Most people go through their lives with a minimum of two mentions in a local paper. Crowder had closer to 2,000 in the Idaho Statesman. Given that there seemed to be a couple of Ray Crowders, let’s conservatively say 1,500.
He sold a few airplanes through the classifieds, applied for some building permits, participated in some clubs, won a photo contest, and had more than his fair share of parking tickets. And then there was the flying.
His life was devoted to flying, with plenty of fishing on the side. Crowder began flying when he was 15 and logged more than 20,000 hours in the air. He barnstormed for flying circuses, flew minerals out of the Idaho mines for the war effort, and flew numerous rescue flights. He was an instructor for several flying services at the Boise airport. Crowder taught the ladies to fly. In 1937 he was listed as the instructor for the newly formed Associated Women Pilots of Boise. In 1942, he married one of those women pilots, Doris Willy.
In 1938 Crowder was all over the Statesman. He took a photographer up to get a series of aerials of the growing city, which the paper featured several times. He was searching for a lost hunter and took the winners of a poster contest sponsored by the Jaycees for an airplane ride. Crowder volunteered for a life and death mission. His picture was in the paper for teaching more than 300 people to fly—so far. He flew to Salt Lake City where he was to pick up some anti-botulism serum for an Emmett woman who was gravely ill. Unfortunately, he was grounded twice by weather and the serum didn’t reach her on time.
Crowder was one of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol and an instructor for the wartime Civilian Pilot Training Program. He was a partner in the Emmett Airport, and ran it for a few years.
He was a cool pilot. That’s best illustrated by a story I ran across in the March 26, 1947 edition of the Idaho Statesman. Crowder was trying to sell an airplane to Boisean Dean Mutch. He took the man up in the new aircraft, rising into the sky from the municipal airport when only seconds into the flight a spray of oil from the engine covered the windshield of the plane. Crowder wanted some room to maneuver, so he pushed the button to retract the landing gear, meaning to climb a bit and bring the airplane around for a landing.
The landing gear retracted, then fell back down halfway. Unable to see much of anything, Crowder asked Mutch to crank the landing gear up. Or down, for that matter, one way or another. Mutch hand cranked it, but it wouldn’t do anything but flop halfway open. Crowder gave the controls to Mutch and tried hand-cranking the gear himself. Same thing.
They were in touch with the control tower while they circled the airport waiting for a green light that would mean the landing gear was down. On each pass they saw nothing but a red light.
Crowder got tired of circling and decided it was time to bring the plane down. As if to add to their distractions as the plane started to get close to the ground an automatic horn in the cockpit began to blow relentlessly, warning them that the wheels weren’t down. It only stopped when Crowder killed all the switches to belly in on the grass.
When the men climbed out of the plane Crowder turned to Mutch and said, “I’m starved. Let’s go eat.” And, so they did.
Crowder, who passed away in 1986, is honored in the Idaho Aviation Hall of Fame.