avitortitle

A TINKER OF NO SMALL GENIUS

“Every village has its idiot” they say (although Mark Twain might have quipped that was an undercount) but it’s more likely every village in early America had a bonafide eccentric. Some had crazy ideas and some were outright crazy; some did or said things that seemed bonkers to fellow villagers but might have been seen as reasonable, even inspired, by those in the know.

In Civil War-era Santa Rosa the town eccentric was a guy named John Morrow. He captured birds and then let them go after tying weights to them. He also created a wind-up toy that could fly a short distance. And then there’s this: He patented an invention which could have rewritten the history of aviation.

Before jumping on that story, a reminder that Santa Rosa has been overlooked by historians as a crossroads for many pioneer aviators. Gentle Reader presumably salutes Fred J. Wiseman for making the first airmail flight between Petaluma and here in 1911; lesser known is that one version of his flying machine was among the first handful of aircraft bought by the U.S. military. And although he never flew around Santa Rosa, Blaine G. Selvage made probably the first airplane flight on the West Coast at Eureka in 1909; in the years immediately prior to that he lived here, and is buried (in an unmarked grave) at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.

John Bland Morrow apparently arrived in Santa Rosa during early 1865, then 28 or 29 years old. A letter to his parents from Virginia City survives, where he told them he was earning a good wage although many men there couldn’t find any work at all: “I have an advantage over most of the sharps, for when I get broke, I fall back on Science. So I went to work at Gold Hill Machine Shop at five dollars a day – in Gold.” (He also described to his Pennsylvania folks an unusual plant in Nevada called a “cactus.”)

Morrow signed his letter as the “Secretary of the Nevada Territory Engineers Association,” and always listed his profession as a machinist or mechanic – except in Santa Rosa, where he was a “tinner” (tinsmith). After about three years in town he moved to San Francisco along with his friend Harry Rich.

Nothing about Morrow appeared in the local newspapers while he was in Santa Rosa, but much was printed about him afterward, particularly in Healdsburg’s weekly Russian River Flag:

John Morrow— Formerly of Santa Rosa, but now living, we believe, in San Francisco. Some years ago, our attention was called to this person, by what was then regarded as a somewhat novel eccentricity. He was engaged in catching various kinds of fowl, carefully measuring their wings, estimating the force and velocity of their motion, and loading them with weights, to find what each could carry. Some time afterward. passing through Santa Rosa, we heard of a small machine worked by a spring, that flew through the air like a bird. But few had seen it and by many it was regarded as a doubtful rumor…

That was part of an article that appeared in 1869 after someone from the Flag ran into him in San Francisco, where Morrow had been working for Frederick Marriott and his Aerial Steam Navigation Company. Mainly a banker and newspaper publisher, Marriott had been trying to build a steam-powered dirigible since the early 1840s, and he wasn’t alone; in the mid-19th century there were more than a few engineers and inventors – and yes, eccentrics – who were experimenting with designs for a steerable lighter-than-air airship. Very few had gotten further than building models, but that didn’t stop a man named Rufus Porter from promising in 1849 that his “Aerial Locomotive” would transport 200 passengers from New York to the gold fields of California in three days (“wines included, baggage extra”). Spoiler alert: Didn’t happen.

Marriott’s efforts were taken seriously and reported in the San Francisco papers as well as Santa Rosa’s weekly Democrat. After seeing a small non-working model of the “Avitor” in 1867, respected industrialist Peter Donahue – the man who would soon start to build the railroad to Santa Rosa – gave it his endorsement, and the Democrat swooned that we would soon have transcontinental flights: “The idea of flying from here to New York in from 24 to 36 hours, is enough to to take the breath away from one.” Spoiler alert: Didn’t happen.

More than two years flashed by and it was now mid-1869. John Morrow and Harry Rich were working for Marriott, who had built a 37 foot-long prototype he named “Avitor Hermes, Jr.” Fully inflated, it weighed under ten pounds and had a one horsepower steam engine that turned two stubby fabric propellers.

Test flight of the Avitor, July 2 1869 at Millbrae
Test flight of the Avitor, July 2 1869 at Millbrae

The aircraft had been designed in the basement of the huge Montgomery Block building (today the location of the Transamerica Pyramid), where Samuel Clemens sometimes helped – or more likely, distracted – Marriott and the others. Once they thought the thing might actually fly it was taken apart and reassembled it at the Millbrae warehouse they had turned into a makeshift hangar.

A writer from the magazine, English Mechanic and Mirror of Science, described the scene after the gasbags were filled with hydrogen: “…the machinery was put in motion and the propellers commenced their revolutions. At once life was imparted to the whole body, and it rose promptly and gracefully and took its flight into the air…”

They moved it outside, and tethered to a long rope the unmanned airship made two half-mile circles both with and against the wind at a speed of about 5 MPH.

It is considered the first powered flight of an airship outside of Europe, where less successful prototypes had been demonstrated.

Photographs of the event circulated, and the Democrat spotted our local boys in the pictures:

Among the spectators of this great experiment in aerial navigation, who appear in the picture before us, the faces of John Morrow and Harry Rich, two young men formerly of Santa Rosa, who have long been identified with this invention, are easily recognizable.

hermes2(RIGHT: Another view of the July 2 1869 Avitor demonstration)

Following that, the Avitor was moved to the enormous Mechanics’ Institute Pavilion in San Francisco where visitors paid to watch it fly in scheduled daily exhibitions. That was where someone from the Russian River Flag ran into Morrow, and afterwards wrote that “Marriott’s machine would not rise from the ground” until Morrow improved it.

“This machine was a combination of both Marriott’s and Morrow’s plans,” the Flag reported, “and that portion which made it a success, so far as navigating still air is concerned, was added by Morrow.”

The Marriott airship had several innovations that leapfrogged over previous designs, although it’s almost entirely ignored by aviation historians. The thing had fixed wings, for starters, and at the rear of them were fabric propellers – and not flat paddles but helical blades, which made for better propulsion. Outside of the propellers were planes that are recognizable as primitive ailerons. Combine all this and you had an aircraft which was not only highly steerable – at least, compared to others of its day – but could vertically lift its slightly heavier-than-air frame off the ground by itself.

The person who put all the pieces of this puzzle together must have been a brilliant engineer with a solid understanding of aerodynamics, particularly the concepts of powered lift and thrust – and possibly the only person on earth with all that knowhow was Morrow, who already had a patent of his own. And here’s the Believe-it-or-Not! core of our tale:

John Bland Morrow had invented a jet engine. In 1869. As far as I can determine, it was completely unlike anything else imagined in the 19th century.

