A History of Ag Aviation in Madison Parish

John Earl Martin

Tallulah, Louisiana October 2004


1892                The boll weevil enters Texas.

Enlargement of a boll weevil – normally 1/8”-1/3” in length


1907                The boll weevil enters Madison Parish. Having no natural enemies and entering into an environment of 50% layout and 50% cotton which provided a perfect place for them, the boll weevil prospered so that by 1908, the cotton crop in Madison Parish was 60% of what 1907's crop had been.


1909                The Delta Lab was set up in the old school building where the present day school board office is. The purpose was to study the boll weevil and to investigate any and all possible remedies. (Some advertised remedies offered for sale were block of wood and hammer, several molasses concoctions, etc.) Another subscribed to the theory that a boll weevil couldn't live without cotton squares to feed on. So, they tried picking all the squares from a cotton field in order to "starve them out". This theory was developed by the director of the Delta Lab who was shortly thereafter transferred to a station in Florida where he advanced the same theory; hence its being named the "Florida Method".

Of course, all these and ones similar were of no avail. Cotton farmers were faced with a dilemma — fields were abandoned; labor left the farm and the parish, the parish being forced into its first experience with crop diversification, which was not very successful.


1916                This year entomologist Dr. B.R. Coad was placed over the Delta Lab, assisted by C.E. Woolman, a farm agent and entomologist. Both these men were intrigued with airplanes, Mr. Woolman having gotten his first ride in 1910, 7 years after Kitty Hawk. They were also convinced that the solution to the boll weevil problem lay in toxic chemicals[1]. They brought in chemists, engineers, entomologists, and others to the Tallulah area. They developed many different types of poison dispensing machines , both hand held and mule drawn. His work force for several years was over 100 people.

Dr. B. R. Coad

Early spraying machines and methods


1921                Dr. Coad was quick to recognize the importance of the experiments in Ohio conducted by C. R. Neillie of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, where an Army Air Service pilot named John McCready used a Curtiss Jenny, (JN-6H) with an engineer named Darmoy turning a hand crank to dispense the dust, applied 100 pounds of powdered lead arsenate to catalpa trees to control the sphinx moth. This tremendous breakthrough was August 31, 1921. Dr. Coad immediately went to Washington, applied for and got funding and also the services of the Army Air Service.

Curtiss Jenny (JN-6H)


1922                Army Air Service, early in 1922 sent six men and two Curtiss Jennys with one Dehaviland 4-B for observation and photography, to an airstrip near Tallulah that Dr. Coad was readying that was to become the first municipal airport in Louisiana. This airport was on a 100-acre tract located on Shirley Plantation, owned by the estate of W.M. Scott[2] and named Scott Field in his honor.

The early crew sent to Scott Field included pilots Lts. Charles Skow, G.L. McNiel, L.C. Simon, and John B. Patrick.

Lt. John B. Patrick on left. Patrick later married Arwin Scott of Tallulah.


Notable among the early civilian employees was "Haw" Kirkpatrick who was responsible for documenting on film all aspects of this experimental project. A great majority of the pictures you see of this era have the name Kirkpatrick on them. Also from the civilian ranks came J.M. Yeates who ran one of the aerial bug-catchers involved.

 “Jimmy” Yeates is third from left. John Payne (far left) later married Catherine Edgerton of Tallulah. Perry Glick, one of the photographers, is second from left. Glick’s daughter, Dorothy of Tallulah, later married Dr. Henry Provine.  The plane is a Huff-Daland with a 520 hp Liberty motor.


Scott Field, after its completion, was state-of-the-art for the times – it had a hangar, storage space for fuel and chemicals, a weather observatory (one of 79 in the United States and Canada), and a Standard Zenith Airway Beacon light that revolved at six turns per minute and was visible for 45 miles. I'm sure that all of you anywhere close to my age can remember that light. The beacon now in use is surely not the same one, but is very near the same. The tower is original.[3]

Scott Field showing Army planes. Photo by Haw Kirkpatrick.

Scott Field Hanger. Photo taken by Haw Kirkpatrick 4/27/1925


The Jennys proved to be unsuited to the task of dusting and were replaced at early stage by Dehaviland 4-B's. They, like the men that flew them, were World War I veterans. Beginning this year, hundreds of flights originated from Scott Field, mostly to Shirley and Hermione Plantations, but to some extent to neighboring plantations, up and down the river.

Dehaviland 4-B.


