chapter 41

The Hanger at Rio Grande City

    The hanger at Rio Grande City that I bought from Buster was the first

hanger I ever owned. I've owned a couple since then, but that's the first

hanger that ever actually belonged to me.

    As a matter of fact, the ground that that airplane hanger was built on

was the first piece of ground that I ever actually owned.

    But I never got any use out of that hanger. I never saw it again after

the day I bought it from Buster. The only reason that I was aware that I

owned a piece of real estate was that each year the City of Rio Grande

City sent me a tax bill.

    Ever time I got a tax bill, I got the sudden notion that I ought to make

a special trip down to Rio Grande City just to inspect my real estate

holdings. But I never actually made that trip, and I never again saw the

first hanger I ever owned.

    Three or four years after I bought that hanger an attorney from Rio

Grande City called me and told me that the city was about to take it over

for unpaid taxes. I guess they were going to do that because I never paid

the taxes. Anyway, the attorney asked me if I wanted to sell it.

    "Okay," I said, "how much do you want to give me for it?"

    I knew right away that this lawyer wasn't going to give me any kind of

straight answer. He started talking, and I decided to just sit it out and see

if I could learn something about my property. He was paying for the phone


    I didn't have any idea what that old hanger was worth. I didn't even

know if it was still standing. I didn't know if that little dirt strip was still

active, and I didn't even know the size of the piece of ground that I

owned. I kind of assumed that all the land I owned was what the hanger

was built on, but I really didn't know.



     All I really knew was that I owed over $150 in taxes on it.

    That lawyer talked a long time but he didn't say much of anything. I

just listened. Mostly, he talked about how little money that old hanger was

worth, and how I was about to lose it all anyway for back taxes.

    "So how much will you give me for it", I asked?

    "Well, I'll give you more than it's worth, right now," he said. "On the

other hand, I might just pay the taxes myself, and get it for nothing."

    "So how much will you give me for it", I asked?

    "Well, how much do you want for it", he answered?

    "Well, I don't know what its worth," I said.

    "Well, I'll give you a fair price for it," he said.

    "Oh, I want more than that," I said.

    "Well, how much you want for it", he asked?

    I knew good and well that the two of us were engaged in what is

commonly called "a battle of wits", and that the first guy to mention an

actual sum of money would be the looser.

    It really didn't surprise me when I lost.

    Weary of the round-and-round conversation, I finally said, "Okay, you

pay the taxes and send me a thousand dollars. I'll sign the deed." I had

never seen the deed to that property and didn't have the vaguest idea

what I was talking about.

    That lawyer had a fit. He explained at great length why that beat up old

hangar, including the piece of land it was sitting on, wasn't worth

anywhere near one thousand dollars. Besides, he warned me, the city was

about to condemn the property as a fire hazard. That was the first thing I

had heard about a "fire hazard".

    "Hey, wait a minute," I said. "I thought the problem was that I hadn't

paid my taxes. What's this about a fire hazard?"

    "Well, it is a fire hazard," said the lawyer.

    "Yeah, well, it probably is," I said. "But what's that got to do with me


not paying my taxes?"

    "Well," explained the lawyer, "if you don't pay your taxes, they're going

to confiscate that property, and since it's a fire hazard, they're going to

condemn it."

    "So which problem is the biggest problem", I wanted to know?

    "Well, actually, both," said the lawyer. "What you really ought to do is

sell that property to me for a fair price, and just forget all those


    "How much will you give me for it," I asked?

    He talked about a lot of other things. By that time, he had spent darn

near one thousand dollars on the phone call.

    Finally he said, "The best I can offer you is $500."

    "Tell you what," I said, "You pay the taxes and send me $750. I'll sign

the deed." I still didn't have the vaguest idea what I was talking about.

    That lawyer talked a long time more. Finally I got tired of listening and

said that I thought that I would just pay the taxes myself and keep the


    The next day he called me back. He said that he was mailing me a $750

check and a bunch of paperwork that I was supposed to sign. He did, and I


    I still don't have any idea what that hanger and little scrap of land was

worth. I probably got hooked.

    But that put an end to my ownership of the first piece of real estate I

ever owned. It also closed the book on my association with a Boeing


    I never cared much one way or the other about that hanger, but I still

miss that old airplane. Although she was easily the most troublesome,

most uncomfortable, most accident-prone airplane I ever owned, I've

never regretted for one minute that I bought her.




    You see, I had always wanted to own a Stearman, and I did.

    All these years later, I look back fondly on my days of flying that old

airplane. She never made me any money, but she gave me lots to tell

stories about now that I am growing old.




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