 Morrow's "Improved Propeller for Aerial Navigation" patent March 30, 1869
Morrow’s “Improved Propeller for Aerial Navigation” patent March 30, 1869

To be clear: This was nothing like the jet engines hanging on aircraft today – it was more like a vacuum cleaner. Air was sucked into two pipes in the front of the vessel, compressed by blowers and pushed out pipes in the back.

Also, it wasn’t a dirigible – it was simply an engine to generate thrust. There was nothing in the specification about steering it or carrying people. It was just for “propelling vessels, or crafts through the air,” as he wrote. Presumably he expected the engine (or two of them) would be attached to a gondola or cabin with controls.

The Democrat had a small item about his patent, noting that he had been working on it for about a dozen years – which would have covered his time in Santa Rosa. Now locals knew why he had been fiddling around with birds.

morrow2(RIGHT: Morrow’s specification)

His patent was also issued months before Marriott’s patent, which did not list Morrow as a co-inventor. The Flag commented, “…having watched this matter for several years, we can see no reason why Morrow is not entitled to at least equal credit with Marriott.” Apparently they had a falling out between the Avitor test flight in July and when the Flag editor encountered “Johnny” at the Pavilion in September. As mentioned in another article from the Democrat, “…it appears that there had been some trouble between the parties interested in the machine which was lately on exhibition at the Bay City, and they claim to have been ‘froze out.'”

Morrow and Harry Rich were now building something on their own – whether it was the jet engine or a true dirigible was not mentioned. He formed the “Aerial Steamship Company” and in the 1871 San Francisco city directory, his profession was given as “Patentee, Aerial Steamship Company 838 Mission Street.”

Also in 1871 he successfully demonstrated his “air ship,” according to the Flag. “It sailed in the air backwards and forwards under the complete control of the inventor,” and the reference to it going backwards suggests it was the blower-powered jet.

Alas, a followup trial was sabotaged when someone sliced open a gas bag. That was apparently the end of Morrow’s experiments in aviation – a great loss because the Flag had remarked, “…during all these years, with little means, and in the fact of many obstacles, Morrow has been persistently seeking the solution of the problem of aerial navigation, and has probably come nearer the solution than any other man.”

In October 1876 he patented a “water motor,” but nothing more about that is known. In 1879 he was listed in the San Francisco city directory as a machinist, but after that nothing more about him can be found. Anywhere. Genealogists have tried to claim he died in the Ukiah asylum in 1914, but that was a different John Morrow. Turns out his was an extremely common name at the time.

I loathe to leave any story hanging, much less one of historical importance. But let Gentle Reader draw small comfort in knowing I beat every bush I know how to beat. As his patent was filed under the name “William Morrow” I wondered if he had used other names as well. For a time I explored whether he could have become the similar-sounding “John A. Morrell,” who in 1908 was responsible for the worst dirigible accident in U.S. history prior to the Hindenburg (you absolutely must read this story). Nope.

There is, however, much to say about the afterlife of the Avitor. The original burned up while on exhibition at the Pavilion, but a full size replica can be seen at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos. There’s a good writeup at the Travel for Aircraft blog and there’s an amateur video showing the propellers turning. Anyone interested in digging further into these doings will want to read Marriott’s hard-to-find patent (PDF).

Photo by Joseph May, Travel for Aircraft
Photo by Joseph May, Travel for Aircraft

 

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THE “AVITOR.”— We have received from the projectors, amongst whom are some of our wealthiest citizens, a report of the prospects of the long-talked of air navigating machine, which is to astonish the world by its proposed traveling through space, against the currents and airs of all regions, as high as ten or twelve thousand feet above the ground. The “Avitor” will, it is said, beat anything in the traveling world for speed or “coin,” and if half what its projectors claim for it should come true, the modes of travel now in vogue will soon be obsolete. The machine has been in the hands of an incorporated company for some months, and will in a few days be ready to “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes.” The following is the opinion of a practical gentleman Mr. Peter Donahue:

I have followed with great interest, and have personally observed the construction of the “Avitor.” I am so thoroughly convinced of the practicability of the enterprise, and so entirely concur in the forgoing observations respecting the two modifications to be adopted, that I have no hesitation in saying that when these changes are made, the “Avitor” will answer all the purposes of its inventor, and fully realize the expectations of the public. As soon as the elevating power shall, in this way, have been perfected, the work will be completed because the propelling force is simple, the machinery for elevating and for depressing sufficient, the steering apparatus in fine working order, and, in short, the whole of the “Avitor” is fully under the control of the operator.

– Daily Alta California, June 16 1867

 

The S. F. Call, in speaking of the flying machine called the Avitor, says: “The superintendent informs us that the building at San Mateo for the Avitor, is completed, and the steam flying machine will be put together immediately, all its parts, including engines, being already constructed in this city and ready for shipment to the house. If those engaged in the undertaking have got what they believe they have, the world will be astonished in a few weeks. The public will not. however, have a chance to see the machine unless it proves to be a success. The idea of flying from here to New York in from 24 to 36 hours, is enough to to take the breath away from one, but this is a feat promised, and which those to vesting their money in the Avitor expect to perform. If they are disappointed they will lose their money and no one else will be the worse off: if they are not disappointed the world will be the gainer.”

– Sonoma Democrat, February 9 1867

 

[Patent number] 88,324 Aerial Car. Wm. Morrow, San Francisco, California. This invention relates to new mode of propelling aerial vessels, and it consists in providing the machine with two large fans or blowers, which are driven by a light engine. The sides of the cases which are ordinarily left open, are closed in those blowers, and are connected by pipes from the front of the vessel, so that the air is drawn in through these pipes. Similar pipes serve for the ejection of the air at the stern of the vessel, so that it is propelled both by drawing in the air and by forcing it out. The steering apparatus may be so arranged as to elevate or depress the machine, as well as to turn it either side.

– The San Francisco Examiner, April 17 1869

 

Patent Awarded.— We are informed that Mr. John Morrow, formerly a resident of this place, but who has been for the past year or so residing in San Francisco, has been awarded a patent for an aerial car, or flying machine. He commenced this difficult undertaking some twelve years ago, and has spent much of his time and money in order to make it a success. We learn on good authority that he is now superintending the work on one of these machines which measures some one hundred and twenty feet in length. Success to him.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 24 1869

 

Exhibition of tbe Model Avitor. Quite a large number of citizens, including members of the Aerial Steam Navigation Company, scientific men, representatives of the press, etc., assembled at the Mechanics’ Pavilion, on Stockton street, yesterday, to witness an exhibition of the Flying Machine, or Model Avitor. The indefatigable Marriott, of the News Letter, was, of course, on hand. Some little delay was caused by derangement in the machinery, but soon, everything being ready, the “boat” commenced to navigate the air “like a thing of life,” amid the huzzas of the spectators. It was voted a success at least the model was. This steam-car, which is to revolutionize the world, has been so often described, we shall not repeat it here.

