LOG-ISTICS: From secret CIA missions to a giant roller skate: Meet the father of The Destin Log

William Hatfield
Richard Andrews was an inventor at heart. Over the years, he built a functioning hovercraft, a land sailor and a 9-foot, engine-powered roller skate.

It wasn’t until retirement that Destin Log founder Richard Andrews came to realize that his life has been guided by God and advertising.

“Every big moment in my life was associated with an ad,” the 83-year-old told The Log from his home in Fort Collins, Colo. “One thing I can say is the good Lord has been good to me and has allowed me to do everything I wanted to do and see everything I wanted to see… except Kathmandu…”

His story and the origins of Destin’s weekly newspaper begin in the 1930s. After a somewhat rocky childhood in California, Andrews began taking odd jobs while living at the McKinley Home for homeless boys in Van Nuys, Calif., next to North Hollywood from the 7th to 11th grades. He scraped together enough money to buy an old 1934 Ford and began working at a chicken ranch part-time while also attending school.

“The first thing I learned was self-reliance. If I was going to have anything I would have to work for it.”

He had “had enough” of chickens when he turned 17.

“I heard an ad on the radio and joined the Navy. I figured I’d be scrubbing decks a year or two while seeing the world. Instead they asked how I would like to work in the captain’s office.”

Military and shadow service

Touring the Orient with stops in China, Hong Kong and Japan, aboard the USS St. Paul and USS Sausalito, Andrews wrapped up his four-year enlistment after a harrowing tour of duty off the North Korean coast during the Korean War.

“Our duty was to patrol 24 hours a day outside the entrance to the channel and escort or pass charts over to the supply ships to guide them through the mine fields,” he said. “As soon as we found a mine, our gunners would fire at it with machine guns until it either sank or blew up. When one would blow up it would pepper our ship with shrapnel and we would gather up the pieces for souvenirs.”

After arriving back in the U.S., he then spotted a newspaper ad for flight training.

“Now I can learn to fly an airplane,” he said of the $200 he paid for 40 hours of flying lessons. “Now if I got paid for this, it would be great.”

After acquiring his private pilot’s license, he enlisted in aeronautics school with the GI Bill and obtained his commercial license.

He met his wife Marie in the 50s and started a family.

“Then I was recruited by the CIA through an ad in the paper,” he said, though he didn’t know it at the time.

It was March 1965, and the ad in the LA Times read “Learn to be a Navigator” followed by a name and phone number.

After securing his navigator’s license, he segued over for a special project based in Thailand.

“When we arrived we were told we were now employed by Air America … later to be known as the CIA’s secret air line,” Andrews said.

He was provided with civilian clothes and a phony ID card during missions aboard unmarked aircraft.

“What we were doing was flying war goods to a place in Central Laos,” he said. “One of the things they told me was, ‘Don’t ask questions.’ ”

During the time he was flying with Air America, approximately 117 flight crew members were killed or missing in action flying the same type of missions he was flying.

“The closest we came to total disaster was when we were landing a C-130 in Northern Laos and tore off our right wing tip when it collided with a helicopter parked at the edge of the runway. Fuel in the wing was pouring out all over the runway,” he recalled. “After we parked and shut down the engines, some of the locals were riding their motor bikes through the spilled fuel before we could stop them. One spark could have wiped us out with our load of 500-pound bombs.”

Destination Destin

After supporting the war behind the scenes for about six years, he retired from the service and returned to the States to be with his family.

“I met a former Air Force pilot who wanted to start a sailboat dealership in Destin,” Andrews said. “He showed me some color brochures of Destin. Wow! Paradise found! I had to see if this place is real.”

He dropped by Realtor John Cox’s office and in three days had closed on a deal for property on Sandpiper Circle.

“Before I got to Destin I found that former pilots loved sailboats,” he said. “What better way to relieve stresses than to be out in the open in this wonderful world God created for us?”

He opened a sailboat dealership called Classic Venture Sailboats on Highway 98 overlooking Destin harbor. The business became so popular that he couldn’t keep in stock the sailboats from Newport Beach, Calif.-based McGregor Yachts.

“After two years with only three days off, Doodle Harris came along and I accepted an offer I could not refuse to sell the business.”

The Log is born

In the fall of 1973, Destin was faced with a dilemma — whether to incorporate or not.

“I heard the two sides were meeting at the Community Center and trying to resolve their differences by choosing up sides and throwing chairs at each other,” Andrews said. “I decided to remain neutral and started the Destin Log to let the citizens express their opinions in print.”

In his years in the Navy and aboard aircraft, it was often Andrews’ job to maintain the log books.

“So, I said I’m gonna call it ‘The Destin Log.’ ”

He canvassed the community, starting at the Destin bridge, and got 50 businesses to take out business-card sized ads for 12 weeks at a price of $5 a week.

He bought equipment, set up a print shop in the two-car garage of his home in Destin and set the first Saturday in January as the first edition of a newspaper that looked more like a newsletter. The early Log, which was produced by Andrews, his wife at the time Marie and daughter Tina, would be mailed to all the residents of Destin.

“On my way home after delivering the first issue to the post office, it occurred to me it took one month to produce the first issue, and now we have one week to produce the second … but now we know how to do it.”

Over time, Andrews was voted into the Chamber of Commerce and became a deacon at First Baptist church. The Log, meanwhile, quickly became the community newspaper of record with Ida Calhoun volunteering to be its first editor. About a year after The Log was born, Andrews again decided to move on to a new challenge.

“We moved The Log with its printing business next to the Destin Post Office and sold my ownership to Jack and Carol Becklund from Minnesota. Mission accomplished.”

Entrepreneur and Inventor

After relinquishing The Log, Andrews was looking for something to do and again found his answer in the Playground Daily News. An entrepreneur was looking for investors in a new kind of business — a skating rink.

“All I could think of was the dirty old barn I skated in when I was in the sixth grade,” he said. “I was not interested.”

But when the businessman showed him photos of what it could look like, he quickly changed his mind.

The Fort Walton Skating Center was born after a year of hard work and more than 300 kids were pouring in the doors on opening night. The rink still thrives on Racetrack Road and is now in its third generation of family ownership.

“It was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had,” he said. “To me it was a babysitting job. In the daytime you got all these little kids with little problems; in the nighttime you got bigger kids with bigger problems. I wanted to do something else.”

He went on to become a ditch digger and foreman with a sprinkler company. But his need for diversity led him to also invent 7-foot, drivable electric roller skates. He even stripped down one of the skates and made a functioning robot with the big toe stop as the head. A recorder was kept inside the robot and it was used at Choctawhatchee High School for one of its pep rallies. He then devised a land sailor, a boat with three wheels, and a type of hovercraft.

Tiring of Destin, he eventually found his way back to California, where he saw an ad in the newspaper for movie extras. He signed up with a talent agency and landed extra, non-speaking roles in more than 50 movies and TV shows, including Scrooged and Lethal Weapon.

Seeking more regular employment, he became head of security at a Bank of America branch, where he met his present wife, Linda. The couple bought a motor home and they toured the nation before settling down in an RV Park in California. They later moved to Colorado.

It’s been almost 20 years since he has set foot in Destin, but Andrews has left a living legacy in Destin with The Log, which continues to serve readers in its 40th year.

“I don’t want to take credit for anything worthwhile I did. It’s all because the Lord gave me the will and the skill.”