Airportsof the Saugatuck-Douglas Area
The Saugatuck airport was a short-lived and unsuccessful project thatleft the municipality with a tract forever known as the "old airport."
There was movement for an airport in Saugatuck as early as 1932 when alanding strip was prepared on the Roger Reed farm on the New Richmond road. According to the Commercial Record for July 29, 1932, "The promoters are hoping and expecting thisport to be one of the best licensed ports in the state. Three planes will be there over the weekend forcommercial and pleasure flying."
Shortly afterwards a 154 acre tract on 134th Avenue justeast of 63rd Street was purchased by the Village of Saugatuck and in1936 a $12,301 WPA project was approved to grade and construct two runways.After reporting that "a gang ofmen are working on the airport project, more will be employed as the snowleaves" in the February 14,1936, newspaper, little is said about progress. In 1940 a letter writercomplained that the village "hadno right" to buy the land. "It'sno good as an airport, and we don'tneed one anyway." According tofigures he presents the village purchased 170 acres at the cost of $1,750, butsold the timber on the tract for $600, making the total cost only $1,150.
In 1948 the village officially gave up on the airport idea and planted6,000 white spruce on the land, leading to its secondlocal name "the Christmas Treefarm." The land is still ownedby the City of Saugatuck.In the 1960's it was leased to asnowmobile club. More recently the New Age senior citizens club has leased theold snowmobile club house as an activity center.
Recently the Historical Societyreceived a box of records and other paper artifacts from the Douglas Airportfor the years 1947 through 1949 with a few items related to the nearby Airpark Speedway.
In June of 1946 an airport opened for business just south of Douglas,although it was usually called the Saugatuck-Douglas Airport. It was owned by Harl and Lucille Schneider and advertised "student instruction and scenic tours."In addition, a small restaurant, knownas "The Airport Grill," served light lunches. It had two 2500 footpacked dirt runways.
In July local pilots joined together to paint the roof of a building ineach town with the name of the village and directions and distance to theairport. In Saugatuck the roof of the Jones garage carried the information, in Douglas thelumber yard roof was used.
SKY HIGH FLYING SERVICE
Student Instruction Phone Saugatuck 43,567 Charter Trips Fennville, Mich.
Harl Schneider was one of the earliest licensed pilots in the United States.One of his students, who had seen Schneider's pilot's license, said thatthe number on it was less than 100 and it was issued in 1920 or 1921, justafter the end of World War II. Schneider had taught flying at an airport near Holland until he and Lucille were married and opened the Douglas facility. She was also a pilot.
They bought the old John Flagg farm justsouth of Douglas and Albert Crane of Fennvillegraded the runways. He still has an Indian arrowhead from that excavation.Because of the hardpan clay formations there was some difficulty in getting therunways to drain properly. Crane solved the drainage problemby drilling a five or six foot hole in the problem areas and setting off astick of dynamite to loosen up the hardpan, then smoothing it over. Theeast-west runway was built first, followed by the north-south. Later hangarswere constructed along the north edge of the first runway.
The airport was officially known as the Saugatuck-Douglas airport, butsome bills made out to the facility use the name Douglas Lakeside Airport. Mail wasreceived from the Fennville post office, leading to some confusion. Flyinginstruction was carried on by Harl and LucilleSchneider under the name of "SkyHigh Flying Service" accordingto a letterhead. They had two or three Aeroncaairplanes, two seaters with one used by theinstructor and another by the student, all painted bright yellow. In addition,in April of 1948 the Schneiders purchased afour-place Stinson for their own use and to give scenic rides. The plane wasbrought to Douglas from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of the longestflights recorded in the airport logs.
More common destinations were Manistee, MackinawCity, Kalamazoo,and other small airports in Michigan and Indiana. Records showthat planes frequently flew to Muskegonfor repairs and maintenance.
