I was reading a post by Frank James and he mentioned about a shooting range in North Carolina that also cared for some cats. That struck a memory.
It’s not surprising that many businesses whether big or small, retail, office or outdoor, will have a mascot. When I worked for Sprint, my office was in a one story building with a basement containing test labs and an open courtyard in the middle of the building where we had tables, grills and an occasional nesting bird. Inside, we had mice.
One year in the early fall a yellow tabby appeared at the back door and was unofficially adopted. One of the ladies fixed up a cat bed in her cube and the maintenance folks cut a “cat door” into a janitor’s closet where a cat box was installed. That took care of our mouse problem…and chipmunks. We didn’t know about them until the cat, “8-Bit”, deposited her trophy next to the door to the courtyard.
The mascot I remember most fondly was an airport cat by the name of “Rudder.” I used to hang out at a small airport on the west side of Gardner, KS. The Fixed Base Operation or FBO, was owned by Charlie and Ellen Craig. Both were CFIs, Charlie was a CFII (Instrument Flight Instructor) and had been an instructor since before WW2 and had over 30,000 hours in the air. Ellen had been a ferry pilot during WW2 delivering B-25s from the Fairfax aircraft plant in KC, KS. Their kids and grandkids also served as instructors as necessary.
One day a car came by, stopped, and tossed out a small black and white kitten. When Charlie returned from a flight, he found Rudder curled up next to the door of the FBO. He picked Rudder up and took her inside. Rudder had found a home.
I met Rudder a couple of years later. I came to talk to Charlie about some lessons but he was out flying so I sat down on the office couch to wait. I hadn’t been seated long when Rudder appeared, climbed my leg and settled down in my lap. I still have a small scar from that first meeting. Rudder had a full set of claws and she used them to climb my denim covered leg up to my lap.
Rudder was popular with just about everyone. She ran in and out during the day and stayed nights inside the FBO office. Not long after my first meeting with Rudder, she produced a small litter of kittens. The next day Ellen set a large glass jar on her desk labeled “The Rudder Fund.” That was Rudder’s last batch of kittens. (Update. My wife caught an error in the paragraph above. Rudder’s fund was called, “Fix the Kitty Kitty.”)
The Gardner airport, also known as K34, has two grass runways and one asphalt runway. Off the end of the longest runway was a small woodlot. Somewhere inside that woodlot was a den of foxes.
I was sitting outside the FBO one Sunday afternoon watching a local (by local I mean one of the aircraft based at the airport.) do touch ‘n goes in a rebuilt Interstate, a high-wing single engine aircraft similar to a Piper Cub when I saw the foxes chasing something in the high grass next to the runway. It was Rudder. I couldn’t find a photo of Rudder but I did find the one above on the internet that closely matches Rudder.
The Interstate made another touch ‘n go at that moment and scared the foxes. Rudder was used to planes taxing, landing and taking off and used that interruption to streak across the runway, across the grassy tie-down area and up onto the bench next to me. She leaned into me, butted my arm a few times and then curled up into my lap shivering a bit. It’d been a close call. Foxes like cats—for breakfast, lunch or any meal.
The foxes were Rudder’s nemesis. From time to time some of the local pilots would go down to the woodlot to clean out the fox den. Sometimes they were successful but in a week or two, we’d hear foxes barking in those woods at dusk.
Rudder loved to fly. She never flew with Charlie but she did with some of the local pilots. There was a small group of WW2 and Korean War pilots who had planes hangared at Gardner. They’d go up a few times a month to keep current and it wasn’t too unusual to see Rudder looking out from the passenger seat as the plane went down the runway. I think Rudder had more air-time than some of the younger pilots at the airport.
A few years later, Ellen died in her sleep. Charlie continued to give flight instruction for a few months at the airport but his heart wasn’t in it. The FBO was a means to keep the family together. Now that Ellen was gone, the business lost its purpose. Just before he closed, Rudder didn’t escape the foxes. She was found next to the runway one morning. Her friends buried her in the grass next to the airport office where they’d built a small covered picnic area. There was talk of collecting money for a small memorial for Rudder but I don’t remember anything coming of it.
I now have cats at home. We’ve had three since Rudder died and now have two of keep us company.
But, I’ll always remember Rudder.