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'It's all history now'

By Pete Jones

Like birds at the end of summer, a half-dozen airplanes in the fleet belonging to the Service Motor Company left Wabash 100 years ago this week and headed to a warmer climate for the winter. A component of mechanics and support staff followed by automobile, and another five aircraft awaited shipment by rail. All were headed for Fort Worth, Texas, where the company had moved its aviation school until warm weather returned to Wabash.

It made sense for the Wabash company to move its operations out of winter’s way in Indiana. The fragile, open-cockpit planes were no match for high winds and snow.

The Service Motor Company’s factory was on Stitt Street on the site that General Tire & Rubber would later occupy. When the firm established an aviation division it built an airstrip, hanger and assembly building at what would later be the northwest corner of Cass Street and Harrison Avenue. From that location Service Motor operated an aviation training school and a charter air company.

Airplanes soon became a common sight in skies over Wabash. The aviation division captured the fancy of Wabash residents who turned out in crowds of a few thousand on Sunday afternoons when the company conducted test flights at the airfield.

Chief Pilot J.P. Porter’s plane was the first to lift off at mid-morning on Nov. 3, 1919. The other aircraft followed in quick succession, all headed for Rantoul, Illinois, where the US Army operated an early airbase known as Chanute Field.

From there it was on to St. Louis and then to Kansas City. A day’s stop in each city provided time for exhibition flights and a chance to market the company charter air service.

When the airplanes reached Kansas City on Nov. 5, Porter telegraphed the following message back to the home office: “Straight through to Kansas City (from Kansas City). No stops except for gasoline and oil. Machines in good shape. Flying against bad winds, but making good time.”

The planes came winging their way back home in May 1920.

On this day

Interest in the happenings of The Great Wallace Show, a premier circus with headquarters in Peru, was always high in Wabash. On Nov. 9, 1912, The Plain Dealer reprinted a story from the Peru Chronicle telling of the show’s return to its winter quarters south of Peru after a summer on the road.

The show’s circus trains unloaded in the rail yards on the north edge of the business district. And wagons and animals alike headed south on Broadway toward the big barns south of the city. The process took from eight o’clock in the morning until near nightfall.

“There was an almost constant rumbling of heavy wagons as they passed over the brick-paved streets, and they attracted nearly as much attention as they did on the opening day of the circus season back in April,” said the article.

“About 10 o’clock the elephants and camels were led down Broadway … There were 14 elephants, and they huddled together in a compact body…All the animals off the menagerie were hurried to their warm quarters at the circus farm and transferred to their winter cages,” the story continued.

The reporter noted that some of the circus equipment looked a little worse for the wear of the just-concluded season, but he or she gave assurance that the show’s repair shop would have every bit of paraphernalia bright and shiny by spring when it was time to take to the road once more.

Pete Jones writes a weekly column on local history for the Wabash Plain Dealer. He writes about people, places and events in and around Wabash County. Contact him by mail at 1160 Sunset Drive, Wabash, IN 46992 or by email at peteinwabash@comcast.net.