Hugh Glassburn loved rodeo, airplanes and family
Hugh Glassburn was a fearless and fiercely competitive pilot who was famous in the world of airplane racing in the 1960s for his winning streak.
“And perhaps for just staying alive,” recalled his daughter, Terry Glassburn, in remembrance of her father she wrote for the organizers of the Methow Valley Rodeo.
Terry also reminisced about much later in her father’s flying career, when he would deliver fuel to the fish cannery in Dry Bay, Alaska. Tree branches needed to be cut back along the small landing strip there, to provide enough clearance for the wings on Hugh’s DC-3.
During those runs, Terry’s father would ask her to stay off the plane.
“Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t,” she wrote. “And as always, he lived.”
Glassburn, who survived countless air races and deliveries as owner and pilot for Methow Aviation, died last November at the age of 84. To say he had lived a full life while also cheating death would be an understatement.
Finding the Methow
Glassburn, a Navy flight engineer in the 1950s who got his pilot’s license during his service, loved going fast. He raced hot rods as a young man and filled his mantel with trophies from the speedways in Kent and Monroe. But he appreciated people and nature just as much. He could, quite literally, slow down and appreciate the flowers.
That’s how Hugh Glassburn discovered the Methow Valley and started a new chapter of his life, surrounded by horses and rodeo people.
Hugh crested the Cascades in one of his racing planes in the spring of 1969 and was moved by what he saw: the green hillsides of the Methow Valley, covered with bright balsamroot flowers in full bloom.
“It was a defining moment,” Terry wrote. “I will always remember him talking of the hills covered in yellow flowers when he came home that day.”
“Who ever said real men don’t love flowers?” Terry wrote. “We were moving to the Methow.”
In his social life, Hugh quickly gravitated to the members of the Methow Valley Horsemen, who organize the valley’s two annual rodeos, and to rodeo helpers such as Larry Hunter. Hugh eventually became a longtime member of the Horsemen.
Larry, who worked for Okanogan County, met Hugh in the mid-1970s when he was working on his airplane in a county shop at Intercity Airport.
Larry and Hugh became fast friends. They would hunt elk or deer together, ride snowmobiles, or head to the lakes in the hills on horses.
Hugh’s old friends fondly recalled how he would always slip away to tend to his gentle, old horse toward the end of every camp meal.
“He thought more of his horse than he thought about doing dishes,” Larry joked.
Hugh also had a sense of humor.
Larry and Hugh lived across the Chewuch River from each other. One day, Larry watched a small green-and-white plane flying low, up and down the Chewuch Valley. On one pass, right over Larry, the plane dropped a parachute attached to an empty half-gallon whiskey bottle.
Attached to it was a note: “Fill up and return to sender.”
Hugh was known for his “gift of gab.” As Larry put it, “He could talk to anybody about anything.”
That made him a good fundraiser for the rodeo. Hugh also put up posters in town to advertise the event. For years, Hugh collected people’s ticket money at the rodeo entrance.
“He was that kind of guy. He’d just do anything for anybody,” said Dennis Gardner, president of Methow Valley Horsemen.
“He was a great friend,” Gardner added. “One time, my brother needed a back operation in Spokane and Hugh said, ‘Hell, I’ll just fly you there.’”
Hugh — friends called him “Hugo” to distinguish him from Hugh Moore, longtime owner of Sam’s Place in Winthrop — seemed to be there for everybody, most especially his family.
“There were three things in Hugo’s life,” Larry said. “He loved airplanes, he loved horses and he loved his family — and you’d see that every day.”
“Even with his big life,” Hugh’s daughter Terry wrote, “he never, not for one day, neglected his adoring family.”
Hugh’s granddaughter, former Rodeo Queen Amanda Hammer, led a riderless horse through the Winthrop ’49er Days parade on May 11 with boots placed backward in the stirrups, as a tribute to Hugh. The same ceremony will take place at the start of the rodeo this weekend.