Newspaper Archive of
Walsh County Press
Park River , North Dakota
July 6, 2011     Walsh County Press
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July 6, 2011

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JULY 6, 2011 f THE PRESS J i i, Riders chal, i'enge the hill once again in".Fordville Top left: Some rid- ers came so close to making it to the top of the Hill at the Fordville Hillclimb. Bottom left: Some made it about halfway up. Right: And oth- ers cleared the hill with ease. PAGE 7 i J AEROPLANE FLIGHT CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1. Fourth, don't last as long as they ought. Exactly a hundred years ago, our local Fourth of July festivities were spectacular. In 1911, like now, the festivities were old-fashioned: they brought our town together to remember the nation and celebrate the community. And there was an incident that burnt itself into the collective memory of 5,000 people, a memory should have endured for a hundred years but didn't even last '.'"hen I ,',,. ang ic he 1 ( . I : heard about the spectacular first appearance of an airplane in our town. I learned of it only a six months ago when I was reading long-neglected issues of the old Park River Gazette. As soon as I started reading the story it grabbed my attention, and I'd like to tell it to you--the story of the earliest heavier-than-air flight in Park River and the near disaster that ended it. . A century ago the Fourth of Jul'# holid biu as ...... '   t big as it is today. Towns throug]tut the county en celebrated the Fourth, but they tried to avoid head-to- head competition among themselves so they coordinated the celebrations. In 1911 Grafton decided to host a couple days of horseracing later in the summer, so they had no Fourth of July celebration, and for some reas6n neither did any other comnmnity around except Park River. In 191 l the whole county was a potential audience for our local celebration. That potential audience responded to the wonderful weather on July 4. It was a perfect day as only a mid- summer day in North Dakota can be--fair skies, moderate temperature, a nice wind to keep away some of the mosquitos. If one takes the words of the Park River Gazette reporter seriously, "over ! 0,000 people" attended the festivities---the foot races on main street, horse races up at the fairgrounds, a parade, speeches in the new park by the river, two baseball games, and of course The Fireworks. All these things had been part of Fourth of July tradition since ! 885, more than a quarter of a century. This year the program committee added something entirely new--an "aeroplane" flight. Dave Johnson, undertaker, furniture store owner, and member of the Fourth of July committee, arranged with a couple of mechanics from Grand Forks to bring their North Dakota-built airplane to Park River for something totally new--a demonstration an "aeroplane" flight between th afternoon and evening baseball games. These were still the early days of airplane flight (The Wright brothers' flight was not even eight years in the past, and Louis Bleriot had made his stupendous 20-mile flight across the English Channel only 2 years earlier.) Though airplanes may have become more common "out east" it is safe to say that very few, if any, Walsh Countians had ever seen an airplane in flight: the lure of a flying machine drew many of those 10,000 people to Park River. The organizers employed a professional pilot from Missouri to fly the North Dakota-made plane. When the aviator arrived in Grand Forks to fine tune the plane toward the end of June, he found that the engine was not powerful enough to lift the Dakota-made heavy body. So some quick adjustments were made. The engine was shipped up from Grand Forks, while, a hurried order went in for a lighter airplane body from St. Louis. The Curtiss biplane, minus the engine, arrived in Park River just in time. The plane and, the engine were brought up to a small enclosure at the fairgrounds on the hill, where Pilot C.W. Keene could work without interruption. He installed the engine in the Curtiss, and adjusted the various movable parts on the plane on the morning of the Fourth, but the plane was still not working up to his expectations. Keene delayed the flight so that he could get the machine assembled to his satislhction. He worked without interruption through the morning and the entire afternoon. While he worked in his roped-off area near the top of the hill, the races were held on Briggs Avenue, with local athlete Oswald Brett winning three of them. Keene toiled on as the parade, with its floats, and two marching bands, assembled in the park, marched down Briggs and Prospect Avenues and Forest Street to LaLier Park on the