From the Museum Archives: The first to fly to Moffat County
June 5, 1920 dawned with clear blue skies and little if any wind; ideal conditions for an event that had drawn hundreds, possibly thousands, of people to Craig, Colorado.
It had been a long six years since the first airplane took flight in Northwest Colorado. That event had taken place at the first Routt County Fair in Hayden in 1914 and consisted of just a few minutes of flight time. This day, however, would end that drought and mark the first time a plan actually flew to our region. The excitement of the day was palatable.
The community didn’t miss the opportunity to capitalize on such an exciting event as it became a two-day celebration. Dances were held and daily baseball games played against surrounding communities. A makeshift airfield was also graded southwest of Craig near the intersection of First Street and Mack Lane. All of this is even more impressive when considering that the visit had just been secured on June 1!
The young pilot was Walter Ainslie from Glenwood Springs. Ainslie, who had just started a flying business in Glenwood the month prior, was a former WWI pilot. He flew a 44-foot Curtiss Oriole biplane and was accompanied by a mechanic — a near-necessity of the day.
Not only were scores of people treated to their first-ever glimpse of a man up in the sky, they got to see unimaginable maneuvers. The Moffat County Courier reported, “At about two o’clock that afternoon (Saturday) the machine circled over the town, the aviator performing many stunts such as looping the loop, nose and tail dives.” The sight was no doubt one of the most memorable events for every man, woman and child in attendance.
To cap it all off, airplane rides were offered at a cost $12.50 for a ten minute trip (about $160 in today’s dollars). From the Courier: “Miss Dagny Dietrickson and Miss Esther Weyand were the first passengers and report that they enjoyed the experience immensely.”
Other reports made by the Moffat County Courier are as follows:
“The editor’s sixteen month old daughter insisted the machine was a big fly.”
“An exceptionally pretty young lady insisted that the pilot took her to greater heights than anyone else. ‘When he saw me,’ she declared, ‘he went right up in the air!’”
“Also reported was the fact that Mrs. Louise Rice has the distinction of receiving the first letter delivery in Craig by aeroplane. Ainslie brought over a letter to be mailed here on making the trip from Glenwood Springs.”
Though most things would appear to remain the same in isolated Northwest Colorado after June 5, 1920, airplanes were quickly changing transportation as they opened-up the world to more efficient travel. In reality, Northwest Colorado, and the world, has never been the same since.
This story had been forgotten to history until the recent generous donation of photos by Janie Nelson of the longtime Flack family.
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.