Long history of local aviation

Posted September 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

Airport Terminal Building dedication, Sept. 15

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PHOTO: The Terminal Building addition to the Monticello Regional Airport was completed earlier this year. There will be a special dedication ceremony for the addition during the annual Fly-in/Drive-in Breakfast this Sunday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. (Photo by Kim Brooks)

 

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

The City of Monticello has a rich and interesting history of airports and aviation, culminating with the current Monticello Regional Airport, located along Highway 38.

After many current improvements to the airport, this weekend’s annual Fly-in/Drive-in Breakfast will include a special dedication of the completed Terminal Building.

Over 80 years ago, the first airstrip in town was built in 1929. According to an article that appeared in the Monticello Express on Oct. 13, 1966, “… a group of air-minded businessmen leased 30 acres of land for an airstrip.”

This was located south of town and was rented from Rudolph Flack. W.J. First, an early flier in Monticello, was quite instrumental in obtaining the airstrip. A fundraising campaign was set up in order to develop an airport. That article states, “Eighty-seven businesses and professional men and individuals contributed $993.95 for the airstrip.”

In the early-1930s, the aforementioned airstrip fell into disuse.

Then, on March 26, 1934, a city election was held, asking the people of Monticello if they wanted to see a new airport in town.

According to an article in the Express, “The questions was whether the citizens would recommend to the city council the purchase of land south of the Monticello greenhouse (now the site of Cuckler Steel Span Co.) as the site for a new airport. The cost was not to exceed $3,500 and existing funds were to be used.” (Cuckler Steel Span Co. is now Star Buildings Systems.)

Unfortunately, this measure was defeated by a majority vote of 103.

Monticello went 20 years without ever establishing an airport, however, that didn’t stop local flying enthusiasts.

Several area farmers owned planes themselves, so they built private landing strips. Some of those farmers included Vernon Burrack, Francis Miller, Irv Poppe and Jerry Naylor.

In 1946, the Monti Flying Service opened an airfield, which was located a mile or so northwest of town, on the George Mead farm. It was operated by Paul Gutknecht and Jack Beeks, Jr., with support from the Rotary and Lions clubs.

This airfield served the town through the late 1940s and early ’50s.

Then in 1954, two local industrialists, Gerald Pasker and Dave Cuckler, developed an airfield south of Monticello, along what was then Highway 151 (now Business Highway 151) and the Milwaukee railroad tracks. This is now the current site of Kromminga Motors.

Pasker, who founded Energy Manufacturing Co., and Cuckler, president of Cuckler Steel Span Co., used planes extensively for their businesses.

They bought eight acres of land from John Wilcox for their airstrip, which served as the municipal airport for about 10 years. They also built a hangar on the land.

The first known airport board was appointed in May 1956, and consisted of: Pasker as chairman, as well as Cuckler and John Behn, who was on the city council at the time.

In the Oct. 13, 1966 Express, it stated, “Considerable use is made of the landing strip by local industries, people from nearby areas who fly into Monticello on business and a few ‘flying for fun’ enthusiasts.” At this time, there was a reported 12 planes housed at the airport.

By the early ’60s, it became apparent that a larger airport was needed to meet the city and businesses’ needs. Construction on the current Monticello Regional Airport began in August of 1962. An exploratory meeting was held to look into the funding sources of the project. City officials and interested citizens met with a representative with the Federal Aviation Agency.

An airport committee was formed, made up of Harold Yeoman, chairman, Dave Cuckler, Gerald Pasker and Dr. R.W. Myers.

Land was purchased from the Hanken family along Highway 38, a mile south of city limits. They secured 100 acres at $500 an acre. They received funding from the Federal Aviation Agency, the Iowa Aeronautics Commission and local contributions.

Finally by May 1964, the FAA gave the go-ahead and the city sought bids for the new airport. A $60,122.18 contract was awarded on June 22, 1964 to Trowbridge Construction Co. from Marshalltown. They started work in July and it was completed by September.

The total cost of the airport was $114,000. It was dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 16, 1966.

The old airport, owned by Pasker and Cuckler, was sold to the Monticello Development Corporation and used for industrial business.

Over the years, the Monticello Regional Airport has been used by a wide variety of customers: business, industry, the Great Jones County fair, crop dusting companies, medical air care emergencies and local pilots.

Airport Manager, Paul Elmegreen, who also owns and operates Monticello Aviation, has been a staple of the operations for many years. He’s been instrumental in keeping things running out at the airport.

In the late 1970s, a 3,520 square-foot addition was added on to the airport, as well as additional hangars. In the April 25, 1979 Express, Elmegreen was quoted as saying the $45,000 addition was needed for growth.

For the 20th anniversary of the airport, an article in the Aug. 1, 1984 Express had Elmegreen stating, “I don’t know too many towns of this size with this good of a facility. Most towns have to be 10,000 in population or bigger to have a need or desire to have an airport.”

Harold Yeoman was also quoted as saying, “We have one of the finest small airports in the U.S.”

The same sentiments hold true for today.

Almost 50 years after the construction started on the regional airport, there have been many improvements and upgrades and additions. Runways were extended, hangars were built and now the new Terminal Building completes the project, many years in the making.

The $950,000 project was completed earlier this year, adding to the airport facility. Work began in October of 2011. Inside, you’ll find a pilot’s lounge/multipurpose area, a waiting area, a spiral staircase that leads to a balcony (mezzanine) overlooking the expansive runways, restrooms and a flight planning area.

Funding for this project stem from private donations, the family of Dave Cuckler, the family John “Jack” Fraser, Weber Stone Co., the FAA, the DOT and more.

A formal dedication of the Terminal Building will be held this Sunday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. The breakfast will run from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

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