Cenizo Journal Fall 2022 - Page 5

A Visit to Marfa - 1960

BY RUSS PETRE
In the summer of 1960 , my family journeyed from the east coast to the west coast of the United States . The focal point of this trip was Marfa , Texas , specifically the Marfa Army Airfield ( MAAF ) left over from World War II . One might ask oneself , why would a family target MAAF as a destination during the hottest time of the year ?
To answer that question , a brief background of my dad is in order . Born of a family with a history in aviation , he held a Silver Certificate from the Soaring Society of America along with powered flight qualifications . In simple terms , Dad was a sailplane pilot who loved to soar above the land in his Schweizer 1-26 sailplane . Starting in the late 1950s , talk of powerful lifting thermal currents in the Marfa region was a buzz conversation amongst American sailplane pilots .
Two pilot friends of my dad ’ s agreed to a rendezvous designed to experience Marfa ’ s soaring climate . We pulled Dad ’ s Schweizer on a trailer behind our 1956 Chevrolet station wagon . This was accomplished by disconnecting the wings and loading them on both sides of the fuselage upon a specially designed trailer . After initially meeting with the other pilots in Monahans , we caravanned south with our vehicles , trailers , and precious cargo . Our unusual parade passed through Fort Stockton and Alpine . Some people watched us go by with quizzical looks on their faces . Westbound on Highway 90 seemed to get hotter by the mile as the heat mirage shimmered before us on the highway .
There appeared before us on the south side of the highway a single large hangar identifying MAAF . Driving through the adobe-walled entrance , we arrived at our destination . Ramp areas and runways of asphalt and concrete greeted us with expansive room to launch and land the aircraft . This was perfect for our plan to use a 1000-foot towline pulled by the station wagon . The towline attached to the release hitch on the nose of the sailplane . When airborne , the pilot would release the hitch hundreds of feet above the ground and quickly catch the closest thermal to gain altitude . We parked the trailers at the hangar and headed to Marfa to find a place to stay for our visit .
By 1960 , Marfa had established itself as the place where the epic movie production Giant was filmed a few short years prior . The massive expanse of open range powerfully portrayed in the movie was a part of the strength of Texas . In the center of town , the Paisano Hotel reverberated of celebrities who stayed there in 1955 during filming . We stayed at the fledgling Thunderbird Motel on Highway 90 , as did the other two pilots and their parties . Kitchenettes were a common part of travel motels then . Mom made good use of that feature to prepare daily meals .
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Cenizo Fall 2022

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