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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 7:34 pm 
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Location: Midland, TX Yee-haw.
Well, just in case anyone is interested, here is the update on how things went with my adventure to Reno last week to participate in the 2007 Pylon Racing Seminar, commonly known as "Rookie School."

Monday, June 11...
It was approximately 6:30 a.m. in Midland (if I remember correctly), and I was strapped into the Cassutt, ready to head West. The airplane was fueled up and the turtledeck baggage area had as much stuff in it as I felt comfortable with. This airplane flies like poop when too much stuff is back there, so I was forced to ship most of my clothes ahead of time to the hotel in Reno.

The little airplane holds 17 gallons of fuel, which is right around 3 hours range, however, my fat *ss only has about an hour and a half range...two hours max. Oregon Aero had just custom built me some cushions for the airplane and they were wonderful! There's not much they can do about the overall design of the airplane, but those cushions made the flight more tolerable indeed.

My first stop was at Horizon airport, just Southeast of El Paso, TX. If I recall, it took just shy of two hours to arrive there. My butt was just starting to fatigue a little, but not enough to discourage me yet. While taxiing in, I saw a couple of airplanes sitting at what might have been an attempt at a museum there. I thought you WIXers might like to see them, so I snapped this photo. I know the jet is a Jet Provost, but I don't have a clue as to what the recip is.........

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After fueling up at Horizon, I blasted off for my next stop at Safford, AZ, which was another hour and a half or so away. The flight in started taking me over the mountains, and the clouds were starting to look like they were getting heavy with rain as they were stacking up against the hills.......

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It was only a few more minutes before my arrival in Safford when the rain started. It was still VFR (Visual Flight Rules), but rain drops against the wooden propeller, at speed, can be quite damaging to the prop. I had reduced the power in order to keep any potential damage to a minumum, which worked. Upon landing, the only damage to the prop was some peeled paint on the tips. I'll certainly refinish it later.

The next four hours in Safford were spent waiting on the rain to stop. The local FBO was kind enough to loan me their courtesy car, which enabled me to kill some time by running into town and grab some breakfast. Eventually, the rain had subsided, but I needed to alter my route in order to stay out of the weather. I decided to make my next stop in Sedona, AZ, a touch over an hour away (I think). What a great choice that was! The scenery upon arrival there was nothing short of spectacular, and if you can keep the thought of an emergency landing out of your mind (it wouldn't be any fun there), it's certainly one of the most beautiful places to fly over. These pictures won't do the place justice, but you might get the idea (you have no idea how hard it is to fly a Cassutt AND take pictures)........

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The airport is on the top of a mesa and it's a little disturbing to be on final approach, as you cannot help but think if you don't make the runway, you're a dead man. Again, this picture is horrible, but if you look closely, you'll see the arrangement of the airport as I snapped a quick photo while I was on downwind.

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After fueling up in Sedona, I had to convince myself to get back in the airplane. My butt was very unhappy with my brain, which had apparently stopped making rational decisions by this point. Otherwise, I'd have stayed in Sedona overnight and pressed on the next day, but noooooo. Anyway, the next stop was Boulder City, NV, which was just Southeast of Las Vegas. This was going to be another flight just shy of two hours long, and was rather uncomfortable. I had to fly pretty high to try to get into smooth air, but never really found any. The beautiful scenery of Sedona left almost immediately, which left only the occasional picturesque backdrop for me to look at......

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When descending upon Boulder City, I was greeted with those wonderful desert temperatures and pockets of extremely rough air. My butt had started convincing my legs and back that my brain had lost it's mind. My feet weren't listening though, as they were in a deep sleep by now. Eventually, I landed and taxied over to the gas pumps. Everything went fairly quickly and even though I was pooped, I just wanted to get the heck out of there before the winds got really bad (they were already at 25 mph, gusting to 32). I hand propped the airplane (no starter) and jumped in. Just before I started to taxi out, I realized my GPS batteries were deceased and needed replacing, so I shut the engine back down so that I could dig the fresh batteries out of my bag in the turtledeck. Once that was done, I was ready to crank back up. However, the airplane had vapor locked (or something), and was not anxious about getting started again. Now, you've got to understand that this little airplane has never previously given me any trouble starting whatsoever, whether it's hot or cold. But now, in the middle of the freakin' desert, with high winds and the sun beating down on me, I had to swing on that prop over and over and over. It must've been a great bit of entertainment for the two or three locals that were sitting in their air conditioned SUV's, sitting there watching me. Anyway, just as I was about to take a break (at least 20 swings of the prop later), the engine started up and ran fine. My departure from Boulder City was miserable. The air was extremely rough and the heat was torturous. I felt that wearing my helmet was the only good decision I'd made at the time, as it was certainly earning it's keep as I kept banging my head against the canopy. Eventually though, things slowly started to improve.