– The San Francisco Examiner, July 22 1869

 

Aerial.— We have received a picture of the new steam flying machine, which recently made a successful trial in San Francisco. It is shaped something like a cigar, has two flanges or wings, three feet in diameter, one on each side, and a rudder at one end, which controls its course. At the recent trial trip, says an exchange, “with the first turn of the propellers she rose slowly into the air, gradually increasing her speed until the rate of five miles an hour was attained.” Among the spectators of this great experiment in aerial navigation, who appear in the picture before us, the faces of John Morrow and Harry Rich, two young men formerly of Santa Rosa, who have long been identified with this invention, are easily recognizable. We wish all parties concerned in it the moat abundant success.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 24 1869

 

John Morrow and Harry Rich, formerly residents of this place, we learn are now building another flying machine at San Francisco. It appears that there had been some trouble between the parties interested in the machine which was lately on exhibition at the Bay City, and they claim to have been “froze out.” They are now determined to build one for themselves, and as they are both industrious we doubt not but that they will succeed. Good luck to them say we.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1869

 

John Morrow— Formerly of Santa Rosa, but now living, we believe, in San Francisco. Some years ago, our attention was called to this person, by what was then regarded as a somewhat novel eccentricity. He was engaged in catching various kinds of fowl, carefully measuring their wings, estimating the force and velocity of their motion, and loading them with weights, to find what each could carry. Some time afterward. passing through Santa Rosa, we heard of a small machine worked by a spring, that flew through the air like a bird. But few had seen it and by many it was regarded as a doubtful rumor. Going into the Pavilion in San Francisco, one day last summer, we saw “Johnny” quietly smoking his cigar. while a large porpoise-shaped machine was sailing through the air, propelled by steam, at the rate of about five miles an hour. This machine was published to the world as Marriott’s “Avitor,” but Marriott’s machine would not rise from the ground. This machine was a combination of both Marriott’s and Morrow’s plans, and that portion which made it a success, so far as navigating still air is concerned, was added by Morrow. Having watched this matter for several years, we can see no reason why Morrow is not entitled to at least equal credit with Marriott. During all these years, with little means, and in the fact of many obstacles, Morrow has been persistently seeking the solution of the problem of aerial navigation, and has probably come nearer the solution than any other man.

– Russian River Flag, October 28 1869

 

In Town.— John Morrow and Harry Rich, former residents of this place, were in town a few days since. Their many friends will be glad to see them.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 30 1869

 

Patent Candle-stick.— L. D. Latimer and John Morrow, two gentlemen well-known to our citizens, now residing at San Francisco, have lately invented a new candle-stick. Their invention prevents the waste of any portion of the candle. If John doesn’t succeed in flying operations he will in candle-sticks.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 26 1870

 

The Aerial Vessel. Mr. Morrow’s air ship was recently tried in San Francisco and pronounced a success. It sailed in the air backwards and forwards under the complete control of the inventor. A second trial was intended, but some malicious person cut a hole in the gas holder, which for a time prevented further experiments. The object for which Mr. Morrow has indomitably labored several years seems at last attained, and the navigation of the air may soon be a favorite mode of passenger transit.

– Russian River Flag, January 26 1871

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Commandery

THE FORGOTTEN FIRES OF FOUNTAINGROVE AND COFFEY PARK

[Editor’s note: You might really be looking for “THE FORGOTTEN GREAT FIRE OF 1870” which describes there was a third firestorm identical to the Tubbs/Nuns Fires which has never been mentioned]

Could this fire happen again? That’s the multi-billion dollar question hanging over everyone who lost homes in Fountaingrove and Coffey Park as they weigh the decision on whether or not to rebuild. There are no good answers; we can’t even be sure our guesses are reasonably good. There’s just too much we don’t know about the world’s changing climate to say this was a freak event or the harbinger of a new terrible normal.

To understand more, I urge everyone to read (or at least, skim) “The Real Story Behind the California Wildfires” by Seattle meteorologist Cliff Mass. He makes several important observations I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere, particularly that there were hurricane force winds (96 MPH!) at higher elevations before the fire began to spread. The speed of those winds are unprecedented in our neck of the woods and were a significant factor in creating what he calls a “unique mountain-wave windstorm.” Again, it’s a must-read.

Comparisons are being made to the September 1964 Hanly Fire (that’s the correct spelling, not “Hanley”) which burned over the same route – Calistoga to Franz Valley to Mark West Canyon and then driven down into Santa Rosa, likewise by the powerful, unrelenting “Diablo Winds” on a Sunday night. But it did not grow into the hellish firestorm that raged in 2017; it was stopped on Mendocino avenue just outside the now-lost Journey’s End trailer park.

But forgotten since are the two other major fires specific to Fountaingrove and the Coffey Park areas. Each was the most serious fire of that year in Santa Rosa. It just may be a coincidence that these incidents were at the same locations, but at this point, any additional information about our fire history is good to have.

Major factory fires threatened Santa Rosa’s industrial rim in 1909 and again in 1910, but of all the fires in Santa Rosa history, the Fountaingrove fire of 1908 was the one which might have burned down the town.

The fire was huge, easily visible from Healdsburg because it was nearly at the top of the hill. In flames was the landmark “Commandery,” one of the main buildings from the heyday of the utopian colony founded by Thomas Lake Harris. That was the residence for the colony’s men. The fire began when a kerosene lamp exploded, destroying the place so fast that nothing in the three-story mansion could be saved.

“Fortunately the north wind that had been blowing earlier in the day and evening died down, otherwise the flames would have spread,” the Press Democrat reported at the time. From a high ridge like that, just a stiff breeze could have easily thrown embers a mile and a half downwind to the county hospital on (the road later named) Chanate – which also came within 100 yards of burning in the 1964 Hanly Fire (and where a developer now has the go-ahead to build a dense subdivision of up to 800 units).

The fire burned itself out quickly; it’s not clear if the Santa Rosa Fire Department did anything. A pasture also ignited and was easily handled. But had a northern wind still been gusting, firebrands from the Commandery might have blown as far as the core neighborhoods across from the modern-day high school, where almost all Victorian homes had shingle roofs.

