Not exactly an F-14, but that’s OK

I had a 1943 Taylorcraft L2-M that I bought from a rancher from Lusk, Wyoming, north of Torrington (where I live), back in 1977. My dad heard about it and we flew up there and went out to the ranch to take a look. The guy actually had it in an open front shed, with nothing but a rope with some rags hanging off it, to keep the animals out. What kind of animals, you ask? Why, buffalo, of course!

This guy was kind of an odd character… He collected Edsel cars. He had three or four of them that he got for next to nothing and yet they were in really good shape. I was not a car guy at the time, but I could tell he had some really nice ones there. And he had about 30 buffalo that he ran on part of his ranch; the rest of it was stocked with cattle. He said the cows were mostly gentle and the rope looked a lot like an electric fence so they would not test it. However, the bull was another matter. He had a round pen made out of railroad ties that was at least eight feet high. If that bull ever got out of there and into that shed, that plane would look like matches in a matter of minutes.

T-craft
Flying vintage airplanes means hand-propping and grass runways.

He bought the plane after WWII, like a lot of ranchers did. They could get them nearly brand new for $300 or so, which was not a trivial sum at that time, but was a good buy for a nice plane for your ranch. I had the money, so I bought it on the spot and flew it home to Torrington. I paid $1400 for it.

First, a little background: the Taylorcraft was almost identical to the Piper L4 (Cub) as it was designed by the same guy, C. J. Taylor. The L4 might have been a little lighter, but the major difference was it had a symmetrical wing, and it was soloed from the front seat, versus the rear. It was a little easier to get into because the wing struts attached to the front of the landing gear mounts instead of the rear. Also, the L2M had an enclosed cowl, while the earlier L2 did not. I don’t recall if that added any speed or not, but I doubt it—it was pretty slow all the time. I cruised it at 72 mph. But I flew it to all the civilian airports around Denver (except Stapleton) and it did just fine.

Anyway, unlike my fellow students, I had my own plane when I was going to college in Torrington. I later moved it to Laramie, where I rented a hangar for $15/month from another rancher who had his own airport. It had two grass strips that were smooth and seemed to run on forever. At 7200 ft. elevation, the extra length was needed for any under-powered plane without a long wing. This old boy had royalties coming from the Zippo lighter line, it was said. He collected all kinds of old airplanes and cars, and a lot of ranchers kept their planes there in his native lumber hangars. These hangars were constructed out of lodgepoles and barn tin. They were also really awkward to get your plane into and out of, but they did the job and I was happy to get in one—the last one available, as I recall.

The doors were simply 3 x 8 ft. panels, skinned with galvanized metal, that you stood up on end, side by side, and attached to the top plate of the door opening with a broom stick, which itself was attached to a screen door spring. You just pulled on the broom stick against the spring and it came out of matching holes on the top of the panel and the top plate. Then you laid the panels on the ground, one by one, until you had a wide enough opening to get your plane out. It took a little while but, after some practice, it really wasn’t that difficult.

I think there were six planes to a hangar, and I was at the far end of the last one, next to a Bellanca Cruisair 14-13 “Cardboard Constellation.” Dang, I thought that was just the coolest plane I had ever seen. And then there was a Stinson 108. I recall that both of those planes had Franklin engines in them. Most of the planes at this field were from the 1950s or earlier, but there were a few more recent Cherokees and Cessnas, as well. It was a cool place to hang out, even though these guys were all older than me, and most of them were military vets.

My L2 spent its military career at a training base in Minnesota and then parts unknown. The logs were incomplete, so I was unable to determine when the greenhouse was removed and the turtle deck installed (apparently required before they could be sold to civilians). At least that was the story I heard. Mine did not have the spoilers on the top of the wing, either. I flew it for about four years and then sold it because I could not afford new fabric and the motor was really tired. The mechanic I used performed one last annual on it to get one more year out of it but said I had to get it overhauled the next time. So, I listed it in Trade-A-Plane for $2950 and the phone rang off the hook.

T-craft
With care, these old bird (dogs) can fly for many decades.

