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  • Writer's picturePosted by: EPSD Staff

Aerial applicators in Arizona became popular during and soon after WWII.

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Photos of one of the first aerial applicators in Arizona.

By: Yuma ESS Staff

Photo Courtesy of Robert Smith, Yuma County

Photo Courtesy of Robert Smith, Yuma County

Photo Courtesy of Robert Smith, Yuma County

These photos of are a Yuma Area Ag aerial applicator from the 40’s, MARSH Aviation owned by Orval McVey who was one of the first in Arizona. We wish to thank Robert Smith of Gadsden, AZ for always sharing with us Yuma Area Ag history and his historic photos. Mr. Smith was one of the first licensed PCA’s in Arizona, back in the day of the AZ Board of Pesticide Control before the Arizona Department of Agriculture was established in the late 1980's.

The use of pesticides dates back to Biblical times, when brine, sulfur, and botanicals like hellebore were recorded as being applied for pest control. A wide variety of compounds have been used through the years for pest control; popular materials before development of synthetic organic materials included arsenicals (mercuric chloride, lead arsenate, copper sul­fate, calcium arsenate, zinc arsenite, sodium arsenate); botanicals (pyre­thrum, rotenone, nicotine sulfate, sabadilla, ryania); and other substances like cryolite, soap, oils, turpentine and kerosene emulsions.

The first known use of an aircraft to disperse products occurred on August 3, 1921 in a joint experiment by the US Department of Agriculture and the Army Corp of Engineers in Ohio. This method of application was soon adopted by the Arizona Ag community and is a preferred method of application to this day. Ag pilots are not only licensed by the FAA, they are also licensed pesticide applicators in each of the states that they work in.

Photo Courtesy of Jon Dinsmore, Dinsmore Farms

Some stories shared with us by members of our ag community a few years ago:

Robert Smith:

"When Marsh was working out in Dome Valley, at first they were landing on the county road, until one of the farmers complained that they almost hit him. Then Kammann cleared some brush and levelled a strip across from Loren Pratt's home and shop. They didn't appreciate that so then Marsh started landing in the storm drain east of Avenue 20E. That was good until it rained and debris washed down and then it had to be graded level again. I sat out there with them a lot of hours waiting for the wind to die down enough to make the application."

Greg Hackler:

"Marsh Aviation operated out of Casa Grande Strip until moving to Stanfield at Potters Field. My Uncle Vernon Crowl flew N3N’s with the last being N45070. During this period in the late 60’s and 70s the Headquarters were at Litchfield Park. Lisa Crowl has better recollection of pilots and farms."

Mary Barkley:

"Marsh aviation had a landing field just below the territorial prison on the river’s edge, about where east wetlands is. When the river rose in around 1975, it covered the landing field and Paul Burch, the mechanic who kept things moving at Marsh, moved his shop up to the Yuma Int’l Airport. He later died in when a marine jet crashed into the hangar. I think Marsh used the field on the Mesa just east of Somerton for several years. Orval’s kids still live in Yuma, and I believe so does Paul’s daughter."

Lisa Crowl:

"Bill (William) Marsh & 6 other men ~ Vern(on) Crowl, Cliff(ord) Ochltree, Bill(William) Walker, Floyd Fowler, Al(vin) Stoor & Gayle Bishop, became a partnership in 1959/60. All partners were pilots (active crop dusters) with the majority flying out of the Litchfield Park Airport. Floyd Fowler & Jim Davis flew out of Coolidge AZ (Jim was also a Postal employee). Vernon Crowl's portion of the company had a hanger at 5 Points Airport (George Sr & Adele Gomez) in Casa Grande AZ until a freak wind storm blew thru & upended the hanger ~ the 2 planes tied down survived. We moved an N3N, a Strearman & a trailer to a landing strip in Table Top/Stanfield AZ ~ in 1968 the company purchased an Airstrip & Hanger from Max Potter (employing him until his retirement) & owned it until 1974/5 when that portion of the company was sold to Custom Farm Services (John Goodwin & John Walton). Perk Walker & Bill Jr (brother & son of Wm) worked for the company as well as Clifford Crowl ( Vern's brother). Cliff owned Crowl Aviation in Chandler AZ during the 40'/50's & early 60's. In all the years these 7 men owned the company, only 1 of them passed in an aerial accident ~ I think it was Gayle ~ hit a power line & couldn't pull out of it. Vernon passed away in 1973 & in 1974/5 the remaining 5 men sold the company & retired from the Crop Dusting business. There is a Marsh Aviation based out of Falcon Field in Chandler & they take their Marsh history seriously. All of the Marsh pilots' children were told of Mr McVey's history with the company."

We hope you enjoy these photos and stories!

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