Lifelong Enterprise native Ancel Vernon Longsworth was one of the very first local men hired by Camp Rucker after the Army Aviation School moved there in the 1950s. Now, at 91 years old he’s the oldest living man from those first hires, as well.
Longsworth worked for 40 years at Fort Rucker seeing it go from one building in the middle of an airfield at Camp Rucker to the massive aviation school and the driving force of the economy in Coffee County when it became Fort Rucker.
Longsworth got a glimpse at his future as a young boy plowing his family’s fields on the present day Ozark Highway in Enterprise in the 1940s. Longsworth said that the Army would land small L4 aircrafts on what was then a dirt road right across the road from the fields he was plowing.
“I was working with a mule and plow just across the street from where they were landing those little planes and that intrigued me so much,” Longsworth said.
He said that while the planes caught his eye, the soldiers driving a jeep is what really caught his attention.
“I feel in love with those jeeps,” Longsworth emphasized. “This was during watermelon time and they came over and asked me if I knew anybody that had any watermelons and if I could tell them where they were at.
“I said, ‘If you let me go with you I do.’ I wanted to ride in that jeep and we rode in it and got some watermelons.”
In 1951 Longsworth enlisted with the U.S. Army National Guard, where he said that he just wanted to drive a jeep. He also continued to be interested in the aircraft that he would see on base. After 17 months in the military he was discharged and returned home.
After working at a sawmill and a gas station, the Army Aviation Flight School announced it was moving from Oklahoma to Camp Rucker in Enterprise. Longsworth said as soon as he heard he applied but didn’t hear anything back to begin with. So, he took matters into his own hands.
“I went out there one day to the office and I asked whoever was there to see the person in charge,” Longsworth recalled. “I went in and I said, ‘Sir, if you’ll hire me and I can’t do the job you feel just as free to fire me as you did to hire me.’
“I started working out there at $1.10 an hour building up wheels for the L9 and came out 40 years later.”
Longsworth said many of the people from Oklahoma were upset at the move and didn’t believe that locals in Alabama could get the job done.
“They said, ‘They’re dirt farmers down there, they can’t do this work.’ Well, that was proven wrong,” he said. “That was 40 years of my life and I loved every bit of it. Even when I was in the service I was intrigued about working on planes.
“I just fell right in out there. Working on aircraft was what I wanted in life. I never thought I’d be out there 40 years or that it could keep going for 40 years but it did and it’s still going today.”
Longsworth started out changing oil and building tires for the aircraft on the base and two years afterhe started he was asked if he wanted to a new job.
“I asked if it paid any more money and when they said yes, I said, ‘Well, yeah I want it then,’” Longsworth said with a laugh. “I left from changing oil and building up tires to putting me at Cairns Field washing (the aircraft).
“They put me as the lead on my wash crew and for those 38 years. I had my own crew I had good people all 38 years. They were good, they did the job and it was a pleasure.”