Bob Matre

Mt. Healthy Airport Stories

Bob Matre

In July of 1997, I was seventy-seven years old, but when I was only eight in 1928, my father, and about four or five other gentlemen from Mt. Healthy started the Mt. Healthy Airport. There was Al Hochscheid of Hochscheid Tailoring Company, Neil Sudbrack, and Bert Hughes. These are all Mt. Healthy people who were in on the original starting of the Mt. Healthy Airport. They ran it for a quite a few years.

My father was involved with the airport from the beginning. Another name was Clyde Yerkes.  He was connected with the bank in Mt. Healthy and knew how to get the financing. I don’t think Ed Honnert or Powell Crosley were involved in the start up of the airport. Honnert, the builder from Groesbeck, was in on the Clovernook Country Club and other stuff.

My father was afraid to fly, so he never went up in an airplane, but the original partners bought, I think a Waco, a two- wing airplane and had a pilot named Stormy.  The airport ran for quite a few years, and then a fellow came along by the name of Pop Muhlberger and he took over management of the airport.  The other fellows backed out. I don’t think they ever got paid.  I don’t know the arrangement they had with the people named Bosserman, who owned the airport ground.  I don’t know whether, they bought it, they rented it, or leased it.  I just don’t know.

Pop Muhlberger had an old two-winger airplane that he stored at the airport, and he would take people up for rides. When the war came on, the government made you take all the propellers off the airplanes. They were afraid that someone would get up and fly one of these airplanes into a war defense plant and sabotage it.

I was at Wright’s, and when Wright’s closed because of the end of the war, I went to work at the Mt. Healthy Airport. I wasn’t certified as a mechanic.  Somebody had to O.K. my work, but I worked there for a year. Prior to that, I might say that in 1945 the war was still going on, I teamed up with a fellow named Lloyd Standair. Lloyd lived in Ross, Ohio, and I lived in Mt. Healthy. He went ahead and got his private license. It took me a little while to get my private license because I had a disability. I had to get some waivers.  They were real strict back then. The war was still on but we were allowed to fly. We would get R-Stamps for gas. Gas was rationed but you could get all the R-Stamps you wanted. We never had any trouble getting fuel for the airplanes.

We bought our first airplane, an Aeronca Champ, built up in Middletown, Ohio. This one was bought from the military. It was a training plane and needed a lot of work. The people at the Mt. Healthy Airport restored it, and then we bought it.  We both flew it for a long time.

After that we bought a Stinson; it was a good airplane. The Stinson was a tail dragger, a plane that is not a tri-cycle gear. There are a lot of people who didn’t know how to fly a tail dragger. They’re a little more difficult to handle on the ground than a tri-cycle landing gear.

We went from the Stinson to what they called a PT-19. That was a surplus, an open cockpit-training plane. From there we went to a Piper Cub Coupe, which the Mt. Healthy Airport had restored. It was real fast.  It would go all of 65-75 mph. We were out a few times and the wind would blow stronger than we could go forward. We had a lot of fun with it, and we racked up a lot of flying hours.

Along about 1945 they relaxed the no flying restrictions and you could start flying again. You had to restrict the flight to your area. I don’t think you could go cross-country or that kind of thing, but when the war was over, it went wide open because of the G.I. Bill. Men and women could take flight instructions on the government.

The planes, Aeronca Champs, were made in Middletown, and they were one of the best training planes. I believe new, they only cost three thousand dollars, and the government was paying the freight on the flying. A friend I knew lived in Ross and he knew some farmers out there, so we’d go out in the evening and land in the farmers’ fields just for practice.

A neighbor of mine just four doors up the street took his flying lessons at Mt. Healthy on the G.I. program and got his private license. They had a very large flying school at Mt. Healthy, but after the G.I. Bill it kind of went kaput. I’m not sure it ever ran out, but the training backed way off and they wound up closing the airport. Then King Bee Auto Leasing operated a business out of there, and eventually it went into Northgate Mall, but I’m ahead of my story.

We had a lot of great times out there and did what we called a lot of hanger flying. There was a bar across the street called “Tiny’s.” We’d go over there after flights or a race and do some hanger flying with a few beers and it always worked out very well. I don’t believe the airport was closed down during the ‘30's. I don’t know, but I don’t think so, or for that matter, how long the airport operated.  There might be some documents at the courthouse as to its years of operation.

I courted my wife, before we got married, in an airplane. I don’t remember if we were married or not, but we went down to Greensburg, Indiana. A friend of ours, a brother-in-law, had a farm down there and we went down and landed in a field there. We scouted it ahead of time so we knew there weren’t any drainage ditches or any other problems, and we landed there. I think it was a Sunday evening. We did a lot of flying in the evenings because it was a lot smoother; it was not so rough.

I had to take everyone up for a ride.  With a two-place airplane, it took some time, when you take one at a time. When we got ready to return to Cincinnati, I looked and I was running low on gas to get back to the Mt. Healthy Airport. They got me some tractor gas, and we had to strain it through some chamois to be sure there was no dirt in it. We took off and we say to this day that we were chased by a flying saucer.

There was a kid that lived across the road where White Castle is now, Elmer Lierer. The Lierer family was very instrumental in the Mt. Healthy Airport. This young Lierer was a lot boy, hanger man, and a maintenance man.  Of course, he learned to fly there. Elmer practically lived at the airport. As I mentioned, he was involved in about every aspect of the airport. He gassed the planes, worked on them, put the planes away, and dragged the runway, whatever needed to be done, for starvation wages. Back then, nobody made money.