Next stop, Tonapah, NV, just a little over an hour away. I'm kicking myself for not taking any pictures of this place for y'all. There are still a couple of the old original hangars there, along with the engine and prop from a crashed B-24 as a memorial to those who served at Tonapah during and after the War. The airport folks couldn't have been more friendly, but I gotta tell you, there's absolutely nothing else there. It's just a couple of big runways, a few airport buildings and that's it. No other signs of life for miles. It was for this reason that I decided to just keep pressing on...well, that and the fact that Stead airport (where the rookie school is held) was only a tiny bit over an hour away.

I arrived at Stead at approximately 8 p.m. local time. That's 10 p.m. in Texas, which made for one stinkin' long day. I flew nearly 9 hours in that dad-gum Cassutt, but when I saw the grandstands and a couple of the other airplanes on the ramp (Super Corsair, Mustang, T-33's, etc.), I felt giddy about being there. You see, this has been a lifelong dream of mine to be a flying participant of the Reno Air Races. Sure, just getting here for Rookie School wasn't going to fulfill the dream yet, but it was certainly a start.

Since I had a late arrival, I was essentially the only one there. I found a tie down spot that had some ropes attached and secured the airplane for the night....

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Just before walking to the other end of the airport to try to call a taxi (naturally, my cell phone battery took a dump), one of the local airport folks generously gave me a ride to the hotel. What an exhausting day it had been. My butt, legs, and back were sore, and my feet were now letting me know that they had awakened by giving me that amplified tingling feeling with every footstep. But I couldn't quit smiling. I was at Reno!


Tuesday, June 12...

Today was essentially a "take it easy day" for me. I was still kind of recovering from the previous day's flight and just kind of hung out, watching other arrivals and meeting some of the other participants & event organizers. It was an interesting experience for me since I've never really been all that much of a socialite. Until recently, I've always been the guy that's been in the background, going to Reno in the shadows of Fred Johnson and Gene McNeely in the T-6 class, and then with Stu Dawson, Nelson Ezell, Howard Pardue and Joe Thibodeau with the Unlimiteds. Now, it seemed that I wasn't hiding behind anyone and was able to meet some of those that I only knew in passing.

Early on in the day, I put my airplane in the hangar. There were already two other Formula Ones in there and the owners were extremely friendly. I wasn't in the hangar two minutes before Steve Temple, owner and pilot of Race #87, Madness (a Formula One Gold Class racer), was offering me his tools and any other supplies that I may need during my stay there. Then there was the RARA (Reno Air Racing Association) Staff. You would think that with them having to deal with all of us pilots, all year long, in preparation for not only the Rookie School, but the races as well, that they'd be uptight and cranky...particularly with someone like me, who's less than accomplished in the ability to fill out paperwork correctly. However, the RARA staff, especially Dana Weikel, was understanding and kind throughout the entire event. It's just not possible for me to be able to accurately portray to y'all how hard each and every one of their staff worked to keep everyone happy during the entire week, while all the time having smiles on their faces and making it seem as if nobody was bothering them at all. It made a normally nerve-racking experience for me seem less intense.


Wednesday, June 13...

Today was going to be set aside for academics only. Class wasn't going to start until later in the afternoon to insure that all of the late arrivals made it in time and there would be no flights on the race course until Thursday morning. So I decided to take the little airplane out of the general airport area and do a little practicing. The requirements for me to pass my check ride were to do three 180 degree level turns with over 60 degrees of bank (harder than you think, since you never practice those), a roll to the left, a roll to the right, and a half roll left to inverted then back upright, rolling right. Then a few laps on the track, including a clean pass of the check pilot's plane (which I was obviously going to have to wait until Thursday to do), followed by a simulated emergency landing, starting at home pylon.

The practice flight went well, and I decided to go ahead and schedule my check ride first thing in the morning. Kirk Murphy was going to be my check pilot and we briefed the following day's flight, as he would simply follow me around in his Pitts Special that he had in attendance.

