Bob & Norm Muehlenhard
Mt. Healthy Airport Stories
Bob Muehlenhard Norm Muehlenhard
Bob: I would say that they started grading the airport in 1927. Maybe two years in advance.
Norm: I remember when the first flights came in there. Our grandfather had a farm over on Springdale Road very, very close to the airport. We were picking up potatoes for Grandpa. That means he was digging with the horses and we would come along and put them in a bucket or basket, probably a bucket. And my brother Herb who was a pretty husky sort of individual grabbed a potato and said, “I’m going to hit that airplane.” Well, you know, he didn’t come very close at all.
Bob: Within a few miles of it.
Norm: So I can remember when the first flights came in. But I expect Bob’s right. They probably started in grading a year or two ahead 1928 or 1929, back in 1926. Evidently I don’t know what the purpose of the airport was to begin with, whether it was a commercial type thing or if it was just a recreational hope of number of people from around Mt. Healthy, several people from around Mt. Healthy.
Bob: There was a Hochscheid in on this; Abbott was in on this; Schild, one of the Schilds, was in on it. Which one we don’t know. And a couple of others. Yerkes was in on it, Clyde Yerkes.
Norm: Clyde was involved with the Mt. Healthy bank. There were two banks in Mt. Healthy at one time. Hochshield was connected with the other one.
Bob: I never heard that Powell Crosley was involved in the Mt. Healthy Airport. Now, he owned a farm that joined the back end of Dad’s place, our father’s place, by a few hundred yards. Then Todds was next to that. That’s the only connection I know of Crosley had with this part of the country.
Norm: Powell Crosley would land his plane near Kipling and Banning Road, where the Mt. Airy campus of the Franciscan Health Care Center is located. He would land his plane over there occasionally, and he would land at Mt. Healthy Airport. I think he may have landed it back in some of those fields back there. He didn’t fly it, but his pilot did.
Bob: Crosley did own land across from the airport. His farm came in off of Colerain. He did not have a landing strip as such on that property.
Norm: There probably was not too much grading that had to be done at the airport site.
Bob: There was one little valley in there.
Norm: There was sort of a drainage ditch that ran through there, and they eventually filled that. The fact is we would taxi across that part before we took off because it was rough and we’d miss it.
Bob: Remember on the Sundays when they’d have the parachute jumps. We would know what was coming. They always took two planes up, for some reason. We’d all go out in the yard for that guy to jump out of there. One day, one jumped out of there and we didn’t see the chute open. At the very last moment, we saw it spread above the trees. It was that close. They said it was quite a thrill at the airport when that chute opened at that time.
Norm: I would say the last planes went out of there in the early fifties.
Norm: But, I flew off of there Bob, after I came back from the service. And I flew there before I went into the service and after I came back.
Bob: You are right, so it would have to be the late forties, early fifties.
Norm: They just had a single runway running kind of southwest-northeast. It wasn’t very long, I’ll tell you that.
Bob: It would approach two thousand feet; it wasn’t very wide, wasn’t paved.
Norm: The rain wasn’t as bad as the freezing and thawing, when the mud would sling up under the wings. That would give you a slow takeoff situation.
Bob: Many of those planes didn’t have a wheel in the back; they just had a hook back there.
Norm: A tail skid. This thing I flew off there before the war. That’s a Rearwin Sportster, 70 h.p Leblond engine on it, a radial engine. But I really learned on a Cub, a 40 h.p. Cub, Sometimes they’d let me fly a 50 h.p. Pop Muhlberger, who was a pre-WWII Lessee or Lessor or whatever you call them, flew in a Stinson. It had a wing span. Well, it would not fit in that second hanger. The nose hung out and he’d cover that with a canvas or something.
The peculiar thing about Pop was he lived in a one room shack or whatever it is, and he had a dog. I think he called him Stinker.
Bob: How about when they started those planes. None of them had starters on them; they always started by turning the prop.
