chapter 24

A Great Idea to Get Rich

    Bob had a brand new idea how to make some money. He was going to

buy a helicopter and use it for herding cattle. Somewhere between the

time that he bought the helicopter and the time he went to herding cattle,

he was going to learn how to fly it. He wanted me to learn how too.

    Bob thought the two of us would make great helicopter pilots, corner

the cow herding market in South Texas, and get rich. He said that two

smart guys like us had no business flying around in those dirty old

crop-dusters, and that herding cattle with a helicopter would be a much

more respectable way to make a living.

    Bob had lined up a couple of big ranchers in the area to put up most of

the money for this venture. He had put up a little bit of money himself. As

for me, I didn't have to put up anything. All I had to do was get busy and

learn how to fly a helicopter. As soon as I learned how, Bob would make

me chief pilot of the whole operation. He would be the boss.

    I thought this whole thing sounded like a crazy scheme that would turn

out to be more of a vaudeville show than a business endeavor. Still, in

some perverse sort of way, I liked it. The more Bob talked, the more I was

tempted to get on board.

    But there was a problem.

    I was afraid of helicopters. I had flown in quite a few helicopters, in the

military, and since then. They scared me to death. I didn't like the way

they moved through the air, the way they would mosey along and turn in

circles and come to a stop, right there in mid-air. That way of going

through the sky just didn't seem natural to me. It just wasn't right. And

the way they shook, I didn't like that, either. It wasn't the good, healthy

animal-like roar of a crop-duster. It was some other kind of shaking and

roaring. It didn't seem natural to me. To me, a crop duster was a living,

breathing creature. A helicopter was just a big noisy machine.

    But I had to admit, a helicopter was a wonderful machine. And I was a

man who loved machinery. I had always had a fascination with machinery.

Even as a boy, I had had a natural ability as a mechanic. I had an innate

understanding of levers, and pistons, and shafts, and cams, and bearings,

and gears, and push-rods, and bell-cranks, and differentials, and

combustion chambers, and clutches, and transmissions, and all those other

mechanical devices engineered into a machine. I understood all that stuff.

    It came to me naturally, just as some men make great doctors because

they have a natural understanding of how the organs, and vascular

systems, and physiological components of a living human being all fit

together to make that creature work.  In a similar way, I understood

machinery. It all made sense to me.

    I had given a little study to helicopters. A casual study, to be sure, but

a very serious one. I had walked by them many times and mentally

examined all the mechanical devices and controls that were employed to

make them fly. Standing by a helicopter and looking up at the rotor-head,

I could clearly see how all those little push-rods, and levers, and control

devices, and shafts had to constantly work in unison to make the thing fly.

I didn't like it. It made me nervous just looking at all that intricate


    Although I was a man who loved machinery, I fully understood just how

fickle a machine could be. I could imagine countless little failures that

would render that machine incapable of flight and send it tumbling to the

ground. I didn't like thinking about it.

    Every time I rode in a helicopter, I was nervous as a cat. I would clamp

my hands around the nearest piece of steel and hold on for dear life. Over

the years, I had several friends who were helicopter pilots. They would all

delight in getting me up in a helicopter and scaring me half to death.

Helicopter pilots are just naturally that way.

    I tried to explain all this to Bob. I tried to make him understand that I

didn't want to learn to herd cows with a helicopter because just thinking

about it gave me the jitters

    Bob understood perfectly.

    "Why, hell yes, you're scared of helicopters", he reasoned. "Any man

with a lick of sense would be scared of them damn things. They just ain't

natural. They scare me to death too. Swore I'd never learn to fly one of

the damn things. Don't even like to ride in them. But, what the hell, we'll

get over it."

    "I don't know, Bob," I said. "I just don't think I'll ever be able to feel

safe in one of those things. I don't even like to watch them, much less fly

one of them."

    "Ah, you'll get over that," Bob argued. "Look at all those kids over in

Viet Nam. They ain't but 19 years old, 17 years old, they fly them things.

A couple of old heads like us can fly anything one of them jar-head kids

can fly, can't we? Them kids ain't old enough to date girls, and they fly

them things, don't they? Hell, yes, they fly them things! Fly 'em like

crazy! You've seen 'em flying them things. Like kids on skateboards! Like

kids on motorcycles! Fly 'em like crazy! I've seen 'em flyin' them things

down in the trees, turnin' square corners and goin' backwards! Flyin' 'em

upside down, by god! Seed 'em with my own eyes. Bullets everywhere!

