Charlie Conrad

Mt. Healthy Airport Stories

Charlie Conrad

I went there in 1935 and I was a pilot and an instructor, at that point in time. The airport operator at that time was Carl Muhlberger, and the mechanic was Elmer Lierer. His parents had an egg place on the southeast corner of Colerain and Springdale.

The other mechanic was Harvey Kattleman. His family resided in North College Hill. They were plasterers originally. Among the people who kept their airplanes there were Doc Edwards, the pharmacist in Mt. Healthy and his brother, Dwight, he used to sell the tickets for us when we would sell rides.

Another gentlemen who kept his Monocoupe there was Emil Graf. He was the head engineer for Ahrens-Fox Engine Co. George Benninghoffen out of Hamilton whose family had the Benninghoffen Woolen Mills; he also kept his airplane there. Johnny Jacobs, he learned to fly there. I don’t know if he had an airplane there or not. He was the butcher in Mt. Healthy.

Count Alfred Monteverde and his brother, they were Portugese Counts, and they kept their plane there at the airport. One was in the Air Force and met his demise on one of the trips. And his brother was killed in a road race down in Argentina.

George South operated the airport after Carl Muhlberger. I think Carl went to Florida and was going to stay down there. George South from the Hamilton Airport took over and ran the flying school there for awhile. There was another gentleman after George South went into the F.A.A. out in the west. I think in Phoenix Arizona. A gentleman by the name of Jerry Greenfield took it over and started running the flying school.

There were people who bought time, of some consequence out there, Michael Henn, he was a radio commentator. Buying time is when you buy a certain amount of time in the airplane, to fly it. Vaughn Monroe, the singer, kept his airplane there for a while. Al Wineberg, I think he had a Travelaire.

 The parachutists, Leonard Moore and Shirley Ronnert, they were champion parachutists. Then there was Eugene Dells, Charlie Rife and also Zeke Thomas who was a Brigidier General when he got out of the Air Force. It also was the home of Miss Suntan; it was a Little Cub. In which they won the endurance record, think it was 1939. They stayed up for several days.

I think it closed around 1950, and went into the hands of King Bee Leasing. I wasn’t much interested in it then, as I had come back from the service, and was teaching flying, at the seaplane base down in Cincinnati.

 Mt. Healthy was basically an airport where you kept airplanes. During the flood of 1937 we used the airport for either hauling passengers or dropping parachutes with boxes of anti-toxins. I flew a couple of trips up to Portsmouth and dropped anti-toxins there. And we also did a little hauling of passengers over the flooded area in Lawrenceburg.

I believe the airport started, I think, if I’m not mistaken about 1930. And Muhlberger was the F.B.O. that was there. There was Suzie Bosserman, but I can’t remember her brother’s name. That piece of property, I still can’t understand how it got to be Northgate Mall. There were no heirs to it. They were very nice people; in fact they sort of wanted to adopt me. I’d go over there and eat with them every once in a while.

They owned that property there, that the airport was on and clear to Bevis. They had money, they really did. In fact, when times were really poor, they gave a church organ to a church, I think in Comminsville near Chase Ave. They also had a telephone early on, because I used their phone many times, and the Bossermans did lease the airport to Pop Muhlberger for 99 years. Muhlberger was pretty closed mouthed about anything financial. I knew him for sixty years or better, about sixty-five years, and never talked money or anything. But he did have money.       

Muhlberger lived on the airport property in that little house and he had an old dog. I still can’t understand how anybody acquired that airport property, the rights to the property, unless there was a will that stated that. Because I would have thought that would have gone to the church, because they were very religious people. The Bossermans lived in that White House on Springdale Rd. opposite the airport land. I believe one of the instigators of the airport was Doc Edwards, as far as I know, he was the first one to have his airplane in the hanger there. Doc was a very nice man, and I think where he had his drugstore in Mt. Healthy, its still a drugstore.

I think the airport runway was close to 4000 ft long and it was just top soil, and over to the south west, there was sort of an indention in the ground and you didn’t want to get over there, you could tear up the darn airplane. There use to be some fishponds over there to the west. I remember that, because I had an engine quit on me one time, and I had to stick it between the ponds there. They had hatcheries there.

Muhly wasn’t so lucky. He went between the house and tore off the wings. In those days, the airplanes were not as good as they are today. The engines weren’t up to snuff, and of course we were all beginners I think.