river. He kept working through the speeches in the Park and tinkered through the afternoon baseball game (played for a purse of$100). Even after Park River destroyed Minto 10-0 in the afternoon game, the pilot kept fine-tuning the machine, constantly observed by a large group of spectators. When Keene announced that the plane was ready, just befbre 8:00, the evening ball game with Langdon was in progress: It Was a big game: there was another $10() at stake. But even with $100 to generate enthusiasm for our national sport, and with the home team ahead by a only a single run, most of the people were,outside the park attracted by the "aeroplane". The area around the plane up at the Ihirgrounds was clogged with dozens of autos and carriages and hundreds of curious people. It was so crowded that there was no room for take-off. The plane was then wheeled out of its enclosure and along the crest of the hill to the nearest open spot, the public road (now Highway 17) about a quarter of a mile north. Pilot Keene was quite concerned about flying a plane that hadn't been fully tested out, but the crowd (as one could well guess) insisted on a performance. Since they outnumbered him about 5000 to 1, he went through with the flight. So, sometime after 8:00 p.m. on July 4, 191 !, the pilot pointed his plane west along the road, inspected the mechanics of the plane, got into the pilot's seat, started the engine, and began the very first machine- driven flight in Park River. The plane rose easily and quickly, flying directly into a nice breeze coming in from the west. Keene easily avoided' the telephone lines to one side of the road, then decided to fly back over the audience, most of which was still back near the fairground several hundred yards away. The reporter noted that the left wing dipped as the pilot turned to fly over the wheat field to the south of the road. The plane came to an even keel at a height of 20 to 30 feet. It flew steadily for a few moments, and then something went badly wrong. The plane and its pilot headed sharply downward. As the front rudder slammed into a wheatfield, Pilot Keene was thrown from the.cockpit. The wing supports s.plintered, and the plane (what was left of it) pitched over on its back, just barely missing the pilot. In times of crisis small facts.stick in peoples' brains: amidst all the splintered wreckage and the screaming crowd, the reporter noticed that the propeller continued to spin. The epic 300-yard voyage was abruptly over. The 5,000 or so spectators were laorfified at ht .., .. seemed to be a tragedy, but the ground crew managed. .... to exmcate a hvmg pdot from the wreckage. ;An automobile hurried his unconscious body dowgtlwn to one of the doctors' offices. Keene regained consciousness after half an hour with apparently no bones broken, but he was still in a daze. On the next day Keene was much better and tried to explain what had happened. He had never flown this type of biplane before, let alone tiffs particular one. It.had a very sensitive turning mechanism: the makers had cautioned him to be very careful until he had gotten the "feel" of the controls. The engine too was new. It was perhaps too powerful for the lighter weight of the Curtiss biplane, so the plane shot up. into the air after taxiing only 80 to 90 tbet, and he had to improvise immediately. When Keene underestimated the sensitivity of the controls, the result was the nearly disastrous accident, The newspaper account described the pilot as a 22- year-old native of St. Louis, who was already a veteran of over 500 flights: this was his first accident. But all ended well. Keene believed that the plane could be easily repaired, and voiced his desire to return and give Park River another exhibition. He was convinced (preposterous as it must have seemed to the local populace) that this particular engine could make the plane cruise at 60 mph. The plane was indeed reported to be repaired two weeks later, and the mecharics and pilot hoped to make a flight at the state . fair, but alas for our local citizens it never made a return flight to Park River. It is not recorded when the next airplane visited Park River, but it is ahnost certain that the second Park River flight was not half asexciting, nor did it impress even half so many people. And, by the way, aeroplane accident or no aeroplane accident, the fireworks went off as scheduled, providing yet another memory for the local citizens. NorthSCAN State.vide Classifieds HELP WANTED CENEXAT KILLDEER, ND, is seek- ing a qualified General Manager. An energy supply cooperative with sales of $20 million. Successful agricultural business management experience desired. 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