Them damn kids can do it! You an' me can do it! Hell, yes! We'll get used

to em. We'll learn how. Any idiot can chase a cow. We'll make a pot o'


    I tried to point out to Bob that when we were "19 years old, 17 years

old," we probably would have made great helicopter pilots. But we weren't

"19 years old, 17 years old." I had just turned 30. He was well over 50.

    "Sure," I agreed, "them kids fly them things! They fly them like crazy

'cause they ain't got no sense! That's 'cause they don't understand. That's

how come so many of 'em end up dead. They just don't understand! That's

cause they're just kids. They don't really believe that anything can

happen. They don't believe that it can happen to them. They still think

they're bullet-proof!"

    "Look," interrupted Bob, "I ain't trying to get you to join the army. I

just want you to come on down here and take a look at things. I tell you,

there's money to be made herding cows, and there ain't no good reason

you and me can't do it. Any idiot can fly a helicopter."

    "Well, Bob," I said. "I just don't like it. Maybe I'm running scared, but I

just don't like helicopters. A few years back I probably would have jumped

at the chance, but not now."

    "Ah, hell," said Bob. "What the hell's gone wrong with you. You're

starting to talk like some Sunday school teacher."

    "Ain't nothing gone wrong with me," I insisted! "You're the one that's

acting like a damn fool! Why don't you just grow up! You ain't no kid

anymore. At least I know that I ain't bullet-proof! Well, you ain't

bullet-proof either! We ain't kids! We got no business flyin' some damn

helicopter, chasin' some damn cow down amongst a bunch o' damn trees!

We're old enough to know better. We're supposed to have better sense by

now! We're supposed to have learned somethin' by now! I got no business

flyin' around in some damn helicopter, and neither do you! Me? I ain't

gonna do it! I just ain't gonna do it! I ain't gonna learn to fly no damn


    "Okay, okay," said Bob. "Don't get all augered-in. Ain't nobody gonna

make you fly no helicopter. Hell, I understand! I hate them things too.

Scare the be-jeebies out of me! I'll think about it some more. Maybe

you're right. Just relax. Ain't nobody gonna make you fly no damn


    A couple of months later Bob gave me a phone call. He had just bought

a helicopter. He was learning to fly it. He had some kid fresh out of Viet

Nam teaching him how. "Piece of cake!" he kept saying.

    He wanted me to come down to Laredo and learn how with him. As soon

as I learned how, he was going to make me his chief pilot. Hell, I didn't

even have to learn how! He was ready to make me chief pilot right then!

All I had to do was agree to come down and learn how. He had a bunch of

big ranchers footing the bill. There were some rich businessmen mixed up

in the deal too. They had money "stacked around everywhere". Bob

wanted me to go on the payroll right now!

    I told him that I wasn't going to learn to fly no damn helicopter.

    A month later Bob called me again. He had been chasing cows! "It's

great! Making money like crazy!" They were thinking about buying

another helicopter. He wanted me to come down and fly it. "It's great!

Piece of cake!" He wanted me to go on the payroll. Right then!

    I told him I didn't know how to fly a helicopter, and didn't intend to


    A month later Bob called me again. They had bought another

helicopter! He wanted me to come down and fly it. I told him I didn't know

how to fly a helicopter. "Piece of cake!" he said. He was flying all over

Webb County. Clear up to Cotulla. Down around Zapata. All over!  They

had special trailers to haul around the helicopters. Pulled them behind a

pickup truck. They would just drive right out on the job-site, launch a

helicopter, and be making money like crazy. They had got an agreement

to fly patrol on a big ranch over in Duval County. All Bob had to do on that

job was fly around the fence lines, up and down the ranch roads. He didn't

even have to chase the cows. All he did was look at them. He carried a

ranch foreman with him. The ranch covered "half the state of Texas." It

was a big ranch!

    They didn't like strangers on that ranch. That's why they hired Bob to

patrol it with a helicopter. The ranch foreman carried two or three guns.

They would fly around and "shoot at stuff." They were making money like

crazy. Bob wanted me to go on the payroll right now!

    I didn't go on the payroll. Not then. Not ever.

    I never did learn how to fly a helicopter.



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