With the G.I. Bill of Rights, this fellow Greenfield was very aggressive. He had five or six instructors and the biggest flying school around. There were flying schools at most of the airports, but nobody had the students that Mt. Healthy had. In 1946 when a lot of men and women were getting out of the service, they could learn to fly and it wouldn’t cost them a dime. It was true. Two of my friends were military pilots, and after the war was over we’d go out drinking beer at night, and I’d say, “Why don’t you come out to the Mt. Healthy Airport and get your instructors rating and start teaching.”  Well, that’s what happened. We had a couple of fellows to come out there.

We had one fellow in particular by the name of Jack Frondorf. Jack was a B-25 pilot during the war. He trained navigators and flew out of Albuquerque. Jack was a friend of mine. He got his instructor rating and started teaching. Also, Jim Rudolph, of Rudolph Florist, did the same.

Now whatever happened to Jerry Greenfield? There was a teacher, Joe Rudolph, from Colerain High School, who lived on Colerain Avenue. Joe put some money into the airport when Greenfield had it and the flying school. I think his mother-in-law had the money, or somebody backed him to get the thing started.

The airport, to become a real success, needed a good promoter and a lot of money behind it.  It needed a longer runway and a hard surface runway. On Saturday and Sunday, a lot of people would come out to the airport and want to take airplane rides. They would walk around and look at the various airplanes. I would take them up. I wasn’t paid for those flights.  No.  I had a private license. I might take a couple of bucks for gas, but basically I wasn’t allowed to.

At the airport, they had two hangers plus one T-hanger. One of the fellows at the airport by the name of Corky Shields bought a surplus training plane called a PT-19. It was an open cockpit, a two-place trainer plane. The only problem with it was it loved the ground. It was very difficult to get it airborne; it would use up the entire runway.

Then he got hold of an AT-6.  It had a 650 H.P. engine and a retractable landing gear.  It was a very high powered airplane. Corky Shields had that and flew it quite a bit.  He didn’t fly it much because it took fifty gallons of gas an hour. Gas was selling for about twenty-five cents a gallon.  Flying lessons were about fifteen dollars an hour, and you could rent a plane for about ten dollars, like a Piper Cub. In its day the airport was a real success. As I previously mentioned, across the street on the southeast corner was the Lierer home, and on the northeast corner was Tiny Ludwig’s bar and a gas station. On the northwest corner was an old garage, and a guy converted it into a body shop. You had high tension wires on the East Side of the Colerain Avene end of the runway by Lierers.  When you took off or when you came in to land, you had to clear those.

They built a restaurant in the front of the airport, but it was still a part of the airport for the several years. Later we put cinders down on the runway, because in the spring, we had a mud problem. When you got ready to take off, all the mud would fly up on the wings.  We had an old Whippet or a Terraplane and we made a drag. We’d run that up and down the runway, to kind of drag or slick it up as good as we could.

There was a crash near the Lakewood Airport.  A guy landed in a cornfield and got killed.  He was a fellow by the name of Adkins, John Adkins, from Adkins grocery in Mt. Healthy. I believe it was the late forties or early fifties.. The largest plane that I recall landing at the Mt. Healthy Airport was maybe a five-place, not very big you know, a two thousand feet runway and obstructions on one end, not too big.

Oh, they did buy a twin engine Cessna, which was a surplus World War II training plane. They rebuilt that and called it Miss Colerain. They used it for charter work, and the name was painted on the plane proper. People would learn to fly down at Lunken Airport, but Lunken Airport was huge compared to Mt. Healthy Airport. They would come up and want to land at Mt. Healthy. Well, you’d see them and they’d either give up or fly over. They learned on a large field, and that was the problem. They just didn’t know how to get in a small field. They’d just over shoot and run out of the airport.          

The later model airplanes we purchased had landing lights, but absolutely you could not come into Mt. Healthy at night, so we’d take the plane and take off a little before dark. We’d go out and fly around after dark and we’d land at Lunken. We’d leave the plane there all night because we couldn’t fly back to Mt. Healthy. Somebody in a car would come down to Lunken and pick us up. Then the next night we’d fly down or drive down to pick up our airplane.

I was sure sorry when Mt. Healthy closed.  There were a lot of fond memories. We had a lot a fun there; we didn’t spend a lot of money. I did all my own maintenance on my plane, but had to have somebody certify it. That’s the only way I could afford to fly. The Broxon folks owned the Lakewood Airport. This one Broxon was an inventor. His parents owned Cincinnati Rim and Wheel. He was working on this helicopter. He never did get it to fly. Harry Heckinger was their pilot and instructor, and the two of them ran the airport. They wound up selling it to the Armory. The made it a National Guard base when the airport folded.

In Northern Kentucky there was this old Army Air Corps landing strip. The government built it, and they would practice touch and go landing in B-17's and B-24's. They’d come out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and they’d run from eight o’clock in the morning to five o’clock in the afternoon, five days a week. After that anybody could go over there and practice landings and take offs. There was nothing there.

They did have a little trailer at the end of the runway, but it wasn’t manned all the time. I think it was manned from eight to five.  Then the military came in to keep anybody off there, but with a small plane it was easy to land and take off. Well, one fellow was an instructor out at Mt. Healthy Airport. He was Jack Frondorf. He flew B-25's, so when we got over to the strip, I said, “You land it.”  Well, he couldn’t land it. He was used to cutting the throttle and the plane would land.

Well, he had a terrible time getting use to that. He still talked about when I said to land it, and he had a terrible time doing it. You could land and take off five to seven times an evening.  Not too many knew about the strip. That landing strip was the start of the Greater Cincinnati Airport.  It was just an old abandoned military landing strip. Sen. Barkley of Kentucky, who was later Truman’s vice president, had a lot to do with it. He was the one who got the military landing strip there in the beginning, and it started from there. 

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