the registration comprising the initials of its owner, Gregory Richmond Board. During 1947-48 the aircraft operated several migrant flights from Europe to Australia. In August 1950, the aircraft was sold to Overland Air Services Pty Ltd of Condoblin, NSW as VH-OAS, and operated on airline services to country towns in NSW. These services continued until April 1952 when the company went into voluntary liquidation.

Subsequently the Lodestar was exported to the United States where it went through the hands of several operators. By April of 1967, the aircraft was on the Mexican Register as XB-SAO. In August 1974, XB-SAO suffered engine trouble and landed unexpectedly at Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport in Washington State, USA. Although it received several visits from its owners or their representatives, the Lodestar was effectively abandoned. During its five-year stay, it became known locally as the Marijuana Hauler even though there was no official evidence of the aeroplane having hauled the illegal herb. It is true that many Lodestars did cross over to the dark side so it may have been guilt by association. In September 1979, several locals decided to try to save the aeroplane from the morass of legal complications which old abandoned aeroplanes seldom survive.

Greg Otterson takes up the story.

In 1979, I helped a good friend of mine, Dale Schoepflin, “liberate” this Lodestar five years after it was abandoned by suspected drug dealers at the Moscow/Pullman airport in Pullman, Washington. In 1974 it made an emergency landing there after having an inflight engine failure. After it was abandoned there, it became known as the Marijuana Hauler. Over the next several years vandals broke into it and did some minor damage. The poor Lodestar was deteriorating and becoming an eyesore after it was parked out on the grass.

Dale, a local crop duster and aircraft mechanic, and I were out looking at it one day and trying to figure out what could be done to save it. Our conclusion was to somehow get it to his crop duster strip about 17 miles away, but it was far beyond the ability to ferry it. Plus, we didn’t have ownership, so we looked into what it would take to get salvage rights.

One day we took an air compressor out and wanted to see if the tires would hold pressure. Sure enough, they did, and then we starting putting our plan into gear. Between the Moscow/Pullman airport and Dale’s private airport are 17 miles of rolling wheat fields known as the Palouse. Dale crop dusted a lot of those farm fields and knew most of the farmers so we started flying over the possible routes to see where we could tow the Lodestar to get it to Dale’s strip.

All of the farmers gave permission for us to cross their fields as it was just after harvest season. The next step was to have an off the record discussion with the airport manager about the Lodestar “disappearing”. While he couldn’t give an official response, he did lament how it was becoming an eyesore and wished it wasn’t his problem anymore.

With that, we went to Dale’s shop and built a tow bar. Dale’s cousin said we could use his big eight-wheeled articulating John Deere tractor. After plotting the course and measuring several bridges we had to cross, we got up early in the morning in early September 1979 with tractor, pickup, and motorcycle for scouting ahead of the path, and off we started.

The harvested wheat fields were solid enough to support the Lodestar’s weight as were the several small bridges we had to cross. A couple of the bridges were somewhat of a challenge with the width being the same as the track of the main gear. We put down large planks to keep the tires from rolling off, and slowly made it across.

It took about eight hours to go the 17 miles and the trip went as planned. The Lodestar’s disappearance made the headlines in the local papers under the headline of “Marijuana Hauler Disappears” with various stories and theories about what happened to it.

In the meantime, Dale started the paperwork process to get ownership, which he did after a couple of years. He hung a new engine on it, got it airworthy, and then in 1984 traded it to a guy in New Mexico for a couple of single engine Cessnas. It hadn’t flown yet, so the new owner came up to take possession and do the flight testing. The Lodestar hadn’t flown for ten years, and Dale’s airstrip was only 1,800 feet long. He and Dale flew that Lodestar out of his short airstrip and over to the Moscow/Pullman Airport to give it some shakedown flights before the trip to New Mexico. It was given a new registration number, N102SD.

After several successful flights, the Lodestar took off and headed south. We flew formation with it for the first 15 minutes of the fight and took some air to air photos.

Another funny story from the time when the aircraft was on Dale's farm. Dale and I used to go out in the evenings and fire up the Lodestar’s right engine, switch on the instruments and cockpit/cabin lights and play like a couple of kids with their favorite toy.

Since the Howard 250 conversion, it was quite the plush aircraft with executive seating, a lavatory, cockpit door, full IFR instrumentation, radar, and even a lighted fasten seatbelt sign with a bell that we enjoyed playing with. Fortunately, the vandals had not done any damage to the cockpit other than a broken side window.

On the panel were two switches with three positions and corresponding green, amber, and red lights and a large placard with the letters JATO (jet assisted takeoff). Green was Test position, amber was Arm, and red was Fire. Dale and I had looked all over the Lodestar and found hard points in the bottom of each wing where we assumed the JATOs should have been mounted.

Several times in the evenings when we fired up the right engine and played around with everything in the cockpit, we decided to see what would happen if we flipped the JATO switches. We put them in the Test position and the green light lit up. Then we moved the switches to the Arm position and the amber light lit up. We looked at each other with sly grins and asked each other if we should move the switches to the fire position, but neither of us was brave enough to do it even though the rockets were not mounted on the wings - or so we thought.

One day I had a call from Dale. He said to come over right away so he could show me something. When I arrived, he had me crawl under the belly near the cabin door, and then I could see them.....two JATO rockets mounted with yellow tags indicating they were loaded and ready to fire. Both of us shuddered to think about how close we had come to firing those rockets. Once fired, there is no stopping them. They will fire continuously for 1-2 minutes. They were part of the Howard 250 conversion and intended to be used in the event of engine failure on takeoff.

Had we fired them, we might have gotten airborne with the good right engine and stayed airborne long enough to get to a lighted airport. At least that was what Dale and I used to optimistically debate. Realistically, neither of us would have likely survived the crash that probably would have followed.

Dale passed away about three years ago. He was an aviator extraordinaire and the Lodestar was one of his many notable aviation legacies.

Click on the image to read the entire article
Click on the image to read the entire article
Up hill, XB-SAO on her long tow across the Palouse wheatfields.
Picture: Greg Otterson
and down dale, XB-SAO on her long tow across the Palouse wheatfields.
Picture: Greg Otterson
Crossing one of several bridges.
Picture: Greg Otterson
This bridge was just wide enough!
Picture: Greg Otterson
Safely on the other side.
Picture: Greg Otterson
Safely at her destination with her proud crew. Second from the left is Dale Schoepflin, third from left is Greg Otterson, and far right is Coleen Schoepflin, Dale’s wife. Picture: Greg Otterson
Parked at Dale Schoepflin's property.
Picture: Greg Otterson
The cockpit that came with the Howard 250 conversion.
Picture: Greg Otterson
Engine change prior to her first flight in ten years.
Picture: Greg Otterson
Both engines running for the first time in ten years.
Picture: Greg Otterson
The new owner applies masking tape for her new registration N102SD.
Picture: Greg Otterson
The take-off from Dale Schoepflin's ag strip.
Picture: Greg Otterson
N102SD on her way to a new owner who evidently decided to give up on masking the new registration! Picture: Greg Otterson
Dale Schoepflin in the cockpit.
Picture: Greg Otterson
A more recent photograph of the author, Greg Otterson. Clearly not the cockpit of the Lodestar, the unique throttles confirm that this is a B-17, indeed the CAF's Sentimental Journey.




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