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Memoirs:
Written and contributed by: John R. Larson
 
 
Oconto Falls High School Had Its Own Plane.

Here is the photo of the BT 13. 
You can see it was a large airplane for $100.

. Superintendent Of 40's Does His Loops .

The following story I wrote was printed in the Oconto Falls Times-Herald newspaper April 23 1986.
It tells of the second ride I received in an airplane.

Art Minar helped me fill out entrance forms and class schedules. It was 1945 and I was started my junior year at Oconto Falls High School. My right hand was all bandaged up from an accident I had while working for the Minnesota Highway Department in Duluth Minnesota. I couldn't write with it.

I mentioned I thought I was going to like it around here because there was a small airporteast of town, and I like airplanes. Little did I know I had said the right thing because Art was a private pilot and a real flying enthusiast.

One beautiful fall day, Art saw me in the hall at school and asked me how I would like to go flying this noon hour. I was extremely excited! I met him at the office and rode out to the airport with him. He said that Bill Brince, the airport manager, had just received a new all-metal Luscomb aircraft. Art had been checked out in it and wanted to try some loops.

We took off and climbed out heading for Oconto Falls. When we arrived over the edge of town he checked my seat belt. He said, “Let’s see how it loops." He also mentioned that I should sit up straight. I didn't understand why I should sit up straight so I thought I would lean over to see what would happen. He opened the throttle and put the plane in a shallow dive. Then he pulled up sharply, and my head went down between my knees with more pressure than I had ever felt before. Finally the force let up and I was able to sit up. The world was upside down but not for long. The horizon moved up the windshield. The next second we were diving straight down at the high school. I could see the students on the baseball diamond and playground. Then the g-force started again, and it was a bit stronger than the first time. I kept sitting up straight and observed the world turn right side up. We climbed out using up the speed then turned around and went back to the high school. We did three loops that noon, each one right over the high school.

On the way back, Art told me the story of how he learned to do loops. He was renting a Taylor Craft, which had a sixty-five horsepower, engine and a side by side seating, like the Luscomb, but was fabric covered and had a longer wing. This made it slower and easier to fly. No one around knew how to do loops so he thought he would teach himself. One day he took the Taylor Craft up to 4000 feet. He opened the throttle and put the plane in a dive. When he thought he was going fast enough, he pulled it up into a loop. He was just getting upside down when he ran out of flying speed. And stalled. He was hanging by the seat belt, and his feet came off the rudder pedals and went under the dashboard. The seat cushion hit him in the head. The maps, pencils, dust and dirt was flying around. The gas cap came off and gasoline poured over the windshield, then the engine quit. The plane righted itself and Art picked out one of the hayfields, and glided it in for a good landing. Art got out, wiped the windshield and put everything where it belonged in the cabin. He started the engine and flew back to the airport. He told the owner of the airplane "The gas cap just flew off."

The next time he went to rent the plane, he took out the seat cushion, maps and pencils, and cleaned the floor of the cabin. He also checked to see if the gas cap was on tight. He tried it again. This time he watched the air speed indicator to make sure he had enough speed, and pulled up sharply. He made it around the first time.

Art Miner would take a bus load of students whenever there was some activity at the airport. Once a twin engine plane landed. The other Eugene Behling who was in the Marines at the time, landed in a Curtis SB2C (Helldiver} dive bomber. It was during one of these trips that Art Miner was first out of the bus and hopped in a yellow Piper Cub. In a few moments he had the engine started and was taking off. Bill Brince the owner of the Cub, came quickly over from his house in his car and asked, "Who took the Cub up?" We answered that it was Art Minar. Bill asked, "Did he put gas in it?" Our answer was no. Bill said, "We were so low on gas when we came in last night. We thought we weren't going to make it."

At that time Art must have looked at the gas gage, which was a piece of wire with a cork on one end, wasn't sticking out of the gas cap. He glided in for a landing. When Art pulled up in the Cub, Bill walked over and had a few words with him. I wonder how Art explained his way out of that one?