While Santa Rosa got a lucky break in 1908, Fortuna did not smile as much on the town in 1939, when a wind-whipped fire swept across 500 acres in (what would become) the Coffey Park neighborhood.

That September 20 fire started at the airport. Today probably only the oldest-timers and aviation buffs know that the town had an airport there; when it opened in 1929 it was first called the Santa Rosa Municipal Airport, then it became the Santa Rosa Airpark and lastly the Coddingtown Airport, which finally closed in 1971 or 1972. The layout of the runways shifted over the years but the way it probably looked at the time of the fire can be seen in the graphic below. (For much more on all the historic airfields in the Santa Rosa area, see the “Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields” site. Don’t miss the commemorative postmark of Luther Burbank looking like an angry muppet.)

Approximate location of the Santa Rosa Municipal Airport runways in 1939

 

The airport fire was completely avoidable, and if not for the serious danger it posed would serve as the script for a Keystone Kops slapstick comedy.

It was the hottest day of the year, with the thermometer reading 104 – hardly conditions to do weed burning, but that’s what a crew of 10-12 men were doing that afternoon on the runways, dragging burning rags behind a truck.

They were working in the southwestern end of the field when the wind suddenly started blowing from the south, sending the fire towards the modern intersection of Coffey Lane and Hopper Ave. It was moving so fast they could not overtake it in the truck, according to the PD.

Naturally, they were unprepared to handle such a runaway blaze so the fire department was called. A single truck with 150 gallons of water was dispatched and quickly emptied. The fire was now out of control.

A second fire truck arrived, as did a crew and truck from the state as the fire line headed towards several farms. Students from the Junior College joined the fight and were credited with saving at least one home.

“Farmers, passing motorists, airport attendants and others fought side by side, beating out the flames with wet sacks and using portable water pumps in the two-hour battle,” the PD reported.

One farmer lost a small house and farm buildings, including a barn; another lost many outbuildings including chicken houses, where many animals died. Two orchards were burned over, power poles went up in flames and a large stack of baled hay continued to burn into the next day. Altogether 13 buildings were destroyed on five properties.

The idiocy of doing a controlled burn on an extremely dry and hot day aside, it’s jaw-dropping that it spread to 500 acres before a city and state fire crew plus a platoon of volunteers could control it – all in an area that was then undeveloped and just a couple of miles from town. What would they have done if the wind changed again and started blowing towards Santa Rosa?

Again, I hasten to add it’s probably just a Believe-It-Or-Not! coincidence that the big fires of 1908 and 1939 happened at the same places as 2017. Those fires don’t even have anything in common with each other; the airport fire was caused by a sudden change of wind and the Commandery burned like a torch amid no winds at all. One fire was avoidable, one probably not. What they do have in common is that both could have been catastrophic had the winds shifted towards Santa Rosa; the town could not have coped with a serious fire on its border at either time.

After presenting lots’o graphs and colorful maps, meteorologist Cliff Mass concludes with an optimistic view that our computer models are probably able to predict when conditions are ripe for a replay of the Tubbs Fire. That’s good news for sure, but the depressing message from history is that disasters aren’t always so foreseeable in reality. Sometimes life-threatening events comes from scientifically-predictable weather conditions, but sometimes the worst danger is just some fool dragging a burning rag behind a truck.

 

Painting of the Commandery by Fountain Grove colonist Alice Parting as it appeared in the Pacific Rural Press, May 18, 1889

 

Top image of Commandery courtesy Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Special Collections

 

 

BIG RESIDENCE GUTTED BY FIRE AT FOUNTAINGROVE
A Disastrous Blaze Near Town Wednesday Night

The explosion of the lamp resulted in a fire Wednesday night the destroyed the fine old residence at Fountaingrove, which for years occupied a commanding site on the hill overlooking the valley, greeting the eyes of every passerby along the Healdsburg Road. It was the biggest residence on the estate.

In a remarkedly short space of time, so fiercely did the fire fiend to do its work, the splendid building that rose four stories high, was reduced to smoldering embers. The residence was furnished and the contents cannot be saved. In addition a small creamery was also destroyed.

Shortly before 10 o’clock the fire started. The flames lit up the heavens for miles. People in Santa Rosa climbed into automobiles and carriages and left for the scene. At first many people thought the fire was at the old Pacific Methodist College building, and quite a number of them headed in that direction. Then it was said that it was Frank Steele’s residents near town. All these conjectures proved wrong.

The lamp exploded without warning and Mr. Cowie, who resided in the big house, was slightly burned about the face. The fire spread rapidly. The residence, built entirely of wood, was an easy prey. At the first cry of fire the large force of employees on the Fountaingrove estate rallied and did what they could to prevent the spread of the flames to other buildings. Numerous small hose were attached to faucets. Fortunately the north wind that had been blowing earlier in the day and evening died down, otherwise the flames would have spread. Some flying embers started a fire in the pasture but it was checked.

The house was well built. It had stood for about a quarter century. It was a largest residence on the place. When seen by a Press Democrat representative at the scene of the fire, Kanai [sic] Nagasawa stated that it would be hard to estimate the damage. Probably $35,000 to $40,000 will cover it. It is understood that there was some insurance on the place. Years ago, when the late Thomas Lake Harris published his books, the printing presses and other paraphernalia had aplace in the building destroyed. Of later years it had been used as a residence and for sometime prior to their going away from Fountaingrove Dr. and Mrs. Webley, and the Clarks occupied apartments in it.

There must have been a couple of hundred people in the crowd who drove out from Santa Rosa to the fire. Mr. Nagasawa took in the situation most philosophically, saying while it was too bad it had happened yet he was very thankful no one was hurt, and that there was no wind to scatter the fire further.

The old house will be missed. While it was the largest house it was not considered as fine as that occupied by the late Mr. Harris, which contains some valuable paintings, plate and furnishings. There are many Santa Rosans who have visited the Webleys and the Clarks there, and they will be sorry to learn of the destruction wrought by the fire.

For an hour or more after the fire, and while it was still in progress the telephone line to the Press Democrat office was certainly “busy.” The fire was seen for miles around and inquiries poured into the office.

Mr. and Mrs. Shirley Burris were leaving Healdsburg for Santa Rosa in their automobile at the time the fire started. Its reflection could plainly be seen there, and attracted considerable attention. All along the road people were out watching the flames.

