As coastal farmlands vanish, a longtime local crop-dusting family finds work farther from home.

By Bill Newcott | Photograph by Kyle Kaminski
From the October 2019 issue

feature-crop-duster

The sound awoke me, and even before my brain kicked into gear, I recognized it: The dive-bomb roar … the seconds of near silence … the renewed urgency of an airplane swinging into another approach.

It was unmistakable. There was a crop-duster in the neighborhood. And he was very close.

 

Yanking jeans over my pajama shorts, I grabbed the car keys and shouted an incomprehensible explanation to my wife (Carolyn’s used to this by now). Driving out to the main road, I stopped, rolled open all the car’s windows and the sunroof, and tried to discern precisely where the sound was coming from.

Then I saw him. Above a ridge of trees, the yellow glint of a biplane’s wings caught the early morning sun. It took some maneuvering through unfamiliar roads, but finally there he was in full view, swooping like a lemon-colored condor over a Robinsonville Road cornfield.

I spotted the pilot, his yellow helmet clearly visible through a window, and marveled at his dramatic approach — how he seemed to leap from behind the tree line before plummeting to just a few feet above the corn, nearly close enough to reach out and run his hand along the waving stalks. My eyes tried to track him as he skimmed the surface at 150 mph, and I held my breath as he barreled right toward the power lines along Webbs Landing Road. Surely he’d cleared wires like that a thousand times, I told myself, and surely he’d do it again.

He did. With inches to spare, it seemed. Then, in a wide, graceful turn, the biplane disappeared to the north.

I was sorry to see him go. Even in the seven short years I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that visits from the crop-dusters are becoming less frequent. The day seems close when, after the last cornfields have been smothered by concrete and clubhouses, crop-dusters will no longer come to us. We’ll have to go to them.

 

   * * *

Buy this issue online

Buy the current issue on a newsstand