David P. Newcomb

 

Written by Clara Mae Newcomb. One in a collection by Allen Bachoroski, Local Historical Writer and author of “Tales Along the Highway of Legends”

 

David P. Newcomb moved his family from the mountains after the dust bowl to Trinidad and rented a four-room house from his mother. He paid a small amount each month which went towards payments on purchasing the house. It was a hard struggle trying to make ends meet, but everyone was struggling at that time which was near the end of the depression.

David made a few extra dollars now and then playing with a group of friends at the country dances. He always enjoyed playing his banjo and added a lot to the music they played. At home in his leisure time he often hummed through his bazooka and seconded with his banjo. His favorite songs were “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “Moonlight and Roses”, and “Do-Do-Doey-Day.” A big thrill in his life came when his daughter Betty, was able to play the piano well enough to play along with him. The two of them spent many happy hours around the piano with Betty playing the piano and singing the melodies and Dave playing his banjo, humming through his bazooka, and stomping his foot in time with the music.

His dad, Clarence, finally decided there was enough room on the ranch since he had leased the Miller Ranch on the North side of the river and needed someone to run it. His grandmother who lived with his mother most of the time and was now a widow, loaned him the money to but a few calves at the La Junta auction sale. With this start he got a loan from the bank and bought more livestock. He went on buying and selling for awhile until his dad discontinued the lease on the Miller Ranch. He did, however, continue to work for his dad for $35.00 per week and moved headquarters to the Salt Creek Ranch which lay adjacent to Highway 160, about 30 miles east of Trinidad. His family remained in town to attend school and only lived on the ranch during summer vacations after the house from the defunct Cokedale Mine was purchased and moved to the Salt Creek location. Finally it was agreeable with his dad to buy another small herd of cattle and run them on the grassland of Salt Creek.

Dave bought a larger house in town and moved his family into it in October of 1943. Two years later another little girl, Martha Ellen, arrived, to be followed twenty-one months later by a baby brother, David Keith. On the day Martha was born, Dave took his first flying lesson. Other lessons followed and he began to realize a dream he had always had–to become a pilot and fly his own plane aver the plains and mountains he had always loved.

His mother loaned him the money for his first plane which he bought in 1945. Flying became the most important thing in his life. It meant the world to him–the one thing he could do without help from anyone else. The knowledge was all his own and the world became a different place when seen from aloft. The vastness of the universes when viewed from on high seemed to make him feel a power he hadn’t felt before. He liked to rise early in the morning and fly into the mountains to see the sun come up and cast its weird shadows on the hillsides and give it glitter to the many lakes. His trusty camera wa always by his side for making snapshots he could take back to show his family and friends. He enjoyed his association with other flyers and used his plane for ranch work as well as pleasure. He dropped many messages to rural people and dropped food, medicine and newspapers to people stranded during the winter snow storms. The ranch people listened to him fly over their houses and always came out to wave at him as he tipped his wings and flew on. If he circled twice it meant he would drop a message to them.

In his flying Dave seemed to feel security that he didn’t feel any other time. He was known to be a very careful pilot, always observing the rules and regulations, and he never flew when he was doubtful of the weather. He was one of the few who always filed a flight plan even for short trips.

Dave was a very active member of the First Christian Church, serving as Deacon for many years, Chairman of the Board two terms, and holding various offices in Sunday School. A time of pride was when his musical daughter, Betty became the organist at the church at the young age of twelve and he would often accompany her to the church during the week so she could practice for Sunday services. Dave was always ready to welcome and seat people who came into church after services had begun and nearly every Sunday he helped serve Communion.

He was very interested in the small group of boys and girls he commanded in the Civil Air Patrol and was able to help them in many ways to become better citizens. He was promoted to the rank of Major in this organization and flew many search and rescue missions when called out to search for lost planes. Dave also worked with the Boy Scouts, and his car was always available for hauling boys to and from camp or other outings. He was extremely proud when his youngest son, David, received his Eagle Scout Award on Mother’s Day in 1960, one of the youngest boys ever to receive the award from his troop. He sat up late many a night to haul Martha and her pals home from the late show or from some party they had attended. He always had time to run errands for his parents as they became less active.

Dave was also very proud of his oldest son, Kenneth Ray, who had immediately joined the Navy upon graduation from high school. After a couple of years in the services Ray (as he was called) met and married a girl from New York. Within three years they presented Dave with his first grandchildren, two lively boys, the oldest whom pleased him very much because of his love of riding on the motorcycle with his Grandpa. Ray and his family were always stationed long distances from Colorado; therefore cross-country trips to Memphis, Tennessee and Norfolk, Virginia were in order with the whole family in tow. Ray made the Navy his career and moved steadily up the rank ladder until he retired as a Lieutenant. During his time in the service he was also sent to M.I.T. to obtain an engineering degree which served him well after his retirement from the Navy.

His oldest daughter, Betty, attended Trinidad State Junior College and then transferred to the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley where she met and married a young teacher from Iowa by the name of Dick Owens. Dave was very happy to be able to give Betty and Dick a lovely wedding in the First Christian Church in Trinidad, even though he had been involved in a bad truck wreck and in bed for five weeks a few months before and had also just recovered from a siege of pneumonia three weeks before the wedding. However, he was able to proudly escort her down the aisle on her wedding day. More happiness was attained when the first little grand-daughter arrived, to be followed two years later by a little brother who was born the day after Grandpa’s 51st birthday. He just couldn’t seem to make an appearance on June 27th as his Grandpa was hoping for.

He flew down in the afternoon after he and Clara Mae had spent a happy morning doing their Christmas shopping in readiness for a trip to Betty and Dicks who were living and teaching in Denver. They were planning to spend Thanksgiving with them and intended to take Christmas presents along. Dave planned to return home in the evening after his business had been accomplished. He ate supper with some friends (Vern Harris and wife), then went to the airport for his return trip to Trinidad. Some jokesters at the airport had hidden his plane and pretended someone had flown it off by mistake. They kidded him for sometime–long enough for darkness to close in. They then showed him his plane sitting in the back of the hanger. (Dave was not one to joke and seriously believed what they had told him.)

He took off from La Junta at 5:30 and filed his last flight plan from the air by radio after leaving the airport. At 6:03 a message was picked up by the La Junta operator stating his position about fifty miles SSW of La Junta, bucking a strong head-wind and off course. Nothing further was heard from him. Four days of undescribable horror, anxiety and fear was spent by the family as the search went on for him. Every nook and corner was searched by planes, men on horseback, on foot, and in jeeps. Everything possible was done in trying to find him. His plane was sighted by a flyer from Lamar on Friday November 18th, crashed along the Cimmaron River banks near Boise City, Oklahoma. David had been killed instantly on Monday evening November 14, 1960 at 8:18 P.M.

The mystery remains and will forever be in our minds and thoughts. WE will never know what went wrong; never know how he got so far off course and so confused. We will always wonder where he flew from 6:03 until the time his plane crashed. He had fuel in one wing of the plane that was the only piece of the plane left whole. All dials were turned on, as was his radio. It was set for sending messages when the plane crashed. We are certain he must have died a thousand deaths while flying in the darkness, so confused and not knowing where he was, nor where he could set down safely. In his last moments he must have realized that God, as his co-pilot, did not choose to take him back to his home port and to his loved ones who were waiting for him. We will never know what his thoughts were as he flew away into the “Great Blue Yonder”, but we are sure he was not afraid to die. He always said a man must live and die and should spend his life preparing for a life in eternity. As his plane was demolished when he hit the trees and the sand bank, we are sure he was prepared to die as his Master bid him to.

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