A Dream Of Life In The Rim Country

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Richard "Rich" Henry's story with the Rim Country started in 1938, when he was 10 years old.

"My family bought 30 acres of the old CI Ranch out on Christopher Creek," said Henry.

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Today Rich Henry continues his love affair with the Payson airport, flying and caring for planes.

From then on, he would spend time each summer at the cabin fishing, hunting and running in the forest. The population of Payson numbered 300.

Henry likes to relate, "In those days, it took eight hours and two spare tires to get here from Phoenix."

In 1958, after his father died, Henry decided to move up to the area he loved and start a business.

"Becky, my first wife, and I opened a trailer park in Christopher Creek, complete with Laundromat, grocery store and the Pecky Pine restaurant." Unfortunately, Henry says, "The road out from Payson was still gravel and there wasn't enough traffic to make a decent living."

So in 1960, Henry and his family moved back to Phoenix, took various jobs, became a teacher at Phoenix Union Vocational High School in the Automotive Import Auto class, and continued raising his children, Donna, Roxanne and Cindy.

Then in 1966, when he received his private pilot certificate, he flew into Payson Airport for the first time. He could see the Mogollon Rim from the site and his dream took root. While he waited, he became a flight instructor at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and earned his A&P, airplane and powerplant mechanic license.

Finally, "In 1977, I got permission from the Payson Airport Board to start a charter service, Payson Air, at the airport," says Henry. At that time, Gila County leased the airport from the U. S. Forest Service.

Henry, with his second wife Doris, moved into a 35-foot trailer at the airport. He was responsible for keeping the airport open at all times; the job also included clearing the landing strip of snow. He had a mechanics shop that was an old green school bus and a shed.

"I performed aircraft maintenance, gave flight instruction and did some charter and scenic flights, anything to make some money," says Henry.

Soon they realized that the visiting pilots would like to stop and get some breakfast. "Doris and I opened the airport restaurant on April Fool's Day, 1978."

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Rich Henry, right, and his late wife, Doris, started the Crosswinds Restaurant at the Payson Municipal Airport in 1978.

The restaurant was called the Crosswinds, because runway 6-24 has crosswinds most of the day. They were open three days a week, Friday to Sunday. Doris was famous for her delicious fruit pies.

"It was the old town hall, a trailer, 65-by-14. We added a room, put in a port-a-potty and cut openings in the trailer for windows. In the early days Doris would bring the dirty dishes to our trailer to wash and dry. Later on, we got a 1,000 gallon water tank from Star Valley and pressurized it to deliver water," said Henry.

Being on the premises they provided security for the airport. One especially memorable incident that Henry recalls was in 1984. The airport was closed at night. A car came in and stopped on the runway. He came out of the trailer with his shotgun and told them to leave. When they did not, he called the sheriff.

As the sheriff came up the road, Henry turned around, "Doris was in her robe, her hair in curlers standing behind me holding a 1920 German Luger, cocked and ready to fire."

When the car trunk was searched, they found an arsenal of weapons.

There were three businesses at the airport in the office trailer. Rich Henry handled flight training and maintenance. Monroe Bishop had a Part 135 charter operation and Dr. Watson Lacy ran a helicopter operation.

For aviation fuel, Henry would drive to Phoenix and haul ten 55-gallon drums of fuel to the airport. In 1980, he and Ed Glascock bought a used, slightly damaged, gasoline tanker from Yuma, repaired it and put it on the field.

While Henry was airport manager, he helped get the repaving and expansion of the runway from 4,900 ft. to 5,500 ft., added taxiways, put in runway lights, and increased the number of tiedowns for aircraft. With the help of the Payson Pilots Association and local residents, he built the concrete stairway from the restaurant to the airport.

As Henry tells it, "In the early 1980s some locals and I started the Payson Pilots Association (PPA). We got a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation status to offer education for pilots, and fly airlifts to make money, to give donations to the Meals on Wheels and other needy organizations."

When the PPA had their parties, Rich and Doris were known to come in wild costumes and dance all night. They always had music going and were ready for fun.

Doris and Rich kept the airport and restaurant in operation until 1992. For most of those years, Henry's income came from the fuel, maintenance, flight instruction and flying. He was the airport manager, controller, fueler, and maintenance man without a salary from the county.

The Town of Payson took over the lease of the airport in 1987 and two years later, the council decided they needed a full-time airport manager. After much wrangling by the Town Council about who would be manager, Henry was finally selected and for the next two years he received a salary of $18,000 a year. Then it was decided not to pay the airport manager.

So after 15 years, Rich and Doris closed their businesses at the airport and built a hangar with an apartment in the industrial park.

Always the historian, Henry keeps many of the early articles about the airport. When he and John King flew near Milk Ranch point and saw rocks in the field north of Payson with the letters PHX -> 75, he learned they were placed there for the pilots in the 1940s. He asked the U.S. Forest Service if the PPA could maintain the historical site. They agreed and Henry joins the group every year for a campout to "Paint the Rocks." (See article in the Payson Roundup, Sept. 5, 2006)

After Doris died, Henry continued his flight instruction and airplane maintenance. Doris' daughters, Colleen and Connie and their families, live close by. You can still see Henry flying students around Payson, answering questions from pilots about their airplane maintenance issues and sharing his love of flight by giving rides to youngsters in the Young Eagles program.

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