During World War II many men flew planes who had never even ridden inone before, and many others were exposed to the miracle of flight. The post-warGI bill allowed many of the returning servicemen to attend college and wouldalso pay for the flying course that resulted in a private pilot's license in the interest of "Vocational Rehabilitation." Pilots who had earned their wings flyingmilitary planes were another source of income as they adapted their skills tocivilian life or simply revisited the thrill of flying without the combatresponsibilities.
Payment directly from the federal government for veterans takingprivate pilot training was one of the major sources of income for the airport.One balance sheet shows that in 1948 the operation actually made a profit ofover $1,500.
In a 1950 Airman'sGuide the Douglas-Saugatuck Airport followed the ; Willow Run airport which serviced Detroit. The listing shows that the Douglas-Saugatuck Airportat Douglas was a commercial facility,it was 1.8 miles south of the center of Douglas, and 670 feet above sea level.There were two runways, the longest 2600 feet, and storage facilities but norepair shop on the premises. Fuel of at least 80 octanewas sold there. The cryptic statements under remarks were notes to pilotsflying into the facility for the first time.
Albert Crane said he remembers the first day the fuel tank was filled.He had dug the hole, the tank was installed andcovered. That evening the West Michigan Oil Company truck had put some gas init, but did not have sufficient in the truck to completely top it off. Thatnight the first really big rain of the season struck the area and thewater-soaked ground began to swell. The tank came up out of the ground, withthe pump on top.
Lloyd Dornan, one of the former students,sometimes gave rides to tourists and was at the airport one day when radiobroadcaster Paul Harvey flew in. He asked that his plane be refueled, "Full, and I mean right to the top." Dornan did thebest he could and when he was finished Harveystuck his finger in the top of the fuel tank to make sure it was truly full.
When students under the GI Bill had finished their flying courses,there were not enough local people seeking lessons to make ends meet. Theairport stayed open for several more years, at least as late as 1951, but wasused only by a few local people who owned their own planes and an occasionaltransient.
Harl and Lucille Schneider separated and Lucille married Chester Downer,also a pilot, but who also had an interest in auto racing. About 1952 theycalled Crane and asked him to build an auto racing track near the back of theproperty, essentially behind the airport runways. In addition to thequarter-mile dirt track Crane built bleacher seating on banks of earth. Thewooden planks that customers sat on were held in place with stakes. It was consideredsafer than conventional bleachers because customers could not fall through.
It was called the Airpark Speedwayand featured weekly races in stock and modified open competition classes.Mechanical specifications, from a rule sheet for the 1959 season included:
MODIFIED OPEN COMPETITION
1. Any American make or year engine foropen competition,
2. Engines may be installed in anyposition. Drivers protected by firewall,
3. Any transmission permitted. Gear changeoptional,
4. Carburetion, ignition and fuel optional,
5. Gas tanks of heavy steel may be inside securely fastened, withfirewall between tank and driver.
6. Four wheel brakes compulsory and in goodworking order,
7. Intake manifold of any kind, but may bereworked. Exhaust headers permitted.
STOCK TO THE EYE
1. Any vehicle will be allowed to run aslong as it is stock,
2. Bodies and engine, transmission and rearend, stock to the eye,
3. Cars between years 1932 and 1953.
4. Any overhead valve has to be run in samechassis in which manufacturer installed engine.
In addition to car races a few other events were held at the Airpark Speedway. One of the lastwas the Second Annual Saugatuck Jazz Festival in 1960. The first annualfestival had been held at Saugatuck'sBig Pavilion in 1959. On May 6, 1960, the Big Pavilion burned and shortly afterthe ashes cooled a sign appeared reminding people that "Last year on this site was held what wasobviously the hottest jazz festival in the country... "The sign also identified the Airpark Speedway as the new site.The festival was held in August and included the Dave BrubeckQuartet with Paul Desmond on Friday and Duke Ellington and his orchestraheadlining the Saturday night show. But it did not do well as an outdoor event.
Portions of the land were later sold as home sites. The building thathoused the old Airport Grill still exists remodeled as a residence. The road tothe north is what is left of the east-west runway.