How to Do Oshkosh
What to see, where to eat, who to talk to, and how to make the most of the great big airshow in the quiet little town.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, May 2003
(Page 9 of 10)
Away from the noise of the flightline and the press of the crowds, Oshkosh has plenty to offer those seeking a lower-key experience.
The Vette Seaplane Base is a five-mile drive down Highway 45 (buses run regularly from the main show grounds). Located in a sheltered cove on the western shore of Lake Winnebago, Vette is everything the main grounds are not: quiet, orderly, and bucolic. The manicured pathways from the parking lot to the camping areas are lined with potted geraniums and impatiens. Neatly painted signs warn walkers of poison ivy off the path.
At 7:45 a.m., Lloyd Anderson has been on duty for almost an hour. Waterfront campers begin to stir, emerging from campsites with nicknames like “Parrothead Avenue.” The smells of coffee and bacon begin to waft through the humid summer air. Anderson, a retired air traffic controller, is reprising his career for a visitor as he directs seaplanes in and out of the base with a small radio. He stands on a tiny deck at the mouth of a cove surrounded by massive willow trees, 30 moored airplanes behind him bobbing in waters mottled with bright green algae. The aircraft have arrived from as far away as the Bahamas and Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The sky is starting to streak gray, and several departures are being expedited before the weather traps them. Between departures and arrivals, Anderson talks about the Stinson 108 he is restoring in his garage. The engine needs a crankshaft. He has not found one yet. Small skiffs begin to tow aircraft into the docks for loading. Across the cove, at the Jesuit Retreat House, Mass is letting out.
A little closer to the action but still a world away, the grass strip of Pioneer Airport stretches out behind the EAA Museum. A trio of Bell 47 bubble-canopy helicopters whine overhead, spiriting riders around the grounds for $30 a pop. Paul Poberezny built Pioneer Airport to mimic the feel of a small airport in the 1920s and 1930s. “I wanted to convey that charisma of aviation,” he says. Within Pioneer’s five hangars rest standards like a J-3 Cub and a 1936 Aeronca C-3 Collegian, also known as “the flying bathtub.” History is there in such one-of-a-kind treasures as Little Mulligan, Harold Neumann’s 1941 monocoupe, a cousin of the famous Ben Howard racer Mister Mulligan. And there’s the Folkerts Henderson High Wing, an early design from Clayton Folkerts, who was later chief designer for Don Luscombe’s company.
Posters from 1930s air races and expositions decorate the hangar walls, which support racks of ancient engines.
The flavor of Oshkosh cannot be fully captured within the airport grounds. While the choices are numerous, the following have been recommended by veteran Oshkosh-goers.
HOBBY SHOPS Dymond Modelsports has one the best selection of remote-control model aircraft in the country and is a perennial favorite for pilots of full-size and scale aircraft alike.
RESTAURANTS The local restaurants all serve Wisconsin-size—that is to say, huge—portions, and their prices remain reasonable during the show. Want a 32-ounce prime rib? You’ve come to the right place: It’s on the menu at Winemakers. The sandwiches at Friar Tuck’s are said to be delicious, as are dinners at both the Granary and the Roxy. Waits for tables at both of these places used to be interminable, but thanks to years of practice on the part of the staffs at both places, now rarely run more than an hour. Be warned, the Roxy is boisterous. If you actually intend to hold a conversation with your fellow diners, the Granary may be a better bet. For something a little different, drive up to Menasha to Los Compadres for authentic Mexican food.