• Alexander Field Celebrates its 85th Anniversary with Link to its Past

    Posted on August 29th, 2013 Rose Dorcey No comments

    Ford Tri-Motor is central to the airport’s roots

    Alexander Field-South Wood County Airport (KISW) is celebrating its 85th anniversary this weekend, and an airplane like one that’s forever linked to the airport’s history will be there all weekend. EAA’s 1929 Ford Tri-Motor arrived in Wisconsin Rapids today. Airport Manager Howard Joling encourages community members to come out to celebrate the airport’s rich heritage.

    “It’s not just an airport anniversary, but for the whole community, the airport is something that started when the mills were in their infancy, and things were beginning to grow and take off,” said Joling, explaining the airport’s longstanding significance to the city. “When the airport started, Nekoosa Papers had their Ford Tri-Motor here, which they purchased in 1928, and used it as promotion for its company.”

    And while the Nekoosa Papers’ Tri-Motor didn’t survive the decades, it was destroyed by a tornado in Iowa long ago, EAA’s Tri-Motor Model 4-AT is very similar.

    EAA's Ford AT-4 Tri-Motor

    EAA’s Ford AT-4 Tri-Motor

    “Our aircraft was built in 1929,” explains Ed Rusch, of Coldwater, Michigan, captain of EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor. “There was a Ford Tri-Motor brought here by an industrialist who had operations in this area in 1928. It was an earlier version of this aircraft, but basically the same.”

    Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company purchased the plane in 1928 for $48,000, according to Joling. The industrialist Rusch spoke of, John Alexander, then the paper company’s manager, purchased 330 acres to be used for a new airport. It’s been in operation since. At one time, it was served by Midstate Airlines. Today, it’s an important economic agent for the community, says Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink. Hear Mayor Vruwink’s comments here.

    Today’s arrival of EAA’s Ford, NC8407, was highly anticipated by area news representatives, who eagerly stepped on board for a 20-minute flight over Wisconsin Rapids. It was an opportunity to link to the city’s past, and imagine what the area looked like in the late ’20s, with its rivers, lakes, forests, and paper mills. Dozens of men and women gathered to take pictures and see the plane up close, and view the numerous historic airport photos on display.

    Ruth Johnson, Wisconsin Rapids pilot

    Ruth Johnson, Wisconsin Rapids pilot

    One woman stood out. Ruth Johnson, nee Blount, shared her personal history with the Wisconsin Rapids airport. “A gentleman named Jim Johnson had spray painted an old hangar at the airport in 1957,” Ruth recalled. “Several of us then formed a local Civil Air Patrol branch to practice searching for downed planes.”

    Ruth Blount was 19 years old in 1958. She and Jim became friends. “Jim bought an Ercoupe in 1958,” Ruth continued. “He told me I could take lessons in his plane. I did, and after seven hours, I soloed.” Ruth paused, then smiled and added, “Some of the guys had nine hours.” Ruth was told that she was the first woman who had soloed an airplane at the airport.

    Ruth and Jim got along well, and were married in 1961. They flew for many years together, creating many warm memories. “We would fly to Green Bay for a hamburger and a malt, and fly back without a flight plan,” she recalled. “Many happy hours were spent in the air.”

    Jim and Ruth Johnson made a home in Biron, a village just east of Wisconsin Rapids. When Jim died in 1990, Ruth got out of flying.

    “It just wasn’t fun anymore,” she said.

    But being back at the airport, running into old friends and making new ones with her effervescent smile, brought back good times for Ruth. “Oh, it’s good to be back at the airport,” she said. “You meet such nice people through aviation.”

    As if taking a ride in a rare, historic airplane to view the beautiful Wisconsin Rapids area isn’t reason enough to stop at the airport this weekend, Ruth may have just convinced you.

    Tri-Motor flights  are available from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday through Monday, for $75, or $50 for kids 17 and under. EAA Chapter 706, based at Alexander Field, is offering breakfast from 8 – 10:30 on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Lunch is by the American Legion throughout the weekend from 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. A hangar dance, with ’20s and ’30s music by the Swaneee River Oriole Orchestra (Ruth’s son, Johnny, is a member) takes place Saturday night from 7 – 10. We hope to see you there!