Growing Up On Rayon Drive in the 1940's
Three "Zero's" in one outing! Charlie McCrady was feeling quite proud of himself as he climbed out of the cockpit of the P-51 Mustang; he had almost reached the esteemed status of being an "ace"! His brother John quickly replaced him in the pilot's seat, it was his turn.
Though their "battles" took place in the 1940's, the boys weren't dog-fighting in the Pacific arena; their plane was grounded at the Guinn airfield along Gihon Road in South Parkersburg.
Life for a youngster growing up in the 1940's was drastically different than today. Though loved dearly by their parents, most boys could roam a vast area with few restraints. The McCrady boys' stomping included the Little Kanawha River, the Fort Neal area, and yes, Guinn air field, pretty much anywhere in south Parkersburg.
The "Mustang" had sat at Guinn's dirt airstrip for some years and had become the "training plane" for the youth of the area. In 1951, the plane was sold to the South American country of Columbia. After an extensive overhaul the big event of flying it out was drawing neigh, anxiety grew for the boys at the thought of "their" plane becoming airborne again.
Jim, Charles and John McCrady were just some of the area youth who fought many mock air battles from the cockpit of the P-51 Mustang shown above
It was questionable, however, if the airfield was long enough for the plane to get airborne before reaching obstacles near what would then have been the Blizzard mansion. It was decided to tie the plane down, rev the engine high and quickly release the tether, allowing it a "jump" start.
When they heard the road pf the plane's engine, the McCrady boys were swimming in the Little Kanawha River, near the Viscose lock. Knowing what the roar meant, they ran up the bank, and reached Camden Avenue just in time to see their plane bank sharply over the Viscose plant, go back and circle the field a couple of times and it was gone, confined forever to their memories.
After WWII Lou Guinn brought professional training pilots in and offered flight training to vets returning from the war. Charlie remembered these pilots as being "quite ornery". On one instance they flew so low through a cornfield on Blennerhassett Island that they cut cut stalks with their propeller! In another incident a pilot named Luther Snider crashed upside down in a tree. He was OK until he cut his harness loose allowing him to fall to the ground!
In the early 1950's Guinn's lease on the airfield property ran out, ending the South Parkersburg airfield.
However, it didn't end aviation excitemnt for the youngsters of South Parkersburg. Though details haven't been found, the McCrady boys and others recall watching air mail pickups occurring along what is now Blizzard Drive, near the fire station. Air mail service began in this area in 1939 at the Stewart Airfield. The McCrady's recall it was in the late 1940's that the South Parkersburg pickups occurred. Why there would have been pickups in South Parkersburg is not known.
The neighborhood boys soon found other outlets for their energy.
The Race Track
In the late 1940's, across Gihon Road from Guinn's airport, James Modesitt owned property on which he constructed a race track for midget cars and motorcycles. The young kids of the area (since their aircraft had flown away) built a wooden fence around the track, for which Modesitt allowed them free access to all the activities.
Tales abound of incidents such as when a man parachuted onto the track as a promotion for the race; he broke his ankle and was taken to the hospital; however, to the amazement of the crowd, he returned in time for the race.
Other Shenanigans, or Boys Will Be Boys
Not far from their home was a large water tank into which the Viscose plant pumped hot water to cool; it became a warm swimming pool for the boys. They would hold onto the back bumper of buses near Neal Station and let it pull them out Camden Avenue.
Isn't it surprising that they all survived!
(Originally published in the Jan-Feb-March 2014 Newsletter, Vol. 21, No. 1)