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Beatles spent weekend at family’s Missouri ranch

Band made little known side trip 55 years ago

By Bud Kennedy, The Kansas City Star
Published: October 24, 2019, 6:03am

FORT WORTH, Texas — Hardly anyone asks Reed Pigman anymore about the time the Beatles came over to his house.

But then again, hardly anyone in 1964 knew when they visited a Fort Worth family’s Missouri ranch.

In a thick file in his office at Fort Worth Meacham Airport, Pigman keeps snapshots of a top-secret charter airline side trip that remains mostly unknown to Beatles fans.

Pigman was 14. It was 55 years ago, after the Beatles’ first raucous concert at the Dallas Convention Center.

Exhausted after a 25-stop U.S. tour met by hysterical fans and screaming crowds in every city, the suddenly famous rock band took a day’s stopover at their Fort Worth-based charter pilot’s Ozark Mountains ranch.

Only a handful of boys in Walnut Ridge, Ark., were on hand to see George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr get off an American Flyers Airline Lockheed Electra and transfer for the trip to the ranch near Alton, Mo.

But word got out, and fans from as far away as St. Louis gathered both at the ranch gate and at the airport for their departure.

“It’s not listed in the tour stops — to this day 99 percent of Beatles fans don’t know this happened,” Pigman, now 69, said last month on the 55th anniversary of the visit.

But his Wayside Junior High classmates knew his family had the Beatles over.

“They came to our house and hung out with us,” he said.

Country music fans

Fort Worth-based American Flyers had flown other bands and movie crews, and in one storied trip flew nudists to a festival.

When pilot Reed Pigman Sr. offered a getaway at the ranch, the family wound up hosting an entourage of 11 weary band members, manager Brian Epstein and crew.

If you saw the recent Ken Burns documentary, “Country Music” on PBS, you saw how the Beatles all liked country music and picked up songs like “Act Naturally.”

Pigman’s late mother, Virginia, has told how they landed in Missouri and stayed up all night listening to local country stations, where Buck Owens was the No. 1 star.

“It seemed to fascinate them,” she said in a past interview.

The next day, young Reed Pigman rousted them from their guest-room twin beds to suit up for their first horseback rides.

“They dressed up in their very best cowboy outfits,” Pigman said. (Ringo had a tooled Western belt with his name on the back, a gift from Elvis Presley.)

“It was the first time they’d even been on a horse or gotten anywhere near horses.”

Free to roam for the first time in four weeks, they also went swimming and drove go-karts.

“They went nuts with all the freedom they had,” Pigman said.

At every city, fans had mobbed the band’s hotel. In New Orleans, they had to change airports because of the overcrowding. At one point, fans grabbed the trash coming off the plane.

Pigman remembers spending the most time with Harrison, then 21 and the youngest of the four.

Starr skipped the dinner buffet and sat with Pigman watching the TV show “Flipper.”

It was Epstein’s birthday, so the Pigmans sang with the Beatles on “Happy Birthday.”

At one point, they heard footsteps on the roof. Two girls had gotten through the fence and were atop the house. Lennon went out and talked with them a few minutes, Pigman said.

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In 1997, when Starr played Billy Bob’s with Peter Frampton, Pigman went backstage and showed the former Beatle a ranch photo from 30 years earlier.

He shouted, “I remember that! I remember that!”

Long after the Pigmans sold the ranch, the visit is now thoroughly chronicled in Arkansas and Missouri history and the property has been proposed as a historic site.

Pigman’s father died along with 82 others in a 1966 Oklahoma crash of the same Electra. The charter airline remained in Fort Worth under Virginia Pigman’s leadership.

The biggest fan on the trip may have been the late airline publicist Ruby Hickman, a 40-year-old Fort Worth advertising executive who became the band’s personal assistant for the tour. Newspapers called her”Mama Beatle” and “Den Mother to the Beatles.”

American Flyers Airline was eventually sold. Pigman continued an affiliated pilots’ school and then bought a business aviation service operation at Meacham, growing it and renaming it Texas Jet.

Once, before a McCartney concert at Texas Stadium, Pigman showed his Beatles snapshots to a Dallas newspaper. He remembers the headline: “‘Yesterday’ and Today.”