I learned to fly at Mt. Healthy in 1935. Harvey Kattleman taught me to fly. I stayed out there until almost 1938. Then I came here, it was called Western Hills Airport or Frank’s or whatever. Western Hills Airport was in operation until 1952. Then they sold their hanger to Oxford, Miami University, and it’s up there yet.

Western Hills Airport was owned by Doc Simmons, he was a medical doctor and he also ran racecars. Sometimes you’d have to push the racecars out of the way to get to the planes. Down around the Mt. Healthy Airport there was a restaurant, on the northeast corner of Springdale and Colerain, called Hudepohl’s.

Elmer Lierer’s family owned an egg business. Later they had the house on the southeast corner, and it was a family of two brothers and the mother and father. Elmer was the younger brother. His brother, later on started the egg business, that was right around the corner.    

Elmer practically lived at the airport. He did live right across the street and we took him under our wing. He learned the mechanic business right from those at the airport, just being there and doing everything. We enjoyed having him. He was real nice for sure.

Pop Muhlberger passed away a few years ago. George South is gone. Elmer died last December. I don’t know about Jerry Greenfield. But I do know that he went to Miami, Florida and he became a factory representative of Diamond Drills. That’s where the money was and I think his son took over the business after Jerry retired. Jerry had a pacemaker the last time I knew, when I was down to his house down there. I don’t know if he is still in working, order or not.

Jerry was an honest man. He previously operated a furniture store down in Brighton. He went from furniture to airplanes to Diamond Drills. Pop Muhlberger passed away about two years ago. Pop had a boat down in Florida, and he lived on the boat. Pop had a lady friend, but it was years before they got married. I guess he was just waiting. I don’t know what he was waiting for.

At Mt. Healthy I first had an International, I use to call it “Woodpeckers Delight,” because it was made of plywood. It was built in Ft. Ancient, not many people know there was an airplane manufacturer up there. I could never find it up there. It’s close to the Salvation Army camp for children.

We had Travelaires 2000 & 4000, a Tank Waco. Curtiss Robin, the kind that Corrigan flew the drink with. Muhlberger had SM8A Stinson, 5 or 6 place. We had a Kinnear Bird, a bi-plane with a heavy top wing. We taught in Rearwins, we taught in

Waco’s too. I had a Waco F-2, we had a Waco F, and a Cabin Waco. We also had a Swallow out there. Emil Graf had a Warner Monocoupe. I believe Doc Edwards had an OX-5 Waco. 

Zeke Thomas would bring his airplane out there, he had an old 712, it was an historical plane. One of the first Waco 10's they put out. He also kept it there. I think the biggest plane I flew in there, was a Ford Tri-Motor. But that’s not a big plane and it lands shorter than a Waco. I think I flew that in from Put-In-Bay. We also had Cubs, Super Cubs that’s about all I can remember.

I don’t remember the wires on Colerain Ave. being low, but we could come in there and just miss the wires and had ample room with those airplanes. The majority of those planes didn’t have brakes. Understand in those days, not until 1938 did we get airplanes with brakes. Otherwise we had tailskids and kept on going, but no one ever got to the end of the fence.

A tailskid is the same as the tail dragger, and when it would rain out there we had plenty of mud. During the flood of 1937, I replaced one set of wheels on my airplane because I just tore them up. In January, you’d come in and hit that mud and it would go up under the wings and freeze because it was cold. Then we’d have to hose it off, before we could make another flight. The mud got into the bearings and it just tore the heck out of things.

Back in those days, aviation gasoline cost .12 a gallon. We use to go down to Texaco, downtown where the bus station is now. There use to be a distributor there and we would pick up gasoline. There was never a gas truck out at the airport. So we use to get it in these wood-covered cans, the capacity was about 10 gallons. We would burn about 8 gallons an hour, 7-8 gallons an hour.

That was the 100 h.p. 110. The J-5 burned about 14 gallons an hour, they were a

Little bit heavier on gas, all low compression engines. We never had any radios in those planes for ages. We were on our own. But then whom would you talk with. When we went to Lunken Airport, there were no radios there and that was the largest airport.

