Museum exhibit brings back early days of high fliers
An Agricultural and Industrial Museum exhibit features a model of York Airport, put down in the Fayfield area of Springettsbury Township. It’s usually viewed as the first York Airport, although an airstrip in Stonybrook operated about five years earlier. according to John F. M. Wolfe’s ‘Profile of Aviation.’ Also of interest: What about the first York Airport that operated in Fayfield?
“Air Pirates Attempt to Steal York Plane,” the newspaper headline read.
Today, we would call it hijacking, but in the 1930s, it was just a matter of a thief understanding the high value of the airplanes frequenting the first York Airport.
That headline is part of an exhibit of the York Airport, 1930-1937, on display at the York County Heritage Trust’s Agricultural and Industrial Museum.
The case exhibit, put on display this year, features: …
— The 120-ft. by 80-ft. hanger that sheltered many planes against elements and air pirates.
— An administration building that housed a restaurant, ticket office and waiting room.
— A small T-hangar, undoubtedly the first building at the Fayfield site that now borders Haines Road, north of the K-Mart.
A ticket office was necessary because Pittsburgh Airways Inc. flew a regular schedule from the Springettsbury Township strip.
The airport moved on to various sites: adjacent to the current-day York Mall (the former Valley Canvas building was part of that strip); its present site near Thomasville; to the west of Roosevelt Avenue in the vicinity of the Sylvania plant and back to its present site. (For a detailed history of York County airports, see John F.M. Wolfe’s “Profile of Aviation, York County, Pennsylvania, 1925-1988.” York, Pa.: Wolf Printing, 1998.)
Today, houses in the Fayfield development cover the first airport’s runway and the large hangar is gone. The Fayfield area is east side of Interstate 83 and west of Haines Road today. It ran north of the Misericordia Nursing Home. All that is left of memories of barnstorming, mail pickups, parachute jumping and a Goodyear blimp visit.
Oh yes, the administration building stands today as a private residence.
A York Daily Record (July 19, 2006) story on the exhibit follows:
As a boy in the 1930s, Paul Schiding washed planes, sold tickets, cleaned the hangar and did whatever other work was needed around York Airport, which once stood along Haines Road in Springettsbury Township.
His reward: An occasional short ride in the skies above York County.
“That was the amazing part about it. My parents let me fly with all these people,” said Schiding, 87, who owned a model store on South Queen Street before retiring in 1984.
In the early 1990s, Schiding and his late cousin, Allen Bond, set out to create a miniature version of the airport and its planes.
Working from old photographs and drawings, they spent 10 years rebuilding the facility in detail, all the way down to the number of boards on the original wooden hangar.
Schiding even had some dirt from the airport that he used to recreate Haines Road, at that time an unpaved track.
The airport consisted of a brick office, a small wooden hangar, a large brick and steel hangar and 40 acres of land. The only structure still standing is the office, which has been converted into a house.
Today, Haines Road is a busy suburban thoroughfare. The airport has given way to homes. And the scale model sits under glass in the Agricultural & Industrial Museum on West Princess Street in York.
Schiding donated his and his cousin’s handiwork about two months ago. It had been sitting in his garage in York Township for the last several years.
“We didn’t know what to do with it,” Schiding said Tuesday afternoon at the museum. He was showing the model to Walter “Jack” Hespenheide, 99, a former pilot who used to give flying lessons at the airport.
As Hespenheide peered through the glass, Schiding pointed out each plane and recalled their owners. The numbers and colors matched the originals, he said.
The airport opened in 1930 when the thrill of Charles A. Lindbergh’s 1927 solo trans-Atlantic flight still hung in the air.
The airport was York’s first, Schiding said. It remained open until 1937, serving briefly as a hub for a commercial airline that made stops in Lancaster, Coatesville, Philadelphia and New York City, among other cities. Flights from York to New York cost $14, according to a schedule alongside the model.
The airline folded in late 1931. After that, the airport became a haven for private pilots. On Sundays, they would charge $1 for rides. Schiding would earn 5 cents for every ticket he sold.
Schiding never learned to fly himself. At $5 an hour, lessons were too expensive, he said. He eventually joined the Air Force during World War II and flew in B-17, B-24 and B-29 bombers. But he was an aerial gunner, not a pilot.
Richard Herman, 79, was another kid who liked to hang around the airport. Herman would count on his father for a ride out from his York home on Sunday afternoons.
“Now and then I’d get there. Not all the time,” said Herman, who now lives in West Manchester Township.