By marlys good
The late Morris Avery will be inducted into the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame in a public ceremony to be held Friday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. at the Greybull Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting.
Visitors are asked to park in the WYDOT restroom parking lot and following the sidewalk to the museum entrance.
Morris Avery’s name is synonymous with flying and anything to do with aviation. Stories of his remarkable accomplishments, his feats of daring in one of his beloved airplanes, were printed time and again in issues of the Greybull Standard dating back to the 1940s.
Avery was born in 1913 in Greeley, Colo., completed his schooling in Cody and moved to Greybull in the late 1930s, where he began taking flying lessons from Mel Christler. He earned his pilot’s license in 1946.
In 1949 the two formed Christler and Avery Aviation, purchased a surplus Douglas B-18 bomber and converted it into an agricultural sprayer. The plane was also retrofitted to haul ore from a uranium mine in the Big Horn Mountains.
In August of 1950, Avery and Christler did contract work spraying grasshopper-infested areas of New Mexico and Wyoming with help from their work gang that included Gordon Krutz, Bill Grant, Bob Patton, Robert “Chick” Turner, Floyd “Red” Dunn, Jack Douglas and Sheldon Kitzerow. Using a specially equipped B-18, the men were stationed in Guernsey for five weeks and Hulett for another 10 days of the work.
In 1958, the company expanded its capabilities with the purchase of a Bell 47 helicopter. Avery completed his flight training at the Bell facility in Texas in just five days and flew the helicopter to Greybull, which marked the beginning of the commercial use of helicopters in Wyoming.
The helicopter was put to use several months later when Avery lifted out six people (including a pregnant woman) marooned about one-half mile west of the Black Rock Ranger Station. He made two more flights into snow-bound areas, one for KOOK-TV and another for Pacific Power, who flew a crewman to the top of Boysen Peak to repair a line.
The helicopter was also used that first summer to drop crystals in stagnant pools in the battle against mosquitoes in Minnesota and to transport logs, building, and furnishings to a remote area in the mountains above Meeteetse where the U.S. Forest Service was building a cabin. In one day he made 27 trips. According to story in the Standard, he was doing “a job that would have taken 100 pack horses days” to complete.
The aviation company furnished the helicopter and pilot for fire detection and personnel transportation to a forest area near Quince, Calif.; rescued a man who had been bitten by a snake; Avery also hauled 60,000 pounds of fence posts to build fence in an isolated regional of Yellowstone National Park, a job it would have taken a crew of men and pack horses several weeks to complete; he made the first slurry drop on a forest fire.
Old-timers will remember Avery bombing ice jams that threatened both Manderson (where most buildings were under at least two feet of water) and Greybull. “Youngsters” will remember the many times Santa Claus arrived in Greybull from the North Pole in a helicopter piloted by Avery.
Late in 1958, Christler and Avery purchased four World War II-era Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateers from the U.S. Coast Guard, which were retrofitted for aerial firefighting, making Christler and Avery Aviation among the early companies to contract with the Forest Service to use large aircraft to fight forest fires.
Avery purchased Christler’s share of the company in 1960 and changed the name to Avery Aviation. Firefighting continued to be a major part of the company’s business, but it also provided nonstandard aerial services, including setting the steel for the tram towers at the Jackson Hole Ski Area in 1964, cloud seeding, mosquito and sagebrush spraying and dynamiting rivers to break up massive ice jams.
In 1961, Avery ventured into commercial aviation with the founding of Sage Airlines to provide passenger service to Casper from many northern Wyoming towns.
Avery died in 1975 due to complications following leg surgery. At the time of his death, Avery Aviation was considered to be the largest flying service in the nation, with a fleet of historic aircraft dating back to the 1930s.
The criteria for being named to the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame includes exhibiting qualities of patriotism, integrity and moral courage and be known as a person of ability and character.
All of these qualities were recognized by his friends and co-worker in Greybull, as well as the far-flung regions of aviation.
After Avery’s untimely death in 1965, the late Hap Crane of Hyattville said in part in a letter to the Standard: “Morris Avery always loved the town of Greybull. He didn’t have to live there; he wanted to live there. He always wanted to see it boom in a big way. He wanted to see smoke stacks all over town and everybody working with money in their pockets. I used to call him the ‘Golden Hearted Man’ and that was just what he was. All you had to do to be a friend of Morris Avery‘s was to act like a friend.
“God only knows how many times Morris risked his neck to help out somebody and never got one penny for it. Morris pioneered lots of stuff with a helicopter, such as setting poles for high lines. This stumped the best of them; when it happened it saved the outfit thousands of dollars. He made the first slurry drop on a forest fire, and sure put it out, too.
“Morris developed the Greybull Airport into one of the finest airports in the state of Wyoming, put a lot of men to work, made a nice payroll for Greybull – he was always real ambitious for his hometown.”
The late Bruce Kennedy, longtime owner/editor of the Standard wrote: “No town had a better friend than Greybull had in Morris Avery. Those of us who lived through the 1962 ice jam in the Big Horn River will never forget his hour after hour bombing of the challenge and his ultimate success in loosening the jam. Or his helicopter Christmas, the free spraying, the efforts to start a Greybull-based airline.
“But no record has been kept of the many other hours he donated, the many time he gave help, the boost he gave to Greybull, the faith he encouraged in it.”