“Bakersfield? Why Bakersfield?” asked Jimmy Weldon.
“Well,” I replied, “I’ve never flown there, and we have some friends there we could visit.”
“Bakersfield, here we come! Gollee! See you at my hangar at 11 a.m. this Thursday, okay?” was Jimmy’s response.
John and Dee Talor were neighbors from two houses away until two years ago when they sold their home and moved—after checking out various other towns in several states—to Bakersfield, in the heart of Kern County and about two hours driving time north of Los Angeles, mostly along Interstate Highway 5. Bakersfield was once primarily an oil town, but now is a bustling community of almost 250,000 people, including the surrounding farms.
Jimmy has a 4-place single-engine Model V-35B Beechcraft Bonanza. The additional two places were filled by my wife Ev and good friend Lee. When we got to Whiteman Airport in Pacoima that day, Lee, known as “Stretch,” due to his long legs, climbed in the back, then Ev. They could not believe the size and comfort of the seats and the amount of legroom! They could both easily stretch out their legs with no interference, and the right-hand rear seat tilted way back as well. Airline comfort. I settled in the roomy front right seat. Jimmy, of course, was in the pilot’s seat.
After all the proper pre-flight checks and run-up, Jimmy took off at 11:15 a.m., from runway 12 and turned left as we climbed at 2,450 rpm and 25 inches of manifold pressure at 125 mph to pick up a northbound heading for Bakersfield.
He swung the control yoke over to my side, and set the radio and GPS controls as we picked up a 330-degree heading and headed out over the Newhall Pass and the Santa Clarita Valley, soon passing over the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park.
The flight was essentially uneventful, though I never tire of watching the earth scroll by underneath us like a moving map. Generally following Highway 5 north, we could see hundreds and hundreds of tiny cars—and almost as many trucks—threading their way through the mountains on this thin snake-like path. And here we were, smoothly boring straight through the sky at more than twice the car speed limit!
We flew over Gorman and then Grapevine, with the land flattening out as we floated over miles of patchwork agricultural fields. We flew over the small, uncontrolled Bakersfield Municipal Airport and made a straight-in approach to Runway 30 Left at Meadows Field Airport (BFL), the smaller of the two runways (the longer runway is almost 11,000 feet).
When Jimmy dropped the landing gear, all three green lights came on, indicating the tricycle gear was down and locked. Flaps down, prop and mixture set, throttle back, nose up—squeak! Safely down. The flight time was only 35 minutes. Now, where to park?
I had told John Talor to meet us at noon at the airport terminal building, but we were directed to park at Mercury Aviation. The young man who directed us to the parking slot for the Bonanza was excited when he saw the “Webster Webfoot” painting on the side of Jimmy’s plane, and learned that Jimmy was the voice of Webster Webfoot and Yakky Doodle from the “Yogi Bear” show. In his younger days he regularly watched those shows on TV!
After parking, I went over to the terminal building—not far away—to look for John. While there, I was impressed with the cleanliness, comfort and simplicity of the whole operation there as compared to LAX or large airports. United Express and America West Express flew small twin-engine feeder planes mostly to and from Phoenix. The terminal was small, air-conditioned with a large seating area, and had only two security gates as passengers passed through screening and walked out to the planes.
Ground transportation and baggage areas are all at ground level. No escalators, long moving walkways, or shuttles. The counters for the two airlines and four car rental agencies were not crowded, and the whole atmosphere was relaxed. A small enclosed display, with photos and models, showed the history of aviation in Bakersfield.
When John arrived, we walked back to the fancy Mercury waiting room where the others were waiting. We climbed into John’s new eight-passenger van, and buckled up as John told us we first had to see their Bakersfield home. All the streets were wide, all the homes looked new, there was very little traffic, and their home was beautiful, with high vaulted ceilings, many rooms and a swimming pool.
Next, it was a nice lunch at Mimi’s restaurant. Everywhere we drove you could not help but be impressed with the cleanliness, openness, and un-crowded nature of the area. Admittedly, we were in the suburbs, not in the downtown area.
Then it was over to the very impressive Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace auditorium and dinner house, where Buck Owens & the Buckaroos perform for country music fans on Friday and Saturday nights for two hours, followed by dancing to Steve Davis & Stampede on Saturday nights. Special concerts and events, as well as a Sunday brunch are also held at the very busy Crystal Palace.
Time caught up with us; Jimmy had a late afternoon appointment in Los Angeles, so we had to fly back before a planned tour of downtown Bakersfield. We bid goodbye to our pleasant hosts, John and Dee, and clambered back into the Bonanza, this time with Lee in the right front seat, so he could get some yoke-time flying back. I got to rubberneck through the large rear window all the way back.