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County History

The First Airplane Flight Over Allegany County

Advertisement poster for Rodgers' Transcontinental Flight. His plane flew over Allegany County September 24, on its way to the west coast.

 


 

Rodgers Flies 1st Airplane Over County

by Stephen Sweet

 

 C.P. Rodgers, center (The World's Work, Jan. 1912.)

On Sunday morning, September 24, 1911, large numbers gathered on the hills of Allegany County to watch the first airplane fly over the region. The plane was the Model EX, built by the Wright Brothers, and it was flown by Calbraith P. Rodgers, who had first flown in an airplane only a few months prior. Rodgers was flying the Model EX in an effort to win the Hearst Prize of $50,000 for the first aviator to fly a plane coast-to-coast in less than 30 days. He had left Hornell at 10:20 a.m., and proceeded to fly over Almond, Andover, Elm Valley, Wellsville, Scio, and Belmont, then Belvidere, Friendship, and Cuba, before landing in Olean at 12:26 p.m.

Rodger’s journey had begun at Sheepshead Bay, New York on September 17. He landed in Pasadena, California on November 5. Although he had missed the deadline (by 19 days), he had succeeded in making the first U.S. coast-to-coast airplane flight.

County newspapers gave front-page coverage to the flight. Here's how the Wellsville Allegany County Reporter covered Rodgers' fly-over:

 


 (Transcribed from the Wellsville Allegany County Reporter, September 26, 1911)

RODGERS PASSED OVER WELLSVILLE

Was Watched By Thousands As His Air Craft Sailed Over Town– –Met With Accident to His Machine at Red House

Calbraith P Rodgers, the aviator who is trying to make a flight from New York to Los Angeles, Cal., left Hornell Sunday morning at 10:20 o'clock. By a prearranged plan a fire alarm was sounded at that time to notify the Wellsville people the aviator was coming.

RodgersHeadlineWellsvilleAllegCountyRep 9-26-1911Within a few minutes after the alarm had been given many roofs of buildings, telephone poles, bridges and nearby hills were dotted with human beings anxiously watching for the approach of the first aeroplane to fly over Wellsville. There were probably five thousands pairs of eyes scanning the eastern horizon for the first glimpse of the birdman.

When Rogers passed the pump station west of Elm Valley the pump station whistle sound an alarm and within a few minutes, at 11:07 the flying machine was spotted. It appeared like a large bird in the distance but as it neared Wellsville was easily discerned as a major turn cutting across and over the hills east of the village and heading for Scio. the machine remained in sight until 11:22 and was not making fast time, owing to a heavy west wind that he evidently was battling with.

Vin Fiz first American transcontinental flight advertisement poster NYRogers was preceded into Wellsville by his special train which was covered top and sides with white canvas to be easily kept in sight by the aviator. On the special or Mrs. C. P. Rodgers, wife of the aviator, Mrs. H.W. Sweitzer, his mother; C.H. Davidson, E. L. Merritt, P. L. Smithers, JW Meuborn, F. H. Bennell, William Manger, S. I. DeKrafft, T. B. Hanley, Victor Palumbo, Charles E. Taylor, four mechanicians and a number of men representing the “Vin Fiz” Company, Under whose auspices Rodgers is making the trip.

William Manger is a multimillionaire and owns the Plaza Hotel in Chicago, and one other in New York. He s a great friend of the aviator’s, and greatly interested in the efforts of his friend. S.I. DeKrafft is the publicity agent for the aviator, whiler Mr. Hanley is representative of the New York American, the owner of which, William R. Hearst, Is offering the prize of fifty thousand dollars. Victor Palumbo is the photographer for the Hearst paper.

Charles E. Taylor, for 12 years superintendent of the Wright factory, join the party near Binghamton. Mr. Taylor is a man of wide experience in aviation lines, and has been a great [???] in the troubles which Mr. Rodgers has experienced with his Wright biplane. W. O. Rocks, F. B. Hawkins, both of New York city, and F. S. Howard, of Elmira, are accompanying the train in the interests of the Erie railroad company.

