Museum Blog

Plane and Simple

An early flying machine was patented by Reuben Jasper Spaulding from Rosita in Custer County, Colorado –filed September 1, 1888 and granted March 5, 1889. This flying machine was designed in with large wings which included feathers and a tail. The goal was to allow the user to glide, and even change direction, through a series of pulleys, springs, and rods. Unfortunately, it appears Spaulding wasn’t to achieve his dreams. An article in the Colorado Daily Chieftain from October 28, 1890 points to the fact that his machine, while impressive, did not work.

R. J. Spaulding, an old timer in this part of Colorado, now a resident of Rosita, who has spent the last twelve or fifteen years of his life trying to invent a flying machine, undertook to show the workings of his apparatus to a crowd of about five thousand people at Sloan’s Lake, Denver, on Sunday. It is needless to say that the machine didn’t work, the only thing that flew being stones thrown by the disgusted crowd. Mr. Spaulding was escorted home by a deputy sheriff.

It feels rather harsh to throw stones at someone who would also be upset his machine didn’t fly!

Taking a look at aviation in Fremont County, in 1910, two Cañon City boys designed an airship driven by a gasoline motor. They only designed a model and there was no further information about a life size version. The design was a monoplane and the boys had been working hard on their project, “confident that they have discovered new ideas in aerial navigation.” The article on these boys was in the Florence Citizen on December 10, 1910. Of course, they weren’t really boys so much as young men. Both were in their early 20s! Apparently, they had built an automobile the previous summer and showed a mechanical bent of mind.

On December 25, 1919, the Cañon City Daily Record printed an article claiming that Cañon City had seen its first airplane that day. The article reported in the headline “Aeroplane Flies Over Cañon City”.

Cañon City saw its first aeroplane today when Lieut. Cole and Jay Stock of Florence flew up here from Florence in a Curtiss oriole biplane in which they made the trip from Casper Wyo. The visit was unheralded, but nevertheless many people saw the plane and quite a sensation was caused. The visitor stayed over in Cañon City and the surrounding territory from five or 10 minutes and flew back to Florence.     

Of course, it can’t have been too exciting considering the fact that everyone seemed to forget they had seen an airplane because in the May 6 Cañon City Record from 1920 (not even a year later), the headline claimed “Cañon City has its First View of an Airplane at Noon Today.” The plane was piloted by Lieut. Walter Ainslee and his passengers were Stuart L. Sweet and a Mr. Park. It was claimed the men were the first to visit Cañon City by air route. An average time for this trip, from Denver to Cañon City was apparently an hour and 20 minutes. The men had planned to only stay the day in Cañon City but instead chose to stay a few days to give trips to people who wanted to see Cañon City by air. It appears Ainslee came back shortly after to give more trips based on an article on Thursday, May 13. Unfortunately for Lieut. Ainslee, this turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. On a May 13 flight, his passengers were injured and his plane damaged during the landing.

Ainslee was coming in for a landing but a motorcyclist, despite the warnings from guards, drove directly in front of the plane. Ainslee attempted to take off again but was unable to do so and crashed into the Cleveland orchard. While the passengers of the plane were injured, no one was killed. The damage to the plane required parts to be ordered but Ainslee was hopeful it would be repaired by that Saturday and he could resume flights.  The motorcyclist had yet to be identified at the time of the article.   

Another unfortunate event (though fortunately not involving a crash) happened in 1922. The event was re-posted in the “Memory Lane” section of the Florence Citizen on November 27, 1997.

Diavola, the Colorado Springs airplanist, who was scheduled for a series of flying stunts at Cañon City Saturday and Sunday afternoons, was the victim of hard luck Saturday night when some horses got into the enclosure where his plane was parked in Harding’s pasture on Central Avenue and ate a portion of the canvas covering of the wings and tail of the machine thus putting it out of commission for aerial navigation.

Hopefully the horses didn’t regret their nighttime snack!

In 1958, a lost plane was reported in the Cañon City Daily Record on December 1:

There is an airplane down and lost in the vicinity of the entrance of the Skyline Drive west of Cañon City. The plane is purple in color, single engine and single wing. The wing span is only 54 inches. It is a radio controlled plane belonging to Harold Hammel.

Hammel was flying his plane from the model plane flying strip in the Hardings addition north of Cañon City. The plane had been up for about 15 or 20 minutes when it apparently got out of tune with his radio control unit and he lost control of it.

The plane was flying west when it went on its own. It flew over the Skyline Drive in the vicinity of the west side entrance. Just as the plane went over the drive, its motor cut out and it went into a glide over the mountain. Anyone finding the plane is asked to leave word at the Felter Clothing Store.   

Here’s to hoping Harold found his plane!  

Two airplanes on a runway, ca. 1940. Object ID: 1989.023.168; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.   

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