Norm: There were a couple of fellows from Hamilton. I mentioned the name Hogan. Some of these people were sort of the take-over people later in the late thirties, maybe the mid thirties, after the depression hit. The thing sort of fell apart during the depression.
During that period, I think the Hogan Brothers eventually sold their airport to the City of Hamilton. I guess its now the Hamilton Municipal Airport. But they still flew an airline out of there; they called the Hogan Airline or something.
John Benninghoffen and George Diesbach flew a Waco, a bi-wing Waco Cabin, and it had a starter on it that operated from air, I think. They pump it up, and then they induced air into the thing and that cranked it. But your right, Bob. Most of the planes over there were cranked with a propeller.
There were very few of the open cockpit planes except the older Waco Bi-wing, taper wing, which is the name I think they refer to most of them as. There were open cockpit planes over here. I think the thing that changed the flying, for instance, was really the introduction of the Cub, the Piper Cub. It was a tandem plane, and it had a fold-down door where you’d fold it down and pushed the other one up, and it hooked up there under the wing, the upper one. The seats were tandem, one up front and the other in the back, and you flew it from the back as was the Rearwin I mentioned earlier. It was a tandem also, but you flew it from the front seat. I learned to fly in a Piper Cub, 40 h.p and eventually a 50 h.p. This Rearwin had a 70 h.p, and four of us bought this plane from the operator at that time, George South. This is pre-World War II, probably 1940, when we bought it.
I didn’t know how many hours it had on it, but it was a good airplane. It cruised at about seventy-two miles per hour when you flew it. When you set it down it was down; it didn’t bounce back up again like Cubs would do. It was a heavier plane.
Cubs were so light. Once you set them down, sometimes if a gust of wind would come along, it might tend to raise them again, so you had to jockey it down to the ground again. A lot of people learned to fly on the Cubs. I think they sort of revitalized it.
Another popular plane manufactured in Middletown was the Aeronca. There was the Aeronca Chief and an Aeronca C-2 or C-3. Both were side-by-side planes, where you could sit right next to each other, and they were very handsome planes, very good planes.
They were quite nice. I think they trained a lot of pilots on those initially, in WorldWar II. Incidentally, I wound up in the infantry. Well, I was an early draftee. I said, “Good bye, Dear. I’ll be back in a year.” My mother said, “Don’t tell them you fly,” because the death rate was pretty high for pilots in World War I.
Well, that’s why I didn’t tell them, and that’s the one question I asked after they asked me to go to officers training school. Why didn’t I tell them I flew then? Well, I told them the reason. Anyway, I wound up being an infantry officer.
The people who operated the airport immediately after World War II had a plane they called Miss Colerain. I think that was about a six-passenger or even greater than that.
Bob: There was a big steel building at the airport. We’d probably call it pole barn today. The original building had Mt. Healthy Airport painted on the roof and a windsock on the front of it I remember.
Norm: No control tower, just the windsock. We never filed flight plans, except after the war. I think when I took cross-country flights, I filed flight plans for that. No radio; you went by compass or by land contact looking for landmarks. They tell me that the initial airmail planes that flew out of Lunken could fly from here to Chicago, just looking at church steeples.
The office was shared on rainy days by we would-be pilots, and I always felt sorry for George South and Mrs. South--her name was Lee--because she had to put up with our muddy feet and what not, as we sat around and told air stories.
Pop Muhlberger use to say that every flight that you took was a new lesson, a new experience, because the air was always different, for every time you went out, and he was certainly right.
Across the street was Hudepohl’s Cafe. Esther and Joe Hudpohl ran that, and we would go over there again on rainy days, when it was too windy to fly, to hash over a flew items and to meet people.
And Joe and Esther were always gracious hosts. Of course, we bought some of their beer, not very much, but some. That was the main restaurant, and then Bob mentioned Tiny Ludwig’s. I’ve forgotten what his right name was anymore. He was a big guy. When he took it over, it wasn’t the homey place that it once was.
