John Caruso tells about a Turkey Hauler...

Photos © John Caruso

John Caruso wrote me in Feb.2006 for info on a Douglas DC-3 he had stumbled on and he felt he knew this old bird...


John wrote: "The DC-3 has on the tail the number 315728. Since the aircraft is painted in military colors, I am thinking that this is a number it had when in the military. I searched on the internet trying to cross reference the number to the current N63440 (S/N 20194) and have been unable to do so, any help would be much appreciated. I have no understanding of how the military assigns numbers to aircraft.
The Airport Manager said the N number was N63440. Looking at the pictures I can see the square vents we (Amerine Air) put in the top of fuselage in order to keep the live turkeys we hauled cool, back in about 1964... And I cannot believe anyone else would have installed vents similar in size and shape and amount.
The photos were taken in December 2005. "


click on the photo for a larger image
click here So I quoted the history of N63440 from the DC-3 book by Air-Britain (1984), which is the authority on DC-3s--
C/n 20194 43-15728 D04May44 - ATC USA 06May44 - RFC 12Jun46 - NC63440 Southwest A/W Co 1946 Pacific A/L Inc 06Mar58 - Paradise A/L, Long Beach,CA (1963) - Amerine Turkey Breeding Farms, Oakdale,CA (1966) - Jack Adams Acft Sales Oct68 - Amherst Airways Inc, Buffalo,NY Jan69 - Englert Investments (Mar71) - Caribbean Aircraft Inc, Albany,GA (1973 to 1975) - Carib-West A/W on lease(1972 to 1976) - J Aldrick, Anchorage,AK (1975) - Wfu Anchorage (Oct78) - (Note the dates given are partly from US Civil Registers and show how confusing such entries can be: Carib-West clearly leased the aircraft from some time in 1972 through a change in ownership) - W C Crawford, Seattle,WA R16Jun78 - Canc Aug82.
End quote.
Note on abbreviations: A/L means Airlines, A/W Airways, RFC is Reconstruction Finance Corporation, C/n construction number (a.k.a. manufacturers serial number, s/n or msn).

So it all tied together: N63440 is former 43-15728 and it did fly turkeys at some point! Its present fate is clouded however: it is still registered to Alaska Crew Inc as far as FAA online records concerned and Alaska Crew would refer to one John Aldrick (also quoted as owner in 1975) who may or may not live in Alaska (Alaska Crew is registered in Anchorage). This arcraft is located at Arlington,WA and has been stored for the past 14 years, probably a dream that did not come true? The aircraft was reported to have changed position on the airfield recently or in recent years.

Some close ups on aircraft registration and air vents
Click here  Click here
Titles [unreadable]-WEST can be read: Carib-West !

John revisited the plane at Arlington and came back with the following:
"The airplane is not airworthy to fly (looks like it would take a lot of work to get it in the air). It seems complete (for the most part) and looks not too bad, considering it is just has been sitting there. I am in the process of learning more about the condition of the aircraft. It is not being parted out or anything like that.
It is interesting to see an aircraft that I myself flew over 40 years ago!"

Faded 63440 still visible

John tells about his career, Amerine Air and the turkey hauling business...
"I flew with Amerine Air just over 4 years (1964-68). I had obtained my ratings and had been doing some crop spraying/dusting. I also had done a little flight instruction. When in highschool, I worked for Amerine Farms as laborer; they were in the turkey hauling business in a very minor way then, with a Twin Beach 18. I was a copilot/mechanic that first year, 1964, next 3 years as a captain.
I have over 3.000 hours in DC-3s, with about 2.000 in N63440.
Left Amerine to work for Kaiser Industries, flying a Lockheed Jetstar-8; this came about because I flew an engine to Mexico for Kaiser, for a Gulfstream 1 they owned and which had an engine problem.
About those turkeys; when we loaded the turkey poults on, they were about 10 hours old. Cardboard boxes with 100 turkey poults to a box and our normal load was about 42.000 (max 44.000 poults): 420-440 boxes. We could haul 50,000 baby chicks(chickens), but we only hauled chicks once or twice a year.
We flew mostly from the central valley of California to the Midwest (as far north as North Dakota, Minnesota and as far south as Arkansas, Oklahoma. We did have few trips each year to the east coast. A few to Canada. The turkey hauling season started in December and ended in June; mid January to mid May were the really busy months. In the summer we flew for the forest service. We also hauled some bees to Canada every spring.
Amerine Farms was in business for about 30+ years, I think (I need to research this further). The turkey hauling with DC-3s was about 6-8 years.
My boss at Amerine air was Mervin Amerine, who is still alive. Mervin was without a doubt the best pilot I every have flown with. He flew four engine transport airplanes in WWII and Korea. Merv helped my aviation career very much."

