Popcorn All Around

by Phil Rowe
Can you guess what has airplanes, runways, an underground building and popcorn?

Well, the first items might lead you to think airport. The underground building might make you suspect a military munitions bunker ( though that's not it ), and the popcorn is not a figment of this writer's imagination. In fact, the popcorn is the main theme of this short story. The underground building was the Alert Facility, where Strategic Air Command (SAC) flight crews stood ready to go to war. But the popcorn?

Popcorn was (and still is) an important part of the economy around that Indiana air base, Bunker Hill AFB (later renamed Grissom AFB). Back in the days when SAC operated supersonic B-58's and KC-135 tankers from that central Indiana air base, military officials struck up a bargain with local farmers. They had something the Air Force wanted and visa versa. A marriage of convenience worked out well for both parties.

It seems that the farmers had the equipment to mow the grass along the runway edges and in between the taxiways. Keeping the grass and weeds under control was important to both flight safety and the general appearance of the base. So in exchange for providing that important mowing service, farmers were granted the right to grow popcorn on acres and acres of land not used by the military. In fact, much of that corn served as a visual shield between the highway outside the base and the Alert aircraft parked near the end of the runway. When the corn was tall, passers-by could barely see the war-ready planes parked in the area.

It seemed like an ideal arrangement, and it generally was, except for one small problem. When the popcorn was ripe and ready for harvest, Aircrews and ground maintenance troops living and working in the Alert area helped themselves to free popcorn. They helped themselves to bushels and bushels of it, though just an armful at a time. Before the farmer could bring his harvesting equipment to the cornfields, the Alert crews had already collected most of the crop closest to the Alert buildings.

Maybe that's why our Alert Facility always smelled so good, with the aroma of popcorn wafting through the corridors. Makes me hungry just to remember that delicious scent.