Tiny Ludwig bought the place from Hudepohl. One followed the other. They did not operate at the same time. Tiny tried to operate it as a dance hall. I don’t think it was very successful. I met a lot of people at Hudepohl’s and made a lot of friends. There were a lot of people from the Dry Ridge area, back by St. John the Baptist Catholic church, people like Blackie Wurzelbacher, the cattle trader.
There was an old toll house on the northwest corner of Colerain and Springdale. And that was used as a place from time to time to repair airplanes and recover them. There was a great big sycamore tree there, probably took two or three people to wrap their arms around them before they could get all away around it.
I can recall people recovering planes there. Maybe these guys bought some old heap someplace and refinished them, because that was a requirement of the F.A.A. Then they’d go get those planes inspected. George South was an authorized mechanic, and he had several people who worked for him, and Elmer Lierer was one of those people. Elmer could tear an engine down and put it together with his eyes closed. He was a nice guy. I don’t think he ever finished the eighth grade, but he was a very nice fellow. He was always at the airport, washing airplanes. He flew airplanes; he flew to work at another airport.
Bob: On the southwest corner was the airport. On the southeast corner where White Castle is today, Elmer Lierer lived. They had a little poultry farm there, chickens, and they sold eggs. It was a modern day chicken farm. They kept them in cages.
Norm: On the northeast corner was Tiny Ludwigs-Hudpohl’s. On the northwest corner was the old toll house and the sycamore tree. That’s where they repaired and recovered airplanes in the old tollhouse.
Bob: We got home from school that day. I think they were playing a ball game or something. We were dropped off at the end of our lane, and it was fifteen hundred feet back from Pippin Road. We got back there, and Dad said he had been putting a new floor in the milk house. The inspector saw a big crack down the middle of it and he didn’t like it.
One of the high spots of the farm was the silo. He took the time out from his cement work and climbed up there to take a look around. There was supposed to be an airplane accident on the west end of the farm.
First thing you know, people started pouring in. They were coming out of the woods, across the fences, and out of the woodwork, and the ambulance came. I went back to see the airplane. I remember that for some reason, the gate that entered the back field was closed. The cattle were in the back pasture that day, and that gate prevented them from getting in the fields.
I remember opening the gate so the ambulance could get out. And we didn’t know what was just going to be, whether they were going to ask to use the house. I remember Mom getting all excited. She said “Maybe they’ll want to use the house for the injured people.” They went right on. They took the the injured people, the pilot and the student, on down to Good Sam. That would be about the closest hospital at that time. We were all excited about it. We then went back and looked at the airplane and elbowed our way though the crowd.
Norm: There weren’t too many people initially.
Bob: But they sure did pour in after the word got around. Good thing all the crops were harvested. There had been a soy been field there. If the soybeans had still been standing there, the people would have trampled everything.
The following year we found a piece of the propeller way up in the field where Dad said there had been the old charcoal pits. There was a peculiar odor about that plane, and to this day, if I catch certain odors, I think back to that airplane wreck. I expected to see it demolished far more than it was.
The crash occurred when the student froze at the controls, according to Howard Hochscheid. The instructor bopped him over the head with a fire extinguisher to wake him up, or knock him out so that the instructor could regain control.
Apparently it was like two people with two steering wheels, and this guy was so rigid that the instructor couldn’t take the control away. They had stick control in those days. They didn’t have steering wheels; they had what you called a stick.
That odor, through all these years, has remained in my mind. Wing glue, I guess, is what it was. Norm, you would know more about that then I.
Norm: There was oil, for one thing. The engine was quite long. Probably a V-8 or a V-12. It was a big heavy engine. It was an American Eagle.
Bob: You have lawn mowers today that have more h.p then some of those things had.
Norm: It was an American Eagle; we kept part of the wings, I guess.
Bob: We had them around for years. Dad hauled it in his 1928 Chevrolet truck and got paid five bucks for it. That was a fair price in those days. We kept those wings and some
of the fittings. I’m sure all of those fittings were metric, because we couldn’t get those turn-buckles to match up.
Norm: Well, they were S.A.E. at any rate.
