A Life: Richard O. “Bud” Bushway Sr., 1940 — 2019; ‘I’ll tell you: I was never bored around Bud’

  • Bud Bushway, of South Strafford, Vt., rides up Airport Road on a truck as his 1940 WACO biplane is towed to the Lebanon Municipal Airport from Interstate 89 on Saturday, June 14, 2008. Bushway landed heading southbound on the interstate in West Lebanon, N.H., after his engine stopped running and he missed the runway. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Bud Bushway, left, of South Strafford, Vt., and Chase Locke, of Randolph, Vt., escort Bushway’s 1940 Waco biplane down the entrance ramp to Interstate 89 at exit 20 in West Lebanon, N.H., as it is towed back to Lebanon Municipal Airport on June 14, 2008. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2019 10:16:54 PM
Modified: 7/21/2019 10:16:52 PM

SOUTH STRAFFORD — The first time Bud Bushway found himself at the controls of a small airplane with a dead engine, one day in the early 1970s, he glided the craft down the Connecticut River from Hanover to West Lebanon just in time to land safely at Lebanon Municipal Airport.

And then to wonder, briefly, whether he’d ever fly again.

“He said years later that he got out of the airplane and his knees buckled, he was so scared,” Lebanon resident and fellow pilot Steve Christy recalled last week. “Coonie Atherton, the airport manager at the time, came out and picked him up under his shoulders and said, ‘You need to get right back up in the air.’”

So Bud Bushway kept flying until the last two years of a life during which he also ran a body shop and an insurance agency, and in his spare time restored vintage tractors and cars as well as planes, traveled all over the United States to gatherings of fellow gear-heads, mentored and befriended countless DIY mechanics, hunted with his son and grandsons and read up on everything he could find about World War II and other history.

And not even his third close air-to-ground call could stop Bushway from doing what he w anted to do. In June of 2008, the engine of his 1940-vintage Waco biplane failed on a flight back to the Upper Valley from Rutland, Vt., with longtime companion Mary Dixon. Seeing they were going to come up short of the Lebanon Municipal Airport, Bushway somehow steered it away from oncoming cars to land unscathed on Interstate 89 in West Lebanon.

This time, he took it in stride.

“He was bound and determined he was going to his 50-year high school reunion that night at Thetford Academy,” said Dixon, whom Bushway married about seven months before his death on March 20. “I’d had enough excitement for one day, but he said, ‘When are you going to be ready?’ So I got dressed and off we went.

“I’ll tell you: I was never bored around Bud.”

Nor was Andy Robinson. In the mid-1980s, the newly-minted gastroenterologist with a new house met Bushway at the South Strafford native’s Cooperative Insurance agency in East Thetford in the mid-1980s. Next thing Robinson knew, he and Bushway went from client and agent to “fast friends.”

“He was always teaching me,” said Robinson, who lives in Norwich. “He had a bunch of antique tractors he restored, and I kind of got into it, too. Under his tutelage, I could tear down an engine and rebuild it. Not as seamlessly as he could, of course. He had every tool known to man, for every kind of project. And if there was something you needed for something you were working on at home, you could just call and he’d say, ‘Sure: Come on over and get it.’ ”

Bushway had been honing his mechanical skills since his childhood on the family farm in South Strafford, and after high school applied them to body work at Blake Chevrolet in Bradford, Vt. Before long he was running his own body shop in Post Mills, near the grass-strip airport where he would first work on and keep his planes, including his pride and joy: That 1940 Waco.

“It had a very distinctive sound,” Robinson recalled. “He’d come over and buzz the house, this bright-orange plane going through the sky. He’d do loops and other things, so gracefully.”

One balmy summer evening, Bushway invited him for an outing beyond the Upper Valley.

“We flew east toward the Franconia Range, and could see Mount Washington perfectly,” Robinson said. “When we were coming back at dusk, he pulled up at the last second and I asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ And he said, ‘Too many deer on the runway.’ ”

Mary Dixon long ago lost count of the comparable adventures on which Bushway led her, for nearly 20 years after her daughter from a previous marriage introduced them at the East Montpelier Fair. Bud’s son and Mary’s son-in-law happened to be competing in the oxen-pull, and after watching the contest for a while, he invited her on a walk around the fairgrounds.

“I found his sense of humor, his kindness, and especially that smile, very appealing,” Dixon remembered. “He was just a really nice guy.”

This nice guy knocked on Dixon’s door in Thetford a while later and asked if she’d like to go flying in the biplane. She couldn’t that night, but a week later Bushway tried again, and Dixon could think of no excuses to say no.

“We flew out of Post Mills,” Dixon said. “We probably just took a trip up and down the Connecticut River Valley, but it was a really beautiful evening.”

Soon they were skiing together on winter weekends, and “after a couple of years, he wanted me to move in with him,” Dixon recalled. “He said, “I’m not looking forward to falling in love or marrying or anything,’ and neither was I. But he was a lot of fun to be with. He had so many things on his plates.”

Over the next two decades, they flew in Bushway’s Beechcraft Bonanza to aircraft enthusiast “fly-ins” all over the country, to vintage car and John Deere tractor rallies. On other vacations, he learned to love the western United States, where Dixon grew up.

“He never talked about moving there, though,” she added. “Vermont was his home. He was born and bred up here.”

And with the Bonanza, they could travel that much more easily to places they loved and make it home without any long marches. They might nip over to, say, the Maine coast for a day with Mary and with other couples.

And when Dixon couldn’t make it to a fly-ins or another gear-head gathering farther afield, Steve Christy or Andy Robinson gladly joined Bud.

“Wherever we went, he’d walk up to anyone and just strike up a conversation,” Robinson said. “He was like the mayor. Everybody liked to talk with him. He was always interested in someone else, what someone else was doing.”

The last project Bushway did, before his heart and lungs started failing on him, was to restore a 1934 Ford Coupe.

Between trips with Dixon to vintage-car shows, he kept it and worked on it in the same hangar at Lebanon Airport where he kept his planes. The car went to one of his five grandchildren.

“It’s like a piece of art,” Robinson said. “He took a lot of pride in his work. He really was the embodiment of what we all think of as a true Vermonter: independent, intellectually curious, resourceful and always willing to help.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

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