“Buy an Acre” and Help Preserve Our Heritage
By FASF Past President Gene Valdes
As most of you know, the First Aero Squadron Foundation recently paid off the remaining debt on its original 60-acre parcel. That tract contains part, but not all, of the landing field from which the First Aero Squadron took off and landed during the 1916-1917 Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa and his rebels. The 60 acres also include the historic old Columbus Municipal Airport. The rest of the 1916-17 Aerodrome (as well as sections of the old Municipal Airport runways) was located immediately to the east of the 60-acre parcel on a 160-acre tract owned by a private party. By sheer coincidence, the 160-acre tract owner put his land up for sale during the same time the FASF was finalizing its purchase of the 60-acre parcel.
Having just paid off its debt on the original 60 acres, the FASF was not in a position to acquire the neighboring land. In addition, that tract was in real danger of being purchased by speculators who have been buying up acreage all around Columbus. In order to secure the 160-acre tract and thus all of the historic Aerodrome and Municipal Airport sites, FASF President Bill Wehner and his wife Mary purchased the land from their own resources. Bill and Mary immediately gave the FASF access to the property and announced their intention to deed it over to the FASF once they were reimbursed—at cost—for the amount they pulled out of their own retirement funds to make the purchase.
In a prior newsletter, Bill had mentioned that the amount he paid for the land amounted approximately to $250 an acre times 160 acres. Without any solicitation or formal fund-raising campaign initiated by the FASF Board of Trustees, FASF member Stan Walsh immediately sent in a check for $250 “to purchase one acre” to help the FASF buy the 160-acre tract. In response, the FASF Board decided to erect a plaque on the site of the 1916-17 Aerodrome inscribed with the names of all past, present and future donors who help in the purchase of the both the original 60 acres and the new 160-acre tract. If a donor contributed in honor or memory of another, that name would also be noted on the plaque. Thank you, Stan, for getting the ball rolling!
Within a short time period, again without any formal solicitation on behalf of the FASF, several other members sent in checks. As of this printing, those donors include:
“ONE ACRE PURCHASES”
- Stan Walsh, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, in honor of pioneer aviator Billie Schaufller;
- Stephen Owens, Grants, NM;
- Mr. Lynn Krogn, Centennial, CO, in honor of the late James Greenwood, past Chair of the FASF Advisory Board, who had a long and illustrious career in aviation including a period as the legendary Bill Lear’s right-hand man;
- James A. McMahon, Lewes, DE;
- Glen Desplinter, Milan, IL;
- Judith Dodson, Columbus, NM, in honor of her late husband, decorated WWII Bomber Pilot, Daniel B. Dodson who flew “the hump” over the Himalayas in B-24 Liberators;
- Gene & Dorian Valdes, Columbus, NM.
“PARTIAL ACRE PURCHASES”
- Charles Bogart, Frankfort, KY.
How You Can Help
With this newsletter, the FASF is formally requesting members and non-members alike who wish to preserve a key event and its associated historical site in American aviation history to “buy an acre”. Bill and Mary saved the day by acting quickly and unselfishly. The “Buy an Acre” Campaign will not only help out Bill and Mary but also ensure the 1916-17 Aerodrome and the old Columbus Municipal Airport are available as a legacy to future generations.
To buy an acre, send a check for $250 to the First Aero Squadron Foundation, PO Box 1516, Columbus, NM 88029. If you would like to make your donation in honor of a person, just let us know and the plaque will contain both your name and the designee you wish to honor.
We realize that in these hard economic times, not everybody may be able to afford the cost of a full acre. Therefore, the FASF is also accepting partial acre purchases as follows:
½ acre: $125
¼ acre: $62.50
1/10 acre: $25
Those purchasing partial acres will also have their names (and person you are honoring, if any) inscribed on the plaque.
Tax time will be coming up soon. Any donations you make by December 31, 2013 are tax deductible. Finally, thank you all very much for your encouragement and generosity. All of us on the FASF Board are delighted to have you as members and are very appreciative of your support.
