News From Terre Haute, Indiana


September 15, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Dresser Field hosts 1925 and 1930 Ford National Tours

TERRE HAUTE — Previous columns have discussed Terre Haute’s participation in the first national Powder Puff Derby in 1929 and the first transcontinental flight of an airplane-towed glider in April of 1930.

Dresser Field, located at the present site of Terre Haute South Vigo High School and later known as Paul Cox Field, was the local hub for those events.

Even before Terre Haute was chosen to serve as a stop on those two historic flights, Dresser Field was chosen as a vital link on the inaugural Commercial National Airplane Reliability Air Tour of 1925.

The airport also was chosen to participate in the 1930 air tour.

Organized by the Detroit Board of Commerce and the Detroit Aviation Society, the first Air Tour was intended to demonstrate the reliability of commercial air transportation.

Henry and Edsel Ford donated $50,000 and the use of the Ford Airport in Dearborn, the site of the tour launching. Edsel Ford then donated a sterling silver trophy to be retired by the first manufacturer to win the tour three times.

Edsel B. Ford silver medallions were awarded to all tour participants who finished the 1925 competition with a perfect score. Due to Ford’s involvement, the name of the event was changed to the Ford National Reliability Air Tour.

The air tour idea was credited to Harvey Campbell of the Detroit Board of Commerce, who referred to the odyssey as “The Glidden Tour of the Air” based upon the early auto tours sponsored by the American Automobile Association and Charles Glidden.

Terre Haute was one of 12 Midwest cities chosen to participate in the maiden event. Fort Wayne, Chicago, Moline, Des Moines, Omaha, St. Joseph, Mo., Kansas City, Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Cleveland were the others.

It was anticipated that the 1925 tour contestants would land at Dresser Field. However, at a meeting in Detroit on Sept. 23 attended by Will Hunter and Fred Asbury of Terre Haute, it was concluded that a few participating aircraft might be too large to effect a safe landing at the south end of the airport.

Asbury and Hunter secured an agreement that contestants would fly across the airport at an altitude of 200 feet or less.

Promptly at 8 a.m., Monday, Sept. 28, Lt. Harry Johnson, accompanied by tour referee Ray Collins, departed Dearborn for Baer Field in Fort Wayne in his Bombardier Q400. An hour later, Edsel Ford and “Shorty” Schroeder followed.

Concern that Baer Field might be flooded after two days of rain were eased. The airfield was in good condition. The second stop was Maywood Field, west of DesPlaines Road in Chicago.

Campbell Field at Moline, the first stop of the second day, was in excellent shape but Fisher Airport in Des Moines was not. The runway was 1,400 feet long and bigger airplanes refused to land, much to the embarrassment of the local committee.

At Fort Crook Field in Omaha, Casey Jones landed his Curtiss Carrier Pigeon on top of a motorcycle parked on a runway by a local promoter. Mechanics worked all night to repair the damage.

A thunderstorm between St. Joseph and Kansas City caused havoc on the third day, forcing several pilots to seek shelter in a pasture. Ed Knapp wrecked his Waco trying to take off and was forced to drop out of the competition.

The rest of the tour was rather uneventful. The Terre Haute Airport Club, predecessor of the Aero Club of Terre Haute, marked the field with four-foot high letters and a “Welcome” sign. Entertainment by stunt pilots was provided from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Speeches by Mayor Ora Davis and Superintendent of Terre Haute Schools James O. Engelman predicted great things for aviation in the city.

Invitations were extended to all servicemen from Vigo and surrounding counties, particularly those who served in the air corps including Paul S. Cox, Clay Phillips, Ray Jones, Paul Mullikin, Charles Akin, Frank Fulk, Gordon Hooton, Ruel Burns, Robert L. Tilley, Eugene A. “Gus” Riggs, Erwin Dimmick, George Pfizenmayer, Strother Graffs, Herman Schlaman, Robert Burget, Roy Newman, Jack Hannah and Najdo Brough.

Approximately 2,000 people were at Dresser Field at 1 p.m., Oct. 2, when No. 6 passed over the airfield at a substantial altitude. Others flew less than 100 feet from the ground. Walter J. Addems (sic), piloting a Yackey aircraft, stopped for gasoline. The pilots then headed to Schoen Field at Fort Benjamin Harrison, east of Indianapolis.

Heavy rains in Columbus, Cleveland and Dearborn plagued the combatants but flamboyant Anthony “Tony” Fokker, “The Flying Dutchman,” was the first of 15 to finish the 1,775-mile course at Dearborn in his Fokker Triplane on Oct. 3. Some sources declare that Walter Beech was declared the official winner.

Terre Haute was not a part of the Ford tours of 1926, 1927, 1928 or 1929 but an improved and expanded Dresser Field was chosen for the 4,815-mile tour in 1930, which traversed the western U.S. and Canada. The sixth Ford tour made 30 stops in 13 states and two Canadian provinces. Terre Haute was the only Indiana city selected.

The 1930 tour departed Ford Airport in Dearborn on Sept. 11, making first day stops at the Kalamazoo Municipal Airport and Curtiss-Reynolds Field at Glenview, Ill.

The board of aviation commissioners of Terre Haute engaged Carl Stahl to film highlights of the tour during its stop on Sept. 25. Hundreds were present at Dresser Field to watch and inspect the entrants’ vehicles. Moreover, radio station WBOW provided live coverage from “The New Cincinnati,” an especially equipped aircraft owned by Powell Crosley, Jr., and piloted by William S. Brock, which accompanied the tour.

Eighteen airplanes reached Terre Haute. Pilots, mechanics and tour officials were taken by auto to the Hotel Deming for a banquet, hosted by the board of aviation commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce and the Aero Club.

Harry L. Russell, pilot of a tri-motor Ford monoplane, dominated the race which featured Nancy Hopkins, the only female pilot to appear in the Ford tours. Frank Hawks, who steered the glider during the 1930 transcontinental flight, was tour referee.

John H. Livingston, the 1929 winner, and Arthur J. Davis, both flying Waco aircraft were in hot pursuit but finished behind Russell.

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    March 12, 2010