Strong Flint Hills Ranch Heritage, ‘Jimmy’ Had ‘Eyes In The Sky’ Airplane Career

Down the Draw

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“Jimmy Alexander wasn’t a cowboy.”
That’s despite strong Flint Hills ranch heritage, dad Bud and brothers Bobby and Wayne, Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees.
Alexanders were in generality recognized as “cowboys,” often even ornery ones, the genetic trait brother Jimmy did inherit.
Oh, Jimmy Alexander knew the cowboy life working youthfully hard ranching, gladly providing testimonies for the Hall of Fame inductees.
Airplanes were Jimmy Alexander’s love in life from a very young age continually throughout his lifetime.
Upon his recent passing, Jimmy’s airplane shenanigans were retold, some even unveiled.
Nephew and niece Tom Alexander and Barb Lerner remember their uncle flying between the Bobby Alexander home and windmill. They could see Jimmy’s ornery grin in the airplane going over Flint Hills east of Council Grove,
According to true legend, Jimmy flew home to visit parents Bud and Maude north of Council Grove. “He’d fly his plane straight up into the air until the motor stalled out, roll the plane over, and come shooting down like a corkscrew. Kicking the plane back on, Jimmy pulled the plane up just before hitting the ground.” Mom scowled while Dad smiled typically.
Brother renowned rodeo cowboy and pasture manager Bobby pretty much refused to fly with Jimmy’s daredevil piloting. “One time, Bobby and wife Georgie were stranded coming back in their pickup from a Texas rodeo. Jimmy flew them home like a nice brother.”
The ornery pilot knew every little airport in the southwest. Jimmy flew his great-nephew namesake Jimmy Lerner, now of Council Grove, from Texas and Oklahoma to help Grandpa Bobby Alexander look after Flint Hills cattle.
After the Katy Railroad stopped service, Jimmy used that abandoned track strip as the Alexander Ranch Airport in the mid-’50’s. He’d “fly over the top of Rex Materials to land at the airport being just feet above townsman Lowell Scripter as he flew by.”
Genetically inherited wheeler-dealer, Jimmy sold airplanes to both Jimmy Dean and Roy Clark. “He’d let Aunt Barb and family fly in them before delivering,” great nephew Bobby Alexander of Alexander Artworks said.
For clarification, (namesake) Bobby Alexander is Tom Alexander’s son, whose dad is “the” Bobby Alexander, Jimmy’s brother
“Jimmy sold the first airplane Kansas bought for Governor Docking and flew celebrities like Burl Ives and Mickey Mantle.”
One time his airplane shut down in the air and Jimmy had to land it in downtown Wichita. His only option was “The Big Ditch” on the Arkansas River Floodway. “That was one of the scariest moments of my life,” generally fearless Jimmy admitted.
Jimmy was Buzz Ropers’ flight instructor and referred him to Ralph Booker, McPherson refinery president, to be the company pilot. So, Buzz moved his family from Texas to Kansas for this job. They attended church with the Booker family and, Colleen, Buzz’s daughter, met Mr. Booker’s son Jason.
“Colleen and Jason now live in Council Grove, and Colleen’s sister is manager of the McPherson Airport,” Bobby related
James M. Alexander was born December 6, 1930, at Council Grove, and passed away August 4, 2022, at Wichita. Funeral was at Country Acres Baptist Church with the United States Navy Honor Guard conducting graveside services.
“The preacher had some good things to say as my cousins did as well,” Bobby commented
Jimmy personally recorded his autobiography “History of James M. Alexander,” dated June 29, 2012.
“World War II from about 1942 on would find a young cowboy early teenager living on the ranch at Council Grove, but always with his mind and eyes on the skies.
“My fervent interest in anything that flew by caused some dismay to my dad who now had another son in training as an Air Corp pilot. Brother Wayne was my hero.
“I begged three bucks off a reluctant dad for the first PT-19 ride and I knew I had to have more of this. Dad was afraid of airplanes, but circumstances changed. Twenty years later I would fly him to Kansas City for cancer treatments in a new Cessna 310. He really enjoyed it.”
As a 16-year-old, Jimmy went to work scrubbing and fueling airplanes for 50-cents an hour in order to ride in an airplane for $7 an hour. He attended airshows, learned piloting from ex miliary instructors, and finally got a solo flight.
Serving in the Navy, 1948-49, Jimmy hoped to fly, but pilots weren’t needed, so he took an early discharge. He worked at the Beechcraft plant near Herington and managed to “shag a job on a flightline for six years. Wow, what a deal.”
Meanwhile Jimmy got a private pilot license and partnered buying a J-3 Cub airplane for $500.
He was flying over the Flint Hills and decided to impress his brother who was checking pasture cattle. “I proceeded to land in the pasture only to smack a large rock. Embarrassment turned to the situation at hand.
“Farm boy improvised with my brother mending the right wing with a hedge post and flew it away. Whew lesson learned.”
With Beechcraft closing at Herington, Jimmy was promoted in transfer to Wichita expanding time in the air with more new airplanes.
Through promotions, Jimmy became an instructor and “endless hours” with commercial flights.
He worked at Emporia in 1958 crisscrossing the entire country for $500 a month.
No end to stories, monotonous to lay readers, excitement galore for Jimmy flying, selling, and everything airplanes.
He worked for Cessna 23 years, “meeting many fine people,” becoming an airplane salesman giving up on working for an airline. “I found it a good place to enjoy flying while being rewarded if you worked hard.”
Frequent sales trips included stops at Council Grove home. “My parents always watched me depart and were beginning to accept the notion that airplanes weren’t so terrible. Strange but not terrible.”
He formed a corporation with his wife Sharon and remained in the airplane trading and brokering business.
“I guess I would have to say it has been a pretty good ride. I am blessed.”
On April 2, 2011, James M. Alexander was presented the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration. It recognizes “Fifty Years of Dedicated Service in Aviation Safety.”
Bobby insisted, “Jimmy was just a super cool guy. I remember him taking me up in his plane when I was six years old.
“I thought then and still do to this day think Jimmy was one of the coolest people I have ever known. Uncle Jimmy was someone you just wanted to be around, he made everyone feel special and appreciated.”
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CUTLINES

Jimmy Alexander was born with heritage to be a Flint Hills cowboy, but “his eyes were in the sky.” Council Grove native, Alexander had a lifelong career doing about everything that could be done with airplanes. Yet, he always retained close Flint Hills family and area ties.

Sons of Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee Bud Alexander, Jimmy, Bobby, and Wayne Alexander grew up on a Council Grove ranch. Bobby and Wayne continued the cowboy profession renowned in rodeo competition, while Jimmy claimed a “blessed” life involved with all aspects of airplanes.

“Oh, what an ornery threesome;” family was always close and very important to Jimmy Alexander. He’s with his big brothers Bobby and Wayne front and center at an Alexander Reunion in 2010.

If it would fly through the sky, Jimmy Alexander wanted to be in the pilot seat. This Cessna 310, on his funeral memorial handout, is just one of likely uncountable airplanes flown and merchandized by Alexander throughout the country. Jimmy flew his dad Bud of Council Grove to Kansas City in this plane for health treatments.

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