Before the official learnin' about racing began, I got to chat with some old friends, one of which was Ray Diekman. We just hung out for a little bit while his Bearcat was being towed to it's spot.....

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The rest of the day was spent in the classroom. Initially, the RARA folks had a mass briefing with everyone. It was great information, but it ran a little long and we were crammed in a hot room while sitting on wooden benches. There became a point in the brief where I think most folks weren't listening, they were just daydreaming about softer seats and a bathroom break. But again, the information given during this brief was all quite good. Once the initial brief was over, we broke off into our perspective classes. The Formula One brief was orchestrated by John Housley and was nothing short of impressive. Again, lots and lots of information, and every bit of it was stuff that needed to be known.

Since the initial RARA brief had overrun a bit, we were unable to finish our Formula One schooling, so it was decided to complete it after flying on Thursday. This was all fine with me, as my brain was sore from all of this information that had been crammed in it over the past few hours. I wonder if it would be less intense if the classes were spread out over the entire week, vs. just a day or two? Either way, I'm sure I'd struggle with it. Flying is where I do fairly well, not book learnin'. And Thursday, I'd finally get my chance!


Thursday, June 14...

Today's the day! I get the honor of being the first person to fly this Cassutt Racer (known as Maybee's Baby...last raced at the 1971 Cleveland Air Races) around the pylons in 36 years. Not to mention the fact that it's something I've wanted to do as long as I can remember. But first, I have to pass the checkride that Kirk Murphy is going to put me through.

The plan was for us to fly out as a two-ship (Kirk following me in trail) over to the cool down area for the Formulas, just north of Stead Field. I won't bore y'all with too much description of the check ride (probably a little late for that, huh), but it went pretty much as planned. After the maneuvering in the cool down area, I followed Kirk onto the course and followed him around for a lap or so. He then called for me to make a pass, which I did, and I then flew another lap or two before making my simulated emergency landing...all as briefed. After landing, I taxied back to the staging area to discuss the results of my checkride. I had passed the test and was officially considered okay to race now! I cannot tell y'all how much that meant to me.

I asked if I could go back out on the course to practice and they said it was no problem. I tossed my camera to the Formula One President, Birch Entriken, and he snapped a few shots of me out there on my own.....

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I'm the tiny little white dot out there on the course. I'll just have to wait for some of the folks that were near the pylons to hopefully submit some other photos to show a bit more detail (hint, hint.....Okay photogs... are you listening? ;-))

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Just as I took off and headed towards pylon one, a flight of four (a Globe Swift and three Pitts biplanes) were diving onto the back course. The Formula guys and Biplane guys were sharing the practice session, which was fine with me. I was happy as a pig in poop to have those guys on the course. With my little airplane being so slow, it's unlikely that I'll have the chance to pass anyone in September, but it's dang sure faster than the four that were on the course at the time, so those cute little biplanes were great targets for me. You know, they're like airplanes...only slower. :lol:

Anyway, as I started building up steam in the "Little Cassutt that could," I quickly started learning different techniques for passing folks on the course. Everyone flies a little differently, particularly us rookies. So each pass that I made was an invaluable learning experience for me. Dang, I'm giddy just thinking about it now.

I was having a heck of a good time out there. It was an amazing experience for me to actually be doing this. At first, I was just trying to make sure I was flying around the correct pylons and was focusing on the best line to fly, while at the same time, making dang sure I wasn't climbing in the turns and flying smooth and predictable. I didn't want anyone out here being scared to be flying in the same airspace as me. Eventually, I started flying a tighter course and really, really, started having a good time! I was grinning from ear to ear, so much that I think the edge of my smile was creeping into the inside of my goggles!

I stayed out there until the oil temperature in Maybee's Baby started to get a little toasty (it'll do that at 3400 rpm, 50 ft. off the ground, you know). It wasn't until after I had climbed into the cool down area that I realized that my feet had fallen asleep and were all but numb. I woke 'em back up and eventually made my way back onto the runway and taxied back to the ramp. Everyone was very complimentary of my flying and they all had a good laugh at my expense. You see, I didn't realize until after some of the ribbing, that I had flown somewhere between 30 and 40 laps! One of the bystanders said he lost count at 28 and just had a good laugh as I went several more before landing.

