April 19, 2002
I’ve devoted several recent columns to Perry’s airfields, including today’s Municipal Airport, the short-lived Perry Airpark and the unsurfaced field where a rotating beacon light was a landmark for many years. All three of those were north of town but today only the Municipal field is still there. It is growing steadily in use and in providing facilities for pilots and aircraft.
Don Timmons remembers another landing field. It was located on a pasture at the junction of two dirt roads, now hard-surfaced and known as 15th street and Fir avenue, two of the busiest streets in town. A private flying school also was located there, operated by Sherman Van Derveer, who ran an airways company here for a few years after World War II. Sherm was a handsome, dashing young pilot and a very close friend of the late Dale Ream, who shared his passion for flying. Sherm later died in the crash of a light plane.
The flying field was at the northwest corner of the junction. The streets that made up that portion of 15th and Fir consisted of two rutted dirt roads at that time. Today they are not only hard-surfaced -- Fir has been widened to four divided lanes. Fifteenth street is still two lanes but at least it is surfaced with asphalt.
More than one aerial enterprise has been located at that corner. I remember one that existed for a while in the late 1930s. The field at that time was still basically a pasture with no identifiable landing strips but long enough for takeoffs and landings. At one point a group of young men who aspired to be licensed pilots organized a flying club and bought shares in a light, single-wing plane, something on the order of the popular Piper Cub. They had a lot of fun and enjoyed their time in flight school. One hazard was obvious, however. Namely, the electric utility lines on poles at the south end of the field. They made takeoffs and landings a bit difficult, to put it mildly.
As you might expect, one of the young pilots apparently made a visual error and the plane pancaked – turned upside down -- on the ground. For all intents and purposes, the craft was a total loss, but the pilot escaped unharmed. Don remembers a similar incident (it may have been the same one) that occurred when his late brother, Bill Timmons, was a flying enthusiast. Bill rebuilt the plane and flew it from that same field several times, Don says.
So the story of Perry’s romance with flying machines goes on, fueled by stories from the past and the enthusiasm of the men and women who get a lot of pleasure from soaring off into the wild blue yonder.