Aviation, Biographical, History, Provo History, Utah History

Local Residents Recall Aviatrix

Click to see original imageOur column on Amelia Earhart prompted a call from veteran Provo aviator Mike Jense with this interesting tid-bit of local history:

The famed American aviatrix once force-landed her small plane near Eureka and spent a week in that Central Utah city during the wait for repairs.

As we searched out the facts, partly though old newspaper files, other folk also helped fill in details.

It was Oct. 1, 1928 that Miss Earhart set her small English Avra Avian biplane down on Frank Grill’s plowed field at Tintic Junction west of Eureka when the motor seemed to falter during an intense winds storm.

Observers who witnessed the landing that Sunday soon surrounded the plane. What a surprise to discover that the petite lady in flight regalia was a renowned aviation personality!

Only 3 1/2 months before, Amelia had catapulted into international headlines as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. She wasn’t at the controls – Wilmer Stultz was the pilot. But she quickly became famous nevertheless.

Earhart was to become a full-blown aviation heroine May 20-21, 1932, when she piloted a Lockheed Vega monoplane in trans-Atlantic solo flight – five years to the day after Charles A. Lindbergh’s historic flight.

Mac Bigler resident of the Tintic Historical Society the past two years, has vivid memories of Amelia’s Eureka-area landing. He hiked to the site the next day and was present when the aviatrix addressed a student assembly at Tintic High School.

During her Eureka stay Amelia was guest of Mrs. Paul Hillsdale and the family of Walter Fitch Sr., owners of the Chief Consolidated Mining Company.

Ed Shriver, erstwhile Eureka merchant who moved to Provo in the late twenties, remembers the Earhart incident. So do Carl Fields, Eureka City Recorder Alliene Farren, and many others.

At the time, Kay Thomas of Orem was a five-year-old resident of Tintic Junction, then a railroad town of a dozen or so families. The day after the forced landing, his father Victor Thomas took him to they plane. Amelia climbed into the cockpit and held Kay while his dad snapped a picture.

The “Eureka Reporter” for that week said Earhart was on a flight from Glendale Calif. to Salt Lake City and had planned to continue east.

The Avra Avian was a plane she had purchased from Lady Heith, noted British flier. The propeller was broken in the Tintic landing and one of Amelia’s first acts after reaching Eureka was to wire New York for a new “prop.”

Interestingly the plane had folding wings. This made it easy to transport aboard a Chief Consolidated truck to the Tommy Thompson Flying School at the old Salt Lake Airport for repairs.

Earhart was there, after her Eureka stay, when Mike Jense and Eugene West, then students at Pleasant Grove High, hitch-hiked to the Salt Lake airfield. “We talked with Amelia,” Mike related. “I remember her as a fairly-small woman… with freckles. Very friendly.”inflatable bubble tent

Jense owner-operator of the Central Utah Aviation Co. for many years is now semi-retired. He serves on the Provo Airport and State Aeronautics Boards.

Our previous article told of the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific on her 1937 round-the-world flight attempt and the belief by many that she was picked up by the Japanese after ditching in the Marshall Islands.

Jense has one bit of personal information on this. In the 1950s he visited the Orange County, Calif., aviation museum of Paul Mantz after reading that the generator – claimed to to have belonged to Amelia’s plane – had been recovered on Pacific isle.

Since Mantz had helped outfit the plane before the aviatrix embarked, Jense asked him: “Did you or did you not install that generator?”

Mantz’ reply: ”I did – and l have the work order to prove it.”