I know it's become a theme here, but I simply cannot describe to y'all how much this opportunity meant to me and how good I felt about being able to do it. I don't know if I've ever slept as good as I did on Thursday night.


Friday, June 15...

Today's plan was to fly the entire practice session (I think around an hour and a half). However, I wasn't going to stay on the course the entire time. There were a few more folks that wanted to fly today, so I didn't want to be a "pylon hog." I was the first one out and flew 8 or 10 laps before going to the cool down area. After a while, I got clearance to come back on the course and fly around a bit more. However, I hadn't been able to make any passes on anyone since it was mainly other Formulas out there and we were positioned on the course across from each other. After another 6, 8, or 10 laps, I went back in the cool down area to wait on those great little targets of mine to come out and play......the biplanes.

After about twenty lonnnng minutes in the cool down area, I was finally cleared to enter the course. I timed it to where two biplanes were just at pylon four, I would enter the back stretch with a bunch of speed. This would give me a chance to make a pass or two within the next lap, in theory. I wanted my instructors to be able to see this, as I really appreciate their input about any mistakes I may be making.

As I was entering pylon 4, doing roughly 215 mph or so (remember, I had just dove onto the course), the engine burped. It basically quit, then started right up again. That certainly got my attention, but since it was running again, what could possibly go wrong...right? Well, a second or two later as I approached pylon 5, it quit again. This time I said [explative] and decided that was enough. I called a mayday and started to climb for altitude. The engine started running again for the zoom climb, but only briefly. It became unhappy again at the top of the climb and as I started turning crosswind to downwind, it was dead. I decided that since it was obvious that I had the runway made now (somewhere between 500-700 feet above the ground), I should just make dang sure the engine was off for good. I didn't want any unexpected surprises during this landing, so since I was already committed for an engine out landing, I didn't want it being anything other than that. There's a big, honkin' cliff at the end of runway 8, and I didn't want any part of that! I didn't realize it until just now, but I think this is a picture of me during the pull up. I can't even remember who had my camera at this point, but I don't reckon it matters now..........

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The rest of the landing went uneventfully. I was rather surprised to see the prop windmilling during the descent, but it stopped altogether somewhere around 80 mph, two or three feet off the runway. That's sort of the point where I realized "this is not a drill." I was going to try to make the midfield turn off to keep from fouling the runway, but I was simply too fast to even attempt it. It's funny how the thought process goes, but after initially worrying about how this event would affect others needing the runway, I quickly decided that it wasn't worth it to ground loop the airplane in order to keep folks from being upset with me. So I just let it coast to a stop. The fire crews were there right away and I made sure they knew I was okay. I got out and pulled the airplane off the side of the runway, into the gravel. This was probably the most scary part of the whole ordeal, as I had gotten through it without tearing anything up and now I was worried about messing up the wheel pants. Here's a picture that someone sent to me of it while waiting for a tow vehicle to take me back to the pits.......

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Dang, I just realized how long I've been sitting here typing. I'm embarrassed to say just how long, but I'll try to shorten the story a bit and wrap it up.....

Upon getting the airplane back into the pits, everyone was very generous with their kind words about how I got the airplane back on the ground okay. Frankly, it was nothing more than a basic overhead approach, but without the engine running. That's why we practice this stuff, right? Anyway, everyone was equally generous with their suggestions and past experiences as to why this may have happened. It took me a little while to decompress before I started to troubleshoot, but right off the bat, the problem was figured out.

The short version of the story is that the fuel vent got clogged. The vent on this airplane is a short, 1/4" aluminum tube, protruding from the very inboard portion of the leading edge of the right wing. It's tiny. But some very unfortunate wasp (or similar creature), got center-punched by that vent. His guts made their way into the vent line and eventually clogged it up so that when under high power settings, the engine was starved for fuel. Un-freakin'- believable! The chances of that happening are about the same as me getting any project of mine completed by a given deadline......the odds are astronomical.

So the bug guts were cleaned out and Maybee's Baby was ready to resume flying on Saturday. It's better to be lucky than good.


Saturday, June 16...


The morning flying session for me was essentially the same plan as Friday's...without the mayday. I was able to get on the course a few times and make a few passes. Like I've said before, this is an incredible opportunity for me, and this Rookie School is certainly the only time I'd get to put this much time on the course. But eventually, I had to stop. It was time to get all packed up and head back to Midland. However, since much of the day was gone, the plan was to only go halfway, to Prescott, AZ, then continue the rest of the way on Sunday.

