Before Oshkosh, Before AirVenture

By John Meyers, EAA 66692

I was born in 1945 as part of what became the “boomer” population. We lived in central Ohio then, and the sky was always noisy with airplanes.

With a skyward view, I became a true airplane nerd in my early teens. I was fortunate to be close to some aviation-oriented adults who nurtured my interest. At the time, the Civil Air Patrol was an available local conduit for a combination of military and aviation environments aimed at youths and adults. I was keen and took full advantage of my CAP squadron’s Piper J-3 Cub and Aeronca L-16, and managed to solo in summer of 1961, age 16. My parents were clueless about what this endeavor could accomplish but they eventually became supporters.

By summer 1964, I was a new private pilot, enjoying my last year as a teen. I was free of college for the summer and pursuing my next ratings for an unknown but desired future in aviation. (This is where EAA comes in.) Someone in the Newark, Ohio, airport crowd decided to gather some enthusiasts, youth included, for an overland journey to Rockford, Illinois, the site of the annual EAA fly-in convention, which was supposed to be a big deal!

At the time, I was not very familiar with EAA, but apparently the old guys in the airport gang (40-somethings) thought this trek to Illinois was a good idea. A really old guy (70-something) took the trunk lid off his Hudson Hornet and made it a 5th wheel tow-vehicle for a homemade plywood sleeping trailer of considerable size. This became our lead vehicle for the adventure. I rode backseat in a pretty nice 1957 Chevy Wagon which towed a crank-up camper. It was there I cast my grubstake. My artistic bent got me a job putting some graphics on the big trailer with poster paint. I had a new $15 wind-up 8mm movie camera to record the events.

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To make a long story shorter, we made it to Rockford in good order. It was a coming-of-age experience for me, making a grander connection with aviation, camping out, hanging out with old aviator guys, and girl-chasing. There were airplanes galore and air shows with Bob Hoover, Duane Cole, Harold Krier, Bill Adams, and others. We were treated to constant daytime fly-bys of contemporary experimentals or prototypes like Pete Bowers’ Fly Baby and Jim Bede’s BD-1. Later each day, there were air shows, campfires, and story times at twilight. We all got a ride in the Ford Tri-Motor. I am not sure who among us was an actual EAA member but it was probably old Colonel Fisher, the owner of the Hudson and trailer.

Eventually this long weekend of good fun came to an end. We decamped and trekked toward home. The Chicago Thruway (I-294) was fascinating including the “oasis” rest stop built over the highway, near O’Hare Airport. Where else could we Ohio Buckeyes get gas, a meal, relieve ourselves, and watch big iron flying in all corners of the sky?

On the way home, we stopped at the Xenia, Ohio, airport where the colonel bought a pair of Cub wings. With considerable effort, the wings were hoisted and strapped to the top of the plywood RV, all of which the colonel carefully supervised. The Hudson got a flat tire and it was late so we camped out at the Xenia airport. At dawn, the crew fixed the flat and we soon got home to central Ohio with many good memories. The Cub wings became part of the colonel’s hangar collection of bits and parts.

Epilogue: I owe a lot to those adult enthusiasts who helped me immerse myself in aviation endeavors. Rockford 1964 was a big component. A scant two years later, I was a candidate pilot learning the DC-6 and B-727 at United Airlines in Denver, Colorado. Later, I was based in the Seattle area and joined EAA in 1972. I flew a Starduster Too from Seattle to the Oshkosh event in 1974. That was my first visit to the Oshkosh venue, just 10 years after the Rockford adventure.

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