Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Travelling through (on) time.

I recently had the occasion to ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane.

Ford Trimotor at the Natrona County International Airport.

I don't like flying much.  I do a lot of it, and it's not like I'm fearful of doing it, but I get tired of being cramped in planes and I generally do not enjoy riding in them.  I've flown too much to like riding in passenger planes which is in part as I've had too many rides that were pretty rough, so I don't have the comfort of the illusion that rough skies are an abnormality.

I like airplanes a lot, however, and I couldn't have passed up on the opportunity to ride such a classic aircraft.  My son in particular finds it odd that I like aircraft, which I do a great deal, but I don't like flying at all, and personally have no desire to learn how to fly, or to even ride as a passenger, normally.  I couldn't pass up on a Trimotor however.  The Ford was one of the really classic early airliners, maybe the earliest really substantial ones along with the Fokker Trimotor.  The Ford, however, being built by the automobile company, was really innovative and was the first such airplane to have all metal construction. The Fokker, which saw a fair amount of use in the United States, did not.  It had a wood laminate frame, which is what failed in the crash that resulted in the death of Knute Rockne.

Ford Trimotors served Casper in the early days of air travel, flying out of Wardwell Field, which is now the town of Bar Nunn. The old runways are streets. So it occurred to me after riding in the plane, and taking photographs of Casper as we flew over it, that we were truly riding on history, and in a way riding through history.  The plane offers an interesting comparison and contrast.

Former railroad bridge across the North Platte River which is now a foot bridge. This bridge entered the former Standard Oil Refinery, which is now a golf course.  The refinery closed down in the 1980s, a closure that was economical devastating to an already suffering Casper.

Above is  the area of Mills and Casper where a former railroad bridge now serves as a footbridge into the Three Crowns Golf Course. This is a scene that has definitely changed since the late 20s and early 30s.  Three Crowns is where the former Standard Oil Refinery was, which was once so large it was on both sides of the North Platte River.  It wouldn't have surprised me if a Ford Trimotor serving Casper would have flown over this in its day, but the passengers wouldn't have seen the same thing here at that time, when there were three refineries operating in Casper.  Now there's just one.

Former railroad bridge across the North Platte linking the footpath on the Platte River Parkway between Casper and Mills. The Parkway runs for miles along the North Platte, and here it runs on part of the old rail line.  On the other side of the Platte River Parkway, in Casper, a footpath resumes on what had been the same rail line.

The former Standard Oil Refiner was huge.  I'm not certain how the rail service for the refinery worked, but I do think that in this view, we're basically looking at what had been a Great Northwestern line.  That line was abandoned quite some time ago, and now most of it, in Casper, is a footpath, including this railroad bridge. So, if we'd been looking down in, say, 1930, we'd be seeing a rail line that we no longer can.  The Burlington Northern must have served the refinery as well, but I'm not sure how.  In its heyday, the refinery was on both sides of the river, so perhaps that's how.

Casper, east of Three Crowns, and what was east of the Standard Oil Refinery.  Much of this would have looked the same in the 1920s and 30s.

Natrona County High School, where I, my wife, and my father, all went to high school.  My kids go there now.  The houses in the surrounding neighborhood are as old as, or older than, the school.

The flight also went over the area of residential Casper that is where many older houses, and Natrona County High School, are located. The school itself is particularly interesting in this context, as it was built in 1923 so it predates the Ford Trimotor by a few years.  A person flying over Casper at any time after 1923 may very well have seen the school.  However, the grounds haven't remained exactly the same over that time.  A road that originally went directly in front of the school was wisely removed.  The parking lots have expanded significantly over time, as more and more students started driving to school (I walked to school when I went t here in the late 1970s and early 1980s).  And now a huge addition to the school is being built, which is visible in this photograph. An enormous field house has already been built.  However, in one way this view of NC is more like that of 1923 than at any time up until last year, as the swimming pool, which was added a few years after it was built, has been sadly torn down for the new addition.  Voters turned down a bond to include a new pool in the huge new field house that's been built, although it could easily have housed it.  Ironically, the original indoor pool was completely funded by taxes passed by the voters of that era.

Washington Park

The flight also went over Washington Park, one of the largest parks in Casper and one of the town's oldest.  The park includes, as can be seen, a swimming pool, a band shell, tennis courts, and a baseball field.

I know that he features of this park are old, in the context of Casper, but I"m not quite sure how old. The band shell was a WPA project as was a wall with battlements, so perhaps most of the features of this park date from the 1930s.  I suspect so.  If so, then this view is one that a passenger in a plane of this type might have seen as well.  The residential neighborhood is also old, so this view hasn't changed much.

Here we start to see a really old section of Casper, including the Burlington Northern Railway Depot, which was built in 1916 during a construction boom in Casper caused by the First World War. This scene depicts a fair number of buildings that dated back to that time, but quite a few have also come down, to make room for parking lots, and some new ones have been built over time.  One of the buildings in this photographs is hte Casper Creamery, which my family once owned.

Part of the Burlington rail yard, including a bridge over the North Platte.

The scene immediately above shows a fair amount of Casper's lower downtown, including the BN depot.  It also shows a number of "high rise" buildings that date back to the teens, although some have been substantially reworked and one is a newer building, the Federal building, that was built in the 1970s.  A fountain on the City of Casper's lot, at the city hall built in the 1970s, is visible.  The green area in the middle of the photograph is Pioneer Park, which dates back quite some time and existed well before the teens. The courthouse looking building across from it is the old Natrona County Courthouse built by the WPA in the 1930s, and a five story brick building to its upper left is the current courthouse, which ironically was built in 1923, and so it predates this airplane.  Another five or so story building across from it was originally a hotel of the same general vintage.  At least one really old three story building appears that was built in the 1890s.  Of course, many other older buildings have been torn down, and new ones have been built up.

Here too we see the old Natrona County Courthouse, but we also see immediately behind it the Hall of Justice, which was built in the 1970s for the county courts and the jail.  The jail is no longer there, and county court has yielded to circuit court, which is not in this building but rather in the Townsend.  To the right, the "Sandbar" district of Casper is visible, which is now business and housing, but in its heyday was a really seedy and infamous area of Casper. Even when I was a kid, it was dicey until it was generally torn down in the 1970s for housing projects.

Sandbar district, but all new construction except for the rail line.

But some things haven't changed much, as in the shot above of the prairie just outside of Casper.

Cattle grazing just outside of town.

1 comment:

MJWrightNZ said...

The Trimotor has to be one of the classic planes of the golden age, and what a stunning experience it must have been to fly in one (and, for your son, to fly it!)