March 12, 2002
Dave Payne was checking the internet the other night and came across a piece of Perry memorabilia that piqued his curiosity. The article in question was opened for bidding on E-bay. It was an Air Mail envelope or postcard with a Perry cancellation that included this: “Dedication/Perry Air Park/October 5, 1930.” An inset message read: “Dedication Air Mail Letter No. 82 – Perry Chamber of Commerce, Perry, Oklahoma.” Dave was asking for additional information about the “Air Park.” As you are about to see, the Perry Air Park is a pretty good story. .
Frankly, I was a bit too young in 1930 to be personally involved in Chamber of Commerce activities, but I think I remember the Perry Air Park. It was the principal subject of numerous conversations at coffee shops, drug store fountains and around the family dining table at many homes. As I recall, the Air Park was on a pasture adjacent to the west side of U.S. highway 77 about one mile north of town. Directly across the highway, on the east side of U.S. 77, was an emergency landing field with a rotating beacon light. That field was a federal project. The Perry Air Park was right across the highway on the Mildfelt farm, now owned and farmed by Edwin DeBord. In 1930 it was leased to the Perry Chamber of Commerce to create a home for the Perry Air Park.
The Chamber hired Charles H. Tucker, an experienced licensed pilot, as manager of the field. Mr. Tucker later operated the Western Auto Store on the north side of the square before Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Mayes assumed ownership of the business. Some 10 years later, in the 1940s, when war production became a critical item in the U.S., the Tuckers moved to the West Coast and Mr. Tucker became a defense worker.
The principal feature of that landing field on the east side of U.S. 77 was the revolving beacon light mounted on a metal tower, about 25 feet tall. There were no hangars, no wind sock, no landing strip, no refueling station. Just that beacon making a full 360-degree rotation every few seconds to help aerial navigators plot their courses. Some local flying enthusiasts tell me the beacon light is now part of the Air Museum collection in Oklahoma City. For many years it was a landmark here. It came on automatically at dusk and turned itself off at daybreak. You couldn’t set your clock by it, but there was a sense of reassured stability each evening when that light swept across the prairie north of town.
Although the light remained in place here for many years, I do not remember that a single airplane ever landed on that field. Apparently it was never intended to be much more than an emergency landing field, but the Chamber of Commerce envisioned an even larger role for Perry in the dawning age of air travel. That is why “the Perry Air Park” was created on the west side of U.S. 77 about one mile north of Perry.
At the time, Perry’s Chamber of Commerce had an aggressive, zealous crew of tub-thumpers, most of them from the retail business sector. They wanted the world to know that Perry was ready to take its place as a partner in the promising new era of moving parcels and people by airborne carriers. Perhaps, they must have reasoned, we could add air passenger traffic to the Santa Fe and Frisco Railroads that already came through here. We also had U.S. 77 for north-south vehicle traffic and U.S. 64 for east-west traffic. Commercial buses were routed through here daily. Well then, they must have thought, wouldn’t it be logical to get a foot in the door in hopes of cashing in on the promising new air age? Perry then would be in position to share in a lucrative new local bonanza -- passenger, mail and parcel business through the airways. Those men were dreamers. We’ll have more about the Perry Air Park in another Northwest Corner.