The “Vin Fiz” company, which is financing Rodgers trip, has already spent $45,000 on the venture which is employed as an advertising scheme. The officers of the company who are with the aviator say it is well worth the money.

 Rodgers The Vin Fiz-hangar car
 The Vin Fiz hangar car from the train that accompanied Rodgers on his flight west. It contained complete, duplicate sets of parts of the airplane that might be needed for repair. (from The World's Work, 1912.)

The special train following Rodgers carries sixty persons, with a complete corps of mechanicians who could construct an airship on the spot if called upon to do so.

Rodgers made the the landing on the fairgrounds in Olean at 12:26 and left at 1:45.

An Associated Press dispatch from Salamanca says: “A double line of barbed wire fence along a country lane temporarily halted aviator Calbraith P. Rodgers’ coast-to-coast flight near Red House, eight miles east of here and 422 miles from his starting point Sunday afternoon. Rodgers had covered 89 miles during the day and was starting on a short jump of 25 miles to Jamestown where he expected to spend the night, when he encountered the fences that made a wreck of this biplane.

Both weather conditions and engine trouble and handicapped Rodgers. There was a stiff breeze blowing when he left Hornell at 10:26 a.m. and just before coming to earth at the Olean Fairgrounds at mid-day, one of the auxiliary planes was blown off. the damage was not serious and the aviator again took the air at 1:45 with Jamestown as his objective.

East of Red House the trouble with the spark plug which bothered Rodgers Saturday again developed and he decided to alight. After tuning up the aviator took his seat for a fresh start. The uneven surface of the ground and the peculiar slant of the wind which seemed to bear down on the planes of this machine prevented Rodgers clearing a double line of barbed wire fence which bounded the field on the west side. The biplane tore through the first line of wire and became enmashed in the broken strands of the second fence. The biplane was a wreck. Both propeller blades were shattered and one wing was torn to ribbons. Rodgers escaped without a scratch

The biplane, which was wrecked a mile and a half west of Red House, was brought back to Salamanca Sunday afternoon on the special train that accompanies the aviator. The work of repairing the machine was commenced with little delay, and though badly damaged Aviator Rodgers said that he would resume his transcontinental flight Monday, starting from Salamanca. It will cost $2000 to repair the damage sustained when the machine struck the barbed-wire fence.


 

RodgersHeadline BelmontDispatch 9-29-1911aThe Belmont Dispatch of September 29, 1911, also gave the flight front-page coverage:

FIRST AEROPLANE TO PASS OVER THE COUNTY

Rogers in Wright Bi-Plane Flew from Hornell to Olean, Sunday Morning

OVER BELMONT AT 11:30 O'CLOCK

Aeroplane Wrecked at Red House, Soon After Start to Make Second Flight Sunday– –Accident Occurred on Famous Jemison Farm––Indians Saw “Big Bird”

With his biplane dipping and swerving in the tricky adverse wind, Col. P. Rodgers passed over Belmont at 11:30 Sunday afternoon in the much-advertised Hearst coast-to-coast $50,000 aeroplane race.

Rodgers stayed in Hornell Saturday night and left that city Sunday morning at 10:11 to continue his westward flight. News of his progress was telegraphed and telephoned ahead from Almond, Andover and Wellsville and hundreds of villagers took to hills and housetops to witness the coming of the first aeroplane to pass over Belmont.

Five men on top of the courthouse table knoll first discerned the approaching plane like a big bird hiding in the hazy air a little this side of Scio. They signalled below and the bell of the Presbyterian Church nearby, [???] aviators special train could be heard whistling down the valley.

Aeroplane over Belmont.

 Wright EX Vin Fizz 02 - Smithsonian Air and Space Museum - 2012-05-15
 Rodgers' plane as restored, at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. Photo by Tim Evanson.

Rodgers came down to an elevation about 600 feet and passed over Belmont keeping a little to the east of the Erie tracks. He was fighting against a strong wind from the west and turned as his machine grew smaller in the distance, passing over the hill, before reaching Belvidere, to Friendship.

At Cuba, he apparently confused the Erie and Pennsylvania tracks, but the whistle of his special train called him back and the train and biplane passed on, both reaching Olean at exactly the same time.

