of the hangar . Lunch consisted of freshly made sandwiches and ice cold Coca-Cola from a big ice chest . This leisure time meant exploration time for my brother and me .
The MAAF had been a large military operation at the height of the war . Clearly visible were numerous empty foundations where structures of all types were hastily built for the war effort in the 1940s .
The airfield was impressively large with three 7,500 foot-long runways and miles of connecting taxiways .
The large ramp area could accommodate many dozens of aircraft . The highlight was the main hangar , which still stood proudly . Amazingly , two abandoned AT-17 aircraft were parked inside . The hangar had office and storage spaces along both sides of the structure . Within many of the storage rooms were boxes of old radio equipment and flight instruments . For my brother and me , these planes and this hangar would become our biggest adventure . The AT-17s became our place to sit in the cockpit for hours , pretending we were flying through the big war , feeling as if we could be the heroes in the battles for the free world . In our minds , we must have dropped so many bombs on the evil forces that no more bombs were left . We wore old radio headsets pulled out of the hangar storage rooms . The planes flew thousands of miles across massive oceans to accomplish our missions . The imaginations of two boys , twelve and nine years old , could do anything . Many hours were spent at the controls of the planes . Fantastic feats of victory were our reward . We felt like movie heroes of the day , far better than John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart ever were !
The old runway edges had numerous wild gourd vines growing in a patchwork tangle of leaves and dried gourds . One day , in the brief early morning coolness , Mom was out for a walk with the dog along a runway when she encountered a rattlesnake in a gourd patch . She pulled the dog back and they ran back to the hangar . That incident caused her to establish the rule that we boys never were to approach any gourd patches ! I always wondered how long that rule was in effect . I have seen rattlesnakes many times since that day , but I ’ ve never seen one in a gourd patch .
On a torrid Friday afternoon , we heard the sound of aircraft engines approaching from a distance .
Curiosity got the better of me , so I strolled out of the shady hangar and was surprised to see a DC-3 landing at the airfield . It was a Trans Texas Airways ( TTA ) plane doing a non-scheduled stop to drop off two passengers going to Alpine . We were honored to meet the flight crew , who were going from El Paso to San Antonio . They explained that TTA in the 1950s was a regularly scheduled airline in and out of MAAF . We just happened to be there when they were doing a surprise brief stop . The airline crew was so pleased to see us at MAAF that they gave me a souvenir photo of their plane , which I have kept to this day . That TTA DC-3 landing at Marfa was one of those rare moments in time .
On day five of our Marfa visit , hot , dry motionless air , as flat as a pancake , met the dawn . The sky was cloudless and not a breeze stirred . By mid-morning it was determined to be a non-soaring day .
The other pilots and their crews decided to stay at The Thunderbird to relax around the pool and rest .
My dad , on the other hand , opted to drive to the border and visit Mexico . Mom loaded sandwich fixins and drinks in the cooler , we left the dog with the people staying behind , and Dad headed our station wagon south . It was a late enough start that just about the time we got to Shafter , we were all hungry . It was hot , dry , and dusty in the abandoned mining town . The temperature was well over 100 degrees . We found a picnic table under a shade tree . Mom started making sandwiches , but as quickly as she made a sandwich , the bread dried . Our lunch was highlighted by eating sandwiches on crunchy toasted bread .
Shortly after leaving Shafter , we arrived at the Presidio border crossing . That day there were two customs agents on duty . Dad inquired about the best way to cross to Ojinaga ( evidently the old crossing bridge was under repair ). One of the agents stepped out of the customs house and waved across to the Mexican side . In minutes a big four door Buick splashed its way across the shallow Rio Grande and lumbered up to our location . This was our Mexican taxi . We climbed in and off we went . The driver headed straight across the rocky riverbed , “ pedal to the metal .” About halfway across , he yelled , “ Abierta las puertas !” – “ Open the doors !” So , we opened the doors . And as he plowed through the shallow river , the water flowing across the floorboards , we propped our feet up to stay dry . That big Buick made it across without hesitation . He dropped us off on the south side of the Rio Grande with the village of Ojinaga right before us . We spent all afternoon walking around town .
Mom and Dad had cold cervezas . My brother and I enjoyed ice cold Coca Colas . We ate fabulous tacos at a little café . Our first time in Mexico was a great little visit . Everywhere we went , the people were joyful and greeted us with warm hospitality . My parents bought two bottles of tequila each to carry back with us . The taxi driver took us back across the Rio Grande , Dad paid him , and we parted ways with smiles and handshakes .
That evening back at The Thunderbird , I learned more about the role that tequila has . Based on conversations among the adults , not only does tequila have a place in Mexican heritage , it may well be mixed in with some Texas heritage also . I felt like a kid surrounded by a bunch of happy campers !
For several more days , Marfa Army Airfield provided overwhelming proof of spectacular soaring conditions over the Big Bend territory . This story relates a brief period in time that this terrain , this air , this weather and these pilots joined to share the experience of Marfa soaring . This unique event became forever etched in my memory .
Marfa had shown our family its enduring warmth , hospitality , and charm during our special visit .
We soaked in the heritage that is embedded there . The vast landscape and magnificent mountains that surround this special area are a gift to all those who set foot there , as I found out personally in 1960 . �
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