Ed DeVaul's Ag Trush plane loading seed on a strip outside of Diablo Canyon

Hearst Castle Aerial Tour

In February of 1996, my aunt was gone to a CattleWomen’s meeting and my uncle, Jimmy VanLoan was home with my cousin Nic in Likely, California. He was about five years old. Fortunately, my cousin was asleep when my aunt got home because something tragic had taken place. Jimmy had a heart attack and was dead on the kitchen floor. I sure wish I could’ve known Jimmy, to have memories of him and to have seen how naturally talented he truly was. If it weren’t for old photos or stories I would have nothing to connect to my uncle and my cousin would have very little to hold onto of his dad.

Preserving Family History

This brings me to the power of story. The stories that are told for generations, the ones you want to write down or record. Capturing memories to preserve your family history forever. Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable to record at a family function. It can feel strange to ask someone to write down a story for you to save. Your ask can feel like you are suggesting they won’t be around forever, which we all know is the truth, for all of us. If you need permission to pursue the preservation of your family history, I am here to give it to you. You can and should pull out that camera, a pen and paper, pick up the phone and call those who tell the story best, you will never regret it.

Cowboys on Vacation

On that note, here is my absolute favorite story of Jimmy, which is told by my favorite crop duster, Ed DeVaul. If you know Ed, you do know he can tell a great story and he certainly loves to fly. Rewind to my uncle’s life in an earlier era. He went down to Paso Robles for a vacation and him and Ed went deep sea fishing and different things that you do while on a vacation. (Cowboys are typically quite terrible at vacationing.) While deep sea fishing Jimmy had gotten sick and on top of it, he didn’t catch any fish. The Captain said that it looked like an “infirmary down in the cabin,” which Jimmy didn’t appreciate. 

Touring Hearst Castle from the Air

The next day, Ed and Jimmy were having some drinks out in Shandon, California where Ed lived at the time, and Jimmy said that he wanted to go see the Hearst Castle from the air.  The only plane available to fly at the moment was the single seated crop duster plane. As they cruised down the beach, chasing boats, they were looking for the Captain as the comment he made really ticked Jimmy off. He wanted to pay him a visit, maybe drop a beer bottle on him. Luckily, the Captain was nowhere to be found. 

Ed Devaul’s Ag Thrush plane loading with seed at a strip by Diablo Canyon.

Aerial Tour Gone Wrong

The guys did a quick aerial tour of the Hearst Castle. They made a couple of low passes before starting up over the mountains for Shandon. The cockpit on an Ag plane is extremely narrow and they were both sitting on the one seat.  Jimmy said his legs were going to sleep as they were really cramped in there. So, Ed moved over and was sitting on the Ag controllers that operate the Ag stuff and was also pressed up against the door so that Jimmy could use some seat. When Jimmy lifted himself up, he grabbed the door latch at the top of the door. The door fell open which in an Ag plane they open down.

Landing at the Hearst Castle

Soooooo….Ed fell out of the door hanging on with just the control stick in his hand. The airplane turned up on its side so they were both falling out. Jimmy had ahold of the top of the roll cage pipe and he was hanging on to Ed too. He was trying to pull Ed in but between the wind, no seat belts, and the airplane being on its side – they were in a tough situation. Ed decided to shove back on the control stick, which made the plane bank to the right and they luckily landed back in the plane. They couldn’t shut the door and were still crunched in there. They decided to land at the Hearst Castle landing strip, which was a restricted airstrip. There was a security truck headed their way, so they hurried up, closed the door and took off. 

Celebrating Being Alive

After that, Jimmy had come to the conclusion that they had seen enough of the Hearst Castle. They went straight back to Shandon and celebrated their life with drinks! Ed’s wife, Viviann to this day tells Ed that throughout his 35+ year, accident free career he had many angels up there that gave a helping hand when he needed it. She highlighted this memory being one of those times. Ed said that he doesn’t know how the plane didn’t stall out that day.

Ed’s advertisement that was free handed by the head painter of the Walt Disney movie “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs.”

Vivienne’s Pumpkin Mallow Pie

I bet you didn’t see me sneaking in a recipe on this story, but I just cannot mention Viv without raving about her pies. She is the definition of a strong, rural woman who can out bake the best of them. My two absolute favorite pies are the recipes from her kitchen. I hope you will be able to whip this up for one of your Thanksgiving sweets this year, because your family and/or friends will be singing your praises. I cannot wait to hear once you have tried it!

Vivienne DeVaul's Pumpkin Mallow Pie Recipe Card
  1. Leslie Bruce says:

    The pie recipe sounds delicious! I will have to try it!

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