An Historical Sidebar: Training Villa’s Pilots
By FASF President Bill Wehner
An indirect result of nosing around historical archives is coming across tidbits of arcane information that are interesting in themselves, and especially so in relation to the original area of search. If you’ve read anything about the Mexican Revolution, you probably have heard of Didier Masson, a French-born pilot from Los Angeles who was one of the first (if not the very first) to drop a bomb from an airplane. In 1913, while flying a Curtiss biplane for Alvaro Obregon, he pitched a tin can full of dynamite and nails down the stack of a Federale gunboat in the gulf. Masson later flew for France in the Great War along with another American, Edwin C. Parsons, known as Ted Parsons.
Parsons, pictured to the left when he was flying for the French in WWI, was a polymath who was an FBI agent, private detective, movie actor, writer, broadcaster, director, and an eight-victory ace of the famed Lafayette Escadrille where he flew with Didier Masson. He learned to fly in 1912 after a chance meeting with Glenn Curtiss. Shortly afterward, in 1913, while in El Paso, he was hired by agents of Pancho Villa to buy an airplane and to use it to teach select officers of Villa’s army how to fly. His pay was $200 per month in gold, first month in advance. He purchased a Curtiss two-seater which was shipped to Juarez by rail where Parsons inspected it, then sent it on to Chihuahua City where it was assembled. He then spent 11 months trying to convince the Villa officers to fly in it. “They were scared to death of the machine,” Parsons later said. “I could get them into the cockpit and instruct them on the controls but damned few of them would go up with me in it.”
His final adventure in the revolution happened to him and a passenger while flying one day, intending to cross over the edge of a plateau and land in the valley below. When Parsons hauled back on the stick, instead of flaring the Curtiss nosed over toward the ground. The plane pancaked in, shearing the gear. Other than some bruising, Parsons and companion were unhurt. As they hitched a ride back to town they noticed a sign, that when translated, advised that they were in Zacatecas, Elevation 8,823 Feet. The service ceiling of the Curtiss was 6,000 feet.
Parsons decided to go to Juarez to order parts for the wrecked plane. There he struck up a conversation with the German owner of a cigar store who warned him that Villa was about to have a serious incident with Uncle Sam and that if that happened, Parsons would be in deep trouble, being an American mercenary teaching the Mexicans to fly warplanes. Deciding that caution constituted the better part of valor, he arranged for the parts to be shipped to Villa; then took a streetcar to El Paso and kept on going.
Ted Parsons had a distinguished civilian and military career, including service in both World Wars. He ended World War II with the rank of Rear Admiral. He died in 1968 at the age of 75 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Restoring Aviation History in Grants, NM
It is about 330 miles to the city of Grants, New Mexico, from our humble abode just north of Columbus. The reason I know that is Mary and I drove up there Wednesday morning to the Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum where volunteers Steve Owen and Dick Cochran spent over two hours explaining their project. These two, and a few other volunteers, have sought out, scrounged, bought or swapped hundreds of artifacts, big and small, to recreate a 1930’s beacon, generator shed and appurtenances on a corner of the Milan-Grants Airport. They have done this with the support of city and county officials, and practically no money. They are by no means finished – they are working to restore the original FAA Flight Service Station on the field. They have gotten as far as they have by sheer perseverance and hard work; and by never losing sight of where they were headed. A lesson in there for us?
The project is open to the public free of charge on Saturdays from 9 AM to 1 PM. One can do a walking tour at any time. We recommend you visit Cibola County and the Milan-Grants Airport sometime in the near future because (a) it represents an important and mostly unknown chunk of western aviation, (b) the trip is a good excuse to see some very interesting geology and revisit old Rte. 66, and (c) chatting with these guys will both refresh your perspective and renew your faith. Do it!
The Western NM Aviation Heritage Museum is at the Grant-Milan Airport. Take Exit 79 or 81 on Interstate 40 to Airport Road in Milan, New Mexico.
