Column: Flying into Worthington: 78 years agoAfter 82 years, Northwest Airline’s identity was erased Monday when the pioneer Minnesota airline merged with Delta Air Lines, creating the world’s largest air carrier.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Northwest Airlines is no more.
After 82 years, Northwest Airline’s identity was erased Monday when the pioneer Minnesota airline merged with Delta Air Lines, creating the world’s largest air carrier.
The announcement of the merger stirred memories of the long ago time when Northwest was “courting” Worthington and aiding airport development here. It was thought Worthington might have a role in Northwest’s future.
The original Worthington airport — oh, put it approximately on the present-day site of Travelodge — was dedicated with a “Carnival of the Skies” on an August weekend in 1930. With the first announcement of the dedication came word that, “Representatives of Northwest Airways of Minneapolis will be present, including the famous Speed Holman.”
Worthington’s airport was surely modest. Basically, it was a pasture and a 50-foot square, wood frame-and-galvanized tin hangar. The air age was unfolding. Worthington was getting its airport only three years after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean.
Speed Holman (Charles Holman) was an aviation legend with fame across Minnesota that equaled Lindbergh’s. St. Paul’s airport, Holman Field, is named for him. Holman won an array of trophies at national air races and air shows. He was a pioneer pilot and promoter for Northwest Airways.
On the Thursday before Worthington’s big weekend, Holman landed on the local airport sod with a six-passenger mail plane (a Hornet) making a regular run between the Twin Cities and Omaha. Holman dropped off a trophy which had been won by Worthington’s Arthur Calvin American Legion Post.
The next day Worthington got wind of Holman’s schedule: he was to join in an air race at St. Paul on Saturday morning and an air race at Chicago on Saturday afternoon. A nervous Worthington Chamber of Commerce representative telephoned Holman. “Don’t you worry,” said the flier. “I’ll be with you.”
Holman completed the Twin City race at 11 a.m., joined the Chicago race and then pointed his Laird monoplane west without stopping even to pick up his suitcase. He made the trip to Worthington in two hours and 45 minutes.
Flying low over the city, Holman made (the Worthington Times reported) “an incredible power dive that frightened the pigeons off the courthouse tower as he leveled off.”
That Saturday evening, Holman made a short visit to a benefit armory dance. Worthington scrambled to find him a razor. (The newspaper reported another pilot was the star of the evening: “Beyond question, the life of the party was the irrepressible Elizabeth Klingenschmidt who, informed by the local committee that there was no funds available to pay visiting pilots, came anyway and worked like a pert little Trojan all the while she was here.”)
Sunday afternoon’s crowd was thrilled by the first air show most had ever seen. “… The throng choked Trunk Highway 16 with cars … and flowed on the field until the east and north sides for a half mile were a solid rank of radiators and front wheels.”
An unscheduled thrill was provided by a new pilot who took off with the wind. “He just cleared the ridge-pole of the hangar and, a moment later, settled down almost to the fence posts, cleared the telephone wires north of the field by an eyelash and was apparently headed for the trees and destruction” before he turned around and returned to the airport sod.
There are many in the local region that still have a memory of that tower on the 1894, red brick courthouse toward which Speed Holman made his power dive.
There was a revolving red beacon at the peak of the tower which made it possible for pilots flying at night to locate Worthington. A stationary white beacon pointed the way to the airport. Maybe you wondered (I did) why Worthington was concerned for guiding airplane pilots through the dark nights.
This was a part of Northwest Airways plan. It was a standard feature for all communities which were on air mail routes. The thought was Worthington would be a stop for mail planes. The beacons would guide air mail pilots on their rounds.
The trouble was — 1930 — the economy did a nose dive akin to Speed Holman’s monoplane. Air mail plans were canceled.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.