Peabody Singing Tower

 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

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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 County.

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 license.

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 advertise
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 headline
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 yr.
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 cornfield owner."

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 after.

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 passenger.

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 for long.

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 faster.