Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society & Museum

Preserving aviation's past for future generations.

Vulcan Aircraft Company

By G. SAM PIATT
Portsmouth Daily Times Staff Writer

The making of shoes and steel aren't the only manufacturing plants
Portsmouth has lost during the course of its history. It also once had
an airplane factory.

The city's history is filled with the stories of people who took pride
in producing with their minds and hands the commodities necessary for
humanity to have a better life.

One of them was William Burke, president of the Vulcan Last Co.
W.L. Questel, one of Vulcan's executive officers, said the
opportunities in Portsmouth for the hard-working, conscientious person
during the early years of the 20th Century were as good as anyplace in
the world.

Everyone had to have shoes, and the several shoe manufacturers in
Portsmouth during the first half of the 20th century had to have lasts
as a model for shaping shoes or boots.

Vulcan Last supplied that need, as well as jobs that made life easier
and eventually gave man time to take part in leisure time activities.
To meet that need, Burke and Vulcan Last began making golf clubs and golf balls.

The Raven Rock Golf Course was designed by Questel. The golf course
lay where Portsmouth West High School now stands, not far from where
the Raven Rock Airport operated.

"I caddied there for a while," said Bill Questel, 80, of Portsmouth,
the grandson of William Louis Questel. His grandfather came to Portsmouth from Leon, W.Va., as a child and worked at building shoes and as a shoe machinery salesman for nearly30 years before joining Vulcan Last as its secretary in 1812, shortly after the company incorporated in 1809.

One other commodity Burke became involved in producing was airplanes.
There was lots of enthusiasm for aviation in Portsmouth and elsewhere
following Charles Lindberg's famous trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. In
the late 1920s, through Burke's efforts, Portsmouth became an aviation
manufacturing center.

It happened after Burke met an aircraft promoter who was looking for a
financial backer. The result of the meeting was formation of the
Vulcan Aircraft Corp.

Brothers Harvey and Wilson Doyle of North Carolina, who had been on
their way to Detroit to launch their aviation careers when they
stopped in Portsmouth, were hired as the aircraft's designer. Dwight
Huntington and Jan Pavleka were also involved in the enterprise.
Drawings were completed and Vulcan Aircraft rented a former streetcar
barn between Second and Third streets, across Second Street from there
the Scioto County Welcome Center now stands.

Burke doubted the plane would ever fly. "This is like putting your
money on a long shot in a horse race," he was quoted as saying as production got under way. "Our greatest asset and the thing that kept us going was our ignorance." The first Vulcan American Moth Monoplane built by the Vulcan Aircraft Company of Portsmouth in 1928 in the factory in the west end of Portsmouth was 18 feet long and had a 30-foot wingspan. It was named after the popular British DeHavilland Moth.

And it could fly. It cruised at 80-85 mph and top speed was 105 mph.
It weighed 650 pounds. It had a 20-gallon gas tank and burned four and
one-half gallons per one hour of flight, giving it a range of about
350 miles.

In January 1928, after several test flights, the maiden flight of the
American Moth took off at Raven Rock Airport. The plane flew over the
city in formation with two other noted aircraft, all on their way to
Florida. The flight to Florida and back was to advertise the plane and
to sell golf clubs. Benny Martinez, a parachute jumper, was to jump from the back seat of the Moth with a bag of Vulcan golf clubs into a field near each major city. The plane would land and pick him up and continue on. That ended after Martinez broke his leg on one of the jumps. The pilot of the goodwill tour, Pat Love, also factory manager and chief test pilot, was killed in the crash of his own plane on Nov. 5, 1929.

Vulcan Aircraft Corp. went on to build seven more of the Moths during 1928.
But in November of that year, the corporation experienced problems.
The plane was priced at $2,500, a considerable amount of money in
those days. The company was sold to Davis Monoplane Co., Walter C.
Davis owner, in Richmond, Ind. Davis went on to build 25 more aircraft
using the Moth design.

Bill Questel has gathered into a large folder -- thanks much to the
research of his friend, Paul O'Neill of Wheelersburg -- the information on the American Moth. O'Neill said the building where the American Moth was built was across the street from Lute's Plumbing on Third Street. It was torn down
several years ago.

In 2007 Questel and O'Neill's research turned up, in Hemet, Calif.,
what is apparently the lone surviving restored American Moth built by
the Vulcan Aircraft Corp. in Portsmouth. A group of local businessmen joined together to try to bring the Moth back to its birthplace.

One of them, George Vetter, said he would like to see the money raised
"to buy that old Moth out in California and bring it here and park it
in the Welcome Center as a centerpiece in the lobby...after all, the
old bird was built in a factory on Second Street, just across from the
Welcome Center."

"If the American Moth would be available for sale please reply with a price stating current condition," Questel asked in a March 28, 2007 letter to the plane's owner, Dick Stephens. But, turns out, it's not for sale at any price.


G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.