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Fly High and Fast – Vol. II Chapter 2: The Wagon Wheel, Rockton, IL; Denison, Ottumwa, and Wadena, Iowa in the early 1970’s.

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JJ Meehan
The Meehan Family

Flying became a passion that I enjoyed to the fullest.  After earning my Pilots License I spent my evenings and weekends flying N140JJ around Iowa and Illinois.  In a short period of time Skycrest Flying  Club sold this fantastic plane an purchased a newer Cessna 150.  N140JJ was and will always be my first love when it comes to flying.  Like the first date or kiss we had a special bond.

I really missed N140JJ but about the same time I found a new love – N6419U.  This was a Mooney M20C with 180 hp engine.  It was a very clean plane and was one of the fastest in the air considering it’s horsepower.  Cruise speed was 135 KTS.   This plane would be come my means of transportation for over 20 years.  Before I continue with my story of N6419U, I have one story to share concerning the Cessna 150 that the club owned.

I was flying both N6419U and the Cessna 150 as time permitted.  One night, a friend, Bart (Richard Bartholomew and I took the Cessna 150 for a short flight.  We departed from the McBride Airport which is just north of Cedar Rapids and headed to a small private strip that was associated with a local supper club – Windy Oaks.  The flight was only 10 KM and the weather was perfect.  The landing strip had not been used for many years since the supper club closed.  What we did not expect was the grass had not been mowed.   The strip was only 2000 ft long and we had no problem landing but when we got ready to take off, the grass which was up to the top of the wheels caused enough drag that we used every bit of that runway to get airborne.  Once in the air our problems were just beginning.  There was a tree line near the end of the runway.  I considered my options and decided to make a slow turn about 10 ft off the runway.  This would allow me to fly along the tree line instead of over or in our case though the trees.  Making a turn at low altitude is dangerous because you are already flying at a very slow speed and a stall is a hair away from causing you and the plane to spin into the ground.   I managed to complete the turn and also keep the plane from stalling as we slowly climbed above the tree line and headed home.   This was one of what I refer to as my Cat Lives.  I’m sure you have heard the story of Cats having nine lives.  Will this was one of my nine lives.  I lived to fly another day.  As you read my story you will see several Lives that I am sure were subtracted from my Cat Lives.  This was the first.

Wagon Wheel, Rockton, IL USA

One of my first flights in Cross Country was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA to the Wagon Wheel Resort, Rockton, Illinois, USA in 1973.   My lovely wife and I decided to spend the weekend at the resort.  A classmate and good friend, Andy Nothern had recommended the resort.   The place was fantastic but is now torn down.  The following are a few pictures of the resort at the time we were there.

Martha Washington Room at the Wagon Wheel
Gay Nineties Bar at the Wagon Wheel

Ice Skating Arena at the Wagon Wheel

Bowling Alley at the Wagon Wheel

The Church by the side of the road at the Wagon Wheel

The Church by the side of the road at the Wagon Wheel

The day we were schedule to leave was beautiful, but as I laid by the pool I noticed the weather started to change.  I checked with Flight Service (FSS) and found out that there was some very bad weather moving into the area.  We decided to head for airport and see if we could get out before the weather arrived.  Once at the airport, it became apparent that the weather was just to the west and we would be better to wait it out on the ground.  I’ll never forget another pilot who was so concerned about his Mooney Mite getting hurt, he took off with the hope of out running the storm.  A Mooney Mite was a two seat airplane made out of wood.  I never did find out if he made it.  I do know that you are much better to wait on the ground than be in the air.  There is an old saying; “You are better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.  No plane is worth risking you life and that of your family.  We played cards in the lounge at the airport for about 2 hours and then were able to head home after the storm in clear air.