Shirley Ronnert and Leonard Moore, they were about the best in the United States for accuracy with parachutes. Every once in a while, they would jump there at the airport and they would draw a crowd, help the gate. They were up in Cleveland at the air races and of course they took first money there.           

We only had one catastrophe at Mt. Healthy. Some boy delayed his ‘chute’ too far and he went down, but he did that on purpose. He told everybody, I didn’t know it that I’m really going to delay that thing almost down to the ground and then, I’m going to pop it up. When he popped it, it deflated right away so he didn’t make it.

It was just local fellows in the air shows out there, who would do acrobatics such as they were. There was lots of activity out there. When I had the Waco F-2 we’d keep it pretty busy on a Sunday afternoon with rides. We were only getting a dollar a head. You could only carry two at a time in the Waco. People just didn’t have much money back then.

I’m still flying and I’m flying a 182 Cessna. I fly it regularly and it is my own airplane. I fly down to the Dominican Republic. I fly to Washington. I have relatives up there, other than that, I just teach instrument flying that’s all. You ask my age, I’m seventy-nine, once you get hit by the bug of flying it never leaves you.

The first time I got in an airplane, I was up in Chicago. You see I’m from Chicago. Then I went to Drake University in Des Moines and took aeronautical engineering there. I delivered laundry enough, to get money to learn how to fly. Then I went out to Elmhurst Airport there in Chicago. Like my teacher in high school told me, when you get out there; ask him how I learned to fly. Well all you have to do is go out there and take fifty dollars and wave it up in the air and be sure to hang onto the telephone so they won’t pull you down.

So I would go out to the airport, American Airlines were flying those old bi-planes then, and I would wash them. I’d get $10.00 for that. That was a 2-3 day job. I finally found somebody out there who would teach me to fly, but I never got to solo, because I ran out of money.

Flying was never a hobby with me. At the airport here, I had three airplanes. One day a fellow wearing a suit came in there and asked as he pointed whose airplane is that there. I said mine. I kept working, he said whose is that, and I said mine. After the third one, he asked, do you ever pay personal property taxes?

The Hogan brothers operated the Hamilton Airport, but before that Pop Muhlberger was the operator up at Hamilton. The Hogans flew into Mt. Healthy, but they never operated it.

Carl Nilles was from the Hamilton Airport, and he would come down periodically. He took off with some passengers to the east, over the wires and the engine quit. I believe he killed both of them in the front seat, but he was not hurt. On these planes, the passengers were in the front and the pilot was in the back. They crashed on the south side of Springdale Rd. He just had no place to go.

Bob: But back then airplanes didn’t get a lot of priority and small airplanes had even less priority. There were power lines on fairly tall telephone poles.

Bill: Pilots back then just kind of accepted power lines at the end of runways too. Back then you didn’t get a lot of play for having an airport. There had to be a road and power lines, most of airports went right up to the road.

Bob: The landing strip began basically at Colerain Ave. placed back a little bit because of wires. At Colerain and Springdale where presently there’s a BP station and the theater and Friday’s Restaurant in that general area. There were some hangers. I remember 3 or 4 different hanger buildings, different sizes. There were a couple of bigger ones. They were kind of grouped in an L, kind of along Colerain and Springdale Rd. in that corner.

The runway began a little bit south of there about where the entrance to Northgate Mall is right by Friday’s Restaurant. It began fairly close to the street there and the power lines were up there. It ran southwest from there right through the middle of Northgate Mall. The runway ran from that corner to kind of southwest somewhere about 210 degrees heading. Colerain School was not a problem on the other end. Colerain School was fairly far away as airplanes go. You’d be up high and above that.

Just off the southwest end of the runway, there was a fish hatchery, a number of lakes, a dozen little ponds. That was always kind of a landmark to pick out from a distance as you were approaching the airport. You could pick out those ponds as a pretty distinctive landmark, and when you circled around the airport and enter a pattern and to land there.

Bill: At that same southwest end of the runway, there was sort of a marshy area there, because I remember cattails growing there. I remember breaking off cattails and breaking them apart.

Bob: That marsh, there was sort of a dump down there where they dumped empty oil cans and other stuff. I remember finding some old piston rings. This was on the southwest side of the property off the end of the runway; it was kind of marshy. They had all kinds of neat things in the dump; at least they were neat to a 6 or 7 yr. old kid.

