A Waco’s Happy Ending

How an abandoned World War II glider found love in Long Island.

Images of the glider in flight (here, a CG-4 prototype) don’t capture the human drama of a CG-4 mission, as the museum’s finished display does. (NASM Neg. #2002-3809)
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I failed to receive a single letter in response. Considering how few had survived the war, I was not surprised. However, about a month later, someone who had seen the ad called me. An airline pilot, whose name I’m sad to say I’ve forgotten, told me that as he was driving outside the small village of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, near the Pocono Mountains, he thought he saw the bones of a troop glider lying in a farmer’s field. I was astonished—not just that he had made the effort to call me, but that he had actually identified the remains as a CG-4.

Before the week was out, George Dade and I were headed west toward Pennsylvania, not knowing exactly what side of town the farm was on or even who owned it.

After a drive of just over three hours, gradually transitioning from the suburbs of New York City to the fertile farmland of eastern Pennsylvania, we passed a sign stating “Nazareth 1 mile.” We began to keep our eyes peeled.

Suddenly my jaw dropped and I slammed on the brake. About 100 feet to the right lay the complete nose and main fuselage section of a Waco CG-4 troop transport glider.

We pulled over, got out, and walked to the nearby farmhouse. A knock on the door brought forth an ancient farmer, who was amazed to learn that someone had traveled all the way from New York just to look at his pile of rusted scrap. It turned out that the farmer (who no longer farmed) had purchased the glider as war surplus in 1946 for $75 from an Army depot in Pennsylvania. He had no interest in the aircraft, only in the three large and sturdy crates it came in, which he turned into chicken coops. As for the glider, he dumped it in the field, where it rusted away for the next 40 years. Gradually it became covered in weeds, and as its fabric skin deteriorated, small trees sprouted and grew through its steel-tube frame.

A sale price of $150 was quickly agreed upon. I suspect the farmer thought he had really hoodwinked a couple of slick New Yorkers—not only were we willing to take away his pile of junk, we would even pay him good money to do it.

Walking around the bones of the glider that day, I realized the restoration would be a major project, requiring many years. The parts were badly rusted. Where some of the fittings had touched the ground, corrosion had completely eaten them away. On occasion, when the farmer had needed a piece of metal tubing, he’d simply walked over and sawed a section out of the glider’s skeleton. The tail and wings were gone, as were other critical components. Amazingly, the nameplate of the manufacturer, Ford, was still firmly affixed to the fuselage’s rusted doorframe.

Fortunately, it turned out that the farmer had for some reason stored some of the more interesting glider parts in his barn loft. We climbed up a rickety ladder and quickly discovered wooden troop benches, pilots’ seats, back rests, instruments, wheels, tires, landing gear struts, and several other items.

I quickly made plans to return within the week. Our museum has a corps of volunteers, most of whom are retirees from local aerospace companies or the airlines, and many of whom served in World War II, and I recruited six to help retrieve the glider. I also borrowed a flatbed truck and rounded up an assortment of hand tools. During the next few days, I actually worried that some other museum might come along and scoop the glider up.

To my relief, when we arrived, it looked just as it had when we’d left it. We ended up putting in a long day’s work, cutting down the ingrown trees and slowly easing the rusted hulk in one piece onto the truck. Our volunteers were tickled by my repeated warnings not to scratch anything (I was only half jesting).

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