Some of Art's friends didn't like to ride with him in either his car or plane. When Art was driving he had a habit of turning around so he could talk to his passengers in the back seat. Art did some fast-talking and got his wife to take a trip in the Luscomb with him. It was a beautiful sunny winter day, and Art was taking special care to make the trip a smooth one. Every thing was going fine when all of a sudden they heard a terrific noise above their heads. It had Art shook for a second, to say nothing about his poor wife. The small window in the top of the cabin had popped out. Then they started to get cold, and Art knew that something had to be done before they froze. He asked his wife to unbuckle her safety belt and lean forward so he could get the seat cushion out from under her. He took the cushion and held it up against the opening with his right hand. He held it up as long as he could. When he finally had to take his arm down he found the cushion stayed up there by itself. His wife didn't enjoy the rest of the trip sitting on the floor and wouldn't ride with him anymore.

It was all the better for me. If anyone wanted some company along on a flight, I was always available.

The Civil Air Patrol had set up some flights to check on ground observers. Art took me along and taught me navigation. We went as far as Powers and Spalding, Michigan. Art knew a farmer around there and we buzzed him a few times. The farmer had a wagon load of corn he was doing something with in his back yard. We were so low I could see the kernels on the cobs. On the way back he did three loops over Coleman only 1000 feet above the town, and from Coleman to Lena he hedge hopped down the west side of the highway. The Luscomb cruised at 115 miles per hour, and the trees and high lines would come up fast. Art would pull up and over and then right down about 15 feet above the snow covered fields.

One of Art's favorite expressions was "a good kick in the pants," and on graduation night, he surprised me by giving me a good kick in the pants to launch me into the wide world. It was May 28, 1947 and I stepped out of the school door in to a world of white wet snow. It canceled a lot of graduation parties. It was all you could do to get home. It was the latest recorded snow in Wisconsin history. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin recorded eleven inches. Art died of a heart attack at about age 60. As far as I know, he didn't have an accident in a car or a plane.

After this story came out in the paper I received a call from Art's son and a letter from Art's widow. Art's son was a pilot and flew a Piper Arrow. He said his father did have an accident in a Civil Air Patrol airplane when buzzing his father's farm. His wife said that Art kept a diary and she found some of my story in it. He had said he had rented a plane at the Oconto Falls airport, buzzed the city, and that the city dwellers would think it was one of the veterans returning home from the war.

Another story I wrote and was printed in the Oconto Falls Times - Herald was titled
"Oconto Falls High School Had Own Plane."
But I didn't tell the whole story.

Art Minar found out that if you had a school affiliation you could buy a war surplus BT-13 for 100 dollars. It was 1946 and there was a large field full of them at Jackson Tennessee. Art didn't have the money, so he called a few pilot friends and told them about it, Together they came up with the money. Vic Bast, who had just returned from being a World War P47 fighter pilot in the European Theater volunteered to ferry it. Art hired Vic to teach elementary school and one class of aeronautics to high school students. I happened to be one of the students in Vic's aeronautics class. It was the first class I had in the morning and I couldn't wait to hear his experiences as a fighter pilot that were fresh in his mind. He had the 16mm films from his wing camera to illustrate his stories about the four German planes he shot down. Of course he taught us weather, map reading and all the things you needed to fly an airplane.

I remember when he told us he was going fly an old army basic trainer from down south to the airport on Hi Way 22. We called it the Windmill airport at that time because it was behind the Windmill Tavern. A few days later he announced his arrival over Oconto Falls by putting the prop in low pitch and revving the engine quite low over the city. I could hear the noise inside our house three miles away. I told my parents, "Vic made it!"

