Ground Clutter

Sept. 6, 2005
Wash Pringle is dead. Chances are you never met Wash, but if you did, you never forgot him. When I went to work with Montgomery (AL) Aviation in the 1970s Wash was there, and he was one of the best linemen who ever parked an airplane.

Wash was a world-class tip hustler in the best sense of the word. He didn’t hunt for tips so much as he hunted for ways to earn tips. He got the nickname 'Wash' by washing cars for free. Whenever a based customer parked his car, Wash was right there, with his helpful demeanor and delightful voice, saying something like, “Dr. Smith, if you gonna be gone a day or two jes leave me your keys and I’ll clean your car for you.” Quite often Dr. Smith did exactly that, and you can bet Wash was right there, car keys in hand, to welcome Dr. Smith back home. The car wash was free; the tip tended to the generous side.

Wash once said of the younger linemen, “They call themselves workin’ the line. Most of the time they sittin’ in the line shack, readin’ that Playboy magazine when we aren't busy. I’d rather be makin’ some money.” And he did.

Some FBOs might have forbidden Wash to clean cars on company time, but our “big” boss, Bob Hudgens, figured Wash made tips by keeping customers happy. Mr. Hudgens considered that a good thing. Wash and Mr. Hudgens had a great respect — even love — for each other (Wash was a pallbearer at Mr. Hudgens’ funeral a few years ago and I know that meant a lot to both of them).

It was fun to watch them together. The front desk monitored all frequencies, and when Mr. Hudgens was flying in from a trip they announced code words over the public address system. Wash would be right out front to greet and park the plane, with typical Wash flare. (Wash never walked to park an airplane, he trotted out amidst much gesticulating and dramatic signaling as if that arrival was the most important of the day.)

When Mr. Hudgens climbed out of the airplane, Wash invariably said, “Oh, Mr. Hudgens, I didn’ know that was you.” Hudgens just as invariably responded, “Bull, Wash, you knew it was me since the front desk warned you on the loudspeaker.”

Once our mechanics bet Wash $5 that he couldn’t get a tip from the cheapest aircraft owner in town. Shop foreman Earl Smith said, “Ralph, I knew we had lost the bet when Wash started shining the man’s shoes as he got into his airplane.”

A real grouch flew in one day and addressed Wash with the ultimate racist term. Wash treated the man so well that he tipped him $10 — unheard of in those days of real money. When the man returned to depart the next day, Wash had his plane ready and had two Cokes in the plane, iced down in a foam cooler. The man tipped another $10.