Bob: Howard Hochscheid told me that the airplane was assembled at Dayton Airport and flown down here. Both men in the crash died. They were taken to the hospital , and they were both dead by the next morning.
Norm: There was a fellow by the name of Childs that use to fly off of there, Bill Childs. He was a fellow who use to work over there. He probably got compensated with some flying time. I understand that he was the next fellow to go up after the plane landed, after they came in off this flight, Bill Childs.
I guess that crash did sort of have a deadning effect, bad word, where it sort of neutralized my activity there for awhile, I’m thinking. Things just didn’t go on.
Bob: I think most of us were afraid of airports in those days, sort of like Wilbur or Orville Wright when they went up the first time. They use to have parachute jumps on Sunday. We lived on the farm back here and had an open view of the sky and knew they were going to jump. It seems like there were two planes. and they always circled around. Then the jumpers would jump, and you would see that little parachute open up and wonder how a guy would have enough nerve to do that.
But this one day it looked like something the size of a chicken came out of that plane, and it kept coming and coming and coming. We thought sure that was it, except that we did see the plane, and the parachute just above the tree tops as it opened.
I heard this, that women were running for their outhouses to get away from what they might see there. I doubt that because you’re moving pretty fast through the air. But we heard the next day that he was only a couple hundred feet above the ground before the chute opened.
I remember the airplanes going over and how they use to scare the chickens and the cows according to the neighbors. Actually this is funny. There was a second airport that opened up over here, Lakewood. This fellow over at Lakewood was pretty smart. If the farmers would have a tool to break down, they’d take it there to be welded. The guy would weld it for them. His planes didn’t scare the chickens and the cows. There were few complaints.
Norm: We use to see guys not really climbing on the top but walking in the struts, hanging on to the struts. They use to charge three dollars for a trip around, you know, just take off and land.
Bob: I know Louise and I went up in one of those two-seaters, and we flew around. We went over the farm, and we could see Dad working on the old tractor. We could make that out from the air. So when these helicopters hover around, they can get a pretty good view of you.
I think the big highlight of aviation around here was the day when three Army jets landed at Lakewood Airport. That was the day! Dad did save the cattle. Even though they were all in the barn, they actually trembled.
Norm: Lakewood had a paved runway, and they hit that runway fine, but then one right after another coming in, they scooted off to the side and they plowed into that mud. They got in pretty deep.
They were very, very heavy and of course way too heavy for that runway, although they had pretty good spec’s on that runway. I guess one followed the other. One scooted off and the other scooted off. I only remember two of those guys.
Bob: I know one plane was pretty well in the mud. I know that.
Norm: And then we went hunting that night, we would hunt for any fur bearing animals, and we got stopped by the guards near the airport.
Ed: The runway at Lakewood was a lot shorter than the jets really needed, and they were running out of gas, at least that’s what we hear. As they came in, because of the shortness of the runway, they almost immediately had to apply their brakes.
And in applying their brakes, they also churned up the landing strip, took chunks and that kind of thing out of the strip. After they landed, the Air Force, Wright Patterson sent in some hot-shot pilots. They took all the excess weight off those jets. They removed everything they could, any weight that could be removed, and still let the plane fly. These pilots, daredevil types, got them off on that short runway and they flew them to Boone County Airport.
Bob: That story is correct. Now Norm tells me that in flying an airplane, there are certain temperatures. They waited for a nice cool day when the air has a nice solid feel. They took advantage of all those things. They used the weightless plane, the lift of the air, and the cold air mass.
Norm: Took them about three weeks to get those things out of there.
Bob: I think they were waiting for the right weather.
Ed: They had to remove all the excess weight, take all the armament off, and repair the runway. That was really the highlight of the year.
Norm: The crash in 1928 occurred about back near where Loralinda and Niagara intersect. There were other little incidents such as to crank a plane you didn’t have choked, nobody else around, and it ran over into the locust thicket. It would maybe chop up a wing, or something not very serious.
