The nugget. (Sisters, Or.) 1994-current, February 22, 2017, Page 6, Image 6

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon
Tales from a
Sisters
Naturalist
by Jim Anderson
Sisters Airport
goes way back...
There’s been a lot of talk
about the Sisters Airport
over the last few months,
which got me to thinking
that perhaps a lot of people
don’t know much about the
history of the operation.
I doubt very much
there’s anyone in Sisters
Country who remembers
the 1950s, when the air-
port was a key location for
reporting Russian bombers
that Congress and the War
Department knew would be
coming over the North Pole
some day to bomb us.
However, the airport
had its beginning way back
before that — as my old
buckaroo pal from Ft. Rock,
Reub Long would say,
“When the Sun was a tiny
thing, there weren’t no Moon
and the Big Dipper was a
little tin drinkin’ cup.” Well,
that’s pushing it, but as far as
some people can recollect,
it was in 1935 that George
Wakefield bought land from
Vine Stidham and started the
present airport.
But even before that, in
the early ’30s an airplane
landed on the fairgrounds,
just south of the pres-
ent Sisters Eagle Airport
of today. Children out on
school recess watched it
land. No one in Sisters had
seen an airplane up until that
auspicious event.
On the same day, they
also watched the first air-
plane crash in Sisters.
Density altitude (a factor
affecting how long it takes
for an airplane to become
airborne) was an unknown
factor in those days, and
apparently that’s what got
in the way of a safe takeoff
from the fairgrounds. The
aircraft couldn’t climb fast
enough to clear the pines at
the end of the fairgrounds,
and it crashed in the tops of
the trees. Pilot and passen-
gers were not hurt — and
there were no FAA officials
breathing down the pilot’s
neck after the crash, either.
In 1933, Ted Barber, a
veteran of World War I, oper-
ated from the fairgrounds,
barnstorming and hopping
rides for a buck a flight.
In the meantime, Sisters
resident George Wakefield
was serious about building
an airport on the old Stidham
holdings—which before
that were part of the even-
older Davis Ranch. With the
help of U.S. Forest Service
employees and Civilian
Conservation Corps boys,
Wakefield got his runway(s)
put in, planted grass and
called it good.
That’s when people fly-
ing out of Sisters discovered
the infamous crosswinds. To
compensate, Wakefield cut
two more runways out of the
sagebrush, trying to aim them
at the winds, and it worked
2016 Non-Profit
of the Year
… sort of, once in a while.
After World War II, the
big scare was Russia fly-
ing bombers over the Arctic
Circle and bombing us. The
Department of Defense
asked for volunteers to man
the Ground Observer Corps
(GOC) watching our skies
for Russian bombers from
1956 to 1958.
Sisters Airport became
one of the hundreds of
Oregon GOC observation
sites. Bend had two such
areas, one on the summit
of Pilot Butte and another
on the summit of Newberry
Volcano.
Virginia Campbell, who
lived on her Black Butte
Ranch, was a member of the
GOC team in those years,
watching for and report-
ing any unknown aircraft
she observed. That faithful
woman was on duty 24/7,
and as a result was issued an
Honorary Life Membership
of the United States Air
Force Air Defense Team for
her services.
In 1958, I was taking les-
sons from Pat Gibson, Fixed
Base Operator (FBO) of the
Bend Airport, working on
my FAA private license rat-
ing. As part of the lessons,
Pat would start out by hav-
ing me shoot a few touch-
and-gos in Bend and then he
asked me to take us to Sisters
airport to work on cross-
wind landings.
“There’s no airport in
Oregon,” he’d often say,
“that’ll teach you how to
survive cross-wind landings
like Sisters.”
Gibson also came to
Sisters to pick up Leonard
Lundgren, who lived in
PHOTO BY JIM ANDERSON
Vern Goodsell’s replica Spitfire at Sisters Eagle Airport.
Camp Sherman, with saw-
mills in Bend and Sisters. He
also flew Lundgren out to the
GI Ranch he owned, located
on the Great Sandy Desert
east of Hampton Station.
George Wakefield eventu-
ally got Harold Barclay and
Maurice Hitchcock involved
in his Sisters airport scheme.
Together they purchased a
four-place Fairchild. Barclay
sold his half to Wakefield,
then in 1951 Barclay bought
the airport from Wakefield
and Hitchcock’s ranch. At
that time the Indian Ford
Land and Cattle Company
(IFLC) was also involved.
In 1967 Barclay, along
with the IFLC’s agreement,
gave the whole shebang to
the State of Oregon Board of
Aeronautics. At that time the
main runway was extended
to 3,700 feet, and the other
two runways — put in as
an attempt to counter the
See AIRPORT on page 16
YEARS OF
LODGE & SPA
Three Sisters Lions Club thanks the
2016 Sisters Country
Sisters Chamber & our local community.
2017 is Lions Club International’s
Business of the Year!
Centennial: 100 years of service.
FivePine Lodge is honored to be a part of such a generous community.
Meetings: 1st Thursdays, noon,
We truly appreciate our amazing local businesses and the continuous
support from the wonderful people in Sisters Country.
at Ray’s Food Place.