The St. Augustine Sub Hunters

Ardis and I were driving to meet friends for dinner in St. Augustine last night.  Whenever we drive down US 1, just south of the airport and north of the Ancient City, I would always slow a little to look toward “the graveyard” to pay homage to the S-2 Trackers standing watch over the northern approach to the city.

The airplanes, a half dozen or so, sat in a lot just off the highway.  They are no longer chasing submarines for the US Navy; however, many still fly various missions for the Forestry Service and other types of missions for several foreign nations.  Since Grumman stopped production a while ago, parts for the model are no longer readily available.  Occasionally, the owner of the relics sitting in the lot would pull useable parts off one of the planes and ship it to an operator somewhere else in the world.

In the meantime, St. Augustine residents became accustomed to the old airplanes guarding the northern boundaries of the settelment.  No longer chasing Russian submarines on the high seas and guarding America in that way, now the old airplanes stood watch for the past couple of decades against ghostly threats to the oldest city in North America.

The first time you would see the old airplanes, you would get a sense of the Apocalypse.  They sat out in their field with vegetation growing up through their airframes in interesting patterns.  They were very interesting subjects for photographers.

Many of the Ancient City visitors, who were repeat tourists, would stop first at the aviation graveyard on their way into the city just to pay their respects to the antiquated sentinels.  Unfortunately, the airplanes attracted more than local curiosity and tourists.

Thieves also targeted the airplanes for their rare parts.  In the past, criminals stole wings, doors, and other equipment from the lot.  Additionally, vandals or thieves damaged five windows in the airframes.  The windows alone were valued at $1400—each.

Last night, on our way to meet our friends, I slowed as I approached the graveyard.  Over the past five or six years, I always had the same thought.  I need to get permission from the owner to photograph these airplanes.  I was in the process of having the same thought while slowing to glimpse at the airplanes.

They were not there.

I could not believe I drove past the airplanes and missed them.  At the risk of being late meeting our friends, I did a U-turn and went back to find the graveyard.

What I found was the location and freshly dug dirt — and no airplanes.

This past Wednesday, the owner of the airplanes and property decided it was time.  He brokered a deal with a metal salvage company who brought in men and equipment and destroyed the airplanes for the scrap.  As it turns out, this is another situation for me in which I waited too late to do something…something important.  Now I will never get the shot. 

Pardon me for not having photos for this post.


© 2011 J. Clark

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