October 18, 1996
For a few minutes, the morning sun bathed the Rose farm in bright yellow. As the sun rose, it moved behind the high clouds. Even though the morning takeoff was a perfect execution, photography lighting wasnt the best. Otis was out to watch with his young grandson. The little boy was carrying a camera and decked out in milking boots that we so big for him that normally calf high boots hit him mid thigh. Otis said he had described the scene to his wife. She was bedridden with the after effects of a stroke and couldnt see. He was glad to hear that Dad and Mom were going on a mission. He and his wife had wanted to go but since the stroke, he figured his mission was to take care of her.
The planes were unwrapped, fueled and warmed. The birds were given another ration of water. All seven birds were in the lineup for flying this morning. 107 had been trailered from the summit the day before. Most of the birds seem to work into longer flights and stronger activity as the migration progressed but 107 doesnt seem to be gaining strength. 105 was the one that dropped down between the golf course and railroad tracks last night. His problem is that he seems to have eaten more than his share of dog food and corn cobs over the summer - he is a little overweight. Dog food is a good source of protein and it is easy to bring along and find on the way. And besides, the cranes like it.
It was hard for 105 to keep in formation and he therefore ends up working much harder. While in formation, the birds draft off from each other and the plane. At times some of them will even fly up to the leading edge of the wing and surf the airfoil. 105 at times gets right down under the wheels and has to fight the prop blast so he has to work doubly hard.
But this morning, all birds looked in good shape. As Kent taxied around the edge of the pen, Jim opened up one side. The birds opened their wings, took three to five steps and sprung themselves into the air. As they flew off into the distance, the plane and a grouping of birds were silhouetted against the morning sky. Immediately below and behind was one lone bird, 107.
They worked to gain altitude up through the valley towards the canyon. Altitude was needed as there was a steep canyon and at the top of it a dam for East Canyon Reservoir. Within 4 miles of takeoff, 107 was down skimming treetops and then dropped out of site over a ridge. Dan, Kents unidentical twin brother, had blown off work this morning and was following behind in his truck so he detoured to find downed bird.
Climbing through the canyon, Errol found some pockets of lift and radioed directions on where to gain altitude the quickest. Within minutes, they had cleared the dam and were sailing out high above the reservoir. Kent spotted an eagle circling on one of the lower ridges and called Errol to intercept but the eagle didnt come in pursuit.
On the ground, Ron joined me in the Suburban with his camera in hopes of getting some moving footage. The road up and around the reservoir was incredibly windy. The Suburban was either squeaking brakes for sharp corners or belching black diesel exhaust from floored acceleration. Beyond the campground, Kent radioed us to take the dirt road at the bottom of the canyon. As were left the pavement and hit the gravelly washboard at fifty per, we glimpsed a sign that said something, something, PRIVATE, something, something. It could be a short trip but the plane and birds were right above us. Anything but concrete barricades we would try and maneuver.
Errol, through the pass and above, could see Park City and said that air conditions were good. Kent not far behind was hitting sink pockets and having difficulty maintaining altitude. Errol coached him to some lift areas against the mountains and they were soon clear of one of the worst places traversed last year. The scene of plane and birds coming across Jeremy Ranch golf course in the morning sun with trees and mountains in the background was spectacular.
The birds were flying strong and wind was good so we hoped for a clear shot to the north end of Deer Creek. Errol high above and slightly ahead spotted a large American flag at some industrial buildings just west of the highway past the Heber turnoff. They were pointing straight north in a stiff blowing wind. As Kent turned to head south towards Jordanelle Reservoir, the entourage dead stopped in mid air. From the radio I could hear the anxiety in his voice, "Its all I can do to keep this thing from being blown completely sideways!"
From the ground, I could see him and the birds practically stationary in the air. They would ripple up and down but were making absolutely no headway. He was looking around for a place to set down and spotted a small pasture with water on one side and a dirt ditch on the other. As he settled down, the plane descended vertically. The last few feet before he touched down he went out of site. Errol was hoovering directly above him and radioed me that he was on the ground. Down and safe I thought.
But immediately he came over the radio yelling, "Get over here fast! I cant hold this plane on the ground in this wind." We raced to the field and opened the gate to get in. As I maneuvered towards the plane, I was surrounded by water on all sides. One small path looked relatively dry and I gunned for the opening but felt us sinking and slowing to a stop. The switch to four wheel drive didnt even budge us.
I grabbed the tie-down straps, stakes, and hammer and started running for all I was worth. I could see Kent facing into the wind, sitting in the plane and manning the controls to keep the plane from lifting off. Ron was doing his job - filming me the whole way. With one stake in, we swung the plane around and staked down the other and the tail. With things relatively stable, I stopped to cough up a lung.
Errol soon joined us on the ground. Both he and Kent compared landing distances - it was a personal best for both of them. Kent said that he walked off his total landing distance in eight steps. We pulled another stake out and staked the Rans tail to the ground. It is more stable and has brakes that can be locked securely. The sun was completely gone. Errol estimated the wind at 40 mph as thats what his airspeed indicator was showing while he was hoovering above Kent on the ground.
We finally reached Jim via cell phone. He was coming through the canyon with the trailer and bird pens. I went to find a tractor or something to pull out the Suburban but didnt have much luck. The construction company nearby had equipment but no one but office staff to man it. Jim soon arrived and so did Dan.
Dan had stopped to find 107. He didnt see where she went down but climbed to the top of a ridge and started calling her with the warble. She immediately called back and he was able to pinpoint her location - even without the use of the yagi.
We set up the pens in a marsh area so that the cranes could have water and a relatively natural habitat. Its probably like staying in a suite with room service to have running water, marsh and plenty of bugs and foliage to eat.
With birds settled and planes anchored, we turned our attention to the sunken Suburban. The farmer who owned the property had joined us. Gale Pace was his name. "I have a bull over there but he has a chain on his foot so he shouldnt be too much problem. The cows are curious however and will probably be over to rub on the pen and the planes. Youll have to keep an eye on them". His buddy told me that he had sunk his four-wheel drive in the swamp last year and he was sure that it would take a wrecker with a winch to get the Suburban out.
Never one to pay money for something we hadnt tried to do ourselves, the brothers put our heads together. Dan had a bunch of old cables in the back of his truck that he had picked up on construction job sites. We chained them together to get well out of the mud. Errol pulled his new F150 4-wheel Ford into position. In front of him we chained Rons positraction Ford van. With chains and cables tight Kent dropped his arms and we all romped on the gas. Seconds later the Suburban which had been sitting in mud to the axles was on solid ground.
The afternoon was whiled away taking shifts watching the birds safe from the wind in the truck and shuttling to town to eat. The wind was constant all afternoon and up until the sun went down. After sunset, the wind died some and started coming from the west. Errol went up in the Rans to check wind conditions. He flew out over Jordanelle and towards Heber and then returned. After landing he pronounced the flight as the roughest he had ever encountered - and he has been in some rough conditions.
As it got dark, we moved the birds, trailer, and planes to a corner of the field for protection against the cows. We put the birds and planes in the corner and the parked the trailer and trucks around the outside with a strand or two of barbed wire. The wind kept gusting and if the weather forecast is right we may be here for a couple of days. Snow is expected tomorrow.