While mention is made of those who went in automobiles and buggies to the fire those who rode horseback and on bikes must not be overlooked. There were many entries in these divisions. Several young ladies galloped on horseback to the scene of conflagration. For his speedy transit to Fountaingrove the Press Democrat representative was indebted to Frank Leppo, who drove his auto. When all the autos returned to town after the fire it made up quite a decent illuminated parade. An effort to reach Fountaingrove by telephone after the fire was met with the information the telephone had been destroyed with the building.

– Press Democrat, June 18 1908

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wisemanfirstairmail

THE MYSTERY OF WISEMAN’S PLANE

An important artifact of Sonoma County history hangs in a Washington, D.C. museum, yet there’s always been gaps in what we knew about its past. This is the story of what happened to Fred J. Wiseman’s airplane – with a Believe-it-or-Not! twist at the end.

Surely everyone who lived in this area in 2011 remembers the centennial celebration of Wiseman’s historic first airmail flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa and saw a picture of his odd little plane. It appeared delicate and clunky at the same time, hardly looking like an aircraft at all; if anything, it resembled a monstrous IKEA product someone tried to assemble without reading the instructions and abandoned halfway.

But aside from his famous flight, readers of this journal know Fred Wiseman crashed that poor plane like clockwork. Was he just a lousy pilot or was it due to crappy design of his homemade machine?

Certainly, flying was a risky business in the early 1910s, and Wiseman’s history of plummeting wasn’t nearly as bad as daredevil Charles Hamilton, who amazingly survived around sixty crashes. But at the same time, Wiseman wasn’t trying to set records or perform death-defying stunts; he was simply trying to stay aloft for a few minutes sailing over a pasture or fairgrounds. When he made the Petaluma to Santa Rosa airmail flight in January, 1911, it took him two days to travel the 24 miles because he crashed. Twice.

Wiseman made a few more exhibition flights around the west coast that year. He crash landed at least twice more – the worst being a 500-foot fall in Salinas – leading to his retirement as a birdman. He reportedly told relatives he saw “no future in it” because so many of his colleagues were being routinely killed.

It’s just as likely, though, Wiseman and his pals were out of money. Expenses mounted with each crash; a new propeller cost the equivalent of about $20,000 in today’s dollars and engine rebuilds were frequently required. While fortunes were being made by celebrity aviators who drew big audiences to airshows where they often set records, Wiseman’s appearances at backwater county fairs probably earned barely more than expenses – and that’s assuming he didn’t crack up the plane and add to the red ink.

Wiseman’s primary financial backer – and likely the only one – was Ben Noonan, his boyhood buddy who shared his interests in competitive sports. Noonan’s family had somewhat of a monopoly on the meat business in central Sonoma county, owning the slaughterhouse at the corner of College and (today’s) Cleveland Avenues as well as operating the butcher shop on Fourth street in downtown Santa Rosa. When Wiseman retired the plane was stored at their stockyards. Thus ends the first chapter of our little plane’s story with it sitting in a cow lot, its wings probably being used to scratch the backs of cattle and horses with an unreachable itch.

Just a few months later chapter two began with the appearance in Santa Rosa of a 28 year-old Oakland man named Weldon B. Cooke, who was in town to make some money on exhibition flights over the New Year’s holiday.

Cooke couldn’t know at the time, but he was at the zenith of his aviation career during his Santa Rosa visit. Just a few days earlier he was the first to fly over the summit of Mount Tamalpais, a feat once considered so insanely risky that prize money for the accomplishment had been withdrawn. A few weeks after flying in Santa Rosa he competed in the Los Angeles Air Meet where he set a record for altitude (5,800 feet) and the longest time in the air, winning over $7,000 as a result. And in between these accomplishments he was awarded pilot’s license #95 from the Aero Club of America, making him only the second flyer in California with official recognition.

There’s no evidence Wiseman and Cooke ever met, but they were cut from the same cloth. Both had brief careers as race car drivers before getting hooked on aviation. Both taught themselves to fly using airplanes built by men who knew nothing about aerodynamics and learned aircraft design from reading magazines; Wiseman’s team was auto mechanic Jean Peters, himself and sometimes Don Prentiss, while Cooke’s machine was put together by a Sacramento River boat builder and a dredge boat captain. Their finished planes were also nearly identical – both fundamentally rip-offs of the Curtiss design with a propellor at the back and the pilot sitting in front of the engine. (A photo of Cooke’s plane, called the “Black Diamond” and now on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, can be seen here.)

Before his New Years’ visit to Santa Rosa, a reporter from the Press Democrat asked Cooke whether he would try out Wiseman’s plane while he was here. Cooke replied he might consider making it part of the upcoming exhibition at the fairgrounds (he didn’t). But Cooke agreed to something far more important to the PD; the weekend after his paid-admission show, Cooke would fly over Santa Rosa.

The Chamber of Commerce had been long yearning for a Santa Rosa flyover, so great was the mystique of early aviation. It was strongly hinted Wiseman might do it during an exhibition flight at the 1910 Rose Carnival (he didn’t fly at all because of winds) and both town papers swore he would buzz the town during his 1911 flight from Petaluma (he crashed outside city limits). Now that it happened, the PD babbled incoherently, “Santa Rosa was aviation crazy on Saturday afternoon and the flight made by the daring young aviator aroused the greatest interest and admiration of everybody.”

But Weldon Cooke wasn’t done in Santa Rosa. About a month later he slipped into town and met with Ben Noonan to look over the Wiseman plane. He made a few short test flights, including a 15-minute loop around the Laguna plain. “Well, I certainly guess she will fly all right,” he was quoted as saying. A deal was struck for Cooke to lease the plane and it was shipped down to the East Bay, with the Press Democrat waving goodbye with a good-luck-he’ll-need-it sendoff: “[T]here is little doubt but that Cooke will make a very satisfactory showing with the machine, which has appeared to hold a hoodoo for Santa Rosans.”

Hoodoo or no, Cooke was probably desparate to strike a deal because he no longer had a plane. For reasons unknown, the Black Diamond was packed up after the Los Angeles Air Meet a few weeks prior and sent back to the owner’s shipyard, never to fly again. (It’s possible they were threatened with a patent infringement lawsuit by Glenn Curtiss – which would have been ironic, as Curtiss was himself being sued by the Wright brothers over his own patent piracy.)

Cooke had extra urgency to secure a plane quickly because in a few days he was expected to appear at a six-day, two weekend aviation meet in Emeryville where it was being advertised he would race Lincoln Beachey, one of the most famous flyers at the time. Cooke showed up with the Wiseman plane, but it was a rout; even with a 90-second head start as a handicap Cooke not only lost, but Beachey literally flew circles around him, executing several “spiral dips” around Cooke so close they nearly collided. On another day at Emeryville his engine stalled and he glided down, narrowly missing a fence.

