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RODGERS, FLOYD H. [SLATS]

RODGERS, FLOYD H. [SLATS] (1889–1956). Floyd H. (Slats) Rodgers, aviation pioneer, was born in Tunnel Hill, Georgia, on March 7, 1889, the son of Charlie and Alice (Russell) Rodgers. He moved with the family to Keene, Texas, and after a brief education moved to the farm of an uncle near Waco. At the age of eighteen he applied for employment with the railroad; he advanced to locomotive engineer on the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe in 1915. That same year he married Rosie Oliver; they had four children and were later divorced. Rodgers's boyhood experience with kites evolved into an avid interest in flying. Largely self-taught, he began to read extensively about planes. He first built a model plane that he put on display, and soon decided to build a larger version. With the help of John C. Fine, an engineer he met working on the Santa Fe, Rodgers designed and built a primitive aircraft, reputed to be the first built in Texas, which he flew without instruction in late 1912, a mere nine years after the first manned airplane flight by the Wright brothers. Because of a persistent droop in one wing Rodgers called the plane Old Soggy No. 1; he retired it in 1913. He became a civilian flight instructor for the army in 1916 and went on to fly army-surplus Jennies and Canucks as a barnstormer and circus stunt pilot after World War I. During prohibition he bought his own plane to ferry bootleg liquor from Mexico to Texas. He was involved in gambling and moonshining operations and eventually served six months in a Dallas jail for his illegal activities. After prohibition, as livelihood from barnstorming waned, he turned to crop dusting in the lower Rio Grande valley. On special charter requests he would sometimes shock his passenger with unforgettable aerial performances. He was a check pilot for Civilian Pilot Training just before World War II. Although his flight career extended to his later years, his flamboyant lifestyle and penchant for the illegal was increasingly limited by rules and regulations of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Rodgers coauthored an autobiography, Old Soggy No. 1 (1954), in which he preserves the uninhibited character of the first three decades of aviation and reveals his own uniqueness. Bootlegging and flying stunts made him famous among the aviators and law-enforcement officers within the range of Love Field in Dallas as well as later in the lower Rio Grande valley. He performed the aviation heroics attendant upon early flight, including such incidents as surviving a crash after the motor had fallen off, safely landing a fabric-covered aircraft with one side in flames, having the first pilot's license in Texas and being the first to have it revoked, and landing safely at night after being blinded by lighted fireworks mounted on his plane. After his second marriage, Rodgers bought a 400–500 acre ranch in Bandera and opened a steakhouse. He subsequently sold out and moved to McAllen, opened another steakhouse, and ran a fisherman's camp in nearby Zapata. Slats Rodgers died on July 5, 1956, in McAllen and was buried at Laurel Hills Cemetery in Mission.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Cleburne Times-Review, April 2, 1967. Hart Stilwell and Slats Rodgers, Old Soggy No. 1: The Uninhibited Story of Slats Rodgers (New York: J. Messner, 1954).

Robert E. Norton

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Robert E. Norton, "RODGERS, FLOYD H. [SLATS]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/froxv), accessed November 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.