Sunday, November 28, 2010

1959 Bill Long Article

A few weeks ago while blogging about growing up on Lorain's westside, I mentioned the Lorain City Airport and received a few comments and emails about it. It seems to be a topic that many people besides me find interesting.

I noted that on some maps back then, the airport was still referred to as Long's Airport. Well, the photo above is of Bill Long, who operated the airport. The photo accompanied an interesting article that I found in the 125th Anniversary of Lorain edition of the Lorain Journal at the Lorain Public Library.

Here is the article, as it appeared in the July 18, 1959 Journal. It was written by Edward Brown.


Began 50 Years Ago
Old Flier Finds Beard Gets More Attention
by Edward Brown

Bill Long, 74, doesn't much care for the attention he gets as "one of the older fliers in the country still active," and now he is getting more than ever since he's grown a Gabby Hayes beard for Lorain's anniversary celebration.

"Why they've asked me to be judge at the antiques show on Harry Griffin's place in Sandusky," Long complained. "But I don't want to. I want to get out and mix with the boys."

Just about every Sunday in summer Long downs a little oatmeal and garlic, drives over to the Lorain City Airport in his "Continental Bentley" and tunes up one of his four planes for a jog to Fostoria, Bryan or Cedar Point.

"Some of the boys don't like to fly with me," he said. "So I usually go alone, but there's quite a crowd that comes for breakfast." The "drive-in, walk-in, fly-in" breakfasts are held Sunday at private airports around the state.

Once in a while in the afternoon there's a plane show or a flying meet at another town, maybe 100 miles away – "wherever the boys can get someone with a field big enough to land –" and Long has to take off again to get there in time for lunch.

Most of the time that Long hasn't been in the air – and he has logged over 4,500 hours in the last 50 years – he has been collecting old photographs, violins, cars, land and a lot of good memories.

"I got stuff my dad and grandfather had," he said. "You don't know what kind of a junk house I got."

The house is at 172 N. Broadway where Long lives with his sister, Mrs. Jenny Jack. Dad Long brought his family from Edgerton to Lorain in 1897 when the community's population was only 3,500.

One of the prize "junk" pieces, a racing car driven by Barney Oldfield, stands in the hangar at the Lorain City Airport. Long says he bought it from a patent medicine man who drove it to Lorain in 1902 "to attract a little attention" for his sales pitch.

Another old relic is the propeller to the Curtis Flying Boat Long piloted at Cedar Point during the twenties. In those days the "Admiral of Cedar Point" had a booming business taking vacationers on short flights. (Blogger's note: click here for a link to an article about the recent sale of this plane)

"I probably had more takeoffs and landings than any other pilot in the country," he said. "With a mechanic and a ticket taker we hustled'em through, sometimes 12 flights an hour, 12 hours a day during the season."

But in 1932 he quit his rugged summer schedule. It was towards the end of the season, and the pilot and his mechanic were out for a lark swooping across the end of Cedar Point toward Sandusky Bay.

"The wind was blowing hard," he said, "But I hadn't a drop to drink all day. Over the woods a down-draft caught us and dragged the ship into the bay."

Long, who said he couldn't swim a stroke, managed to hold onto the wing until someone fished him out. As he lay on his back 3 1/2 months with a busted pelvis and ankle, he learned he had crashed in four feet of water.

It was his first and only accident in nearly 50 years of flying. The bug initially came in the 1890's, when Long began reading his "crazy" uncle's five-cent novels about Frank Reed Jr. and his flying machine.

In 1906 his friend, Frank Miller, went down to Dayton to learn to fly and got killed. "That kind of took the wind out of me," he explained.

Then Glenn Curtiss made history flying 65 miles from Euclid Beach to Sandusky in 1910, and the young Lorain garage mechanic was ready to give it another try.

"We didn't have any flying lessons in those days," he said. "We'd just get in a plane, start taxiing across the field, let her take off a little bit and then shut the motor off."

Like the old racing car, the wooden propeller, the Stradivarius violin and the property down in Florida, there are too many memories associated with the airport for Long to think of getting rid of it.

"I've been operating an airport in Lorain as long as anybody's been flying around here," he said. "I like it and don't intend to sell it until I have to."


Bob Kovach, one of the regular readers of this blog, used to live right across from the Lorain City Airport while he was growing up, and he spent a lot of time over there. He was nice enough to send me this great photograph of Bill Long's Ercoupe. The photo is from 1972.

Seeing the hangar in the background brings back a lot of memories. Thanks, Bob!


Old Clipper said...

UPDATE......Long's , Curtis Flying Boat sold for $506.000 in 2010. Bill N

Anonymous said...

I remember him driving around town in his old deSoto, I think it was. The planes used to come in for a landing flying over our house on 37th street. Before they built Clarkins, I think Mr. Long offered the city the land for a park if they named it after him. They turned him down.