Cue foreboding music.

That spring of 1912 Cooke became a bonafide barnstormer, crating up his plane and shipping it to the next local fair or exhibition. Part of his schtick was air mail delivery, where he would carry a pouch of mail with aviation souvenir postmarks and chuck it overboard at the local post office. He also dropped local newspapers at a news stand or the rural homes of some subscribers, both stunts Wiseman pioneered in his trip from Petaluma.

In April he flew over Humboldt Bay and Eureka, then had a hard landing that crumpled the plane. It was apparently his first crash in the Wiseman aircraft and his second serious accident, having earlier ditched the Black Diamond in Lake Merritt.

After repairs were made Cooke spent the summer working his way east, where he became “the boy aviator,” reported in the papers as being 23 or 21 and only having a few months experience. He was also being credited with creating the airplane; the Salt Lake Tribune reported he “went home to Oakland and built a machine of his own” after being part of Curtiss’ crew. In Salt Lake City, by the way, he amazed crowds when he flew above the clouds for several minutes, leaving some to declare he must have been “lifted upwards by unseen hands.”

But Cooke was tinkering with the Wiseman airplane, upgrading the engine and tweaking the airframe. The reconstructed airship currently on display in Washington is clearly more powerful and sleeker than the funky kite-like thing that left Santa Rosa in early 1912. It seems most likely Cooke was using parts of the Wiseman airplane – which had to be completely disassembled and crated after every appearance anyway – as the framework for an experimental design that would fully emerge at the end of the year. He hinted as much at the Emeryville air show after he only had the Wiseman plane for a few days; the Oakland Tribune mentioned he hoped to show off “a new principle in plane and wing construction,” which he could not have possibly built from scratch.

He set some minor records that summer in his hybrid Wiseman-Cooke, being the first to fly in Idaho and then winning some prize money in Illinois. He was also beginning to appear in the news because of increasingly frequent crashes. In September he wrecked the plane near Chicago. Thrown clear but knocked out, he regained consciousness to find “a large crowd around his machine breaking pieces from it to carry away as souvenirs.” Cooke grabbed a “stout club” and held them off until police arrived.

(RIGHT: Weldon B. Cooke flying over Sandusky Ohio, c. 1913, in the Wiseman aircraft showing only minor modifications from the original design. Photo courtesy Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

In November he landed at his destination: Sandusky, Ohio, home to the Roberts Motor Company. (The Black Diamond had used a Roberts motor and early on Cooke had replaced Wiseman’s 60 HP engine with a 75 HP Roberts.) The company knew him well and was already touting his name in its catalog. Roberts allowed him to use a portion of their facilities to work on his experimental planes while the town of Sandusky was equally welcoming, dedicating an airfield.

He incorporated the Cooke Aeroplane Company and spent the winter building a smaller racing plane he promised could easily clock 75 MPH. Show any aviation history buffs this photo, explain that the aircraft shown was designed 1912-1913, and kindly scrape their jaws off the floor. He was years ahead of his time.

Cooke also unveiled the “Flying Dutchman,” his new aircraft for exhibition flying. This was an elegant rethinking of the Wiseman/Black Diamond designs, with a simpler tail assembly and no canard at the front. With possibly the widest wingspan of any biplane it would have been graceful to watch, but not fast. Presumably the Wiseman plane was mothballed at this point.

Another advantage of the new plane is it could be equipped with floats and used as a seaplane (Cooke called it a “hydroplane”). Many of his 1913 exhibition appearances were with the Flying Dutchman configured for use on water.

Few newspaper articles about Cooke crashing can be found for 1913, but we don’t know if he was flying less or because the new plane was substantially safer. He did have a bad time of it that summer while doing shows  at a county fair in Canton, Ohio. On one landing his airplane overturned, breaking struts between the wings; on another day his motor died and the plane crashed, catapulting him out. Shaken but undaunted, he said his show would resume in a couple of days after he telegraphed back to Sandusky to ship him “another biplane of much heavier type,” according to the local paper. Presumably that was the old Wiseman plane.

Cooke built yet another type of aircraft that year: A “flying boat” that could hold three passengers and probably scooted along only a few feet above the waves. Of all his various projects, he apparently saw this as offering the best chance of commercial success. He helped a colleague start a St. Petersburg-Tampa passenger service using his plane, and talked about operating a fleet based in Sandusky fanning out to other towns and cities across Lake Erie. He applied for a franchise from the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition to run an airboat shuttle between Oakland and San Francisco. Alas, his dreams were bigger than his bank account; the Cooke Aeroplane Company went bankrupt in 1914.

He returned to California and piloted flying boats of someone else’s design for a short-lived air ferry service across San Francisco Bay. Despite a promise he had supposedly made to his mother to quit barnstorming, he took the Flying Dutchman back out on the exhibition circuit. On September 16 in Pueblo, Colorado, he was performing a fine show when the thousands in the audience heard a faint explosion when he was at an estimated 2,000 feet. “The biplane careened and like a shot dropped sheer from the clouds,” the wire service reported. “It was almost one minute before the aeroplane hit the ground with a sickening crash.”

Cooke was dead and the Flying Dutchman was a “tangled mass of junk,” according to accounts, but the Wiseman plane was presumably still crated up back in Sandusky. The boxes were sent to Cooke’s brother in Oakland, who kept them in storage at home until 1933 when the Oakland Airport asked to borrow it. As an example of an old biplane, it was put on display for years near Cooke’s earlier Black Diamond. The tale would have ended there if not for the Smithsonian Institution’s declaration in 1947 that Wiseman had made the first official airmail delivery, an incredible story of an accidental discovery told in an earlier article appearing here. The Wiseman-Cooke airplane was finally restored between 1983-1985 and now hangs above visitors at the National Postal Museum with a mannequin Fred J. Wiseman at the controls.

But here’s the Believe-it-or-Not! angle: The airplane on display is quite possibly not the one that made the famous flight.

There were two Wiseman biplanes. The first machine, designed and constructed 1909-1910 by Wiseman and Peters was built under a tent in a Windsor pasture. The other was made at a Petaluma planing mill in the late summer of 1910 as they continued flying practice in the original. The new plane was intended to be easier to take apart for shipping and was also some 200 pounds lighter than the prototype, which weighed 670 pounds (lengthy description here). It’s doubtful Wiseman ever flew the old plane again, as long as the newer one was in working condition. He certainly would have used Model B on his airmail flight.

