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  • I'm a writer, journalist, and the editor of The Gambit, the alt-weekly newspaper in New Orleans.

    Journalism: My work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Globe & Mail (Canada), The Times- Picayune (New Orleans), The Oregonian, and Willamette Week, as well as in magazines including Details, Vogue, Publishers Weekly, and Portland Monthly.

    Publishing: Tight Shot, my first novel, was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Its sequel, Hot Shot, was roundly ignored by everyone, but was a far better book. I'm also a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

    Stage: I was a member of the Groundlings and Circle Repertory West in Los Angeles, and am a playwright (see "Stage" in the right-hand rail).

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August 21, 2008

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Alan Cordle

Hill shot my photo for a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I really appreciated that he made me appear a lot better looking than I am.

Chris

Excellent article and pictures. I've spent some time in Mermentau and Jennings - there was a coast guard office I took care of at a barge builder in Jennings and went through Mermentau via boat a few times during my first tour. Lots of ag pilots here in the NW too - and many of the same issues.

Ranger Bob

Cool! I have a very good, octogenarian friend who is (a) an aviation buff; and (b) originally from Louisiana.

He is SO going to love this story.

Brooks

Kevin,
Enjoyed the piece. Brought back alot of memories.

When I was 14 (1974) my parents were worried that I was having too much fun and my dad hooked me up with a job working for a friend who ran a huge farm all around the Monroe airport and East of town. He also had a crop dusting service. I spent that summer, and the next 4, getting up at 3:30 in the morning, riding a Puch moped out to the airport (at least til I was 15, when I got a badass 1965 Ford F-100) to the airport, and loading three planes (2 AgTrucks and a Grumman Air Tractor (the first of the big, turbo planes that are featured in your piece)) with some seriously dangerous stuff.

I would gas them up, clean the windshields, and later, when I was about 16, I would start them up and warm the engines (I'm pretty sure that they would all be in jail if they let a kid do that today, but back then, working with all of these Korean and Vietnam vets who started flying jets when they were 18, no one gave it a thought). They would all show up, just before daylight, climb in, and go dump and come back, get another load without ever turning the engine off, and dump another. That would be the end of that til the late afternoon. Most of the time, all of the spraying takes place early and late in the Delta, as the wind is minimal and there is a lower chance of overspray on other crops. As DDT had just been outlawed, they didn't want to get caught spraying the stuff, for one reason, and for the other, sometimes what you spray on cotton isn't so great for the soybeans or rice in the next field.

Once we were done for the morning, after I had loaded up for the afternoon flights, I would go get on a giant tractor and ride up and down and up and down plowing, spraying, discing, or whatever, depending on the time of year and the state of the crops. As Ray, the farmer/cropduster/Korean war ace, farmed all of the land on and around the Monroe airport, one of the oddest things that we farmed was the land around where the original Delta Airlines office had been. They tile Delta symbol was still in the ground on the edge of a big field. Shame it wasn't preserved somehow, but it got eaten up by a huge plastic bag operation that is now there (come to think of it, I disked the land when they were getting ready to build it).

Those guys were all so nonchalant about what they did. It was not safe, even a little bit. I got seriously poisoned twice, almost kicking off one time, because there were no safety precautions to speak of at that point. I was mixing stuff like Methyl Parathion (it's basically Zyklon B) in open 55 gallon drums and pumping it out to the planes directly out of the barrels. Breathing the stuff was, well, dangerous (think the Holocaust-it was almost exactly the same chemical) and no one gave it a second thought. We also did the first aerial application of Roundup ever done in the US (which was a disaster-there was some carryover and the rice, next to the cotton we were defoliating, got hammered. They didn't try that again for a while. heh).

Anyway, long note, but it made me think how much I learned from those guys about lots of things. Lunch at the little diner in the Monroe airport, eating what were at that time seriously great hamburgers, was a history and life lesson that I didn't quite appreciate at the time, but I do now. Combination of cropdusting daredevil tales, war stories, farming woes, and North La history stuff. Thanks for the reminder.

And, if you don't think that it's really dangerous, one summer I had to go help take a plane out of a tree, and several years later, while I was in college, the same guy who parked an AgTruck in a tree managed to stall on a hammerhead turn (which is totally stupid to do with a sloshing front end on a plane full of poison liquid-but they all loved doing it-those things are, really, like WW2 fighter planes-all motor and very little weight for the plane. All wings and motor) and plow it in for his last ride.

Best,

B

Best,

B

Kevin

Brooks - thank you for such an amazing story. I wish I'd had the chance to interview you for the piece!

What a great reminiscence. I came away from your story, and those of the people I interviewed, with a serious respect for what they do, and the way they live their lives. Good men. So are you.

Very, very well done, Kevin. Great work.

johnyymathew

His crosses state and international lines and as such is a Federal issue. He does not have the legal right to say what people in other states can do and that is what he is doing.His comment about not seizing sites that use software to block Kentucky access is nonsense. I am not even sure it can be done.
---------------------------
johnyymathew
louisiana drug rehab

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