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Stories from the valley

Airplanes and Automobiles

Contributed by Steve Beckley

Paul Sankey’s livelihood is tied to the Colusa County rice industry and water supply.  He’s an agricultural pilot for Colusa’s Valley Air, third generation owner of Sankey Automobile Company and, until this year, a rice grower.  To insure he never gets bored, he is also a Rotarian, member of the board of the Westside Levee District and very active in the community.

Sankey 1

I had the opportunity to watch and photograph Paul in action with his plane as he flew fertilizer on a rice field south of Colusa.  To me he flies a real ag airplane as it has a reciprocating engine that makes sounds that all of us rice country residents grew up with. This is the 35th consecutive rice season he has flown a crop duster.

Sankey 2

I was able to sit down and visit with him at the General Motors Dealership that he and his wife Kathy operate in Colusa.   Their website proclaims that they have been serving area ranchers, farmers, the Ag industry and the rural communities since 1921.  As he described the business, “They are married to farming with a large percentage of their sales being pickups and SUVs”.

While many auto dealerships have been acquired by larger dealerships, Colusa has had two dealerships owned by the same families for many years.  These dealerships not only provide jobs and support just about every community activity; they also produce a large amount of sales tax to fund local government.  When there’s no water for crops, farmers and their employees are not buying vehicles and it impacts the whole community.

Sankey 3

During my visit with Paul we discussed how GPS technology has improved the precision of aerial application but it did eliminate one job – that of flagger which was summer employment of many my age years ago. The subject of proposed High Voltage Electrical Transmission Line by Sacramento Municipal Utility District in southern Colusa County came up.  This line would run west to east through the valley with a large percentage of it in the rice growing area of Reclamation District 108.  I believe such a line would increase the challenges of crop dusters and other agriculture activities, while not providing any benefits to the area.

As I travel the countryside, I’ll be on the lookout for the tail numbers N6637K on an ag airplane and I’ll watch a pro at work – and take a few photos, of course.