Local residents witnessed firsthand the latest in aircraft technology during the second annual Craig air show in June 1948 at the Craig Municipal Airport.

Courtesy Photo

Local residents witnessed firsthand the latest in aircraft technology during the second annual Craig air show in June 1948 at the Craig Municipal Airport.

Craig airport an important part of city's history

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Courtesy Photo

Colorado Governor Lee Knous arrived in 1948 at the second annual Craig air show in a DC-3 aircraft flown in by Monarch Airlines.

When Charles Lindbergh made Craig a small part of his famous transcontinental flight, his appearance over the town in September 1927 was the first time many - if not most - of the residents had seen an aircraft.

In preparation for the upcoming county fair, a makeshift runway had been built west of town for the Crawford and Van Horn airplane that had been booked to appear during the festivities. The airstrip was located about where the Kmart parking lot is today.

As the Spirit of St. Louis made her final pass over Craig that day, some of the men of the town tried to direct Lindbergh to their new airstrip, but he pointed west, wagged the plane's wings and flew on to Salt Lake City.

Lindbergh didn't land in Craig that day, although he did drop a printed greeting to the town's people. But his appearance gave them irrefutable proof the airplane was on the way to the Yampa Valley.

In 1929, a giant step into the future came when pilot Ernie Longbrake and officials of the Intermountain Flying service landed a six-passenger plane on a 120-acre tract of land south of the Yampa River.

"The visitors stated that the field, with little expense, could be made a safe and convenient airport. The Craig town board has been offered the tract, which is level and underlain with gravel, at a very fair price. It is probable that a decision to buy the tract and improve it as a landing field will be made at the next meeting of the board" (Craig Empire October 23, 1929).

Just a few weeks after Longbrake and his company approved the proposed site, Mayor E.E. Brockman signed the final papers that "purchased the 120-acre site from Mrs. Della Morris Beach of Pasadena through W.H. Tucker. The land cost the town $1,200" (Craig Empire December 4, 1929).

"Moffat County has promised to aid in the grading and leveling : oiled runways will be constructed and the Texas Company has offered to furnish the oil for the runways. With slight expenditure, pilots who have used the field during the past year say, the airport can secure a Class A government rating."

For the next 20 years, the airport was used by mail planes as well as passenger and agriculture aircraft. In 1946 the airport was enlarged when the main runway was doubled in width and the addition of two cross runways made it possible to accommodate more and larger aircraft. Jim Eskridge built a large shop at the airfield where at least two planes could be hangared for repairs.

During 1947, the city purchased 160 acres from Leon Breeze, 120 acres from Lowry Seely, 160 acres from Lou Peila and another 20 acres by condemnation suit. The additional land gave the airport facility plenty of open space for safe landings and takeoffs.

In 1948, the city spent about $30,000 to bring the runway to 5,600 feet long and 100 feet wide. A loop of drainage ditches was constructed in preparation for Monarch Airlines' new passenger service to Craig. The town was embracing the future - some more than others.

"There are people in Craig:who 30 years ago stood in the mud of unpaved streets and said they would never ride in one of those newfangled gas buggies. But if you took away their automobiles today it is doubtful if many of them could still ride a horse. And a lot of those who could, wouldn't" (Craig Empire-Courier October 6, 1948).

Earlier that year, residents of the Yampa Valley were able to see firsthand what all the buzz about airplanes was when the City hosted its second annual air show. The planes were big, and the crowds weren't disappointed.

"Featured (were) three of the fastest airplanes on earth, army P-80s jet propelled. :Universal was the acclaim for the sleek jet planes which gave unbelievable demonstrations of speed and climbing power.

"It was the first time that any such plane ever disturbed the air of northwestern Colorado. They zoomed over the field and shot straight up into the air for 4,000 feet" (Craig Empire-Courier, June 25, 1948).

The large crowd also watched as a King Cobra P-63 performed aerobatics and a sail plane glided silently overhead. Colorado Governor Lee Knous arrived in a DC-3 aircraft flown in for the occasion by Monarch Airlines.

"Governor Knous was introduced and gave a short talk : in which he congratulated Craig and Moffat County for their progressive attitude toward aviation as demonstrated through the air show."

A parachutist demonstrated his skills for the crowd. He didn't quite hit his mark after deploying his parachute at 1,500 ft., but no one seemed to mind much. Two military paratroopers got closer to their intended target, but only jumped from 500 feet.

"Major Sullivan gave a demonstration of dive bombing and blew up a shack on the airport field." (ibid)

The airport continued to be upgraded through the 1950s and '60s, when runway and guidance lights were installed. The runway has seen many private and commercial planes land and take off in the past half century. Work is underway today on yet more improvements to bring the airport up to 21st century standards.

History will repeat itself today when the Craig Centennial celebration will move to the airport for a day of aerial activities. Once again, Craig residents will have the opportunity to watch parachutists drift over the airfield. Modern day pilots will take part in a fly-in while some older planes - some the vintage of the first air show - will be on display. The air show will give young and old an opportunity to revisit history as they help make the newest chapter in Craig's book.

