Recently I was introduced to the writings of a gentleman from Oklahoma which I find very entertaining and interesting……Red Stevenson. Red was born in southern Oklahoma where he spent his first few years in an orphanage during the great depression. Eventually he was adopted and moved to Bixby, Oklahoma. He was sixteen when he ran away and joined the U.S. Army Air Corp and for the rest of his life he would credit the military for setting him on the right path. After ten years of service, including World War II, Stevenson went on to a number of careers. He became a truck driver and then operated a national wrecker service and a chain of tire stores. He also became one of the country’s top sellers of small aircraft. He owned and piloted thousands of planes over the years, including over 400 aircraft that were flown in war.
Stevenson’s longtime residence and office in downtown Bixby was known as “Red’s Roost.” He had an especially entertaining way of telling stories that would leave you wondering if they were true—which they were. Red was also a writer and self-published an autobiography titled Up, Up and Away: My Life and How I flew it. Harold Dean “Red” Stevenson was 87 when he died October 23, 2016.
Now, here is his story…..enjoy.
Red Stevenson – Oklahoma Icon
Having piloted about every kind of aircraft imaginable at one time or another, Red Stevenson enjoyed a little change of pace. And “Breezy” offered him just that.
“You don’t need instruments and you can’t get lost. You just fly along the interstates and look for the exit signs,” Stevenson told the Tulsa World once, describing what it was like to be at the controls of his 1912 Curtiss-Wright Pusher airplane.
A throwback to aviation’s earliest days, Breezy, as he’d christened the open-air flying machine, cruised along at about the height of a housetop.
“You can talk to people (on the ground) as you fly,” Stevenson added.
For Stevenson, that was a big part of the fun with Breezy. After all, there was nothing the high-flying raconteur liked better than a chance to shoot the breeze.
A former pilot and aircraft dealer whose adventurous life and the stories it spawned elevated him to almost-mythical status in his hometown of Bixby, Harold D. “Red” Stevenson died Sunday. He was 87.
A celebration of life is set for 2-4 p.m. Saturday at Red’s Roost, 205 N. Armstrong St. in Bixby. Leonard & Marker Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Stevenson’s son, Cash Stevenson, knows how hard it could be to believe his father’s stories.
“Some were so outlandish,” he said. “But they all were true.
“It’s just that Dad’s life was bigger than life. He lived more in his life than 99 percent of people do.”
That life started out without much promise. Born in southern Oklahoma, Stevenson spent his first few years in an orphan’s home after his family was split up during the Great Depression.
Eventually, he was adopted and moved to Bixby.
But it wasn’t until age 16, when he ran away and joined the Army Air Corps, that his fortunes would take a dramatic turn. For the rest of his life, he would credit the military with having set him on the right path.
After 10 years of service, including World War II in the Pacific, Stevenson went on to a number of careers. From cross-country truck driver, he would later operate a wrecker service and a chain of tire stores. Eventually, he founded Red S Aircraft, and would become one of the country’s top sellers of small aircraft.
However, for Stevenson, it was as a dealer in the odd and unusual that Tulsa-area people would best remember him. A far-roving traveler and frequenter of auctions, he came home with one curiosity after another over the years, and at different times owned everything from Elvis Presley’s Cadillac to a hot air balloon. Most memorable among his transactions, he once brought back to Bixby 31 red cabooses he’d bought from the defunct Rock Island Railroad.
With such items and his flair for showmanship, Stevenson’s own auctions and sales became major public events, earning area news coverage.
What Stevenson didn’t sell usually found a home at “Red’s Roost,” as his longtime residence and office in downtown Bixby was known. Something of a local landmark, it’s equal parts museum and menagerie, with perhaps its strangest conversation piece being the custom-made pine coffin that doubled as Stevenson’s work desk.
“You should see people’s faces when I come up out of that thing and say, ‘Please come in,’ ” Stevenson joked once with the Tulsa World.
An avid storyteller and writer, Stevenson had no shortage of material from his own life, which he summed up once in a self-published autobiography, “Up Up and Away, or My Life and How I Flew It.”
Among the stories he enjoyed relating was one about his 1950 trip to the North Pole. Just 21 at the time, he earned a nod and a plaque from National Geographic for being the youngest person to set foot at the Pole.
Fond of expressing himself in words, Stevenson sought out other forums as well. Possibly topping them all was his “Red Says” billboard series, which popped up along local roadsides in the 1980s bearing samples of his wit and wisdom.
Throughout Stevenson’s life, flying remained a passion. He owned and flew thousands of planes over the years, including some 400 war aircraft.
Stevenson’s son still remembers what became a Saturday morning ritual — his dad trying out his latest purchase.
“I can still see him,” Cash Stevenson said, “taxiing out on the runway in some exotic aircraft from around the world.”
He continued to fly up until recently, as long as his health allowed.
More than even flying, though, Stevenson loved the people in his life, his son said.
Chief among them was his wife. Before she died last year, Betty Margaret Stevenson had been the devoted and able companion in her husband’s adventures for 64 years. Stevenson talked about dealing with losing her in a World story earlier this year.
Stevenson also loved his community and was one of its biggest boosters. A recent sign on his office door proclaimed him to be the “luckiest man” for being from Bixby.
But then, Stevenson had always seemed to have a little luck going for him.
Of the diverse experiences that came his way, he told the World once, “Most people live their lives one time. I’ve relived my own life hundreds of times.”
Stevenson’s survivors include a daughter, Debbie Stevenson; two sons, Cash Stevenson and Stacy Stevenson; and five grandchildren.
Have a good weekend, spend some time living life with family and friends, and stop by next week when we will go back in time and visit a true aviation pioneer.
September 27, 2019