Aviation and Other Stuff in Oneida NY
Handed down stories and memories of the past from Alberta Jones Page, and Charles Page. [Written by Charles E. Page- year 2001.]
[Note: We are both over eighty years old, and what follows is not historical research. We are just sharing our thoughts of “back then”.]
In the year 1911 two young men made the local newspaper columns by building and flying experimental airplanes. LaVerne R. Jones, Alberta’s father, and Donald Coe, enthralled with the future prospects of airplanes in American life decided to do some experimenting for themselves. They first built an “airplane kite”, and the success of that inspired them to try to design and build a plane that would carry a man. The kite plane measured eight feet in length and was six feet wide. One of the later planes measured 28 feet long by 16 in width.
There were several failures after each of which they made modifications and tried again. We have several newspaper clippings describing the flights and also pictures. Once they tried to get it airborne by towing it with a motorcycle and again with an auto. One time it flew but didn’t quite make it over a fence. They had a couple crashes but no one was hurt. The flights were all in Mr. Field’s farm lot. [Field’s Hill]. I think most of the planes were without motors, but one clipping mentions a small engine having been installed. We have one clipping and photo taken near the old fairgrounds which was west of Seneca Street.
No fairs were held there in my time, but I have a very faint recollection [very faint] of a circus or carnival being held there. If a true recollection, it must have been about 1922 or 23. I’m sure I would have no memory of anything before that. Also I wonder if I remember correctly a circus being held on Harmon Field north of Lenox Avenue. ???
Usually circuses were held south of route 5 about where the State Troopers barracks or Ames Plaza is now. Alberta remembers a time she attended a circus there. A storm came up, the wind lifted the tent high enough to loosen one of the tent poles and it came down striking her in the face. Her nose was sore for a long time. This mishap came out in the newspaper, but of course, had her name wrong so she lost her moment of fame.
Circuses usually put on a parade at noon on the day of each performance to advertise the event. The parade route went north on Main Street and I think back south by way of Broad Street. We lived on East Walnut and had only a couple blocks to run to see it. When we heard the “steam piano” coming we would jump from our dinner table and the whole family would hurry to the corner by the Catholic Church to watch the elephants with girls riding on their heads, clowns hopping around doing funny stuff, and animals in and out of cages. Alberta’s family watched the parades from Allen Park on its return trip up Broad Street since they lived on Tilden Street. As with us the music of the steam piano [calliope] was the magnetic signal that drew everybody.
Verne Jones was always an avid fan of aviation and kept newspaper clippings of plane crashes and different pilots’ activities. About the time of his flying experiments he designed a new type of wind indicator which he marketed around central New York and the Mohawk Valley. Alberta remembers some of them being pointed out to her by her father as they adorned hangar roofs at different airports. [We have one picture of it.] He marketed the device under the name “Aero-Arrow Wind Indicator”.
He was always thinking of better ways to do things. While still a young kid, he invented a new harness for his newspaper paper delivery bag. This would distribute the weight of the papers more evenly, instead of just hanging on one shoulder. He said he didn’t want to end up with one shoulder lower than the other. [We have one picture of that.]
Verne didn’t have much formal education but did finish grade school. One of his troubles in school was that he wanted to do things “his way”. He would do a math problem and get the right answer but not by using the method he was supposed to. His teacher didn’t like that. However he ran a successful business for over forty years [1913 to 1955]. He was elected to several terms as Alderman on the city council, and served on the board of directors of the Madison County Trust and Deposit Company [now Chase Bank]
Originally, his store specialized in paint and wallpaper. More departments were added through the years. Verne handled sales, ordering, and general management while brother, Cliff, took care of the books. In the basement was a workshop where Cliff made window shades, and Verne made picture frames and framed pictures for customers.
Verne was a talented craftsman and could make anything out of wood. In later years he sold and repaired typewriters. He would take a typewriter all apart, clean and/or replace parts. If there were a broken part on an old machine for which parts were no longer made, he would make the part himself.
One time he decided to attend a typewriter repair course to update his skills. It was held in New York City. It was an experience similar to what he had in school. He couldn’t bother to learn things such as the name of each part, but when it came to assembling a typewriter from a pile of disassembled parts, he had his put together while the others were still thinking about it.
A promoter of aviation all his life, he was one of the founders of The Oneida Flying Club, which was started in 1929. Most of the information we have on the Club is taken from the Club’s letterhead. Roland Jones, Alberta’s brother, designed and drew the logo. We have a copy of that. At the top of the page is the logo showing some wings to the sides of the Club name, and an explanation: “A social Organization to Promote Aviation, organized in 1929. 50 Charter members”. In the bottom left-hand corner it tells about “Oneida’s Airport”. “A 70-acre airport, 500 feet above sea level, and one half mile southwest of Oneida. Fronts on Seneca Turnpike, Route 5. Two wide, hard run-ways, each 1800 feet long, into the prevailing wind. Telephone, telegraph, gas, oil, and mechanic service on field. Airport well marked.”
Verne was ticket agent in Oneida for American Airlines for many years. In about 1939 I remember a neighbor of mine bought from Verne, tickets to Washington, D.C. The neighbor, Mr. Albertus Starr, asked my sister, Dora and I, to fly to Annapolis, MD. and drive a car back for him. I was 18 and Dora was about 22. Of course we got lost in Baltimore coming back. We had no map of the city. There were no freeways then which meant we had to plow straight through the cities. It took an hour to get through Scranton/Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania. It was a BIG plane we rode down on, it held about15 or 20 passengers, I think. It took four hours, Syracuse to Washington, including a one-hour layover in Newark and a quick stop in Pittsburg to let someone off or on.
The Flying Club members always tried to get the city to support a good airport. After the airport near the Baker reservoir closed, there was for a time, a strip opened up on the north side of Lenox Ave. from about where Walmart now is, east toward downtown. It did not last too long and I believe the airport idea was scrapped because there would not be room enough for the larger modern planes. This was a disappointment for the flying fans.
It seems to me that the old airport on Rt. 5 was used a lot. Quite often the barnstorming pilots would come in for a weekend and offer rides for about three dollars. At one of the air shows Alberta remembers her Uncle Cliff’s treating her and her Cousin, Don Jones, to a biplane [open cockpit] ride on “penny-a-pound day”. Cliff had to pay forty cents for her ride.
The air shows were quite spectacular, with the planes doing all kinds of maneuvers like loop-the-loop. And there was skywriting, wing walking, and other breath taking stuff. Skywriting was done quite often over the city to advertise some product or event. In case you have never seen sky writing, it was letting a trail of smoke come from the tail of the plane, and the plane would fly in the necessary path making the trail of smoke into readable handwriting when seen from the ground. It didn’t work on a windy day. I think there was a barnstormer pilot named Heller and a well-known one was Dick Botsford. He performed at many air shows and his fans followed him as they do rock bands now.
I remember when the new reservoir [Baker] was built. One day when it had been completed but was not yet in use, my father took the family up to see it. We kids went down in and climbed up and down the steep concrete sides. They were steep but climbable. It seemed really big. We really didn’t feel like staying around in the bottom too long, thinking the water might suddenly be let in. It didn’t, so we didn’t drown. C.E.P.
Note: This snippet was provided by Charles Page
Date: Saturday, February 02, 2002