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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1993
North Manchester Airport Provided Flying
Opportunities for Residents in 1930's and 40's
by Orpha Weimer
Yes, North Manchester did have an airport in the l930's
and 40's. It's true it was scarcely even "kissin'-kin"
to those of today, but that is what everyone called it.
It was managed by Albert J. Weimer and located on his
father's farm about where the Pizza Hut is located
today. For a short while it was the only one in Wabash
Al's plane was not the first in town. That honor belongs
to another young fellow, John Henry Wright, who had
purchased a plane the year before and housed it in his
grandfather's barn east of town. The two young men were
friends but each had a different motivation. John Henry
wished to sharpen his flying skills and log sufficient
hours to enable him to apply for a pilot's position on
one of the big cross-country airlines, while Al had in
mind only local flying and pilot training.
The Weimer family came to North Manchester in 1913,
bought land at the west end of Main Street and shortly
afterward started Custom Canning as a family business.
These were the depression years so the small plant
blossomed. Work was hard to find. In l925 it was the
only place in town where women and teenagers could
secure work along with some men. There were over eighty
names on the pay roll. To help the process, Mr. Weimer
bought three or four small farms nearby as they came up
for sale. These were used for growing tomatoes. Corn was
contracted with local farmers. In this manner he could
keep the canning work going steadily.
His last purchase was a 40-A field to the north. A small
herd of cattle was placed there and fed much of the
refuse from the factory. A young farm boy did the
milking and helped clean up of evenings. Mrs. Weimer
sold some milk and cream locally. But that work in
addition to office work at the factory became too much
for her. So the cattle were sold and a silo was built to
care for the factory debris. The field remained empty.
The Weimer family had three young sons. Mr. Weimer had
been a teacher and he was especially eager for his
children to have good educations. The oldest and
youngest of their sons attended the local College, then
went on to get advanced degrees in science, but the
middle one would have none of that. His mind was set on
motors, wheels and speed.
Al did not have much interest in the family business but
he did agree to supervise the very important trucking
part. A major task was a weekly or, when a double shift
was running, a daily trip to Elwood, Indiana to bring
huge cartons of empty cans from the factory there. While
his truck was being loaded, he frequently borrowed a car
to go to the Marion Airport near by for a flying lesson.
Soon he had earned his pilot's license and a trainer's
certificate as well.
He did so well, they offered him a job but he had to
refuse. He did not forget the offer; he really did love
to fly. In the fall of 1937 Al acquired his first plane.
It was a small single-engine J3 Piper Cub. All of the
Weimer men were a little bit
"dippy" over flying and it did not take much effort for
Al to convince his father to turn the empty north field
over to him.
My younger son laughs and recalls his first plane ride.
He was nearly five years old. He sat, wedged between his
grandfather's knees, just able to see out. He was
carefully cautioned not to tell about the ride as it
might worry his grandmother. This was likely a
barnstorming trip. Pilots travelled about the country
trying to earn a few dollars by taking paying customers
for rides. He would choose a likely town, look for a
near by grassy
field to rope off for a runway, put on a bit of a flying
show to attract a crowd and charge fifteen to twenty
dollars according to the length of the ride. Airplanes
were new and the pilot usually made a good profit.
Placid, even tempered, Mother Weimer did get a bit
caustic and ruffled at times. She and her helpers at the
factory could peel
and fill cans but when they needed steam or some one to
do the processing a small child had to run across the
field for the men.
They would be in the hanger of sorts they had built near
the woods to house their "toy".
One morning Harry came home shortly after breakfast. I
could tell by his face something was wrong. "Would I
come help?" Back we came to the new hanger. He and Al
had been up for an early morning flight. While trying to
wheel the plane under cover, a playful wind had whipped
it out of their hands and over against an old tree limb.
A big snag was torn in one wing.
We looked it over. The wing was made of thin, closely
woven cloth, stretched over a frame and then lacquered.