1923               Late in this year, Huff Daland Dusters was formed. This came about after an unscheduled stopover at Scott Field by Geo. B. Post, vice president of Huff Daland and Company, who had begun in 1920 to manufacture planes for the civilian and military market. After spending many hours visiting with Coad and Woolman and observing their work at Delta Lab, Post could visualize the far reaching importance of these dusting experiments and saw crop dusting as a new market for selling airplanes. He returned to New York and the stage was set for the first real commercial crop dusting. So, despite hangar tales to the contrary, Huff Daland Dusters was the first commercial dusting firm. It was organized as an offshoot of Huff, Daland and Co late in 1923, primarily through the efforts of Bert Coad and C.E. Woolman with Geo. Post, president, and Lt. Harold Harris[4], an Army Air Service test pilot at McCook Field, Ohio, as vice president. Harris was already a legendary figure in dusting circles.

George B. Post, vice president of Huff-Daland is on far left.


1924               C.E. Woolman left the Delta Lab and took responsibility for Huff Daland Dusters' entomological work as vice president and field manager. Their first duster-airplane was already in production, a Petrel 5,200 hp biplane that was suitable for conversion to a duster. Being somewhat underpowered, it was eventually replaced by a larger, more powerful airplane, the Petrel 31. Actual operations began this year near Macon, Georgia with 18 planes to be dispersed throughout the south's cotton belt.


Two early Huff-Daland dusters. Upper photo 8/23/1924; lower 4/27/1925. Both taken by Haw Kirkpatrick


Financially, this was not a good beginning because of the small fields and poor publicity where they located. However, it was satisfactory because work had been done all over the south, including one of the first purely commercial ventures near Heathman, Mississippi on Robertshaw Plantation where they contracted for 35 cents per acre on a large acreage.


1925               This was a better year. Early in the year Dr. Coad was successful in getting Huff Daland Dusters moved to Monroe, Louisiana. They operated at least 18 airplanes and had some 60,000 acres of cotton under contract at $7.00 per acre for 5 applications (price included calcium arsenate at 10-12 pounds per acre).

Huff-Daland Advertisements


Huff Daland Dusters also did some of the early mosquito control work at Tallulah. We have photos of them dusting Paris Green on Texas Lake and other lakes near Mound.

Huff-Daland dusting lake for mosquitos near Mound. Photo talen 9/11/1924 by Dr. King.


Also in 1925, we have to shift some of the focus from the Army Air Service and Huff Daland Dusters. The first commercial purely dusting company called Southern Dusting Company of Tallulah, owned by Jack and Marmaduke McCaffrey; pilots were Eugene Stevens and Arthur Gray. They lasted until 1929 when Stevens left for the military. Their short history was marred by accidents and fatalities. From this point on, Ag aviation spread rapidly throughout the cotton belt

Ward Holt posing in front of a Southern Dusting Company plane.


Also in 1925 the old Southern Field Crop Insect Division was phased out and replaced by the Division of Cotton Insect Investigation and moved to the building where the vacant lot is between the old Osborne Ford and Methodist Church.

1928               Mr. Woolman returned from Peru where he had taken some airplanes to work to find that Huff Daland was in financial difficulty, with a move under foot to sell its Duster Division. He quickly formed a group of Monroe investors and bought the Duster Division and named it Delta Air Service of Monroe, Louisiana. This group envisioned retaining the dusting division and branching out into hauling of passengers, mail, and freight on a regular basis. They were successful in getting a contract from Dallas to Jackson, Mississippi hauling mail and passengers. Their first planes in this venture were Model 6000 Travelairs with six seat capacity.

Delta’s first plane – a Model 6000 Travelair


This is the beginning of Delta Airlines[5].  Delta Air Service was later changed to Delta Air Corp. Delta Air Duster Division was finally closed in 1966. This closing closely coincided with the deaths of Woolman and Coad.


1930                Standard Oil Building built at Scott Field.

Standard Oil of Louisiana (Stanocola) Building at Tallulah Airport


1931                Division of Cotton Insect Control Investigation moved its offices to Washington, D.C. Dr. Coad left the Department of Agriculture.

Portion of Delta Lab staff about 1930. Dr. Coad is on far right.


1934                Shortly prior, the Delta Lab lost its funding for its Airplane, Chemistry, Photography, and Mechanical Engineering Departments, leaving only the Entomology Research Department under R.C. Gaines. It moved to a new location south of town, staying at this site until it’s closing in 1973. During these years many high school boys found summer employment at the "Bug Station", checking cotton for insects and/or applying poison manually to their many research plots. All this time, aerial experiments were still being conducted using local flying services. After Mr. Gaines, the station was headed up by Umps Young, then, by G.L. Smith, and then Tommy Cleveland. Erle Read, William Scott, and Tommy Cleveland were among those transferring to Stoneville at the Lab's closing in 1973.