They didn’t have a control tower, but the way it is still done today at non-controlled fields, you enter a standard pattern. You determine the active runway, and enter that pattern, fly that pattern and land the aircraft.

Bill: I heard the airport referred to as the Mt. Healthy Flying Club. I believe Elmer mentioned the old Mt. Healthy Flying Club. Events such as spot landing, bomb dropping those were some of the unique things. People would just come out there on the weekends and just fly their planes.

Bob: I remember going to the airport more than once, Sundays, dad usually went out there on Sundays, and often didn’t want to really bother with the little kids. I remember on at least one occasion, hiding in the back seat, under a blanket, trying to hide. He probably knew I was there anyway, but I remember stowing away in his car, just so I could go to the airport.

At that point in time there wasn’t much on Colerain Ave. at all, out that way. The home I remember Elmer having on Colerain Ave. was down approximately across from Northside Bank on Colerain, maybe up just a little bit from Graeters. Pretty much in that area. Elmer lived on Colerain, for years, and years, and years. I remember his house very distinctively, and I remember when he finally moved out of there and sold it for commercial development.

The only large thing in the area of the airport was Bevis Tavern. Bevis Tavern was up around where Sun Electronics is now. I don’t remember anything on the northwest corner. Our father did have a plane at the Mt. Healthy Airport. It was kept in hanger, and the hangers back in those days were crammed full of planes, and sometimes to get your plane out you had to move 4 or 5 other planes around, push them around. It was a Cessna 170. It had fabric wings and metal fuselage or vice versa.

Bill: Yes, I think that was it. It was a metal fuselage.

Bob: And fabric wings. Our father had other planes after that. He went on to a Cessna 180, 1515 Charley, had that for a long time. He did a lot of flying in that. Did he get that 180 when he was at Mt. Healthy?

Bill: Must have been, because we had the 182 in 1956.

Bob: We had our own airport about 1956. We went from Mt. Healthy, which had shut down prior to that because we were at Lakewood Airport for a brief period. In fact, Lakewood was active after Mt. Healthy closed. Lakewood closed pretty quickly thereafter too. Lakewood was kind of surrounded by Northbrook, they built houses everywhere in Northbrook. I don’t know, there may have been some financial problems too. Lakewood was paved. They story about the jets landing at Lakewood is they were F-86's, there was a flight of two I thought.

Bill: I thought it was a flight of two and I thought one landed.

Bob: One made it to greater Cincinnati, the other guy didn’t make it to Greater Cincinnati, and he landed at Lakewood. They were looking for Wright-Patterson. They had come from over in the southwest. The flight was running out of fuel, and I thought the one guy made it to Greater Cincinnati, and the other guy did not and he landed at Lakewood, and managed somehow not to go through the fence at the end.

But it was a big event, and we were there when they took off again, because they brought in a bunch of experts and they strapped rockets on the side of this thing, had minimum fuel to fly it to Wright-Patterson. They got a test pilot who was brave enough to try this, cleared everybody back from the take off end, fired those rockets, and that was really a sight to behold, when they blasted that thing out of Lakewood Airport.

I’m sure the guy that landed there probably lost his wings. But that was exciting. But I think it was just the one, that had to be ‘54-’55.

Bill: It was pretty close to the end of that airport.

Bob: I’m sure the flight that landed there didn’t help the community support, for the airport there. Probably the biggest plane to land at Mt. Healthy was a Beech 18, twin engine, radial engine, and 7-8 seater. That was the plane Sky King used to fly.

Bill: He flew a Cessna before that, what was that?

Bob: No he flew the Beech first and then he got into the Cessna.

Bill: He flew a 310 Cessna toward the end, but earlier than that, there was a real boxy Cessna. It was real boxy.

Bob: It was something they built during the war to train Bombardiers in. It had the Delta tail, the double tail.

Bill: The Constellation sort of tail in the back.

Bob: As the crow flies, our airport, the Clippard Airport, was about a half a mile northeast of the old Mt. Healthy Airport. Present day, one end of it is in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, the middle of it was covered by I-275, and the other end is now present day Clippard Park, Colerain Township, Clippard Park.

It was 33 acres of ground, it did not front on Colerain Ave. but it had an easement along Colerain Ave. Where Stehlin’s Meat Market is, just to the north of Stehlins property.

Bill: I have a map of the airport.

