Farmers take to the air

Important part of county history, agriculture are the Flying Farmers group


What was to become Flying Farmers started in 1944 on the campus of Oklahoma A & M University. In the next year, a national group started and eventually it became the International Flying Farmers as groups from Canada joined in. There were 20,000 farmers and ranchers flying in this country by 1948.

The Edgar County Flying Farmers began just after World War II when light aircraft became available to farmers who were interested in owning planes for both recreation and business. The effort was helped by the G.I. bill underwriting costs for returning servicemen to obtain flying lessons.

Locally, two airports quickly developed as farmers began getting their licenses and buying their own planes. One was Midway Airport at the intersection of state Route 1 and the Horace-Brocton Road. The other was on the east side of the Cherry Point Road across from the Archie Morris home and farm. Soon there were Aeronicas, Piper Cubs, Super Cruisers, Luscombes, Cessnas and Stinsons flying, not only from these airports but from many small grass strips scattered across Edgar County.

The Edgar County Flying Farmers met monthly for many years at these small strips or at the two larger ones for camaraderie during both winter and summer. Many times the highlight of the event was to have spot landings and bomb dropping small bags of flour to test the pilots’ abilities.

In 1946, Bill Renshaw, an avid flier, and staff member of both “The Prairie Farmer” and WLS thought he saw an opportunity to set up a larger group of fliers. This effort became the Flying Farmers of Prairie Farmland with wings in Indiana and Illinois. The term wingman was used to designate the president of these groups or a committee chairman.

John O. Kime from Kansas, was elected first state president, or wingman, and Walter Kimble of Paris was Illinois secretary for the group for several years.

The University of Illinois was instrumental in holding clinics and fly-ins for Illinois famers. A second field day sponsored at the U. of I. airport saw a plane landing every two minutes all morning long. There were an estimated 700 planes participating in that event.

Another big event occurred in July 1948 when 80 planes from the Prairie Farmer Land Wing made a flight to Bunker Hill Naval Air Station near Kokomo, Ind.

The Edgar County Flying Farmers held a church fly-in during May 1949. Sixty-eight planes landed at Midway Airport and their occupants attended services at the nearby Horace Baptist Church. They returned to the strip after church for a potluck dinner and a program. This was a first for the Illinois Flying Farmers and the Edgar County wing committee members responsible for the event were: wingman Schenck Brooks, county wingwoman Mrs. Charles Gleckler, secretary Archie Morris, treasurer Eugene Curtis, reporter Walter Kimble and John Kime wingman for Illinois Flying Farmers.

One of the most notable flights for the Edgar County group was March 1950 when members went to Tuscaloosa, Ala. The trip was accomplished in segments with landings at Carbondale and Muscle Shoals, Ala., before arriving at their destination. From Tuscaloosa, they were taken to the aircraft carrier USS Cabot to watch Navy pilots make their difficult landing attempts. Another impressive flight for the local pilots was participating in the 1,500 Farmers from Prairie Farmer Land to attend the dedication of Miegs Field near Chicago. They landed at Glenview Naval Base Air Station and motored to the dedication of the strip and other activities before taking off to get home again by dark.

In August 1953, the Edgar County Flying Farmers held a flyover with the cooperative efforts of the Edgar County Farm Bureau and the Edgar County Soil Conservation District. The purpose was to give farmers and their wives an overhead view of their farms and the problems with erosion and soil conservation efforts that were in place. The passengers were charged a dollar to help with the expenses, but all thought the event was a huge success with 268 people flying over their farms.

Walter Kimble was recognized as the Flying Farmer of the Year for his outstanding service to aviation and agriculture. This celebration was held at the Archie Morris Air Strip, which was established when the Paris Airport closed because of a lease dispute.

The Morris Airport was the started by Bud Wolfe, Walter Kimble and Archie Morris, who kept their planes at the site. Down through the years there were at least 41 other owners and pilots that either kept their planes at the airport or used this strip.

Midway Airport was the home base for Reese Morris, a WW II flight instructor, who taught many of the men and women of Edgar County seeking a pilot’s license. He flew charters, crop-dusted and provided instruction at Midway Airport until 1977 when he took a job flying for the Bullock Corporation.

The Flying Farmers group of Edgar County slowly met its death knell by the end of the Vietnam War for several reasons. Farmers found the costs prohibitive, and they were getting older with health problems. The higher technology needed on planes and low farming prices put an end to a glorious era of flying. There was also a new Edgar County Airport serving the area and many of those little flying strips were mostly gone by then.

Many women enjoyed the flying experience and became members with their husbands or holding their own pilots licenses such as Barbara Jennison, who was noted for her flying accomplishments. There was also a monthly newsletter that served the Flying Farmers of Prairie Farmer Land telling about the events of Illinois and Indiana, safety tips, trips and get-togethers. It came from Indiana and was known as the Flying Farmer Newsletter and the heading stated, “published every-once-in a while-sometimes Indianapolis, Indiana.” Someway Bill Renshaw was in-part responsible for this letter.

A lot of this information came from Bud Wolf’s book “A History of Aviation and Aviators” and some newsletters provided by Mary Lou Wright.