Shannan Koucherik may be reached at honeyrockdogs@msn.com

Comments

jjcarver 6 years, 5 months ago

While reading this article about the airport and airplaned that are a large part of the history of Craig. I was looking to see if there was mentioned of another incident that took place at the airport. I don't know exactly when this happened but I do know it did happen, It was sometime around the start of WW II. Craig had many people that went off to war. Many of them came home to Craig to visit with their families. One incident I have heard many times is about a young USAF pilot that came home to visit his family. The weather was cold and wet and the runway was described as one large mud puddle. This pilot was flying a new jet aircraft and decided to land and visit his family. He landed the aircraft and it was "buried" in the mud. The USAF sent up a truck and got the aircraft and hauled it away. This man was one of three brothers that were in the military at that time along with one of their sisters and a cousin. Anothes sister worked in the war effort at that time. The pilot's name was Robert McClement. All three of the McClement brothers and the sister. There was one 1st cousin that was raised by the McClement's and this cousin was killed in Europe (I think France). This cousin that was killed was no other than the individual who's name is associated with an award that is has beennames to honor him. It is awarded to the outsanding senior thas has distinguished himself in sports and academics during his High School career. His name is DUDE DENT. Unfortunately the three McClement brothers have since died. The two sisters are still alive. The one sister still Lives in Colorado and the other sister lives in Florida. The two sisters had a 3rd sister but she has since passed away. The two sisters that are still alive have adult children that are now part of the senior community. Since this article was about the history of airplanes and their role in Craig. This is just one of the other stories about the airport and airplanes that are associated with the history of Craig.

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AltitudeAdjustment 6 years, 5 months ago

This sounds like a very interesting story and I would appreciate any more information that people might have on it. While a lot of pilots who farried aircraft from the manufacturing plant to the war front did take detours and did some sight seeing, most had a pretty clear destination and had to arrive by a certain time and could only vary slight out of their flight plan. But since air space was not monitored back then and pilots did not have to register their flight plans a lot of liberty was taken at times. The USAF wasn't founded though until after WWII and jet aircraft weren't being produced for the military for regular combat use until the late 40s and even then they were in limited number and very restricted as to who was allowed to fly them and to where. Back in the 40s and 50s, a pilot or soldier could hop a ride with an aircraft going in their direction, but they were not allowed to take an airplane home to visit family specifically.

I would think that by the 40s that the airfield in Craig was not a grass or a dirt strip, but likely had a compact cinder surface which would have held up well for most air craft of the day. I would like to know more of the story and the particulars surrounding it. If you hear anything or get more information please post it to the forum. .

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AltitudeAdjustment 6 years, 5 months ago

Great follow up JJ - Thanks for all the great history.

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jjcarver 6 years, 5 months ago

After reading the comments by AttitudeAdjustment I decided to go back and check some of the things that I have heard about this story. Robert (known as Bob) McClement was a pilot and he did receive permission to land his plain in Craig. It seems as though Robert McClement hadn't check checked the Craig airport as well as he should have. He landed ok but he did not have enough runway to take off again and the Army Air Cor had to come in and dismantel the airplane to remove it. Robert McClement did however receive an official repremand over this incident. Now the plane that Mr. McClement was not a jet as I first thought it was. To get the story I went to Mr. McClement's two remaining sisters to get what I could about this story. They both told me that this happened during WW II but just when eluded both of their memories. One sister was in the Navy and the other sister Was working at a military installation that would reassign the people that returned from over seas. There are a large number of stories that I have heard about Robert McClement as He was my mother's brother. Now this incident happened before my birth so it was sometime in the early 40's. As I was born after the War had ended and I am now over 60 years old. Robert McClement went on to have a very distinguished career and Retired with over 30 years of service. He had attained the rank of Lt. Col. in the USAF. Robert McClement and his wife have since passed but he does have two sons that live in the western part of the United States. He had a daughter that had kidney failure and was on dialysis for many years before she passed. This is the story as told to me by my mother and my aunt. These two are the only ones that are still living today. Since I was born and raised in Craig and I am part of the family I have heard many stories about McClement family. I am sorry that I forgot all the small details as it has been many years ago I heard these stories. I should have checked them out better before I made the first Posting. Thank you.

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grannyrett 6 years, 5 months ago

Wow JJ. Maybe you should write for the Daily Press. That's just the kind of story that I love to read. It's things like this that bring the past back to life for a little bit. What a wonderful tidbit of history. Thank you.

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jjcarver 6 years, 5 months ago

I wish to thank grannyrett and AtitudeAdjustment for the kind remarks about my story of members of my family. I am sure that their are many other stories about people in the Craig Area that have a part in the History of Craig. Take for instance there was a young man from Craig that unfortunately was a POW in Europe. When The POW camp was liberated My Uncle Robert McClement was one of the pilots that helped carry the ex POWs home. As it turned out This POW and Robert McClement were great friends and I have been told that when they met in Europe after the POW camp was liberated they had a great reunion. I have not received permission of this POW's family to give out his name. Therefore I cannot tell you who he is. This POW after being released he was used by the military and was sent around the US for the purpose of receiving support of the American people for the war effort. My aunt (Robert's sister) was working at a reassignment facility and this ex POW came to that facility and when He and my aunt saw each other (My aunt told me) they hugged each other because they also grew up together in Craig. This ex POW looked at my aunt and said something to the effect "I can't get away from you McClements anywhere!" He told her how her brother flew him out of Europe after the liberation of his POW Camp and now he was talking to my aunt in California.( The Sister of Robert McClement.) I am proud to say I was born and Raised in Craig. I now, however, live in Florida. I moved here in January after living for many years in New Jersey.
Happy Hunting

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