‘Lady Lou’ bids Garfield County adieu
Aspen, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colo. – One of Garfield County’s more picturesque links to the history of commercial aviation took off from the county’s regional airport recently, headed for a new home.
But the airport may not have seen the last of the old bird, a 68-year-old DC-3 aircraft named Lady Lou, according to its new owner.
The Douglas DC-3 is now owned by Alabama businessman Ron Pirnie. “DC” stands for Douglas Commercial, the most well-known line of planes built by the Douglas Aircraft Co.
Pirnie said it was named the Lady Lou after a character in the classic poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” by Canadian poet Robert Service.
The name was bestowed by a one-time owner of the craft, the Canadian airline Air North, which gave its aircraft names rather than numbers.
Lady Lou was built in 1943 as a C-47 military air transport craft. In 1947, after its wartime service was over, it was converted to commercial use and restyled as a DC-3, Pirnie said in a telephone interview.
At that point, it flew Air North routes out of Whitehorse, Yukon, to other remote parts of the territory and to Fairbanks and Anchorage in Alaska. According to those involved, Lady Lou logged more than 50,000 operation hours – a lot of hours for any aircraft.
The plane reportedly made its last scheduled flight as an Air North carrier in 1993, and by then it was the last DC-3 in the Air North fleet. In 1997, it ended up in the hands of former Garfield County Regional Airport mechanic Russ Pierce.
Pierce retired several years ago, and the plane switched hands again, this time purchased by Howard Duff.
All the original furnishings, including seats, cockpit instruments and even magazines from the seat-back pouches are still in the plane.
Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie recalled that the plane was already a fixture at the airport when he arrived eight years ago, and that Pierce “treated it like it was his baby.”
To get the cheapest storage rate the airport offered, Condie said, the aircraft was towed from place to place on the airport’s extensive grounds, to make room for airport improvements. It was also put on display at some of the county’s annual Air Fair extravaganzas.
Pirnie, reached at his home in Fairhope, Alabama, said it took about a month for his own mechanic, a Grand Junction businessman named Ken Blumenthal, to get the plane ready to make the trip to Griffin, Georgia, for its final repairs and inspections.
“For me, it’s just a hobby,” said Blumenthal, who has his own automotive repair business and who has been working on Pirnie’s fleet of planes for years.
As for Lady Lou’s future, Pirnie said, “We’re going to use it to transport fish from Honduras to Mobile, Alabama,” which he said is one of his many business interests.
He’s sending Blumenthal to check out a group of such planes, which he called “the best planes for the job,” including one that reportedly was used by then Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II.
And will Rifle ever see Lady Lou again?
“Oh, I would bet on it,” said Pirnie, who owns a home near Gypsum and spends considerable time in the state.
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