It had been patched several time. Harry seemed to have a
great deal of faith in my sewing ability. Luckily I did
have a good sized piece of raw Chinese silk of much the
same weight and color. With the men helping we stretched
it tightly in place and loop-stitched it much like the
other patches. Later Al applied two thin coats of
lacquer, then polished the entire wing. It worked! That
is one patch job I'll never forget.
In the early spring of 1938 Al acquired a new and larger
plane, a Piper Supercub, I believe it was called. Now
father and sons turned everything around. A section of
fence was removed to open the field in the southwest
corner to give plenty of inside parking. Next they built
a small square building for an office, waiting room and
storage space. Then along the west line fence they
erected a low shed building open to the east for hanger
space. Electric lights were installed and in front was
space for two gas pumps. After the children's pet dog
was killed crossing the highway a telephone was
installed. Finally a nearly indispensable pop vending
machine was added.
All was now ready for business and it came. Some came
for rides and some just to see a plane close up; some
were would-be pilots. It was immensely popular. Saturday
afternoons and Sundays were nearly like a circus and
many evenings were just as bad. Aviation was the new
thing and Al almost had more student applications than
he could handle.
For a bit of fun, he initiated his famous Shirt Tail
Club. When a student had made sufficient progress so
that he could handle a plane alone, the fellows ganged
up on him and cut a two-inch square from his shirt. This
was labeled and dated as a trophy to hang on the office
wall. Eventually there were fifty or more hanging there.
My older son made his solo flight on his sixteenth
birthday which was the legal age to secure a state
With all this momentum, Al had to secure help. Soon he
added four Student Instructors and an aviation mechanic
to his crew. He also added to his number of planes. At
one time he had seven available including J3 and J4
Piper Cubs, the large Piper Super cub, a Stearman
biplane and a Stinson open cockpit monoplane.
With the growing public demand they also had to increase
the hanger by extending it farther north. Several of the
men of the town wanted to own their own plane and wanted
to rent a place to keep it. The children enjoyed seeing
Garman's local theater add
pictures of the planes lined up on the movie screen to
The Weimer Flying Service.
Others have helped me with this story. Edward Keller,
Paul's brother, called me when he was visiting in town
to wish me luck and to report that he had enjoyed many
rides with Al in 1938-39. Eddie had been one of a group
of College students who helped in the factory and then
enjoyed a ride to cool off. Ned Brooks, a local man also
gave me a friendly lift. He and a friend made a list of
names of local persons who had taken flying lessons and
who soloed under Al's teaching. Included were Bill
Nordman, the three Gibsons, Bob, Bud and Harold; Bob and
Bill Kimmel, Dean Brumbaugh, Bob Reed - Dale Guthrie,
Dean Ginther, Homer Kissinger, Roy Linemuth, ----
Dickerhoff, Bruce Kramer, Byron Harting and Phil Werking.
Roy Taylor called to say he has in his Log Book that he
took lessons in 1944. Mr. Taylor has a small flying
field in Servia, and still does some flying from there
today. Ned checked the
NEWS JOURNALS of 1945. on June ll, 1945 the front page
read SOLO AT LOCAL FIELD "Students who have soloed
recently at Al Weimer's flying field school: Byron
Harting and Raymond Brooks last Thursday evening, and
Phil Werking yesterday."
NEWS JOURNAL, Sept. 13, 1945 Front page Headline.
"Aviation Commission appointed by Town Board:
Two Republicans: Raymond Brooks - 3 yrs. Todd Bender - 3
yrs. Democrats: Bruce Kramer - 3 yrs. L.P. Urschel - l
President ----- Bruce Kramer, Vice - Pres. --- L. P.
Urschel, Secy ---- Raymond Brooks."
NEWS JOURNAL, Aug 20, 1945. "Al Weimer had a forced
landing in a cornfield near Silver Lake after trying to
take off from a clover field. Paid $25 damage to
The story back of this entry concerned an elderly man at
Silver Lake who had wandered away from home and could
not be found by his family. They phoned to ask if Al
would fly about to help look for him. He was glad to do
it; but he had no luck. On one turn he was too low and
tangled with the clover. Thrown off balance, he skidded
across the roadway into the cornfield. The truck which
came in to pull out the plane added to the damage and Al
agreed that the irate farmer needed some recompense for
his cornfield. Meanwhile the old gentleman, now tired
and sleepy, wandered back home and all was well.
