The Blue Goose: A Rough Landing to Get Home
“I hope you can help me,” said the voice on the telephone. “I have searched the Internet, The K- State Collegian archives, the Wichita paper archives, and I can’t find a thing.”“What are you looking for?” I asked. “A pilot,” was the reply.
Blue Goose Pilot Nick Dellere
Sensing my hesitation, the voice continued, “I played basketball at K-State in the 1950s, and a plane I was on went down in a field outside Anthony, Kansas. And, if he is still alive, my wife and I would like to take him to lunch and thank him for saving my life back then.”
Here was a story I had never heard before and wondered why. I jotted down additional notes learning the voice belonged to Hayden Abbott, the landing was in December but not sure of the year, sometime between 1955 and 1958, and the plane was on its way back from Texas Tech.
I found nothing in the K-State Collegian, nothing in The Manhattan Mercury, nothing in the K-Stater Magazine, and nothing in the K-State Archives. It was as if the incident never happened.
Having no luck in Manhattan, I turned to the Anthony Public Library. Debra Olds who responded to my request was glad to help because her son is a huge K-State sports fan. She found it—the one and only article titled “Motor Trouble Forces Plane Down Here With K-Aggies” was in The Anthony Republican newspaper on Thursday, December 6, 1956.
Co-Pilot Leroy Farley
Something was not quite right with the plane. Nick Dellere, a native of New Almelo (in Norton County) and owner and pilot of Capitol Air Services in Manhattan could feel it in the steering and could see the instrument gauges dancing all over the panel. He had made this same flight from Texas to Manhattan many times, but this time was different. Using his skills and expertise to handle the overloaded 1937 Lockheed, he lovingly called the “Blue Goose,” Dellere contacted the Anthony airport to let them know he was having mechanical trouble and needed to make an emergency landing. He glanced at his co-pilot Leroy Farley, who was straining to see the port engine. Farley, a native of St. George, was shaking his head. It was not good.
Nancy Winter, wife of Basketball Coach Tex Winter and Kenneth Thomas, head of the Department of Radio and Television—both of Kansas State College, now Kansas State University—knew something was wrong with the airplane. They could see into the cockpit where Dellere and Farley were sweating profusely and struggling to keep the plane in the air. “We could do nothing,” stated Thomas, “but have faith in the pilots that they would get us safely home and pray to the Lord Almighty.”
Seven members of the Kansas State basketball team were also on board: Hayden Abbot (Olathe), Roy DeWitz (Illinois), Larry Fischer (Pratt), Bob Jedwadny (Wisconsin), Jack Kiddoo (Coffeyville), Don Matuszak (Illinois), and Jack Parr (Virginia). Most of the players were oblivious to the trouble they were in. Several were playing cards and even though they could see into the cockpit, see the gauges going wild, they did not panic.
“I figured the crew knew what they were doing,” said Jack Parr now of Salina. A fellow teammate was equally calm about it all. “I could see the pilots sweating, but they were not projecting fear, so I figured there was nothing to worry about” stated Abbott, now living in Leawood. “We were young and didn’t understand the trouble we were in,” Larry Fischer of Coffeyville recalled.
But Nancy Winter understood. She was praying to the higher powers to get her through another bad flight. The aircraft that carried her to Texas had put her in a fearful state after the pilot forgot to switch the gas tank over before take off. The plane ran out of fuel in mid-air. The plane lost altitude quickly before the pilot got the tanks switched and regained control.
Upon landing she made her feelings known: “I’m not flying back in that plane!” she shouted at Coach Tex. The team always traveled in two planes, so it was easy enough to accommodate her. Now here she was on the other plane and in trouble again! “Grab your pillow and hang on,” she shouted at her seatmate, Don Matuszak, “we’re going to crash!”
Dellere knew he was losing altitude. Flames shot out the port engine and it stopped. Getting to the airport on one engine should not have been a problem, but the aircraft was too low and could not gain altitude with the heavy load and only one engine. Dellere flew smoothly until he saw trees and power lines. The port side was a dead weight. As he tipped the port wing up over the top of the trees and power lines, the passengers could see a woman hanging clothes on a clothesline in a yard below. Dellere knew he needed to land and land soon.
All the while, Farley was trying to get the landing gear down, but the hydraulic system had malfunctioned. The only means to lower the wheels was manually. With sweat rolling into his eyes and a pounding heart in his chest, Farley cranked the landing gear as hard and as fast as he could. He had to get the wheels lowered or they would skid in on their belly, completely out of control.
Dellere spotted a wheat field southeast of the airport. Calling in the Blue Goose’s location, he looked at Farley who nodded that the landing gear was down. They had a chance. Dellere went in for the landing and as the wheels touched the ground, he knew they were safe.
When the plane came to rest there on Jay Gates’s winter wheat field, Dellere instructed the passengers to depart from the craft. Winter and Thomas were relieved to be in one piece and on solid ground.
Now, it was well known that Everett Wareham and his dog faithfully waved the basketball team off at the airport or the bus station and always greeted them with a wave and a smile upon their return no matter the time of day or night. Just because the Blue Goose was nowhere near Manhattan, did not stop Don Matuszak from stepping from the plane and asking, “Where is Everett and his dog?”
Mrs. Sam Harmons and Mrs. Lem Appling, who saw the plane land, gave the occupants a ride into Anthony where they ate lunch and remained at the Morrison hotel until arrangements could be made for them to finish their journey. Soon another plane arrived, carrying Tex and two mechanics. The Blue Goose did not look so good. It would take a couple of weeks to get it in the air again.
And while the basketball players recall this story from time to time, no one at K-State thought enough of it in 1956—perhaps because there were no casualties—to record it for posterity.
A note from the author:
Debra Olds at the Anthony Public Library agreed to look through their old newspapers because her son loved K-State sports. The article in The Anthony Republican newspaper left me with more questions than answers. Just like my beloved sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, I thought to myself, “the game’s afoot.”
I tracked down Nick Dellere’s daughter Deborah who told me her father passed away many years ago. The article mentioned no co-pilot but those aboard the plane that I interviewed recalled a co-pilot on board. This led me to talk to Grice Sexton, a local pilot who knew Nick Dellere. Sexton stated if anyone knew who the co-pilot would have been it would be Gary Cromer. Cromer had been Dellere’s successor at Capitol Air at the Manhattan Airport.
I tracked Cromer down in the small Kansas town of Coates. “Not rightly sure,” said Cromer. “It was probably Leroy Farley. If not Farley, it could have been Robert Law or Fred Jackson, but I’m not sure.” The name Farley led me to Imogene Farley, Leroy Farley’s ex-wife. “I recall the plane being in the field and that Leroy worked on it for about two weeks,” Imogene said, “but I’m not sure if he was in the plane that day with Nick or not. He could have been. He and Nick flew together quite often.” Although, the evidence was not set in stone, I inserted Leroy Farley as the co-pilot until someone else comes forward and tells me differently.
I was able to contact six of the seven basketball players and each remembered the flight. “When we get together, which is not often,” stated Roy DeWitz, “we talk about it.”
While another Lockheed plane was not so generous in saving Amelia Earhart of Atchison, Nick Dellere's 1937 Lockheed, known as the Blue Goose, came through for the 1956-1957 K-State Basketball team.