Given the choice between the older, often-crashed beater and the new, improved model, Cooke would have picked the latter – if he had the option. But Noonan had already sold one of the aircraft a few weeks earlier.

“NOONAN SELLS HIS BIPLANE”, was the hed of a Santa Rosa Republican article appearing the same day Cooke was making his New Years’ exhibition flights at the fairground. There it was reported the purchaser was “Lieutenant Jack Handy of the U. S. A.” Lt. Handy attempted to make a test flight, but – predictably – crashed, causing him to make immediate repairs.

The buyer was actually Army Lieutenant Courtland Waite Handy. For Fiscal Year 1912, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Signal Corps to purchase a few aircraft and it was reported they bought five, although only three manufacturers were named. But which airplane did Noonan sell the government? With no other buyers on the horizon, presumably he sold the one worth the most money, and that would have been the newer plane with the improvements. Regardless, Weldon Cooke had no choice when he showed up six weeks later on his shopping trip, desperate to buy/lease an aircraft for the Emeryville competition just days away.

Evidence that Cooke was using the earlier plane points both ways. One of the changes with the Model B was it being a “knock down” machine for easier shipping, and Cooke certainly often packed and unpacked whichever version he used during his 1912 barnstorming. But Model A could be disassembled as well; it was carted by wagon from Windsor to Santa Rosa (and to at least four different locations around town) and then to Petaluma. When Cooke cracked up the Flying Dutchman at that 1913 county fair and switched to “another biplane of much heavier type,” it suggests he had the Wiseman Model A, which weighed considerably more even before Cooke added a larger and heavier Roberts engine.

So is the historic airmail plane on display at the museum the real deal? Alas, further research here is above my pay grade; an answer may be found by prowling through the National Archives. Certainly the Army Signal Corps would have required Lt. Handy to describe precisely what he purchased – although what I’d really like to read is the report to his C.O., explaining how he bought an expensive biplane and immediately managed to trash it.

NOONAN SELLS HIS BIPLANE
Army Aviator Buys Machine Built for Wiseman

Ben Noonan has sold his biplane to Lieutenant Jack Handy of the U. S. A., and the latter attempted to make a flight in the machine Sunday afternoon. Owing to the sweater the aviator was wearing catching in one of the levers of the biplane, an accident occurred which did considerable damage to the aeroplane. The biplane had just risen from the ground on its way for a flight when the accident happened, and the front part of the aeroplane dived into the ground. The engine continued to go and the propeller revolved at a fast rate, the aviator being unable to stop the engine. Lieutenant Handy has charge of the army aviators.

It is stated on good authority that Ben Noonan got a good price for his aeroplane. However, the price he got for his air craft does not anywhere near clear him of the expense he has been to by being mixed up in the aviation game, It was planned Sunday that Aviator Handy was to fly out to the race track and make a double attraction for the afternoon. The accident to the machine prevented the second biplane giving the exhibition. Luckily Aviator Handy was not hurt in the accident.

Mr. Handy was in San Francisco on New Year’s day getting a new propeller and other parts to replace those injured Sunday. He will return today.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 1, 1912

LADY WILL MAKE ASCENT HERE WITH AVIATOR COOKE

Word was received from Aviator Weldon B. Cooke late yesterday afternoon that the aeroplane would arrive in Santa Rosa early this morning and that he himself, instead of waiting until tomorrow morning as he had at first thought would be the best he could do, would be on hand on the 11 o’clock train, as to be sure that everything would be ready for Sunday’s flight. One of his mechanicians has accompanied the car from the time it left Elmhurst, to see that nothing went wrong.

Carries Lady Passenger

One thing has been definitely decided upon, namely, that a popular and daring young lady of this city will be taken up as passenger, probably the first day. Although she does not want her name mentioned as yet, she expressed her delight at the prospect of really “going up in the air,” and said she hoped Mr. Cooke would go high enough so that she could see all the surrounding country from an aeroplane. Cook has already carried many passengers, including his wife and sisters, so that he has no fear about being abole to take up the young lady here.

May Try Wiseman’s Machine

It has been rumored that on one of the two days Cooke, after making all of the flights as he had planned there on his own machine, which he knows he can fly, might also take a chance with a local machine formerly used by Aviator Wiseman. Cooke said over the long distance telephone that if he did try to make such a flight he would assume no responsibility for its success, and would not consider it except in the light of a possible incidental feature of his regular program with his own machine. However, there are undoubtedly many local people who would be interested in such an exhibition.

Spectacular Flights

In speaking of the prospects of flying Sunday and Monday, his manager, who has been in the city the past few days promoting the meet, said that if weather conditions were at all favorable, there would certainly be flying to please the most critical. Mere cloudy weather will not prevent the bird man from going, and if it should rain after any tickets had been bought so that he could not fly, rain checks would be issued to purchasers entitling them to admission on the first favorable day following. This is a new feature in conducting aviation meets which will be much appreciated.

The program as outlined at present will include exhibitions of bomb throwing at which Aviator Cooke has demonstrated that he is an expert; passenger carrying on both days; mail carrying, and including the taking up of mail bags at full speed as well as dropping mail, an entirely new “stunt” in aerial navigation; attempts at speed and altitude records; and an exhibition of all the flights required to secure pilot’s license, such as quick starting, cutting figure eight’s, etc., the first opportunity anybody in Northern California will have had to see these flights. Cooke does not plan to make only one flight each day, but to make three or four, each illustrating some special feature in flying in heavier than air machines. Moreover, the flights on the second day will be entirely different from those made on Sunday.

– Press Democrat, December 30, 1911
AVIATOR COOKE WILL GIVE FREE FLIGHT OVER THE CITY

Weldon B. Cooke, who made very successful flights here Sunday and Monday in his aeroplane, has been secured by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce for a free exhibition over the business section of town next Saturday afternoon.

This is a feature which will no doubt bring a large crowd to town for the day. General Passenger Agent J. J. Geary of the Northwestern Pacific railroad has agreed to give a round trip rate of one and a third fares to Santa Rosa from all points north on regular trains for that day.

Mr. Cooke has proved that he can and will fly when he says he will if the weather permits, and now that he has shown the public his ability to fullfil this promise there is no doubt but that he will be watched by the largest throng which has ever gathered on the streets of Santa Rosa. There will be no charges of any kind and any one who is on the streets will be able to see all there is to see without money and without price.