Kirk Murphy was generous enough to offer to let me follow along with him in his airplane and two other Pitts. This was a huge relief to me, as cross country flying is one of a gazillion things I'm not good at. I was just flying along in the #4 position and letting them do all the work. We landed in Bishop, CA first, followed by a stop in Jean, NV. The flying for the day was completed upon our arrival in Prescott, AZ.........

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The folks at Prescott are amazing. They love their airplanes and are genuinely great folks. A good friend of mine from my days in Memphis, who is now living in Prescott, let me stay with him, his wife, and his dogs (his dogs are my buddies) for the night.


Sunday, June 17...

The flight from Prescott to Midland was pretty uneventful. I stopped in Safford, AZ again for fuel and then in Las Cruses, NM, before finishing the adventure up with landing in Midland. My butt was not happy at all with the week's activities, but it was worth it. Getting to meet up with old friends and making a few new ones was a great part of this trip. But having the opportunity to be a part of something that's been a lifelong dream will forever stick in my mind. I cannot wait until September.

Gary


Last edited by retroaviation on Fri Jun 29, 2007 5:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 8:27 pm 
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Congratulations, Gary, on being THAT much closer to fulfilling your dream!!!! Thanks for sharing the trip with us! :D


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:15 pm 
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I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us your story. Sounds like it must've been a really amazing experience. I can't wait to hear how September goes. I know coming from someone like me it doesn't hold as much weight as others, but I am really proud of you for pursuing this, I think it's fantastic! I loved reading it.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:25 pm 
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Great read as always Gary. Looked like a fun trip..miuns the cross country part. :lol:


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 12:08 am 
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That's a fantastic read Gary. Congratulations on passing the first time through. Do you think it was easier than you expected?

Best of luck in September!


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 2:27 am 
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Gary,

Congrats on your accomplishment! Feels good, huh? I, too, went through PRS and wrote about it, so I'm in touch with how you feel. Right on, dude!

Stay safe and sharp come September! See you there!

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 3:42 am 
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Congratulations Gary and a good read, look forward to see you soon in Midland and surelly in September in Reno.

I already prepare my camera's to picture that white and yellow "Maybee's Baby"
:D

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 7:56 am 
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bdk wrote:
Do you think it was easier than you expected?


Hmmm, I don't think I'd say it was easier than expected, but at the same time, this is something I've been mentally preparing for for a long, long time. I've flown around those pylons countless times in my head, this was just the first time to do it for real. I still have a ton to learn about it, but I do feel safe out there and don't think anyone will have an issue with my style of flying.

Thanks for the nice comments. Glad y'all enjoyed the story.

Gary


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:30 am 
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Thanks for sharing your experience Gary! Sounds like you had a great time minus the sore bottom. :lol: I wish you the best of luck in September.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:39 am 
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Glad you made it to Reno and back safely.

The other plane in your Jet Provost pic is a Vickers Varsity


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:50 am 
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Great post, Gary, and congratulations. I can see what a fulfilment of the dream it is for you.

The other aircraft, the twin, is a Pig. Well, it's really a Vickers Varsity, known to it's friends as a Pig, and that particular aircraft was airworthy, on 'arrival' I understand, but now needs the brick pillars to hold the wings up. It was discussed here on WIX some time back, IIRC. A British crew trainer, should anyone want to know.

And finally, as a professional aviation editor, your writing style is excellent - I just wish copy submitted to me (including some by some highly-rated writers) was as finished and readable as yours. You're a modest man, but you've some talents you maybe don't realise. Well done.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Congradulations Gary
PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:18 am 
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Well deserved & earned on top of that.

BTW, you never bore anyone with your detailed descriptive writing.

You actually tell stories and events in a rather pleasant style. 8)

Glad you had fun


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:44 am 
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Flying is not supposed to be fun!! It is work now stop smiling and having all this fun it is making me jealous.
Congrats Gary!! That is Awesome. Thanks for sharing this with us.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 10:57 am 
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Congratulations Gary! Sounds like a real blast. 8)

I really appreciate you sharing your experience. As someone stuck infront of a desk all day your Ol'927 posts and other adventures always keep me entertained. Thanks! :lol:

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 12:53 pm 
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Congrats Gary!! I'm excited for you for September too! Wish I could be out there to cheer you on.


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