appeared to walk around aimlessly, blending into the landscape so
as to look totally innocent until the right opportunity presented
Then, moving as quickly as they could, they struck the unguarded flying
machine. Soon, its two linen wings ripped to shreds, an airplane that
cost Uncle Sam $5,465 in 1918 dollars had been rendered useless until
it could be repaired.
At least twice these destroyers of government property succeeded in
their designs, grounding two of the Army’s training planes at Love
Field in Dallas. And that’s
just the loss reported at one installation. During World
War I, the Army also had airfields at Fort
Worth (Hicks Field), Houston
(Ellington Field), San
Antonio (Kelly Field), Waco
(Rich Field), and Wichita
Falls (Call Field). How many biplanes had their wings damaged
at these other aviation facilities has not been determined, though
the answer surely lies buried somewhere in the military’s voluminous
Who instigated these long-forgotten home front attacks on American
aircraft? Trench-coated German saboteurs? Disloyal Texans bent on
hampering America’s war effort? Draft dodgers – known then as “slackers”
– venting their anger at the government for waging a war they wanted
no part of?
Nope, cows. Not seditious cows, not even mad cows. Just hungry cows.
that Texas cattle will eat the wings of an airplane if the machine
is left unguarded is one of the reasons why a general order to ‘stick
to the machine, no matter what happens’ is impressed upon every cadet
aviator training in Texas,” the Associated Press reported from Dallas
on June 1, 1918.
The planes Texas cows found so tasty were the Curtiss JN-4Ds, better
known as Jennys. Powered by a 90 horsepower engine, the two-winged
planes had a maximum speed of 75 mile an hour with a ceiling of about
7,000 feet. But that was nothing compared to European fighter aircraft,
which were far superior in speed, ceiling and maneuverability.
All the Jennys were good for was primary flight training and observation.
And, for a time, providing tasty snacks for brazen bovines. Before
the Armistice, some 6,000 Jennys had been delivered to the Army’s
Signal Corps and 9,000 men had been trained to fly them.
The Jennys, first flown in 1914, did have one thing in common with
the superior aircraft manufactured by Britain, France and Germany:
Their two wings were made by stretching linen over a wire-supported
spruce frame. To make the wings airtight, the Curtiss Aeroplane and
Motor Company covered them with cellulose.
Army aviators called it “dope.” For cattle, it was dinner if they
could get it. The cellulous, as the AP said, “softens under their
tongues and the cattle in their eagerness to obtain it will chew the
expensive linen planes to pieces to extract the… ‘dope’ flavor.”
Cows unintentionally doing the Kaiser’s work were not the only problem
facing the Signal Corps soldiers at Love Field and the other aviation
training camps in Texas.
also made attractive targets in a monetary sense. Not that someone
was likely to swipe a plane – not many people outside the military
knew how to fly – but items inside or attached to a plane held a particular
attraction to thieves.
“An airplane is a valuable piece of property,” the AP reported, “with
many detachable parts offering an attractive invitation to looters
if one were left unprotected in a lonely field or on a road.”
Even worse than thieves were souvenir hunters.
“Aviators who have made forced landing[s] while on cross country flights
say it requires their utmost vigilance to keep curious spectators
from breaking up their ‘ships’ and carrying them away piecemeal, so
eager are the country people for souvenirs,” the AP story continued.
Indeed, a Love Field aviator who had to make an emergency landing
in a wheat field not far from Dallas
in the spring of 1918 found himself facing a second crisis.
“The curiosity…in him was so great that in less than an hour the field
was so crowded that the owner of the ground had to call the Dallas
Police to clear the field to prevent his growing crops from being
stamped into a total loss,” the AP said.
That’s a good thing. A trampled field would have left the farmer’s
cows looking for something to eat.
"Texas Tales" -
January 25, 2005 column