Genealogy Trails

Stephenson Co IL

"Aviation in Freeport"

Photo contributed by John Kornfiend

Aviation in Freeport

Aviation got its start in Freeport about 1910 when the fragile pusher-type biplanes attracted large crowds of interested and curious spectators. These planes were called "pushers" because the motors and propellers were mounted behind the wings. The first such plane in the county was built and flown by an Illinois Central Railroad engineer, Daniel A. Kreamer, and William Richter, F.A. Schultz was another pilot who owned one of the early Curtiss pusher biplanes. The first plane was called "Miss Freeport."

On July 14, 1911, Kreamer suffered a fatal plane accident in Chicago when his plane crashed on the field of the Aero Club. A big two-day air show was planned in Taylor Park for the benefit of his widow. A young aviator Fred Heegel of Chicago flew the first day, substituting for a better known pilot, John J. Frisbie, who was reported ill and unable to appear. Heegel got the plane in the air but was in trouble in less than a minute, the Freeport Daily Journal reported, and there was a scramble by the big crowd to get out of the way as the plane fell fifty feet, injuring the pilot and inflicting cuts and scratches on eight spectators.

Photo on the left just 5 seconds before the crash taken by Smith Studio Freeport contributed by John Kornfiend
On the left shortly after the crash contributed by Alice Horner

Rene Simon, another aviator, was also to have flown that day but after the accident postponed his flight. Next day, on August 31, Simon took his Moisant monoplane up three times doing "8's" and spiral glides, and ended his third flight with his "Dip of Death" when he glided to a landing, appearing to miss the grandstand by only six fee. A crowd estimated at five thousand "cheered wildly."

The hazards of these early flights were further illustrated when it was learned here that Frisbie, supposedly ill in Chicago, was actually performing at the Norton County Fair in Kansas where he lost control of his plane and fell to his death.

It was common practice in the early days of flying for a pilot to fly his plane to a town or area, sell some rides, and then move on to another location. This was called barnstorming. In 1912 Simon came to Freeport and flew out of a field north of Taylor Park which was called the Currier pasture.

One of the first aviation enthusiasts was P.H. Adams, who moved to Freeport from Centerville Iowa, in 1913 and was employed by the Illinois Central Railroad. He was also an inventor. One of his inventions, dated 1911, related to a guidance system involving a single lever for the control of both elevator and ailerons. Another provided a means for an airplane to float in case of a landing on a river or lake. He too, flew the pusher-type planes around Freeport until about 1917.

Occassionally a pilot would fly over the town, do a few stunts and then proceed to a landing area, confident that this would attract attention and draw a crowd of curious within a short time which it usually did. On July 4, 1918, Col. Fred H. Byerly was the first to perform stunts on a large scale.

The first mail to leave Freeport by air was flown out on December 17, 1918; and on July 25, 1919, as a promotional scheme, Al Emrich, a local clothier, had a shipment of Society Brand clothes air expressed to Freeport. Since there was no airport in the area, the plane made the landing and delivery on the golf course at the Freeport Country Club.

Leonard Dickman was apparently the first man in the county to buy an airplane and go into the flying business. His first plane, a World War I Jenny, cost him $65 and had a top speed of 65 miles an hour. Dickman owned a farm just east of Freeport near the Illinois Central tracks, and a strip of land parallel to the railroad tracks was to become his flight strip not very wide and not very long. However, at the time his plane was to be delivered, the strip was not quite completed, so he was given permission to use a hay field on the Fred H. Burckhardt farm nearby, for a few days. To show his appreciation for the use of the field, Dickman had the delivering pilot, Robert Craig, a former WW I pilot and at the time a chemist at the W.T. Rawleigh Company, take each and every member of the family for a ride in his Jenny after which Dickman was given some pointers on the art of flying. But on Dickman's first landing he broke the tail skid and on the second, a wheel. So he dismissed the pilot and tied the plane to the fence. He did, however, proceed to smooth out his own landing strip and later that year Fred Machesney, for years operator of the Machesney Airport in Rockford, flew into Freeport on a barnstorming mission. He helped Dickman fix up his plane and gave him some flying lessons and the day following his solo flight, Dickman began hauling passengers. He built a hangar behind his barn and for a number of years had a good business carrying passengers for hire.

Because of the narrowness of the runway, on one occasion in taking off, Dickman caught the wings on the fence, damaging them beyond repair. He bought a pair of high-lift wings, recovered them, and installed them on the Jenny. The airplane now had greater lift which provided him with better take-off performance and enabled him to crowd tow passengers into the front seat instead of only one, thereby increasing his income from rides considerably.

It is not known when or how he disposed of his first plane, but by 1928 he had acquired two OX-5 Pheasants and later a 220-horsepower Waco biplane - his last. Assisting him was a young fellow, Wesley Brubaker, who was employed full time at the Freeport Post Office but spent all his spare time at the air strip as a "ground flunky" for Dickman. In the seven years he was in the business, Dickman estimates he gave about 15,000 passenger rides.

In 1927 Oscar Ennenga of the E & W Clothing House bought a Monocoupe airplane. This plane had the E & W insignia painted on the sides of the fuselage and was flown until about 1932 when Ennenga quit flying, dismantled the plane and stored it in his barn. It remained there until 1968 when it was purchased by Francis and Paul Wallace. They bought it with the intention of restoring it to flying condition. They stated that the E & W insignia, which was dirty and almost worn off with age, was to be once again emblazoned on the fuselage. The plane was manufactured by the Mono Aircraft Corporation of Moline IL. It seats two passengers, cruises at 80 miles an hour, and will reach an altitude of 10,000 feet. One of the Wallace’s stated that when the plane is restored it will be the oldest flying Monocoupe in the nation.

In the mid 1920's a fast, trim little Monocoupe streaked across Freeport, buzzing anything that looked interesting. The pilot, William McBoyle with his aerobatics and low passes created a lot of interest and excitement among the townspeople but when he swooped down low to buzz a threshing crew on the Fred Burckhardt farm, frightening the teams of horses into a near stampede, he had gone too far and he had the infuriated owner of the farm to contend with - especially when he proceeded to use the Burckhardt hay field for a landing strip. When Burckhardt's protests went unheeded, the sheriff was called in. According to a member of the Burckhardt family, the sheriff's warning against any drastic action, vehemently insisted he would stretch a wire cross the landing field! This threat never materialized however, as McBoyle, who intended to establish his own business in Freeport, made a deal for a field next to Dickman's. He opened a beer tavern on the property and soon Dickman too, opened up a tavern which resulted in a good natured rivalry. There was the rumor; however, that McBoyle used his fast little plane to fly illegal liquor ("hootch" as it was called) during the days of prohibition.

In May 1929 a local group organized the Freeport Airport Association. They leased Dickman's flying strip from him, as well as an adjoining field belonging to William McGurk, just south of Route 20 and west of Dickman's farm now directly across from the Holiday Inn.

Contributed by John Kornfeind
From Pages 479 & 480 of "History of Stephenson County 1970"
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 74-134258 Printed by Kable Printing Co., Mount Morris, Illinois
Mrs. John W. (Mary X) Barrett, Editor Philip L. Keister, executive editor