I assume a fellow named Frank Jenkins had a thing or two to say about what went onto the then-wide pages of The News-Review 84 years ago. I found his name atop an editorial published on page one of the Sept. 4, 1929, edition of what was then the Roseburg News-Review.
A reader was kind enough to drop it off a month or so ago, and I finally had the chance to take a peek.
Mr. Jenkins used the entire left column of the front page to let readers know that it was just a matter of time before every American family owned at least one automobile. At the time, according to Jenkins’ editorial, California had more car owners than any other state (one auto for every 2.87 people), with Oregon ranked sixth on the list (one auto for every 3.96 people).
He went on to make a bold prediction. “The time is coming when American families in average circumstances will own one or more automobiles and in addition will own an airplane,” he told his Roseburg readers. “The automobile will be used for short distance travel, say up to 50 or 75 miles, and the airplane will be used for long journeys.”
I know — an airplane in every garage?
Jenkins went on to explain how that would be possible. “The future will take care of that,” he promised. “If we have wise and able leadership, we shall be able to increase our earnings sufficiently to take care of the expanding needs and wants of the future.”
As we now know, the stock market crashed a month after Jenkins wrote that editorial, sending America into what we fondly refer to as the Great Depression.
“Oh, great,” his readers must have muttered. “There goes my airplane right down the tubes.”
They would soon learn that an airplane would be the least of their worries, taking a back seat to food and clothes for the next several years, when a war would put the economy back on its feet.
He did preface his prediction by saying it could only happen if we had “wise and able” leadership, something that might have been in short supply, hence the market crash.
“Dang,” our wise and able leaders must have said. “Didn’t see that coming.”
The more things change the more they stay the same.
In his defense, Jenkins’ logic was, at the moment, pretty sound. Back then you could probably buy a little plane for less than the price of a car and there was no FAA (it didn’t come along until 1958) jumping down your throat over little things like lessons, pilot’s license, insurance, or the possibility of a terrorist stealing your plane and crashing it into a haystack surrounded by innocent cows. It had only been two years since Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight from New York to Paris, marking the beginning of a national love affair for flying.
Getting a private pilot’s license today is not cheap, especially if you plan to fly for recreational and not business purposes (no tax write-offs).
Back in 1929, you probably jumped in the damned cockpit and figured it out, maybe clipping a tree or two until you learned how to fly straight. Flying isn’t that tough. It’s the taking off and landing part that’s tricky. My 82-year-old friend taught me to fly in a little Cessna 152 and the first thing I asked him, in a diplomatic way, was, “If you die right now what am I supposed to do?”
He laughed and pointed me in the direction of an Air Force base. “If you can fly the plane there you ought to be able to land it,” he told me. “That runway is so wide you could land this thing sideways.”
My friend, by the way, would go on to build and fly his own experimental plane. I imagine he will fly it into his 90s and possibly beyond.
If you hang out at community airports for any length of time you’ll probably note that there are a lot of “older” pilots. Less than 1 percent of all adults (around 600,000) are licensed to fly. They have been trying to recruit the next generation — programs such as the Young Eagles have introduced flying to millions of kids worldwide at no charge — but the number of licensed private pilots continues to decline.
I suppose you could chalk much of that to the economy. Luxuries are typically the first sacrifices.
What hasn’t waned, I suspect, is our fascination with flight and that’s probably what Mr. Jenkins recognized most in 1929. And he rightly predicted that most every town would have some sort of airport. “The popular imagination has been captured by the airplane,” he wrote, “and every city and town in America, amounting to anything, is going to have an airport sooner or later.”
He would be proud to know that his own hometown would one day have a regional airport equal to any for a town its size. If you haven’t been to the Roseburg Regional Airport recently, the annual Wings and Wheels event is slated for Saturday, July 6. That event will feature some classic airplanes and cars and the world’s only flying Boeing Model 40 will be on display.
There may not be a plane for every family, as the former journalist predicted, but there are plenty of pilots more than willing to introduce your family to the joys of flying.
• News-Review Publisher Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.