Photo: Dwight Eisenhower tells a “fish story” to Richard Nixon relaxing at the Byers Peak Ranch. Grand County Historical Association Archive 3229
Grand County was one of Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite places, even before he became President. He would fish in the Fraser River and enjoyed cooking those trout at the Byers Peak Ranch during the years 1948 through 1955. In aviation jargon, Eisenhower “flew west” at his death on March 28, 1969-50 years ago.
This summer, the volunteers of the Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum will celebrate Eisenhower’s aviation history when visitors stop by any Friday or Saturday, June 1 through August 31 from 11 to 2, free, family-friendly, and wheel-chair accessible.
Many Winter Park Times readers know about our brush with Presidential fame. We even have Fraser’s Eisenhower Drive as a frequent reminder of our history. But, some may not be aware that Dwight Eisenhower was a pilot. According to his Presidential Museum, he learned to fly while stationed in the Army in the Philippines.
Eisenhower soloed in a Stearman PT-1 on May 19, 1937. Later, he flew a Stinson Reliant and logged over 350 hours of flying from July 1936 to November 1939. This aviation knowledge was extremely important in planning during World War II as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces.
The Emily Warner Field Aviation Museum has a Stinson propeller on display donated by Jack Applebee of Granby as a tribute to Dwight Eisenhower, who was elected President on November 4, 1952, becoming our very first pilot to take that office.
According to Warbird’s forum, a reference found to flying in the post-Philippines period is found in Eisenhower’s At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, “After World War II, I had ceased to fly altogether, except that once in a while, on a long trip, to relieve my boredom and demolish the pilot’s, I would move into the co-pilot’s seat and take over the controls. But as the jet age arrived, I realized that I had come out of a horse and buggy background, recognized my limitations, and kept to a seat in the back.”
Interestingly, the National Museum of the US Air Force says, “The U-4B, a U.S. Air Force version of the Aero Commander L-26, was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1956 to 1960 for short trips. A pilot himself, President Eisenhower would often take the controls, primarily during trips between Washington, D.C., and his farm in Gettysburg, Penn. The first presidential aircraft to have only two engines, the U-4B was also the first presidential aircraft to carry the familiar blue and white paint scheme.” Eisenhower was a very take-charge kind of personality so I believe the above Aero Commander story but do understand his not taking the controls of the 4-engine Lockheed Constellation.
According to www.history.com, “While many think of Air Force One as the name of the President’s airplane, Air Force One is actually a call sign applied to any aircraft carrying the American president. That call sign was created in 1953. Eisenhower was our first President to travel aboard a plane designated ‘Air Force One.’”
First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower, who considered Colorado home, named their Presidential Constellation, Columbine, as a tribute to our State flower. Columbine flew them to Stapleton Airport on their many visits to Colorado.
Logs from the Eisenhower Library indicated their Aero Commander flew into Granby-Grand County Airport during his many fishing trips to our area. A few of Eisenhower Administration Cabinet Secretaries and many important papers and bills to be signed by the President were flown in, too. However, the President did not fly on that plane to Granby. The Secret Service required Eisenhower to be driven from Denver to Fraser.
To learn more about aviation history and our many unique stories, plan on stopping by this summer. Cozens Ranch has an exhibit of Eisenhower in Fraser. All of Grand County Historical Association museums and events are listed at www.grandcountyhistory.org