Wisconsin Aviation from the 1940s

I’ve been on hiatus for about a week with preparing for and traveling to Wisconsin for AirVenture at Oshkosh. I’m having a great time so far and will be giving the Propeller presentation on Saturday (tomorrow) at 1130. Arnold will be there to answer questions as well.

While in Wisconsin, I’ve had the chance to go to the Wisconsin Historical Society and comb through old newspaper microfilms. I’ve also visited various places where Arnold did his early flying. From both of those, I’ve gotten some great tidbits to add to my early chapters and some wonderful photos, some of which will be in this post.

First up is a photo of a painting of Donald Rock by John Steuart Curry. Those of you who have been following this for a while know Arnold spent about six years of his early childhood on the farm depicted in the painting below. The rock made an attractive landmark that pilots used for navigation in the 1930s, so Arnold saw lots of airplanes flying over all the time. The painting was done in the 1940s and it now hangs in the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin, which I visited on Tuesday. The farm is now a county park, and I plan to visit that on Sunday.

DR_Painting

The next two pictures are from the Portage Airport, Mael Field. I took these pictures on our visit to Portage today (more on that later). The first picture is of an old Mael Field sign and the current runway. The runway didn’t exist when Arnold flew there in the 1940s, but the picture gives you a feel for what the old airport must have looked like; just imagine all the concrete covered with grass instead. The second picture is of the hangar that Arnold helped to build in the 1940s — he figures he pounded about one-third of the nails in the hangar and it still stands today.

MaelField

PortageHangar

Next up is a corn field. Not just any corn field, but the field near Poynette where Curtis Airpark used to be. We drove to this field after we left Portage, using the same roads Arnold trundled along in Forrest Sommers’s Model A pickup truck as they traveled to work on airplanes and go fly PT-23s. The Curtis family still owns the property and a relative we spoke to said the airfield continued to exist until about 30 years ago.

CurtisAirPark

The next picture is of Arnold in Vietnam with his brother Frank. Their tours overlapped briefly in 1968, and this picture was taken during one of Frank’s visits to Tuy Hoa. Frank was a forward air controller flying O-1Es, so he was happy to get to a real Air Force Base every once in a while! This picture came out of a short article in the Portage Daily Register that Arnold’s mother had saved in a scrapbook and that my Aunt Tere has now. Arnold is on the left and Frank is on the right.

ArnoldFrank

I took the last picture today at a lunch with some of Arnold’s high school classmates in Portage. Fifteen people showed up — that’s pretty amazing after all these years. What’s even more amazing is that they all get together for lunch once a month! The other gentleman in the picture (on the left) is Laverne Griffin, a distinguished aviator who also had a career in the US Air Force. He flew RF-101s and RF-4s, so I know he has some great stories that I need to get at some point! Laverne was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame last year, and this year Arnold is being inducted into the same place. What do you suppose the odds are that two guys from a small high school class would both get inducted into a state Aviation Hall of Fame?

GriffinEbneter

New Picture of Donald Rock

This is the best picture I’ve seen yet of Donald Rock, the rock on Arnold’s boyhood farm that pilots used as a landmark. Many thanks to my Aunt Tere for finding this gem! The boy in the picture is Arnold (is that a tie?)¬†and the woman right behind him is his mother, Bertha. The other woman is his Aunt Mary (his father Emil’s sister).

Donald Rock