– Press Democrat, January 3, 1912
VAST CROWD SEE COOKE’S DARING FLIGHT SATURDAY
Birdman Reaches an Altitude of 2,500 Feet Easily

With thousands of people gathered in the down town district in Santa Rosa on Saturday afternoon to witness his daring, Aviator Weldon Cooke made one of the most anticipated and successful flights ever attempted in aerial navigation in the State. He crossed and recrossed overhead and rose to a height that at times made him and his big aeroplane look like a speck on the horizon.

Santa Rosa was aviation crazy on Saturday afternoon and the flight made by the daring young aviator aroused the greatest interest and admiration of everybody. To the majority of the people in the vast assemblage, the aviation was a novelty, and they were fortunate in seeing the true art of aerial navigation as their introduction to the sport. Cooke is a wonder and he richly deserved the compliments that were showered on his daring.

Cooke reached an altitude of over 2,000 feet while flying over the city. He estimated the distance at between 2,000 and 2,500 feet. Principal Searcy of the High School made a calculation which fixed the altitude at something slightly over 2,000 feet. Press Smith, who had a surveying transit at work in the country, turned his glass on the aviator while he was flying and made a calculation of about 2,2500 feet.

Many will be interested in knowing that the aviator can’t hear anything after he gets a few hundred feet from the earth, owing to the noise of his motor. The noise is so great that Cooke fills his ears with cotton to deafen the sound. He said last night, while discussing the flight, that he looked down while directly over the Court House and waved his hand to the crowd below, but his height was so great it could not be seen from the ground.

While the wind was light from the southwest on the ground at the altitude he was flying, it was blowing about 15 miles per hour from the north, he says, and that explained why he appeared to fly so much faster when going south, and why he always climbed higher as he went north. It is easier to ascend in the face of the wind, he says. A feature of the flight was that he circled both to the right and left with equal ease. The motor is set slightly to the right, and the aeroplane turns to the right much more easily than to the left.

Several times during Saturday’s flight the aeroplane had to buck rough air currents. Those familiar with weather conditions saw this at the time and remarked it. The starting and alighting are the most interesting features of aeroplaning. This the crowd missed Saturday, but the finish was as spectacular as any part of the flight. Cooke landed as easily as he flew through the air. Those interested can see this feature today by visiting the race track during the afternoon, when more flights will be made.

Cooke does not wear leather clothing, but simply adds more garments between his pantaloons and under his coat he places layers of newspapers which keep out the wind just as well as the heavier leather clothing.

– Press Democrat, January 7, 1912
COOKE MAKES FINE FLIGHT
Surprises People by Flying in Noonan Machine

Weldon B. Cooke, who established himself as an aviator of considerable ability a few weeks ago, when he flew over this city, surprised and added to his popularity with the people of Santa Rosa Sunday, when unannounced he came to this city on the morning train and drove to the Noonan field, where the former Wiseman biplane has been stored, and after a few trials around the field in the morning, he took the machine in the afternoon, arose in the air and flew for about ten minutes. After coming to the ground and adjusting his carburetor the better to enable the machine to gain more power, he again arose in the Wiseman machine and made a handsome flight for a period of fifteen minutes, and made a grateful landing.

On alighting from his flight Cooke said, “Well, I certainly guess she will fly all right,” and it certainly did.

In an interview after the flight he stated that he had found nothing wrong with the airship in any way whatever, claiming it was a better balanced ship than his own, and that he thought it very good. He said, “The machine has hardly power enough to make any great speed, but after I became better acquainted with the working of the engine, I expect to increase its power. Although the air seemed very quiet on the ground today, I found that it chopped when I had arised [sic] about three hundred feet. I will take the machine to Emeryville during the week, where I am to use it in the meet that is to be held there commencing next Saturday, and lasting for ten days. In my contest with Beechy [sic – Lincoln Beachey] I expect to use this airship, unless something goes wrong.”

Cooke is building another airship, but does not expect to complete it until after the Emeryville gathering is over. He has leased Noonan’s biplane and will use it in exhibitions that he will give around the country.

There was not a very large crowd at the field as Cooke, in his unostentatious manner had suggested that nothing be said of his coming by his mechanics, who are handling the machine for him here, Bob Schieffer and Al. B. Cooper. Those who were present to see the fine flight were attracted there by the humming of the engine, or had seen him testing it out in the morning. All were loud in their praise of the daring flight he made on his second attempt to leave the ground in this strange machine. On the second flight he traveled first to the north and skirted the foothills about Fountaingrove vineyard, and flying west about four miles. He was about three hundred feet in the air on this flight and remained up over fifteen minutes, making the turns in a very graceful manner and showing his faith in the engine by removing one of his hands from the wheel and waving to the cheering crowd below. Mr. And Mrs. Cooke returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 12, 1912
SHIP BIPLANE TO WELDON COOKE
The Wiseman Airship Sent by Southern Pacific to Oakland Yesterday Afternoon

The Wiseman aeroplane which has been stored on the Noonan property at the foot of Carrillo street for several months was taken down, packed and yesterday shipped to Oakland over the Southern Pacific to be used by Weldon B. Cooke at the Emeryville race track during the aviation meet beginning Saturday.

Robert Schieffer and Al Cooper accompanied the machine and will look after it while Cooke is using it. After the successful flight here Sunday afternoon there is little doubt but that Cooke will make a very satisfactory showing with the machine, which has appeared to hold a hoodoo for Santa Rosans.

– Press Democrat, February 14, 1912
GETTING READY TO BUILD AN AIRSHIP
Wiseman and Peters Will Construct New Bi-Plane in Petaluma Within Thirty Days

The Wiseman-Peters airship people have secured the use of the building on Copeland street Petaluma, formerly occupied by the silk wire factory and there they will make their headquarters for the next thirty days, during the construction of their new airship. The huge machine will be constructed at the Camm & Hedges planing mill near by, but the wire works building will be used as the headquarters of the airship people and for storage, assembling and other details of the big task which is before them.

The new airship will be different from the present machine in many details and will be an improvement on the one now in use. It will be a “knock down” machine and will be built in sections so that it can be taken apart, crated and thus shipped in the baggage car of trains, on steamers, or in vehicles. From this plan it can readily be seen that the owners intend to do some travelling and will not go on the road with their exhibitions.

In the meantime aviator Peters will practice flying every day and the old machine will be kept at Kenilworth park for that purpose. He intends to increase his flights daily, both as to distance and elevation and some sweet day in the very near future he is going to surprise the natives of a distant city. –Petaluma Argus.

– Press Democrat, August 6, 1910

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