N63440 at Arlington
Fancy meeting this Ol'Bird again; small world, ain't !?!

Ian Wilson wrote (Mar.2006): "This DC-3 has been at Arlington for many years now. When I lived in Seattle, I first saw it in April 1997; the plan was to get it flying again. It has a name: Patton's Ace In The Hole."

Brian Maddison wrote in Jan.2013 in clarification of the name:
"A Sergeant H. Patton was a crew member on 43-15828:
Here it is in slightly better shape in 1986: "

John wrote me again in Oct.2006:
Ccokpit N63440"I took some more pictures of N63440 in June of this year. You may use them as you wish. I met with the owner of N63440 Thomas (Tom) Smiley. Tom is working on getting N63440 flying again.
I think I may have mentioned to you that this airplane was used by President Ronald Reagan when he was the Republican candidate for governor of California in 1966. Reagan and his staff nicknamed N63440 the "Turkey Bird" as its primary purpose was to haul turkey poults. We also did a lot of work for the Untied States Forest Service, transporting fire fighting crews and dropping smoke jumpers.
When Ronald Reagan became governor of California he appointed Mervin Amerine (one of the owners Amerine Air which owned N63440) the Chairman of the California Aeronautics Board.
A book "Reagan What Was He Really Like?" (by Curtis Patrick) was published and became available though early 2007; the first chapter is called the Turkey Bird and is about the flying that Ronald Reagan did in N63440, when he was running for governor of California."
cabin N63440
Cockpit N63440
N63440 cockpit by J.Caruso

Sid Royse wrote me in July 2007, detailing some interesting memories:
"I stumbled on your website by searching for Mervin W. Amerine.
When I was in Highschool I worked for him at the Oakdale,CA airport. I was a hangar-boy, gas-boy and student pilot under Hank Manning's Flying School (1962 & 1963). I gassed the "birds", hand cranked barrels of oil into their engines, washed and cleaned them and got to log right-hand time on many of those trips John wrote about.
I was also part of the "Get the plane ready for Reagan"-crew!

I remember that we took most of the seats out and a couch was installed (not sure where it came from, though?). I remember a coffee pot and water drinks were placed up front / right side on some sort of a cantaloupe ...maybe. They were made of wood and had two sections. Maybe John can confirm that?
Anyway, I flew with them (Student pilot logging major time and experience) to Littlerock, Chicago, Nogales and many points in California. I think my major job was to help load and offload the turkeys and chicks.
I wonder if John remembers the trip when we had been flying for endless hours and it was pretty calm and sort of quiet, when we heard a chirping sound coming from the cargo area... A single chirping sound! We turned our heads to the rear (through the engineer / navigator section) and to our surprise there was one little fuzzy yellow chick staring at us! It tilted it's head as if to say, "Hello, what you guys up to?" We got a good laugh over that one! Not sure what happened to the chick after that.

I also remember flying with Merv through a very bad thunderstorm, going into Littlerock... I was 17 or 18 and I am sure my eyes were WIDE OPEN. Merv. was putting up a good sweat on his forehead and face....; he almost always flew with gloves on, so I am sure he had a steady grip. Water was seeping through the cockpit windshield and trickling down the panel. We had to keep going as Merv told me we would most likely break through soon and to go back might be worse. We made it ok and didn't lose many birds.
We would open some of the boxes at random so the person at the delivery end could see that the mortality rate was not extreme. There were always some birds that didn't make it. The vents John wrote about were how the pilots controlled the temperature in the cargo bay.
There was also an auxiliary power generator mounted in the back of the cargo area, so that the blowers could maintain air movement when the plane was on the ground for refueling, etc.
It was all go from the time the birds were loaded until they were and gas and fly more until we reached destination. When I went, there was also a co-pilot, we traded always in the right- hand seat. We did actual instruments- &, nightflying and like stated earlier we flew through rain,d snow and ice. The DC-3's had de-icing boots on the wings and prop. de-icers.
I also logged time with Harold Bailey. If my memory is correct he used to fly Gallo Wine's planes out of Modesto,CA.
The pilots much impressed me! Mervin, John and Harold were really exceptional pilots! The ground crew was hard working and consisted mostly of 3 mechanics Mervin rounded up to make his operation a success.