Art Minar drove to the airport and asked Vic to give him a ride in the BT-13. Vic told him all the reasons he couldn't do it. First they had only a ferry permit. Second, Vic didn't know how it would perform with two passengers at such a small airport. Third, the engine was not running that great the last few miles of the trip. Art wouldn't take no for an answer. They fired up the big engine and away they went. There was more buzzing over Oconto Falls, this time a bit lower than the first time. Art didn't want to quit but Vic said the engine didn't sound good and he headed back to the airport.

It took two classes for Vic to tell the story of ferrying the plane back. He had us sitting on pins and needles the whole time. He told us about the ride down to Tennessee with one of the local pilots in his Ercoupe. After the pilot in the Ercoupe took off to get back as early as he could, Vic looked over the BT13s, named Vultee Vibrator by the students that flew them, he wished he was going back with him. The plane he was assigned had lots of problems. He had to find tools so he could take good parts off other airplanes and install them on the plane he was to fly home. He filled a five-gallon can with gasoline and poured it in to one of the wing tanks. It immediately started leaking. He fired up the engine and taxied over to the gas pumps. The gas was put into the other wing tank in the hope that one wouldn't leak. Vic was watching the gas being pumped in when he realized he had only 44 dollars in his pocket and yelled stop! When it came time to start the engine everyone watched from a long ways away. He got the engine started without catching fire and headed for home. He had a full time job keeping the plane flying straight because nearly all the gasoline was in one wing. Vic decided to try the radio. As he was tuning it while trying to pick up something, the cockpit started filling with smoke. He had to slide the canopy back to see. He was making notes on the map, while smoke was filling cockpit. He thought he was going to have to crash land, then he remembered the radio, turned it off, and the smoke stopped. The airplane was burning fuel and leaking at an alarming rate. He knew he couldn't make it home. Vic had an Air Force buddy in Lockport, Illinois. He flew over the city and landed at the airport. When he called his friend on the phone, he answered with, "Is that you Vic?" He had seen the trainer fly over and somehow knew it was his old flying buddy Victor Bast. Vic called Art Minar, Superintendent of the Schools, and asked him to wire some money for gasoline.

As Vic's clothes were dirty and smelly, his friend loaned him some of his so he could show Vic the town that night. The next morning, after putting gasoline in the wing tank that didn't leak, he took off for Oconto Falls.

A few of the Oconto Falls residents didn't appreciate the noisy air show Vic and Art put on and called the police. The police called the FAA. One day a FAA man showed up and talked with the residents who called in the complaint. They told him the low- flying airplane had knocked bricks off the chimney and killed a pigeon. Then he went to the high school and spoke with Art Minar. Art told him that he had heard the airplane and it wasn't that bad. He said some of the residents are such chronic complainers that they are ignored. No charges were filed.

I was one of the first high school students to get a ride in it. The battery wasn't good enough to get the engine started, but there was another starter called an inertia starter. One would insert a crank in a tube on the left side of the plane just back of the engine. The crank would turn gears that would make a flywheel turn at a high speed. You would turn the crank slowly at first, then faster and faster until you couldn't go any faster. Then jerk the crank out and pull on a wire that would engage the engine. If you had it going fast enough you could get two turns out of the propeller. It was a hard starting engine and everyone had a chance to turn the crank.

We all cheered when the engine caught, belched blue smoke, and roared to life. It made a terrific noise and shook the ground around it. The grass, weeds, and dust behind it left for a different part of the field.

Victor Bast was in the front seat and I volunteered for the first ride. I had no idea what he was going to do. Vic taxied to the end of the runway and opened the throttle wide. The air speed started indicating 50 60 70 72. The wheels left the ground. I thought he was going to take it up. Then he cut the throttle and put on the brakes, and managed to get it slowed down before the end of the runway to turn it around.

Many students went for the taxi hop ride. For some it was the first ride in an airplane. Art Minar was giving high-speed taxi rides one Sunday and a tire blew. The plane did what tail dragger pilots call a ground loop, but it didn’t tip over. That was the last ride for the B T-13. It was sold for scrap.
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