East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

Fred Liedel Remembers the Madison Airport

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on February 26, 2011



Fred Liedel addressing the East Side History Club's meeting at the Goodman Center on February 19, 2011.

Fred Leidel was the featured speaker at the Feb. 19th meeting. He told us many wonderful stories of helping out at the Madison Airport in the 1930s in order to get rides and learn to fly.

Fred  was born in Milwaukee. The family moved around Wisconsin when he was  young but returned to Madison in time for him to graduate from East High School.  They lived on Upham Street and he spent most of his free time while attending high school and UW at the Madison Airport.  After he graduated with a degree in Engineering he moved to the east but returned to Madison in 1945 and has been here ever since. He has written about his experiences at the Madison Airport and an excerpt is included below.

Joan Phelan and Ann Waidelich researched the Madison Airport and brought in many articles they had found in the local newspapers. Ann visited the EAA Museum in Oshkosh in order to see and make photocopies of Madison Airport photos from the scrapbooks that Fred Leidel had donated to the museum.  These were on the tables for people to view.

Fred is 94 years old now and a retired UW Professor.  Doug Moe wrote a nice article about him in the Wis State Journal on March 21, 2010.

Remembing the Madison Airport

By Fred Liedel

Much of my time was spent at the Madison Airport, especially weekends and vacations, from the time my family moved back to Madison in 1934 until I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1940.  When I first went there O.G. “Ace” Corben was the manager (until he left in 1936 to go barnstorming) but for most of those years it was managed by Walter Blake.  Blake was very generous with me and the other “airport kids.”  He would take us up just for the fun of it or as passengers when he was teaching a student cross-country flying.  One time we went up on a moonlit Saturday night without field lights. We circled the Capitol Square at low elevation and watched the shoppers around the Square.

The summer of 1939 was the last summer vacation of my college career.  I made a deal with Walter Blake that I would work at the airport without pay, running the office (I knew typing and shorthand) or whatever they could use me for in exchange for flight lessons.  Some weeks after I soloed, I went to Doc Pippen in Richland Center with a group of other recently soloed pilots for the physical leading to our student pilot permits.  He gave us an eye test and it was then I learned that I have monocular vision — no depth perception.  Blake let me accumulate perhaps 5 house of solo time to get it out out my system but that was the end of my flying career.

The airport had a TravelAire 3 person biplane.  Usually I went up in it with Fritz Horstmeyer as pilot.  We had a siren that we could mount on a wing strut.  It was powered by a small propeller, and had a clutch that would release by pulling a cord from the front seat.  It was a quiet day and we wanted to drum up some passenger business.  We flew to the Square and did tailspins over the Capitol.  As we did, I pulled the cord and the siren howled.  When we got back to the airport there was a policeman waiting for us.  He took the siren and told us that if we wanted it back, it would be at the police station.  I have no idea what the final outcome was.

Airplane ride tickets were $1 and my commission was 5 cents.  I got to be their best ticket salesman.  One of my happy memories was Ringling Brothers circus day, probably in 1935. [See related post.]

My friends at the airport included Walter Dockstator whose full time job was as a hog splitter at Oscar Meyer.  He claimed that he could split a hog with one blow of his ax.  Later he became the corporate pilot for Oscar Meyer.  Another was Archie DeRemer whose parents owned a farm near Brooklyn, WI.  He would fly home and his mother would send him back with treats for us “airport kids.”   Carole Seals was a petty young girl who just liked to hang around airplanes and pilots.  She really had a crush on Archie DeRemer and I expected on day they would marry but she married Walter Dockstator instead.  Clarence Weber was a part-time pilot and full time bus driver.

The buses back then were Buick “Crackerboxes”.  The driver would pull a lever when a passenger got on and it registered “fare”.  When I got on his bus he would rotate the lever and it registered “free”.  He became an airline pilot but was killed in a airplane crash.  Howard Sechrest was a pilot and successful businessman.  He owned the Howard Welding Co. on East Wilson St.  His first plane was a Fairchild 22 and his second plane was a beautiful silver Waco bi-plane.  He died in a plane crash in 1953.  Billy Blom had a single-seat Aero Sport bi-plane.  We had small air shows at the Madison Airport and his part was to unroll a roll of toilet paper and then cut it with his propeller as many times as he could before it fell to the ground.


3 Responses to “Fred Liedel Remembers the Madison Airport”

  1. Nancy W. Harrison said

    Enjoyed your remembrances. Clarence Weber was my father.

  2. Nancy W. Harrison said

    I enjoyed your remembrances. Clarence Weber was my father.

  3. It’s wonderful to read the memories of guys like Fred who knew our state’s aviation pioneers. Thanks Fred.

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