Hanger Duggins love of agricultural aircraft started one March
day when he spied a JN-4 Jenny gliding low over “Ol’ Man”
Connolly’s potato field. Hanger had a spare nickel (a rare
occurrence) and was walking into town to buy a soda when he
spotted the airplane. Craning his neck, Hanger watched as a faded
red bi-plane swooped low to spray fertilizer on a field of potatoes. It
was then he knew he wanted to be a real-life superhero and learn to
After that day, when Hanger walked into town from the country,
he always hoped to catch a glimpse of the crop-dusters. Standing
still and gawking up at the sky, late one afternoon, Hanger didn’t
notice an old man approach. The man pulled off his hat and wiped
sweat from his brow.
“Watcha lookin’ for son?”
Startled, Hanger looked down. “I was hopin’ to see the ol’ Jenny, is
“Sorry, son. Those crop duster planes only come around once a
year.” Replacing his hat on his head, the man said, “Name’s Bruce
Connolly. I own this here farm.”
“Hanger. Hanger Duggins.”
“Hanger, huh? Nice to meet ya. Live round here?
“Up the way. Out by the Haskinses.”
Come fall we could use a hand harvestin’ these spuds.”
Hanger spent the next five summers planting and digging with “Ol’
Man” Connolly and his crew. Every year, he worked in the fields and
watched for Jenny to come buzzing through the sky. Every time he
saw her, the urge to fly like the superheroes had read about as a kid
swept over him. He read books about flying went to and all the
picture shows that had planes in them.
John, the bi-plane pilot, whom Hanger met when he was fueling his
plane, regaled him with stories of flying Stearmans as a U.S. Army
pilot. As time went on John showed him how to work on an ol’ girl
Hanger was a pretty decent airplane mechanic by the time he
graduated high school. Then he joined the Air Force and spent the
next 30 years at various Air Force Bases repairing first piston –driven
aircraft, then jets. One of his favorite stations was Mitchel AFB in New
York. On his days off he’d go to LaGuardia to relax, eat a burger at
the airport diner, and watch the planes come in.
One day while he sat there sprinkling salt on his French fries, Hanger
saw something beautiful and miraculous. She took his breath away.
He felt like he had when he first laid eyes on the bi-wing airplane
years before. Hanger wanted to learn everything he could about
the girl with the emerald eyes and fiery curls who walked toward him
carrying two suit cases.
He approached, fighting to keep his voice light, “Hello, miss. Let me
help you with those bags?”
Merry, an attorney with a large New York law firm said later that she
thought that the young man was quite handsome. He was also
courteous. She accepted his offer, and they walked out of the
That encounter turned into a year’s worth of dates. Countless
bouquets of flowers from Hanger led, eventually, to wedding vows
and to two sons, Paul and Tommy. Air Force mechanic Hanger
Duggins and his family were stationed in Canada, England, the
Netherlands, and many bases in the United States. For Hanger it was
the life of the caped-crusaders and heroic aviators of his youthful
After nearly two decades of traveling the world, Hanger and Merry
decided to put down roots in the Midwest. The two boys, Paul and
Tommy are attorneys and are following in the footsteps of their
mother and have a family law practice in New York. Merry e-mails
advice when she isn’t volunteering at the courthouse, as a guardian
ad-Litem, and a kind word and a smile for kids who need it.
And “Old Man” Duggins, as he is now affectionately known, is
supervising mechanic at the Letongaloosa Regional Airport. He
oversees a crew of young whippersnappers and regales them with
tales of his travels as a young Airman. And even though he may be
old, Hanger is learning to fly an ol’ Ag-Cat he affectionately calls
“Jenny,” and on weekends he soars through the air like the comic
book characters he loved so much.
Dr. Larry Day was a potato picker, reporter, foreign correspondent., Fulbright lecturer, coach of journalists on 3 continents, author & now, he’s an ol’ humor writer.