Column: Memories of first air mail flight

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

&t;br&gt Thanks to Jerry Evens of Waterford, Mich.

Friday, January 19, 2001

Thanks to Jerry Evens of Waterford, Mich., here are some added details about Albert Lea’s first air mail shipment on May 20, 1938. His father, Ernest &uot;Ernie&uot; A. Evens, was the pilot who flew the aircraft which took off from the glorified airport (pasture) on the T. O. Winjum farm in what’s now the Hammer neighborhood.

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Incidentally, Ernie left Albert Lea at 9:16 a.m., according to a 1938 Tribune news report, and arrived in Minneapolis at 10:50 a.m.

Now, here’s Jerry’s letter, dated Dec. 14, 2000, to the Tribune:

&uot;A couple of days ago an old childhood friend from my Albert Lea days, Dolly Sichko, sent me a letter and a clipping out of the Albert Lea Tribune (the Nov. 14, 2000, issue) from which I have made copies for distribution to any and all.

&uot;I was witness to the day described when my Dad took off for Minneapolis. I was about 7 years old but I can see that day as clear as if it happened yesterday. Better change that to 10 minutes ago. I can’t remember what happened yesterday too good anymore.

&uot;It was a miserable cold gray misty morning more like a November day in Detroit. The field was quite soggy and the plane was loaded with mail, not just a few token letters.

&uot;Dad taxied down to the end of this soggy grass strip and ran the engine full throttle standing on the brakes to get max power to get the plane moving. He let it go, roaring down the field and then aborted the takeoff because he couldn’t get a safe take off speed. He turned around and taxied back to where everyone was standing around. I believe it was decided to wait awhile hoping the wind would dry out the field a little. I don’t know how long he waited. To a 7 year old it seemed like half a day.

&uot;I believe there was some strong suggestions to forget the whole thing but Dad was going to make it happen.

&uot;He taxied out again went through the whole run up and thundered down the whole length of the field almost to the end before the wheels broke loose from the ground and the plane wobbled into the air just making it over the trees at the end of the field. Because I had been flying with Dad from my earliest remembrances I knew enough about flying to be more than a little apprehensive about him flying under what I would now consider instrument conditions. I would never take off under those conditions. I do remember being very relieved when he barely made it into the air.

&uot;Some of my most treasured memories of Dad were when he would take me out to the ‘airport’ because there was always the possibility I would get a ride.

&uot;Because of World War II Dad was instructing pilots for some Navy cadet program and he had a flying school out in a corn field I believe west of town. The runway was literally cut through the corn field and toward the end of the summer you couldn’t see the planes taking off until they were airborne.

&uot;Later Dad was able to rent space at Albert Lea International Airport (another grass field but officially designated an airport). I may be wrong in this but I believe Dad was one of the moving forces behind Albert Lea even getting an airport.

&uot;Somewhere on a 16 millimeter film reel is some footage of me driving around in a little gas car out at that airport. Happy, happy memories. I don’t think Mom knew this, but when Dad and I went to Sunday Mass we would cut out before the end to head out to the airport and fly. It was our secret. I hope no one is bored with this. It’s been therapeutic for me.&uot;

Thank you, Jerry, for sharing these memories with our readers.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.