I flew in the Beech 18 too. There would be just two of us and the birds were loaded all the way up to the bulkhead behind the cockpit, the same for the DC-3's, but the difference was getting into the planes...
The DC-3 was easy: through the side door behind the cockpit. But we had to enter the Beech 18 through the little window on the cockpit's side! Mervin Amerine was a big man: over 6 feet tall and over 250 pounds... He really had to work hard to get through that little window.!! It was me first and then his body with me hugging the other side!
Those days were the love-of-my-life-days...when I lived and breathed flying! Thanks to Merv, John and Harold (where ever they are now...)."

"One other DC-3 story... My great uncle, Russell Havenstrite, owned Havenstrite Oil Co. and owned a DC-3 named the Blue Nose. I can look up the N number and send it to you later.
I saw an old newspaper clipping when I was on leave from Marine Boot Camp in 1967. The article was about it being the first private pleasure plane to fly the Atlantic! The article was in the LA CA paper...not sure if it was the Times back then.....1953, if my memory is correct.
I am in the (long) process of re-typing the (very hard to read) manuscript of the flight and events on and off the ground. Of course they flew the northern route and made numerous landings for fuel and rest. I am about half way through the manuscript."

Havenstrite Aircraft Inc of Los Angeles,CA used a single DC-3 N63250 on non-scheduled interstate passenger service (source 'DC-3, the First Seventy Years', published by Air-Britain, 2006). -Webmaster
N63250 on

While N63250 was a different DC-3 than the one described by John Caruso, I would like to reproduce the following email sent to me in Oct.2007 by Steve Templeman (of Lodi,CA) as just another DC-3 story:
"I read your website that discussed Russell Havenstrite's DC-3, which was a converted C-47 from the military. There were no corporate jets, so it was very much top end equipment. He was my grandmother's cousin and was a very close friend and next door neighbor to Walt Disney. He died in 1958 so the plane was sold and utilized by several small airlines. By Googleing the "N" number I discovered that it was lost at sea in 1979 when the navigation equipment failed and it ran out of fuel killing the two pilots on the way to Hawaii.
It was in this plane, in 1947, that Havenstrite, Walt Disney and his daughter Diane, nearly lost their lives! They were flying to the tiny hamlet of Candle when the radio quit and clouds covered the ground. They were nearly out of fuel, decided to drop through the clouds and take their chances. Hitting a mountain was a real possibility. As they dropped below the clouds there was Candle!"


Richard 'Ric' Gillespie wrote me in Feb 2015:
"Delighted to find this page!
I flew N63440 as copilot in the fall of 1969 when the airplane was owned by Mike Myhalchuk (not sure of spelling, perhaps Mykhalchuk?) of Bufflo, NY and leased to the Rochester Americans semi-pro hockey team.
We flew them to their games in the northeast U.S. and Canada.
We kept the airplane at my hometown airport Fulton Municipal (now Oswego county) Airport.
Many adventures I'd love to write about! How I wish I had some photos but I don't.
At that time she was dressed in a brown and white paint job. We were told she had been used to haul baby chicks in Alaska, which seems to be at least partially correct (except for the Alaska part!).
The heating system in the companionway behind my seat was a marvel. Set right you had all the heat you could ask for. Change one knob and you froze to death...
I loved that airplane!"


>>> Frank Garrett sent me a pictorial update on 02Nov11, see my Photos by Friends & Guests (30)



Bill McClinton wrote me in May 2018:
"Merv (of Amerine farms) was a customer of ours at hangar 8, Oakland Intl Airport in the 60's.
I flew with him in 440 a few times, when he had radio problems & wanted to demonstrate for troubleshooting.
Not a pilot then but he let me the plane around the sky sometimes. some of my best memories.
Merv was a really neat guy who had some good stories if you could pry them out of him.
Our shop 'Bayaire Avionics', was adjacent to Kaiser Air, where John Caruso said he worked. Probably saw him around there sometimes."

A post on Facebook's 'Flights Above The Pacific Northwest - FATPNW' showed it still present 22May21, a little worse for wear. Paul Nyenhuis reacted with "..AirCaribrian [sic] when it came to KAMO. It had a corrosion problems [sic] and one engine a bent master rod."
AirCaribrian = Caribbean Aircraft Inc, Albany,GA (1973 to 1975).


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Last updated 17.3.2006