DESTROYED 4/12/62 - near Bunker Hill AFB IN; accident cause was control system failure due to PCLA hydraulic system failure shortly after takeoff; AF pilot Capt. William Hale (survived); AF nav/bombardier Capt. Duane Dickey (fatal); AF DSO 1st Lt. George O'Connor (survived).
When I was a kid, one of our neighbors was a ‘mentally-deficient’ old farmer, known locally by the school kids as Crazy Ol’ Coot, Bert Armstrong, Most of us stayed far away from him, observing him at a distance as he’d drive his old sedan at a snail’s pace down the highway.
It’s said that when an interviewer asked Alfred Hitchcock if there was anything that he was afraid of, that he answered that his greatest fear was that of a deranged human being. So I guess that we weren’t any more paranoid than Alfred.
Old Bert’s farmhouse and barnlot were all grown over in brush and his barn and outbuildings were leaning harshly. He’d placed sheets of plywood over several of the windows in his old frame house and was using the rooms to store wheat while he lived in a couple of the other rooms. There were paths through the weeds and bushes leading to the outhouse and to the barn and other outbuildings. For years, we kids had been spooked by just riding our bikes past, trying to get a glimpse into his place and hoping that he didn’t see us looking.
Some of the kids had sneaked into the back acreage of his farm and got caught fishing in one of his old gravel pits that a creek passed through. It was a badge of courage to sneak into Ol’ Bert’s place to go fishing and that was an ‘I DARE YOU!’ enticement for many years during our childhood.
Bert had inherited his farm from deceased ancestors (???) and another farm that was located near Bunker Hill Air Force Base near Bunker Hill, Indiana. He referred to that farm as his “Proving Ground” and not in a joking way. Several years later, when Gus Grissom died in a rocket launch mishap, the base there was changed to ‘Grissom AFB.’
On 12 APR 62 a B-58 Hustler crashed on Ol’ Bert’s Proving Ground, strewing airplane parts far and wide. We read about it in the newspaper. Some weeks later I was walking to town with my buddy, Freddy, and as we passed Bert’s place, he appeared from out of the bushes in front of his house and began talking to us. “Hey! You boys? Did you hear about that airplane that crashed on my proving ground up at Bunker Hill? I was up there yesterday an’ they was all over my place an’ told me I had’ta leave ‘cause they was conductin’ a investigation.”
I was somewhat speechless, taken aback by his sudden appearance and that he just started talking like we were old-time acquaintences but Freddy piped up and started talking right back. “Yeah, we read about that an’ it was on the news. So that was yer place, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s my place! That’s my proving ground. You mean you don’t know about my proving ground? Yeah, the Air Force has been’a wantin’ to buy if from me fer years but I told ‘em that it ain’t fer sale an’ then a few weeks ago they crashed one’a their planes on my place an’ they run me off when I went up there. They run me off but not a’for I got a generator off’a it an’ put it in my car!”
“Ahh… You gotta generator off it?” Freddy asked as he glanced over at me with rolled eyes.
We thought that the crazy old coot was just spinning some more tall tales about his proving ground and his self-importance in the news headllines.
“Yeah! I got it out there in my barn! I can’t show it to you ‘cause I got some other experimental stuff out there an’ I got’ta keep all that secret from the government. Them government men always a’wantin’ to be tryin’ ta sneak in here to see what I got but I got me a 12 Guage that says nobody’s a goin’ta be see’n what I got!”
“Well, we’re gonna be late if we don’t get on so we gotta go.” And with that we couldn’t make tracks fast enough to get on down the road.
We fast-walked for about a mile or so without saying anything and then Freddy asked, “You think Ol’ Bert’s REALLY got a generator off’a that B-58?”
“Naah. You kiddin’ me? You think they’d let him get parts off’a that crash an’ take ‘em away?”
“I bet he’s GOT it! Why don’t we sneak back sometime when his car ain’t there an’ we can SEE what he’s got out there in his barn?”
“You CRAZY? I think YOU’RE crazier than HE is if you want’a go back there an go pokin’ around his place!”
Well, you’d have to have known Freddy. He was a persuasive guy… and to make a long story short… we went back and snuk into Ol’ Bert’s barn. And DOGGONE! It was there! He HAD it. It was about a foot in diameter and about two feet long and had a federal nomenclature plate riveted onto the side of it. We were scared bug-eyed and we got out of there and we never went back. I don’t know whatever happened to Bert’s generator but his house and barn are all gone now and there’s a new house that’s been built on the site.