Waterloo, IA USA

In 1974, as I was building time, I would fly to other towns with friends for dinner.  On one occasion another pilot and I decided to fly up to Waterloo, Iowa for dinner at their airport.  This story begins very normal and we were flying the Cessna 150.  I was flying up and he (Bill Hemme) was going to fly back.   The flight up to Waterloo from Cedar Rapids was very normal.  Flight Time was about 35 minutes in the Cessna 150.  When I got out of the plane I dropped the key used to start the plane.   Would you believe that it fill into a crack in the asphalt?  We tried to get it out without any luck.   So we decided to have dinner and consider our options.  Over dinner we decided to call another member of the club – Gene Knoernschild.  Gene agreed to fly the Mooney up to Waterloo but he did not have a key for the Cessna.  Bill had a spear key but it was locked in his car at the airport.  We decided that Gene would fly up and we would all fly back to Cedar Rapids to get the spare key and then fly back to Waterloo to get the Cessna 150.  The plan was executed perfectly.  We may have been the any pilots that had to fly 3 trips between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo in an evening just to have dinner.

Park Rapids MN USA

In 1974, a friend from work asked me if I could fly her up to Park Rapids, MN, USA.  I was married at the time and it was a hard sell to convince my wife, Jeannie, that it was all above board.  Sue Johnston, who later married Bart (Richard Bartholomew) was an attractive young gal and needless to say I was very pleased to be able to fly her to Park Rapids.  We departed after work.  The flight was about 2 1/2 hours in length.  She was spending time with her relatives in Park Rapids.  The flight was very normal and we landed as scheduled around 6:30 in the evening.  Now the story gets a little more complicated.  The airport was out of gas.  Night was approaching and I did not want to take a chance of flying at night low on gas.  So I called my understanding wife and told her “The airport was out of gas”.  This was almost like the guy telling his date that he had just run out of gas and they were stranded in the middle of nowhere.  My wife took it about as good as the date would.  You can fill in the exact exchange of words but they were not pleasant.   So I spent the night with Sue and her relatives in Park Rapids.    The next day, the airport was still out of gas so I decided to chance flying to Brainerd, MN which was about 75 miles.  As I approached Brainerd, there was a storm line that covered the Brainerd area and was forecasted to remain for over an hour.  I had no choice but to return to Park Rapids and spend a second night with Sue and her relatives.  Early the next morning, I was at the airport again and the finally got fuel around 9:00 am.  I got home and experienced another storm as I tried to explain to my wife why it took two days to fly Sue to Park Rapids.

Denison, IA  USA

in 1975 I decided to fly out to Denison and spend time with my aunt – Clare Meehan.  Sue asked if I could drop her in Des Moines and another friend, Tom Anderson asked if I could drop him in Des Moines also.   I agreed and we all took off on a Friday after work.   Tom Anderson was sitting in the front and Sue was in the back.  When we got to Des Moines International Airport,  the stall warning came on as we were landing.  I was making a full stall landing and the mechanic had adjusted the stall warning horn to the point that it came on early, about 10 miles before the stall.  Sue had experienced this before but Tom had not.  Tom also remembered that there was a horn to warn you when the gear was not down.  I believe he almost jumped out of the plane when he heard the stall horn.  The moral of the story is to always tell your passengers or students what is going to happen before it happens.

On another occasion I called a friend in Denison to see if she could join me for dinner in Omaha.  She was also a pilot.  Her name was Eileen Lally Sailor.  Eileen is a sister to Mary Lally Daniels who is helping me with my family history.  This gave me time to see my Aunt and also build more time.  Dinner was great and after I dropped her off, I headed home to Cedar Rapids from Denison and about 20 minutes after departing from Denison, the engine was beginning to run rough.   It was about 10:00 pm and a very dark clear night.  I called Des Moines Approach which at the time covered the area where I was flying.   She were kind enough to follow me and even hand me off to Chicago Center which covered the area between Des Moines Approach and Cedar Rapids Approach.   I climbed to 9,500 ft to make sure I had some glide distance if the engine stopped.  I stayed at 9,550 ft until I was over Cedar Rapids and could circle down for a landing.   Once safely on the ground I started to try and figure out what the problem might be.  I had a mechanic check the plane the next day and found out that the spark plugs had become dirty because of running the engine on a rich (full) fuel mixture.  I had forgotten to lean the engine for the proper mixture of fuel and gas.  This was not a problem that would have caused the engine to stop but it was hard on the engine.  You should always lean the engine when flying for a long period at higher altitudes.  I should have also diverted to Des Moines when I experience the problem.  This was another case of where I believe I used one of my nine lives.

