88 counties, one week
Kent State journalism professor Joe Murray and retired doctor Ron Siwik have spent the last week flying vintage Piper Cub planes from Portage County to Dayton – stopping in every county in the state along the way. It’s a trip that could land them in the record books for the fastest time to land a Piper Cub in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
At a stop last week in rural Stark County, you could tell the journey has been strenuous. The two were slow to climb out of their bright yellow aircraft and quick to find somewhere to sit along the wide grass runway at the Beach City Airport.
Cabin fever and an anniversary
Murray says the idea was hatched out of cabin fever. “This year is the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub. And I said ‘Boy maybe I should fly this thing down to the Huffman Prairie, where the Wright Brothers first flew airplanes,” he said. “But it was like a seed. And the longer the cabin fever lasted the bigger the idea got.”
They couldn’t get permission to land at Huffman Prairie north of Dayton, so they settled for nearby Dayton Wright Brothers Airport. Still, the experience of flying “low and slow” is one that Siwik says is a dream come true.
“I have another airplane that’s faster, flies higher. Looking down at the countryside for the last 45 years, I’ve developed a desire to get a little closer to the terrain and not zip past so fast and really get down and meet the people and touch down on the runways and experience the local flavor.”
Generous folks along the way
Murray says the people he’s met on the journey so far have been incredibly generous, offering them everything from gas for the planes to homemade ice cream…and a passerby offered them a lift after they landed at an airport in Findlay after closing time.
“We walked out to the highway and stood there with the thumb out,” Siwik said. “And about the seventh passerby pulled over and said ‘Did you fly in in those Cubs?’”
“He said ‘what are you guys doing?” Murray added. “I said ‘well you know we just landed here, everything’s closed we need to get a ride to a hotel’ and he said ‘I’ll take you.’ So we threw all the stuff in his trunk. I don’t know his last name but he’s our new best friend Daniel. He drove us all the way out to the hotel,… wished us well, said ‘praise the Lord’ and drove away.”
One man even tagged along in his own plane for a few legs of the journey. Bob Taylor of Wadsworth learned about the trip online:
“I had to take the day off today just to do this little bit. But I would really like to spend more time and take three or four days and do a trip like this. It would be great.”
A unique find at Beach City
There were just two people waiting on the runway at Beach City to greet the pilots. But Murray was still excited for the stop. He was particularly interested in one plane, an old Douglas DC-3. Those types of planes were built as passenger planes in the 30s and 40s. Murray thinks that Beach City’s DC-3, with chipping paint and weeds growing around the tires, may hold a special significance to many of Ohio’s county airports.
“Rumor is that Jim Rhodes, Governor Rhodes, used it to fly around Ohio to commission all of the airports. So it’s a pretty special airplane. I got just a little bit of that story from a pilot when I was here about a year ago and I want to come back and find out a little more about it.”
Obstacles along the way
The trip hasn’t been without obstacles. The trip had to be delayed when one of the planes lost brake pressure. And in Toledo, air traffic controllers weren’t used to the lack of modern equipment in the vintage planes.
“I find myself calling back saying we don’t have a transponder and, oh by the way, we don’t have any electricity in the airplane,” Murray said. “So the radio goes quiet for a couple seconds and then they figure out how to accommodate us.”
Murray plans to use his experience as the basis for a book. He’s also raising money at each stop for a scholarship that will help a disadvantaged student attend Kent State.
Murray and Siwik expect to complete their adventure in Dayton this week.