Facing the possibility of death can inspire people to do remarkable things.
In the case of Marty Raulins, the possibility he could lose a battle to cancer gave him motivation to tell a story of how he became entangled in one of the strangest occurrences in over a century and a half of Polk County history.
He, along with several others, were the ones responsible for landing the infamous Polk County pot plane on a crude landing strip in the middle of nowhere, and in the process were caught by law enforcement and later turned loose because of a technicality.
This month is the 44th anniversary of the plane touching down in Polk County, and Raulins felt it was now time to share details of what happened and how he and the crew he put together to make it happen were able to get out of trouble decades ago.
A smuggler’s dilemma
Drug trafficking is like any other business in one respect: it all comes down to money and time. How much profit can a person make off of a pound of marijuana and how much time will it take to get to customers is as much a problem as Coca-Cola has in keeping the margins low on carbonated sugar water in a can.
In Raulin’s case, it started out as a way for him to be able to enjoy marijuana and make money at the same time. So at first he made a move to Florida — Boca Raton — to see how he might be able to do better than he was.
“I’ve always been a huge activist when it comes to the legalization of marijuana,” he said. He was part of NORML, knew people who were part of the legal community around drug cases, and much more.
“I had a cousin that was always in trouble in South Georgia,” Raulins said. “This wasn’t the reason I smuggled pot for money don’t get me wrong. But my cousin from Hazelhurst, Georgia, he got in trouble down there. He saved his money and bought him a (Cor)vette, and came back. He smoked pot over there, and he got busted down there.”
Though his older cousin wasn’t exactly a model citizen, Raulins said the situation bothered him at the time and motivated him in part to try his hand.
“They kept throwing him in jail for these small amounts of pot,” Raulins said. “He went to jail four or five times. But five years later, he was in court in Hazelhurst. I had a pilot and another guy who got busted down there too. They were first offenders and were busted with an airplane with 1,000 pounds of pot. They got probation. My cousin got five years for a DUI because of his previous little bitty amounts of marijuana.”
Meanwhile, he and his friends were doing well in the business for themselves.
At the time, Raulins said he was able to turn over a pound of pot he bought in Atlanta for $300, and turn around and sell it in Manhattan for $1,000. Multiply that by hundreds of pounds and real profits can be made.
“I was making three or four times off of it than what I bought it for,” Raulins said. “But it was periodic.”
Those real profits could only come by way of finding a supplier who was able to provide hundreds of pounds at a time at a low cost.
When he got into smuggling at 24, the first thing he tried was to transport a load on a friend’s sail boat, hoping to avoid the attention of authorities in the Caribbean.
“He wasn’t already a dealer like me, he was a boat person,” Raulins said. “We knew a guy that was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list who just sailed around the world all the time. He never got off his boat ... They never couldn't catch him because all he did was sail a load to the Bahamas, and drop it off and help the people get it and go. That’s all he ever did.”
That was the sail boat they used for their first load. It was a boring 45-day affair that once over, Raulins said he believed there must have been a better way. The problem at the time was a change in policy in the early days of the self-styled war on drugs, where Coast Guard cutters were placed on station in the Caribbean between Mexico and South America to catch smugglers like his crew.
One positive that came out of his early days of smuggling was connections he made in Colombia to work on his own.
“Part of our pay was that we would get to meet the contacts,” he said. “We didn’t like being on that boat going six knots for 45 days.”
That’s when he concocted the idea of using a plane to bring in a big load all at once. To make it work, he would need some help.
His would be the seventh that came into the country in 1975.
A better way
Economies of scale are what make any business profitable and the illegal drug trade is no different. The more product that can be pushed out for little expense compared to the large profits that are derived from its sale — either in bulk or in small quantities to consumer — is part of what motivates people to get involved in the sale of drugs like marijuana.
The sail boat took too long to get from one place to another, and was limited in the amount of weight it could carry due to the size of the interior.
Raulins figured out that bringing in a big load on a plane would be a good way to bring in a large load of marijuana at one time and with the right combination of people, place and opportunity he could make a lot of money.
He brought in a friend from Michigan, and the two began to hatch the scheme. They would need a pilot that would be willing to take on the challenge of short landings, and they would need connections with people in Colombia to find growers that would fill the plane with marijuana.
“My friend Mike said ‘that I know a pilot, let’s go talk to him’,” he said. “And Bob Eby, he’s the kind of guy that if you had two rocks and a pencil, he’d make (it) fly.”
Bob Eby made the first move by finding the group a plane they could fly. He traveled out west to a plane graveyard in Tuscon, Arizona where he found an old DC-4 he bought at auction that required some work to make it airworthy again.
Several days of work later, Eby had the plane designated as tail number N67038 up and running. He performed test flights to ensure that it would make it between Arizona, Colombia and back to Georgia.
Raulins, Eby and others loaded up the plane with gifts and a dune buggy that Eby used to get around in Tuscon while he worked on the plane, and took off for Colombia.
Return next week to read the conclusion of the story of how the DC-4 landed, what happened to Raulins and his crew, and how the plane left Treat Mountain.