Remembering Bryant Harrill

Published 12:42 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2023

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The late Bryant Harrill was my first cousin. I met him when we lived in Wateree, South Carolina. I was about four or five and Bryant was about twelve.

Bryant built me a “soap box racer” using the wheels and axles from my pedal car. The racer was a wooden box nailed to a 2×6 which was nailed to a 2×4 to receive the rear axle. Another 2×4 was pivoted to the other end of the 2×6 by a bolt.

The rider sat in the box and steered with his feet on the pivoted front axle. This experience caused a problem for me when I was learning to fly airplanes. I did great coordinating stick and rudder pedals in the air, but as soon as I landed my habits learned on the soap box racer came to the fore. In the racer, I’d learned to push with right foot to turn left; airplane rudder pedals work just the opposite: push with the right foot to swing the nose of the airplane to the right, and vice versa. The consequence was that it took me all summer to fly solo before school started in fall.    

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Bryant marked me for life: I was watching him place pipes between buildings to climb up. Of course one of the pipes slipped out and conked me on the head, leaving a permanent depression in my skull. Later, Bryant picked up a frog between two sticks and came at me. If he had had the frog in his hand, I would have taken it when offered; instead, I turned and ran. I tripped over a stob and landed on another one, which made a hole in my cheek through which I could feel my teeth. I wear that scar still.

Bryant was a semester short of graduation from Clemson when WWII started. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to airplane mechanics school. Upon graduation, Bryant found that he would be assigned to a flight crew and decided that if he were going to be on an airplane, he wanted to be flying it.

Upon graduation from aviation cadets he was assigned to flying B-17s to train gunners. When the B-29 entered service, Bryant was re-assigned to a B-29 as Aircraft Commander. He flew off Tinian Island to bomb Japan.

Bryant was recalled during the Korean War to fly B-36s out of Carswell AFB near Fort Worth. By then I was also in the Air Force, stationed in nearby Waco, and visited Bryant often. He took me out to his airplane and showed me through it. 

He wanted to fly the then-new Boeing B-47 six-jet bomber, which soon earned a reputation as a widow-maker. His wife Ruth told him that if he did, she’d just go home and wait, so Bryant also went home. He built “Bryant’s Machine Shop” in which he and his Dad (my Uncle Charlie) began to build stuff for folks around Bennettsville, South Carolina.

He built a large self-propelled sprayer and undersold the commercial one by a large margin. His son David reminds me that he also built and sold large cotton wagons to be towed behind a tractor. I thought maybe I’d like to work for Bryant, but trouble is, I could not offer him any skills that he did not already have in abundance!

Bryant was one of my favorite people, as is obvious. We were both engineers and pilots; we both served in the USAF. Bryant built a shop equipped to produce his creations in quantity as he became self-employed. I was flattered that Bryant took an interest in me; he seemed to enjoy hearing about the stuff I designed for the companies I worked for.

There is a lot more to tell, but this much will have to do for now. 

Garland would like to hear from you at 828-859-7041 or