(LEFT) Charles Lindbergh in his Troy built WACO airplane with a WACO dealer named John Kerr "Tex" LaGrone. (RIGHT) This is a long ago view of Troy from above the WACO final assembly plant. It would have been near the bottom of the picture. This photo is most likely from the 1920s or 1930s. The bridge shown is the Market Street bridge. Click the image to enlarge.
(Photo at right courtesy of the Troy Historical Society)
Aviator Charles Lindbergh Flew Over Troy - Before He Flew Over Paris
By Judy Deeter
TROY - Troy’s history is filled with stories related to aviation: the world’s first crop dusting by air was near Troy, the Advance Aviation Company/WACO Aircraft Company produced some of America’s finest airplanes in the 1920s and 1930s, WACO gliders delivered soldiers and supplies to World War II battle sites (including the Battle of Normandy in France) and the Troy Goodrich plant (now Collins Aerospace, a United Technology Systems company) has made braking systems for aircraft that have flown in countries near and far.
A nearly forgotten bit of Troy aviation history is found in an old newspaper story (pictured below). It says that before American aviator Charles Lindbergh made an historic flight to Paris France, he flew over Troy.
Lindbergh became an American hero in May 1927 when he made the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York to Paris France. In doing so, he won a $25,000 competition named the Orteig prize.
Although Lindbergh had previously flown a Troy-built WACO airplane, the plane he flew to France was a Ryan monoplane named “The Spirit of St. Louis.” The airplane was custom-made for his transatlantic flight.
After Lindbergh’s historic flight, Clayton J. Brukner, president of the Advance Aviation Company, gave an interview to the local newspapers. He told a local newspaper reporter that Lindbergh had visited Troy about a year earlier to test and pick up an airplane for the Bridgetown Aircraft Company of St. Louis. Brukner said the Lindbergh tested the plane “at the local field” before flying it to St. Louis. The story—with identical title and content—appeared in the Miami Union on June 2, 1927 and the Troy Daily News on June 3, 1927.
(NOTE: The Advance Aviation Company was re-organized as the WACO Aircraft Company in 1929.)
The field Brukner referred to was probably located near where Hobart Arena stands today. Back then, the site was the Advance Aviation Company’s final assembly plant. It was where WACO airplanes being built were completed and tested. A strip for airplanes to take off and land was near the building along the south side of Staunton Road between Market and Adams streets. The area was sometimes described as a “hay field.” An aerial photograph in the collection of The Troy Historical Society at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library (pictured above right) shows the area near the landing strip.
The final assembly plant for Advance Aviation Co./WACO Aircraft Co. was located where Hobart Arena stands today. The building (a barn) has been moved to Troy Community Park, just across Adams Street from Hobart Arena and is now the Troy Civic Theater’s Barn in the Park Playhouse (below left).
The newspaper reporter also interviewed Eugene Stevens of the Southern Dusting Company, a WACO airplane distributor from Tallulah, Louisiana. Stevens had been Lindbergh’s classmate at a flying school in Texas in 1924 and 1925. In the newspaper article, he described Lindbergh as a “…of a quiet, retiring disposition but full of determination and courage.”
A WACO dealer, named John Kerr “Tex” LaGrone, was known to be a friend of Lindbergh. He owned a company named the Tex LaGrone Flying Service and sold WACO airplanes in Western Missouri and Kansas. According to some reports, Lindbergh once picked up a WACO Taperwing aircraft for LaGrone and personally delivered it to him. A picture of the two taken in the late 1920s (above left) is on display at the WACO Museum and Aviation Learning Center in Troy and is displayed at some online websites. It shows Lindbergh in the pilot’s seat of a WACO airplane; LaGrone standing next to him just outside the aircraft. One online source says the photo was taken when Lindbergh delivered the plane to LaGrone. Some historians think the airplane may have been picked up either in the spring or fall of the year because of the coat LaGrone is wearing in the picture. Lindbergh may have made a second trip to Troy to pick up the LaGrone airplane; documentation about where and when Lindbergh picked up the airplane for LaGrone has not been located.
Local historians also are not sure about how Lindbergh came to Troy or where he stayed during his visit(s). Pilots picking up airplanes for customers usually came to Troy by rail or were brought by car. They did not drive themselves since they would be flying by airplane from Troy. They often stayed in a local hotel until the aircraft they were picking up was ready. The Lollis Hotel (now the Morris House building) was a favorite place for pilots. An old rumor says that Lindbergh once stayed in a private home in Troy. Details concerning where he may have stayed during his time(s) in Troy are not now known.
Several historic WACO airplanes are available for public viewing at the WACO Museum & Aviation Learning Center, 1865 S. County Rd., 25-A, Troy. For information call (937) 335-9226 or visit www.wacoairmuseum.org.
Contact The Troy Historical Society for further information about this story. Call (937) 339-5900 or email .
(ABOVE) The WACO Final Assembly Plant in Troy, now the Barn in the Park Playhouse. (RIGHT) 1927 newspaper clipping.