While the flying lessons progressed, there were other things going on in my life. I bounced to a couple different stores for the super market chain. I helped open a new store in Wexford PA. I started thinking I needed to try to do more with my life and the flying thing seemed to be a big hurdle. It was going to take a long time to get the licenses and ratings I needed and then I had to get experience, hours.
Along with driving a taxi, I was working part time as a real estate salesman. I did sell one house, but there was no training program at the agency I worked for.
I met some guys who ran a life insurance agency and left the super market to go to work for them.
In 1969, April and I were married. We were both working and she was gone on trips a lot. This gave me time to work and fly.
I can't remember how all this fell together time wise, but the insurance thing wasn't working out and I went to work selling cars at a Datsun dealership. In retrospect, I think I was too young to sell real estate and life insurance. It is not easy for a guy in his early 20s to relate to the kind of people who are buying homes and life insurance.
Datsuns were Japanese imports and are called Nissans now. That was going well for about a year, then there were issues with the American car manufacturers and the price advantage the imports had. The government started dong things to level that table and sales were very hard to come by. I had a discussion with April about making a decision to go all in on the flying career. We agreed that I would leave the dealership and fly full time, while she continued working. In my mind, I wanted to be an airline pilot, but decided that I was going to be a pilot, even if it meant dusting crops.
I made that move, left the dealership and also began flying at Graham Aviation at Butler Graham Airport. There was an opportunity to work as a line boy, which means fueling airplanes and pulling them in and out of the hangar. Graham Aviation was a Fixed Base Operator (FBO), which provides aviation services in General Aviation. GA is everything besides airlines and military, small airplanes. They sell airplanes, provide maintenance, fuel service, flight instruction, air taxi (charter) and pilot service (rent a pilot).
Remember that the VA was paying for 90% of the cost of my flying lessons. By working for the FBO, the other 10% was discounted. It was costing me zero. Zero cost is good. There was a lot of grass at Butler Graham airport. There was a paved runway with grass around it, but there was also an equally long, perpendicular grass runway. Part of my job was to drive a tractor with a big mower behind it to keep the grass under control. I didn't make a lot of money, but it was a fun job. I was lobbying the manager to give me a job as a flight instructor when I got that rating. He said maybe. That's better than no.
At Beaver County Airport, I had flown with Moore Aviation. It was a small school, with 3 part time instructors. When I told the owner I wanted to fly every day, as much as I could, she recommended switching to Graham Aviation. There were 3 full time instructors there.
My first instructor there was Dave Orris. Soon after I started, the chief pilot was fired. His name was Bill McCowin and he had become unreliable, because of a drinking problem. Dave was promoted to chief pilot and was going to be flying charter flights. He would not have as much time for instructing. That is when Jim Weber became my 13th instructor.