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#116 Run-in at Rajneeshpuram

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This little story was originally presented in the form of a narrated tale in my CD, “Nuts from a Blind Squirrel”.  I think it really leant itself to that format.  But in looking at it now, I thought I’d put it on the site for those of you who haven’t bought “Nuts” (it’s still available on the Tailwheeler’s Mercantile!)


Cub acro
The “Quacker Smacker”

We’d left Spokane earlier that morning and were heading for Bend.  It was back in the eighties and I was flying my 100 horsepower J3, the “Quacker Smacker”.  The Duckmobile was driving overland with its cargo of dogs and ducks.  Accompanying me was my “roadie”, Billy.  It was back in the days when I made a living as an airshow comedy pilot.  When we’d taken off it was chilly and I’d turned the cabin heat on.  Now it was warming up and I pushed the knob in to turn off the heat.  Nothing happened.  I could feel that the cable was no longer connected to the flapper  valve on the other side of the firewall.  The old Cub was pretty drafty, and at first it didn’t bother me very much.  But eventually, my feet were starting to get a little ouchy since they were situated right up front next to the heat outlet.  This was starting to get a little hard to take!  I started to look for a place to land.  I knew that all I had to do was open up the cowling and flip the valve closed.  Maybe I could even make the control work.  But right now, all I wanted to do was cool my burning feet.  I spotted an airstrip up ahead.  A check of the chart revealed that it was Rashneeshpurum.  Those who are either too young to remember or perhaps aren’t’ familiar with this weird footnote in Oregon history may not be familiar with that name.  A cult formed by an Indian guru named Bagwan Shree Rajneesh had roosted near the little Oregon town of Antelope, population 75.  Not content to simply move there and get along, they had bought up a nearby ranch and developed it as a commune. They called it “Rajneeshpuram”.   They had then taken over the town and re-named it “Rashneesh”  The Oregon Attorney General was hot on their trail and there was evidence that the Rajneeshees were stockpiling vast numbers of arms and ammunition at their commune.  We referred to Baghwan as “Bags”.  In fact, one day we’d been on our way to an airshow and had stopped for traffic near Antelope.  Here came a veritable motorcade of Rolls Royces.  “Bags” loved Rolls Royces.  In fact, that day he was driving the lead rolls and I cracked up over the sight of the diminutive little white-bearded guru peering through the steering wheel as he motored on past the stopped “Duckmobile”. Bags drive by

So I knew that the X on the runway at Rajneeshpuram meant that the denizens didn’t want just any riffraff like overheated Quacker Smacker drivers swooping in to their airport uninvited.  I really didn’t care.  I simply wanted to turn that damned heat off.

Right: “Bags” drives by in his Rolls while hundreds of admirers greet him at Rajneeshpuram

Relieved to find a place to land, Billy and I swooped into Rajneeshpuram and rolled to a halt.  As the engine clicked to a stop, we hopped out and I opened up the cowl.  Sure enough, the control cable had come off and the heater valve was in the full hot position.  I flipped it closed.  I was thinking about re-fastening the control wire and doing a proper job of it when I heard Billy say, “Hmm, those guys look like they want to see us.”

I looked up from my work to see a pickup truck racing down the runway toward us.  Loaded into the back were several guys all dressed in varying shades of flowing red and pink robes.  All Rajneeshees wore reddish colors and vaguely Indian attire.

“That doesn’t look good,” I observed.  “Let’s get out of here.  Hop in, Bill”.  As Billy got in the back of the Cub, I latched the cowl, reached in and turned the mags on.  Then I reached forward to flip the prop and start the engine.  That O-235 always started on the first flip.  It had very low compression and was just one of the easiest engines to hand prop.  BUT, if it got just a little flooded, it would suddenly turn into the most recalcitrant engine there was, requiring you to flip and flip and flip until the mixture got just right and it roared to life.  As the Rajneeshees neared, that damned Lycoming decided to become difficult.  It wouldn’t start.  The truck was getting closer.  I was getting a little concerned.  I knew about the stories of violence.  Ma Sheela, “Bags’” chief of staff had been accused of poisoning 170 people at a buffet in The Dalles.  Skullduggery was their M.O.  And so I flipped harder.  I don’t know how many blades I pulled through as fast as I could, but my right arm was sore as could be by the time that truck started to come up to us and suddenly the Lycoming realized the seriosity of the event and caught.  I hopped in the front seat and suddenly the truck pulled right in front of me.  Blocked in and imagining a long drawn out encounter with a bunch of armed religious zealots with a history of violence, I wasn’t about to stay at Rajneeshpuram.  So I leaned out the side of the Cub, smiled at the driver and gestured for him to drive around to the side of the airplane so we could talk.  The guy thought that was a good idea and drove around the side of my plane.  I opened the throttle and the Cub lumbered out toward the runway, gaining speed.  The Rajneeshees, realizing they’d been hornswoggled, fell in behind us in hot pursuit.  With doors and windows un-fastened and seatbelts flapping, the Cub gradually picked up speed.  I zigzagged a bit to keep the boys in flapping red outfits from pulling around me.  Then we were airborne.  So far, no shots had been fired. Billy and I took a little time to fasten our seatbelts and shoulder harnesses.  Then, relieved to have gotten away, I pulled up in a cropduster turn and blasted back down the runway.  The Rajneeshees shook their fists at us and we waggled a middle finger at them.  It was true communication.

So, as a true Oregonian, I have firsthand experience with that little bit of Oregon history.  “Bags” is dead. Ma Sheela went to prison.  The cult is gone.  I understand the ranch is now owned by a Christian cult.  Still a cult, but at least not armed and larcenous.  The folks of Antelope have their town back and all is once more peaceful.  This summer, my friend Jeannine, and I landed there in her plane.  It was the first time I’d been back since the mad chase.  People on the ground stared at us as we did a touch and go.  They didn’t look happy.  I guess they still don’t like me there, no matter which cult runs the place.

Happy Swooping!