Wadena Rock Festival Wadena, IA USA

In 1970, I’ll never forget the short flight that Br. John Terlisner and I took.  Br. John is a Holy Cross Brother currently stationed at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.  He is also the cousin of my wife and a very good friend.  If you are old enough you will remember something called the Woodstock Festival.  The Woodstock Festival) was a music festival, billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”, held at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre (2.4 km²; 240 ha, 0.94 mi²) dairy farm near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, from August 15 to August 18, 1969. Bethel, in Sullivan County, is 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock, New York, in adjoining Ulster County.  During the sometimes rainy weekend, thirty-two acts performed outdoors in front of 400,000 concert-goers. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most pivotal moments in popular music history and was listed among Rolling Stone’s 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.  In Iowa, a group of music fans decided to have a music festival near Wadena, Iowa..  Br. John is also a pretty cool brother and agreed to fly over the area with me.  He also is a good golfer who tried to make me a better golfer than I am.  Anyway you can read about and see a few of the pictures from the Wadena, Iowa Music Festival by clicking on the Wadena Iowa Music Festival.  This WEB Site was setup by Dennis Naughton, who is now a Lawyer in Marion, Iowa.  Dave will have a book coming out on the Wadena Iowa Music Festival early next year.  On July 28th, 2010, Dave Rasdal wrote the following story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette – Wadena Rocked 40 Years Ago.

Ottumwa, Iowa USA

I’ll end this chapter with my flight to Des Moines that ended with a side trip to Ottumwa and a bus trip home in 1975.  One Friday we had off work and I asked a co-worker, Joanne Alden to flying over to Des Moines with me for lunch.  We departed about 9:30 am and were just about half way to Des Moines when I contacted Flight Service (FSS) at Des Moines and found out that Des Moines had gone IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) with a ceiling of 800 ft and 2 mile visibility.  I was not instrument rated at the time so had to find an alternate.  Cedar Rapids had also gone IFR.  With the help of Des Moines FSS, I was able to find an alternate – Ottumwa, Iowa.  We landed in with clear skies and were tried by the owner of Midwest Aviation and later good friend  to a fantastic time.    We had lunch at the Maid-Rite in Ottumwa.  This was no ordinary Maid-Rite.  They served hundreds of customers out of a very small restaurant in an alley off of Main Street in Ottumwa.  At the time the owners were two old grandmothers and they were dishing up food faster than you could image.  The Maid-Rites were flying faster than hamburgers from McDonalds.   The weather was not improving and we finally took a Greyhound Bus back to Cedar Rapids.  Another pilot and I came back for the Mooney a week later.  The moral to this story is to always have an alternate.

This completes the early days of my flying.  Within the next few years I will manage to earn my Instrument Rating and had upgraded to a Commercial Pilot’s License.  I’ve also become a Certified Flight Instructor within 4 years.

You can read of my flying stories by going to my WEB Site on Flying at “Flying High and Fast”.


Written by jjmeehan13

January 4, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Flying

2 Responses

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  1. Great job, I hope to assemble something ½ As well done. Started engg career in southern Wi, 1983. Stayed, swam, visited Wagonwheel.
    Received my flight training @ chaplain av, Manitowoc, Wi 1979. Now, happyandroid@yahoo.com & Android dev.
    Thanks, kev

    k e hartlaub

    February 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    • Thanks Kev, I did this to document the love I have of flying 🙂


      February 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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