Bob: We can give you a copy of that. It was 33 acres of ground and had a few rolling hills on it and dad spent quite a bit of money on it. Getting it graded, cut and filled to get the runway in there. He built a 50 x 80 ft building, Butler Steel building with a concrete floor. He put a 2000 gal. fuel tank in the ground and a fuel tip underground for refueling. The only pavement there was a taxi way from the hanger out to the runway, a little asphalt taxiway. This was about 1955 that he built that. It operated from 1955 until I-275 went in the early 1960's.

Bill: Our Debonair flew in and out of there and it was a 1960 Debonair. We had that for awhile, the early 60's.

Bob: I’m thinking it was right around 1962 when the state took the property for the expressway, so it was about 7-8 years. We hoped to be there longer than that, but we had a heck of a battle with the state of Ohio. They wouldn’t move their expressway, but we had a battle with them because they wanted to cut the property in two, and take the middle piece, and leave us the piece of each end and the back piece would be landlocked. We had to fight them on that to get access to the back piece, which is now the access to the park.

This was a private airport; it was a grass field, 1500 ft by approximately 125 ft. There had been an old farm house, and an old barn. The barn was demolished during construction. The farm house remained, and the hanger was built. I remember the old well on the property and dad had another well dug, deeper well for water, so we had water out there. Water and electric.

There were just 2 planes out there. Dad had gone from the 170 to the 180 1515 Charley and then about 1956, he bought this brand new 182 Cessna, with the variable pitch prop and that aircraft crashed at the airport. It crashed on takeoff, and Bill was in it. The prop broke; the pitch on one blade went flat. It lost power.

Bill: We were maybe 50 ft. in the air when the thing let loose. I broke my jaw in 4 places, fractured my skull, a few little cuts and things, but it was mostly head injuries. My father on the other hand had a lot of injuries. The engine kind of came back into his lap more or less. His right ankle was crushed, his left leg was compound fractured on the lower leg. His left hand was laid over backward, bones broken in there. His right elbow was crushed, his face was flattened, broke every bone in the face up here. He lost his right eye. He was in pretty bad shape after that.

Bob: Bill and dad both lost a number of teeth.

Bill: I was fifteen then. There was an old pear orchard down in front of the runway. In fact, the way the runway heading toward the west, we were taking off to the west, it drops off a hill kind of going down like this, and then the hill comes back up. This was a pear orchard, an old pear orchard, over grown.

When something obviously went wrong, it wouldn’t climb anymore, climbing out, had to put in straight ahead basically, and as it turned out a tree, a tall tree, caught the wing about a foot in from the wing tip, and just kind of spun the plane. The last thing I remember were patches of green and blue, green and blue, the sky and the ground flashing around. It cut off 2 pretty good size trees. The propeller going in, about 4 inch trees just wacked them off.

The engine was running quite well, but the propeller just wasn’t pulling. So it just kind of hit this tree and flipped up and cartwheeled in. That’s really why the injuries were as extensive as they were. These trees were not helpful at all, no, not really they would have been helpful to go between them and I think that’s what dad sort of planned, intended, but there was one big one over on the right, that kind of spun it in.

Bob: He had been flying about 10 years.

Bill: I don’t remember a lot about the Lakewood Airport but I did fly in and out of there. It was a long narrow piece of ground right there, hangers right along the side. The approach butted up right to Pippin Rd. right where Pippin makes it turn there up near the Northbrook Market, right were the road makes a 90 degree turn. The runway was right there.

Bob: That runway was pretty much east and west, more true than Mt. Healthy. Glenaire, the street could very well have been part of the runway.

Bill: I remember Elmer flying that old purple fuselage, an orange winged plane. And when you saw it flying around you knew it was Elmer. Plus he’d be doing some acrobatics.

Bob: I remember taking off from our field to the east in this little Piper Cub. He’s in the back; I’m in the front. The fuel tank was right in the front of the wind screen, and they had a rod with a cork on it. Little rod sticking up, that’s how you told how much gas you had, how much rod was sticking up.

We took off, and he just cruised up on down the runway a little bit, got about 20 ft. off the runway and we were getting close to the end. And there are some trees at the end, and I was kind of unconsciously pulling back on the stick a little bit and Elmer said, Oh you want to go up, and he pulled that stick back and we went up all right.

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