1938                After the transfer of the offices to Washington, D.C. in 1931, Scott Field was relatively quiet until in 1938. Cecil Smith (son of T.A. Smith, Deputy Sheriff), holding Commercial License #6721, gathered some Travelair[6] airplanes  and set up Smith Flying Service on Scott. Shortly after, Cecil sold an interest to Jimmy Yeates who had come here with Army Air Service as an entomologist. Cecil had taught Jimmy to fly in the late 1920's. Jimmy became CFI[7]  #17475 and taught many locals to fly including Mr. & Mrs. Bailey, Mr. Ralph Loe, Mr. Bill Yerger Sr., and Mr. Richard Ware. So, Smith Flying Service became Smith/Yeates Flying Service.

“Jimmy” Yeates


1939                Charles Arneson moved to Madison Parish from North Dakota and bought farm land around Quebec. Charley was a pilot and licensed mechanic and while farming helped Smith and Yeates maintain their airplanes, especially their finicky Wright engines. In 1940 or 1941 Arneson bought out Smith and the company became Yeates/Arneson and Cecil went off to war. They operated from Scott and from Quebec where Charley built hangars during the years of World War II, dusting cotton all around Northeast Louisiana, in the Mississippi Delta, and even into Alabama dusting peanuts.


1942 - 1945     Scott Field served as a training base for Marine Corps Aviators.


1945                                 Arneson bought out Yeates and the company became Arneson Flying Service.

Arneson hanger and planes


Jimmy moved to Roosevelt, Louisiana and set up Yeates Flying Service using surplus N3N airplanes. Jimmy stayed in business until 1955 when he sold the business to his chief pilot, Gene Wilson, who moved it to Lake Providence. Jimmy operated three more years before retiring for good in 1958.

“Jimmy” Yeates – probably early 1950’s


After the War


1945 saw a glut of surplus airplanes on the market. Stearmans and N3N's could be bought in flying condition, sometimes for as little as $250 or $300. It also brought many young skilled pilots that were to convert these airplanes and pilot them over our fields.

Among these, Bob Gaumnitz, who Arneson had taught to fly before the war, returned to fly for Arneson, bought him out in 1947 and operated several of the old original Travelair airplanes (many times rebuilt) as Tallulah Crop Dusting until 1952 when the name was changed to Farm Air Service, Inc.

Bob Gaumnitz

Tallulah Crop Dusting plane


By the early 1970's Bob had phased out the Travelairs and gone to Ruletto Stearmans and then to Ag Cats.


Ag Cats at Farm Air in early 1970’s


Bob sold to son Fred in 1982, who sold to cousin Steve Gustafson and Kirby Fortenberry in 1994 when the name was changed to Ag Aero, Inc. Kirby sold his interest in 2002 and went out on his own. Interesting note: John Robert Gaumnitz, grandson of Bob, is flying for Ag Aero at present.

Another returning aviator was R.N. Graves.

Bob Graves


Graves partnered with pilot Carol Presley and operated out of Scott as Little Southern Dusting Company until he bought out Carol in 1947 when the company became Graves Flying Service. Arneson helped Graves to convert his first duster in 1946. Graves flew converted Stearmans until the early 1970's when he became a dealer for Em Air and operated those until his untimely death in 1974.

Scenes from Graves Flying Service


Other companies of Madison Parish since 1945:


Red Beard Flying Service, local man, worked for Graves, in business since 1954. Still operating.


John Monsell Flying Service, local man, flew for Graves, operated around Crowville.


Barnes Flying Service or Lucky's Flying Service – flew for Graves, late 1950's, set up operation around Crowville.


B.R. Williams, local man, operated around Crowville.


Kirby Fortenberry, local since 1970's.


Madison Flyers, Jim Reed, flew for Gaumnitz around 1960.


Bill Gattis Flying Service, Waverly.


Omega Flying Service, Jim Gilfoil in 1964. Bought in 1966 by John Earl Martin and Bob Gaumnitz. Bob was bought out in 1971. Sold to Bill Hodge in 1986. Sold property to Ag Aero in 2001 and closed down.


Max Smith Flying Service later partnered with Grave Flying Service around 1973 or 1974. There may be others I've forgotten.


Today's ag aviation is a far cry from that of the 1930-1980 era. This is a picture of a B Model Ag Cat, which would have to be considered the Cadillac in the 70's and 80's.

