Gifford has no time table for completion. “It will fly on the first—the first chance I get,” he says. Whenever that is, a reconstructed cage will house a huge stuffed lion made of plush golden fabric, and Gifford hopes to fly the MGM Special to airshows for at least a year.
Gifford recently met with octogenarian Columbus B. “Junior” Haught in Payson. Junior’s father, Columbus “Boy” Haught, was a member of the 1927 cowboy rescue team. Junior, who was just shy of four years old when Leo was brought by their ranch, says he still recalls one incident “like yesterday.” Two of his mother’s chickens were offered to Leo. “It didn’t take him but just a swallow to get rid of one of them chickens,” Haught recalls, adding that his mom was furious when she found out.