A guy working in a Ford plant in the thumb of Michigan called me at 3:00 am. He said he was about to retire from there and he saw my ad. He would get off work at 8:00 am, go directly to the bank and send me a cashier’s check that morning for the asking price. I said OK, but I remained kind of skeptical. But sure enough, two days later, I had the check. I told him the condition of the plane—that it was good to fly for a year but tired and needed work. No problem he said—he wanted the plane badly. I learned he had flown one in Europe during WWII and wanted to fly one again.

He arranged a commercial flight to Laramie (where I lived at the time) and I put him up for the night. My dad flew over from Torrington and gave him a checkride in it and signed him off. He was a big guy, so I watched with some concern as the plane slowly got off the ground with the two of them on a hot day. They eventually got up high enough that my dad was able to perform a snap roll in it for the guy. Needless to say, he was really stoked with his new purchase when he came back down.

Then he took off and followed the Union Pacific railroad tracks and I-80 all the way to Indiana before turning left and flew up to Michigan where he lived. I received a swell Christmas card from him about all the fun he had in it. Before the annual ran out, he listed it for $2950 in Trade-A-Plane and sold it within days, he said. He was able to relive some memories and got what he wanted from it, so that was cool.

It has since been acquired and restored to military configuration and is in the Texas Air Museum collection in Slaton, Texas, which makes me feel good.

And that was as far as I got flying military aircraft. Not exactly an F-14, but that’s OK…

6 Comments

  • What a great story. I’m from Edgemont SD. I took lessons in high school from Art Schellenberger who flew there to give 3 or 4 of us lessons. He was a WWII PBY pilot.
    I soloed but ran out of money pretty fast with my grocery store job

  • What a neat story! You got to fly a Warbird snd passed it on to a vet! Now it’s in a museum being enjoyed!! I was raised on a Northern Indiana dairy farm that from the mid ‘40’s to mid ‘60’s had a grass strip snd a small FBO flight school on it. So many memories watching the Cubs, Luscombes, Cessna’s, Stinsons, and others flying into snd out of that strip. My first flights as a passenger were from there. I wrote an article for Air Facts Journal where I shared several stories from that time of aircraft doing things they’re not designed to do. Always so good to see these small planes get their due!

  • Your story brings back memories…in my much younger days (1997-1999-ish) I too owned a 1943 Taylorcraft L2M, beautifully restored and painted with stars and bars/invasion stripes. My research showed that during the war, it was probably painted yellow, although I really loved the paint scheme when I had it. I had a bunch of fun in that plane, flying all over the countryside at 85 mph with the A-65 just sipping gas. I even bought a WWII flight suit to wear while flying, and sometimes I’d jump out at an airport and approach the nearest person saying, “What year is it???!”
    Sadly, I sold mine to a museum that was using it as a flying piece, and they wrecked it. They actually re-built it, but then wrecked it again. Unfortunate, but these old planes need to fly, and that is the risk.

  • GREAT True-To-Life story Brain. My ‘story’ begins similar to yours. at the age of 9 in 1943 I knew I wanted to be in the Aviation ‘World’. After I graduated from RPI as an Aeronautical Engineer, I began my 3-year commitment in US Air Force pilot training to fly the Piper Cub L-19 airplane (photo below) in 1956…. later flew T-28, T-33, and B-47… T-33, F-84, and F86H aircraft in the Mass. Air National Guard; and finally owning and flying a Cessna 182…. total of 55+ years of fun, learning, exciting, and sometimes very challenging flights…. now retired and mentor/dialog with youngsters and ‘oldsters’ on many, MANY aviation topics. Finally Brian, PLEASE do contact me at so we can ‘chat’ about ‘whatever’ and I can send you some photos of the aircraft I flew, etc.

    • Hello Joel. Yeah that would be great. I sent an email to a Navy buddy and he sent it to Air Facts Journal. I would never have done it but I am glad some people liked the story. I have not done much flying as of late, but I still check magazines out now and then. It is magic. Brian McKenna mckennasgold@hotmail.com

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