Update from Bill
FASF Advisory Board member Harley Pickett and his lovely wife Barbara dropped by the other day to sample life here in the southern New Mexico desert. The Picketts, who hail from Lake City, Florida, were on their way to the Balloon Fest in Albuquerque by way of a round-robin sort of thing that included Tucson and Phoenix.
Barbara operates a hair salon and Harley, a professional pilot, is retired from the FAA. When not touring the countryside in their camper, Harley can usually be found flying “the Other Woman,” their 1950 Cessna 170A. After we did the nickel tour of Columbus, we headed over to the FAS Aerodrome, where he seemed pleased to discover that we had gotten as far as we have on the development of the airstrip.
The wind does blow here once in a while, as several Columbus families discovered early this fall when a micro-burst damaged about 30 homes. Fortunately, no one was hurt and while there was some serious damage, most of it was cosmetic. Unfortunately, the micro-burst blew our wind sock into Chihuahua somewhere, and tried to make a pretzel of the mast. The mast can be straightened and Trustee Scott Schmid is procuring a new sock. I am pleased to report that Trustee Bud Canfield has been doing admirable tractor work on the runway. It is in its best condition since it was opened a year ago.
I am also happy to be able to report that thanks to the recruiting efforts of Advisory Board member Lyn Benedict, Roswell, we are now expecting delivery of our office trailer around the end of October.
Lastly, a note of serendipity: we had barely returned from our visit to Grants NM when a package arrived from Advisory Board member John Deuble, containing a complete history of the facility and full details of the restoration. Our thanks to John; isn’t there an old saw about great minds…?
New FASF Members
Sgt. Major Darren Sullivan, Temecula, CA. (on left). Sgt. Major Sullivan has served in the US Marine Corps for 23 years, including 2 tours of duty in Iraq, a tour in Afghanistan, and time in other volatile locations such as Somalia. He is currently stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, CA near San Diego.
Lt. Colonel Gary G. Stewart, Las Cruces, NM. Colonel Stewart is the senior military advisor to the Deming High School JROTC and with an great interest in New Mexico history.
The following members have recently renewed their annual membership in the FASF:
- Patricia Sladey, Columbus, NM;
- Richard J. Chevalier, Columbus, NM;
- James Gresen, Marathon, WI;
- Eddie Booth, Trenton, SC;
- William G. Miller, Columbus, NM;
- Glen Desplinter, Milan, IL;
- Jeanne Plant, Green Valley, AZ;
- Robert Henderson, DDS, El Paso, TX;
- William L. Madden, Las Cruces, NM;
- James McMahon, Lewes, DE;
- Frederick J. Wagoner, Las Cruces, NM.
Thanks again to all the above for renewing your membership. Your continued support is the backbone of the FASF!
If you have received a renewal reminder letter and haven’t done so yet, President Bill and all of us on the Board look forward to your membership renewal and participation!
Trailer is on its Way
As you will recall, Member John Moore, of St. Louis donated an office trailer to the FASF. As of of this newsletter, the trailer was on its way to its new home in Columbus thanks to Lyn Benedict. Lyn recruited a family friend, Tom Wadsworth of Roswell, to tow the trailer from St. Louis to Columbus. A number of Trustees and Advisory Board Members chipped in to fund the expense of moving and setting up the trailer. Their names were published in the September issue of The Aerodrome. Regrettably, one contributor’s name was accidentally left off the list:
C.E. “Pete” Adolph, Albuquerque, NM
Pete is co-chair of the FASF Advisory Board and very active in the organization. Thanks, Pete, for your donation and all your help over the years in getting the FASF off the ground!
Finally, we would like to thank another donor, Bob Coats of Cabool, Missouri, who gave a check for the FASF to Bill on Bill and Mary’s trip to the Cessna 170 Convention.
Do You Have News to Share?
We are always happy to pass on your news, stories, photos, etc. to all of our FASF membership. As just one example, if any of your relatives participated in the 1916-1917 Punitive Expedition, send us a photo and some details and we’ll feature it in an upcoming Aerodrome. You can send the information by mail to the FASF, PO Box 1516, Columbus NM 88029 or email it to me, Gene, at: firstname.lastname@example.org