What we really aimed at when we landed at Mt. Healthy was to go beyond the drainage ditch, the low spot. If you hit just beyond that, then you were at pretty good altitude coming over Colerain.
Coming in from the other end, you had an east wind. In fact, during my first landing with an instructor there, I came all the way down to here before I hit the ground. We rolled beyond this, and he thought I did a good job landing the plane. And he thought I wouldn’t have any problems at all. I don’t know how many lessons I took after that before I really learned how to bring an airplane down. I set that thing on two wheels and didn’t bounce a bit, the first time. He thought that was good.
When you came in from the other end, you had plenty of room. Coming in over Colerain wasn’t a problem. I would take my mom to P.T.A. meetings and I’d do a little
flying while she was at the P.T.A. meeting. My first flight was June 4, 1939. I was flying a Piper Cub J3.
Norm: It was a Franklin engine 50 h.p., and my log book was signed by George E. South. He was an operator of the airport at that time. Charlie Rife was an operator. He and Pop Muhlberger were good friends. Charlie Rife was the one who married this Schmidt girl.
Charlie was killed in an aircraft accident in Alabama. Charlie was a nice fellow from the Hamilton area, the Butler County area. I started to tell you before about Hogan. I think they had an influence on this airport down here. The Hogan Brothers and George Diesbach and the people owned the mattress factory, also had influence.
They rented a couple of spaces in the hanger, hanger rent was twenty dollars a month. When I and four other guys bought that old Rearwin airplane, we would pay in five dollars a month for rent. I don’t remember any other operators than that.
And then came the group, post-war people. I was gone five years in the military or almost five years, four years ten months. When I came back there just wasn’t that group of people there any longer.
Elmer was still around, one of the guys, Art Dickman went to work for Allison Engines in Indianapolis. I don’t know what the other fellow, Roy Nutley did, but it was a bad arrangement. The Rearwin airplane fell apart.
Somebody told me--it was Elmer, I guess,--that the airplane was up in a museum in Milwaukee. What really grounded me was the fact that I felt I couldn’t afford to fly any longer. My wife was pregnant and she suggested that maybe I not do that anymore.
My last flight was around October 1946 on a Cross Country. I flew from here to Indianapolis, Indianapolis to Dayton, and Dayton back to Mt. Healthy here. Back when the airport started there was competition for the air mail routes. People would bid as a mail carrier on certain routes. The founders of the airport banked on getting the air mail route. And when it went to Lunken, some of the partners pulled out.
Bob: Howard Hochscheid said if my dad had bought that property and sat on it, he would have made more money.
Ed: I also heard that Elmer could have bought that property for ten thousand dollars.
Norm: One of the problems was getting a clear title to that property. I don’t know eventually how that was settled. But one or two of the prosecutors would fly off of there. He used to fly this Rearwin. He’d rent it to fly; he liked that. He was Mayor of Mt. Healthy. Carson Hoy eventually became county prosecutor.
Carson Hoy and this other fellow use it to fly these old Sterman’s. They joined the Air Corps reserve and they would fly these big old Stermans. They’d buzz those big old double wing military aircraft, you know.
You know how much noise a big old thrashing machine makes. We would stand on that thing and I could see them going around and hear the purr of the big engines. And they would really cackle those old things around here.
Bob: In the back of my mind it seems that at one time they landed a Tri-Motor Ford. Elmer would have known the largest plane that ever landed at Mt. Healthy Airport.
Ed: Howard Hochscheid mentioned to me that his father was involved at the outset. They were tailors in Mt. Healthy. He didn’t mention which crash, but he did say that after a crash, his father decided to get out.
Norm: I don’t know what the interworkings of that were. Henry Abbott--I don’t know that he had enough money, really, to get into this thing. But he was an early aviation enthusiast. He was a milk hauler, he hauled milk.
Bob: One of these days I’m going to go back there and pinpoint where the crash was.
Norm: It happened at Niagara & Loralinda about two hundred feet west of that. Elmer always said, “If you love that plane, never give it up.” He gave it up.