Rodgers landed in Olean at 12:26 after having flown from Hornell, a distance of 64 miles, in two hours and sixteen 16 minutes. The slow time was due to a strong wind and air conditions that were about the worst possible for an aviator.

For nearly the whole distance the right racing biplane which he flew was doing what is known among aviators as the “Dutch Roll.” The puffy wind, full of air pockets, tipped the planes first to one side and then to the other, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the birdman was able to keep the sensitive craft in equilibrium.

Forced to descend.

Rogers took Sunday dinner at Olean and at 1:55 his biplane rose to continue his westward journey. Near Red House he began having the same trouble with his spark plug that bothered him at Hornell and he came down a mile and a half west of Red House on the Jemison Farm. This is located on the highway leading from Red House to Steamburg and is one of the best Indian farms on the reservation. The repairs that Rodgers was compelled to make to his engine did not consume many minutes and he was soon ready again to ascend for his flight to Jamestown. Immediately in his path stood two barb wire fences between which ran a farm lane. For some cause the aircraft, instead of ascending ran squarely into these fences suffering the loss of both propellers and one wing. Rodgers was unhurt, but it was soon apparent that he could not continue the flight until extensive repairs were made. After a short delay for the examination of the machine, [???] train which accompanied him [???] the wrecked airship and [???]
“[ ] out for Jamestown, 51 miles away. I was to land there or stay up, just as I felt. But I hadn't gone more than eight or nine miles when the magneto began to give trouble. I wasn't going to repeat Saturday's [???], so I looked for a soft spot. I found it all right. It was covered with thick matted grass. The landing was perfect, and the next minute an Indian came running across the field.

“ ‘Big bird,” he said “biggest bird ever saw.”’

“The train was right behind me and mechanics were soon on the scene.

“That matted wire grass do the trick when it came to going up. The skids could slide through, but when I tried to rise the grass held with a death grip. The engine got cranky after two starts, and then came the fence.”

The farm on which Rogers landed has a unique historical interest. Joseph Bishop, who lives there, is a lineal descendent of Mary Jemison, The white chieftainess of the Senecas. She was a white girl stolen by the Indians in 1733, who married a warrior, and never went back to civilization.

Rogers weighs 238 pounds.

Aviator Rogers is a former Columbia University football star. He [stands] six feet four inches tall and weighs 238 pounds. I can't readily be seen that he needs no ballast. Rodgers is probably that heaviest man in the flying game.

Roger showed Belmonters their first view of the right bi-plane, the product of the pioneers in American aviation. Except for the engine, it is not the same machine in which he left New York City, the smashup at Middletown necessitatingd an almost complete new machine.

$45,000 spent so far.

The “Vin Fiz” Company, which is financing Rodgers’ strip, has already spent $45,000 on the venture, which is employed as an advertising scheme. The officers of the company who are with the aviator, say it is well worth the money.

Ticklish flying.

The accident which delayed the machine between Canisteo and Hornell Saturday afternoon, was the first of its kind that has occurred in the history of aviation. Two of the magneto plugs became loose and slipped out and it was necessary for the aviator to hold them in with one hand while with the other he operated the two levers on opposite sides of the seat that work the router and warp the planes. This was the most ticklish task. In landing one of the skids was broken on the rough ground and had to be repaired before the trip could be resumed.

The party on the special.

The special train, consisted of the aeroplane car, which contains all the necessary parts for quick repairs and an automobile by which the members of the party could leave the railroad and quickly reach the aviator at his landing place, and the sleeping car, Orison. Among those on the train were: Mrs. Rodgers, the birdman's wife, Mrs. H.W. Switzer, his mother-in-law, C. H. Davidson, President of the Vin Fiz Company, E. B. Merritt, the general advertising manager mama P. [L.?] Smithers, an accountant and treasurer of the expedition, F. H. Bennell, master of transportation, William Manger, owner of the Plaza Hotel in Chicago, and the hotel Navarre in New York, S. I. de Krafft, director of publicity for the trip, T. B.Hanley of the New York American and Victor Palumbo, of the International news Service, J.W. Neuborn, manager of the field force.

 

 

 

 

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