B Model Ag Cat - August 1988


Around the mid 80's the turbine engines were gaining popularity because of the diminishing supply of World War II surplus engines.

Turbine Engine Duster – Spring 1991


And now, today’s standard would have to be the various turbine driven Air Tractors and Thrushes. These planes are of recent manufacture, made especially for ag flying. They have operating speeds from 120 to 150 mph, and most have GPS. They carry much bigger payloads and cover a wider effective swath. Pilot protection in the event of a crash is also much improved.

Modern Duster


I have made no mention of the countless other planes that played an important role in the development of this industry -- the Cabs and Aeroncas that were converted to ag planes; also the great Piper products -- the Pawnees and Braves and Cessna's, designed for ag work as well as the SuperCab.


All these, combined with the Wacos, HD, Stearman, N3Ns, Snows, Travelairs have brought ag aviation to where it is now.

The pilots are the same in that they have a deep love of flying and are willing to take risks and to work hard. Gone are the "barnstormers" of old and in their place is a mature businessman — a combination of farmer, consultant, lawyer, politician, pilot, and engineer, but still with that love for flying and a strong bond with all those of their ilk.


Attached is a listing of ag pilots that I can remember. I know it is an incomplete list, so please help me to fill it in with pilots you know or knew. With this small paper, I salute these pilots, past and present, listed or unlisted.


Charley Arneson

Harold Grady

John Peters

"Lucky" D. G. Barnes

Henry Grady

Paul Peters

Red Beard

R. N. Graves

Keith Powers

Jerry Beard*

Bobby Green

Carol Presley

John Bedgood

Newton Guenard

Smokey Prestridge

Jim Blair

Merle Gustafson

Sherman Price


Steve Gustafson

Jim Reed

Shields Bray

Chester Hall*

Jim, Jr. Reid

Randy Broussard

M. L. Hallman

Doug Schoonover

Dick Brown

Red Hamilton

Billy Sevier

Wayne Brown

Al Hamm

A. V. Sharp

Clifton Burge*

Jack Hardin

Dutch Shaunberger

Harold Campbell

Eddie Hargrave

Lewis Sherman*

Ted Campbell

Wade Hargrave

Henry Sholtz

Vic Clayton

Allen Hawsey

Jim Shows

Bill Clinton

Bill Heath

Cecil Smith

Raymond Cluverious*

Paul Hebert

Max Smith

John Cormier*

Carl Hill

Bob Speed

Craig Cox

Hugh Holley

Arlen Steenerson

R. E. Cunningham

Geo. Holly

Larry Stevens

Jimmy Davis

Ward Holt

Bill Stone

Muriel Deckard

Johnny Hopkins

Gene Streyckland

Peter deLong

Wayne Hopkins

Jerry Tidings

Ray Ducote

Jon Hopkins*

R. C. Todd

Larry (Ralph) Durr

Robert Jackson

Charlie Trickey

Harry Easley

Lloyd Jackson*

Marlin Tucker*

Robert Eastburn

Bob Jean*

Charles Tullos

Earl Farrington*

Milford Keene

John Vining

Paul Fields

Ray Langford*

Truett Vinson

A. E. Fisher

Bob Lochridge*

Dick Ware

Carroll Fleniken

John Earl Martin

Don Washam*

Kirby Fortenberry

Bob McCain*

Rollin White

Paul Foshee

Jack McKelvey*

Walt Wideman

Tommy Franklin

Curtis McKinney

Herbert Wilkins

Chet Friend

Stuart Moberly

Gene Wilson

Bill Gattis

Rudell Mobley

Tommy Wixson

Bob Gaumnitz

John Monsell

Elmer Wolfe

Fred Gaumnitz

Chester Montgomery*

Jimmy Yeates

John Robert Gaumnitz

Red Payne

Bill, Jr. Yerger

Tom Gaumnitz

John Percival

John Young



* Fatalities

[1] Lead arsenate used first, then calcium arsenate.

[2] Mr. Scott had died in 1916, leaving Mrs. V.K. Scott to manage plantation affairs.

[3] Still visible on the tower is the apparatus to hold flags, which denoted field conditions to pilots.

[4]Lt. Harris was granted a long leave of absence from Army Air Service active duty, later returned and then flew for several major airlines, returning to Air Corps during World War II and became brigadier general.

[5] C.E. Woolman was made president in 1945, chairman of the board in 1965.

[6] Perhaps left from Southern Dusting Co.??

[7] Certified Flight Instructor