NETTLETON – A strip of asphalt alongside Highway 6 just east of Nettleton that was vacant and overgrown for more than 25 years is gaining new life as it is being rehabilitated to its original purpose – a landing strip for crop dusters. It served as a drag strip in the 1950s and ‘60s and was converted into an airstrip after then.
Although it was last used for planes in the early ‘90s, it has recently undergone improvements to make it a landing strip for a crop dusting service operated by Perry Lowery and his son, Will. Perry’s father, F.P. Lowery, bought the property in 1968. He not only did crop dusting, he was known to exhibit his skills as a stunt pilot.
Nettleton Mayor Mem Riley has many fond memories of F.P.’s time and the drag strip, as he hung out there as a teenager.
“F.P. would scare people flying under the bridge over Town Creek. People would call the law in a panic because they didn’t see him come out the other side,” Riley said.
F.P. is also remembered to have once clipped the mirror off a truck hauling liquid nitrogen during a low pass over the runway.
“My father, F.P., bought the property in 1968. It had a storied history as the Nettleton drag strip before it came to be used as a landing strip for crop dusting planes. My father retired in 1991, and the property has been vacant since then,” Perry said. “I didn’t know it was a dirt strip before it was paved in 1962. There was an elevated box, a concession stand and an outhouse. The outhouse is still standing.”
Zooming away the weekends
Retired farmer and racing enthusiast Larry Lindsey added his memories of the site.
“They raced on Friday nights and Sundays. Cars came from as far away as Arkansas and Tennessee to race. They pulled them with tow bars because few people had trailers. All they had was a light bulb on a cable stretched over the strip to use to stage the race,” he said.
Accidents claimed the lives of two racecar drivers, which contributed to the demise of the drag strip by the end of the 1960s. One of the wrecks claimed the life of Jimmy Riley, who was said to have raced against doctor’s orders since he had high blood pressure.
“Sunday afternoons drew spectators that were supposed to be at church meetings,” Riley said. “Back in those days, there wasn’t much else to do.”
Perry remembered that only a cable separated spectators along the side of the track from the action roaring down it.
“You couldn’t race now like they did then. But it was a fun time. Traffic used to be backed up on the highway when the racing was going on,” Perry said.
Zooming into its next chapter
In late July, the air strip’s rehabilitation began. Although the strip of pavement was completely overgrown with trees, it was still found to be intact.
The property is now owned by Mitchell Scruggs as part of a family farm of some 2,250 acres outside of Nettleton used for growing cotton and soybeans.
A flood control berm was built along the banks of Cowpenna Creek that runs by the north end of the runway, which was overlaid with a new coat of asphalt in September.
Perry made his first landing on the repaved runway on Sept. 25.
A hanger will be built soon near the parking pad at the north end of the runway.
“It will be a fully contained facility in the event capable of capturing fuel and chemical spills,” he said.
The Lowery’s current business is a rebirth of the original one – crop dusting.
“These days, they call it aerial application,” Perry said.