One of the men who had rented hanger space was a fellow
from Wabash called Whitey DeArmond. He was a jovial,
happy-go-lucky sort and a general favorite. He came in
every few days to, as he said, "gas" with the fellows.
Our small boys said he told them great tales and was
always in a "picklement." His plane was quite different,
a small white aluminum girocoupe, all metal, with two
seats, side by side and a bubble canopy. It was one of
the first all metal civilian planes. It did have limited
power and limited controls.
One morning there was a lot of excitment. Al had taken
Whitey up in his big Stinson, larger, with more power
and an open cockpit. Whitey squirmed about trying to see
all and hear all and managed to pull the ripcord on his
parachute by accident. At once it started billowing up
around him and partly over the side. The men below could
see it! It threw the plane a bit off balance, so it
staggered and Al hurriedly started down while Whitey
yelled and frantically punched down on the big white
marshmallow all around him. They landed and the men
rushed toward them. Al crawled out, a little
stiff-legged. "The darn fool, he could have killed us
both," was all he said, but everyone realized it might
have been pretty serious. After this they had a new
calendar note -- before Whitey popped his chute or
Al was very generous in the matter of rides with the
family. My mother had been visiting in Manchester and he
heard she was leaving for home the next day, just after
her birthday dinner.
He offered her a birthday plane rise and she was pleased
to accept. She was 71 years old and I think his oldest
Al wasn't always so lucky. Mother Weimer, for several
years, had a live-in housekeeper during the busy canning
season. Mrs. Mary Hevel seemed almost one of the family
and Al teased her unmercifully at times. He came in one
morning as she was baking cookies and insisted that he
was going to take her for a ride. She had always refused
before. She smacked his fingers for snitching a warm
cookie, looked him square in the eyes and said
emphatically, "No, not until they make rubber pants my
size!" He was flabbergasted and left. Later he told his
mother he had never realized she was afraid. Quite
honestly, he just couldn't comprehend that not all the
older generation trusted airplanes. The younger ones
took flying as a matter of course.
Fun and games didn't last long. War clouds of WW II
gathered closer. The new German submarines played havoc
with our shipping. The airplane was recognized and
accepted as a wartime necessity. But America had
procrastinated and was not quite ready. Pilots were in
short supply. The Weimer men folk were either too young
or too old for military service, although two brothers
were doing government work in the Manhattan Project. Al
and his father decided to sell out, field and all. A Mr.
Groff and his brother wanted to buy. They continued for
a time under the name of Weimer Airport, but business
fell off. Times were changing and small airports were
not needed. The airport closed and the field sold to the
Bolinger family who changed it to its present day
commercial use. Al answered the government call for
Civilian Instructor Pilots, the family moved to Ocala,
Florida for two and a half years near the Pensacola
Naval Air Station.
Perhaps you noticed there were no women mentioned. There
were a few women flyers in the East -- some were very
good. But in the 30's and 40's women lived in the shadow
of men. Rosie the Riveter was not yet popular but not
Recently when John Cave had worked on my car and I was
taking him back to the J & S Body Shop, I mentioned my
interest in planes and the old Weimer Airport. He was
surprised, but when he mentioned it at the family supper
table his wife recalled the airport. As a group of small
children going home from school they loitered near the
airport watching the planes flying overhead. Both boys
and girls were soon indoctrinated.
To my knowledge, Raymond Brooks was the only one of our
local group to lose his life in an airplane accident. He
was flying in California when an unexpected fog rolled
in and he crashed into a mountainside in 1950
Did North Manchester have an Airport? Yes, we did, an
early one and a good one, too. So keep your small garage
for the family auto, but do try a plane ride. It will
give you a different perspective and make your blood run