We all had a lot of memories to recall, chuckle over, and feel sentimental about as we headed west yesterday from Moraine. It had been such a non stop of revelry, connection and life. All set against the back drop of antique airplanes. I quickly recognized a pattern during our time at Andy and Susan’s hangar. In the afternoon, the core group of characters would start arriving at the hangar. Joking and good natured insults would fly with aviation being the central theme. Other assorted stragglers would happen by and no one would be safe from the teasing. By early evening, when the wind would dissipate and the wind sock hung limply someone (sometimes me) would decide that it would be time to take to the air. The hangar would become a flurry of activity as all hands on deck would push barbecues, chairs, tool boxes and chairs to the side.
Airplanes would be rolled out; Susan’s flame red and yellow Waco RNF biplane, Andy’s cream and red cabin Waco, the Student Prince, a Champ, a Citabria, Pete’s cream and red Waco CRG. A group would assemble outside the hangar to watch as pilots climbed into the airplanes with excited passengers. I loved it, any time I got into the rear cockpit of the Prince, there was a competent person instantly standing by to give the prop a swing and start the engine.
The evening sky at Moraine was stunning. As if on cue, cloud formations would offer ever varied stunning backdrops, reflecting the setting sun and its palette. Blue, pink, orange, purple and yellow. Against this backdrop, antique airplanes blazed, flying pieces of art in every quadrant of the sky with the distinct sound of radial engines filling the air. Passengers would be dropped off in front of the hangar with grins plastered all over their faces and another one loaded. The colors of the airplanes would blaze brighter and brighter with the setting until the sun dipped below the horizon. This was the way in which the days would come to a close, and it was pure perfection. Beauty, sharing, and laughter. Our spirits will long be sustained by these memories.
Leaving our dejected friends waving goodbye, we took up a northwesterly course. With Jerry in the Cub in his faithful position off my right wing, our long trek home began. I could feel my body aching with the deep exhaustion that comes from having nonstop fun and the sadness of farewell. A small price to pay. When we landed for fuel in Kokomo, Indiana I was more than ready to stretch and drink some coffee. Due to our late start, we decided that to fly only one more leg for the day. We had so enjoyed David and Jeanne from our eastbound leg when we stopped for fuel at Dwight, Illinois that we figured it would be a great overnight stop. We were twenty minutes from Dwight when I decided to change our destination. Kankakee airport was just a few miles to the north of our course and I felt compelled to stop. I had heard about it being a great place with a neat aviation family and a grass runway. Good enough for me. As I slipped in to land to the west, I couldn’t believe how wide the grass runway was. And there were two of them! I was in hog heaven when I spied a massive old wood hangar and I knew the Prince would look right at home parked under the sign on the hangar that read, “Koerner Aviation”.
It never ceases to amaze me that seemingly deserted airports consistently produce someone who seems to materialize from behind a hangar. Steve Koerner materialized in such a way, welcoming us to his family’s airport. He put up with our inquisitive questions and gave us a tour of the hangar. The airport has been in existence since 1927, and both Steve’s grandfather and father were pilots. Steve didn’t tell us that he was born in an airplane, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. The old hangar seemed to contain the vibrations of the layers upon layers of aviators, airplanes and mechanics. Massive wooden beams and trusses had stood watch over so many experiences. I loved the smell of the old oil and wood that emanted from its pores. If that hangar could talk….
Typical of aviation hospitality, Steve let us put the Prince in a hangar, helped us load our bags into his truck and dropped us at a hotel, promising to collect us in the morning.
This morning, Steve arrived at the Hilton to fetch ud with his wife Kelly who come along to meet us. They were great fun to visit with while we untied the Cub and packed up. Steve was kind enough to torque the propellor on the Prince, and then he told me his grandfather used to barnstorm. I was thrilled to talk to someone who was actually connected to a real barnstormer. Steve produced a photo album with old black and whiten photos of his aviation heritage. Sure enough, there was his grandfather standing next to an OX5 powered Standard biplane in a field. We were sorry we had to take our leave, and Steve and Kelly generously outfitted us with Koerner Aviation hats and T shirts. I put my shirt on right away. Red, it matched the Prince. We took some pictures and was honored that Steve hand propped the Kinner. He said he had never propped a Kinner before, and it started for him on the second pull.
Jerry and I both did a low pass and waggled the wings to Steve and Kelly as they stood waving. I am so glad that we stopped. What great folks with deep aviation roots.
We flew a few minutes to Dwight for fuel, and it was wonderful seeing David and Jeanne’s eyes light up with delight at seeing us again. We were very glad to see them as well. In the interest of making time, we had to decline David’s offer to have breakfast. We said another fond farewell and took off while Jeanne, David and two bicyclists on the road waved.
After a quick fuel stop and weather check in Monticello, we discovered that our intended route of flight paralleled a nasty line of convective weather that was moving southeast. An hour later on the ground for fueling at Waverly, Iowa we had a decision to make. The weather was not going to allow us to go in a straight line, but we could make some more headway if we tracked northwest into Minnesota. Not wanting to gamble with the weather, hangars at our overnight destination would be a must. While mulling over airports in Minnesota, I recieved a message from Dale of Ackley, Iowa. He was inviting us to stay at their sweet little airport as we had done while eastbound. Only 26 miles away, but nearer to the storm we definitely needed hangars if we were to stay. I called Dale, and within a few quick minutes it was decided that his son would fly his own plane to a neighboring airport and let the Prince stay in his hangar at Ackley. And that is how we found ourselves happily reunited with our new friends in Ackley. Sitting in front of the Prince and Cub tucked into hangars, eating pizza and Dayton brownies while laughing, telling stories and watching the fireflies dance.