Pemberton continues: “At the time an automobile could go about 35 mph while the planes could fly 110 or so. These planes were like space travel. And the designs were so amazing. Many of them could outperform a Cessna or other modern small airplanes.
“Even today it’s really fun to circle a small town and then land and see the cars pull up and the kids run over. I call them our unfranchised America trips—no Days Inn or McDonald’s. In an airplane you can avoid seeing modern America when you fly at 4,000 to 5,000 feet and then land in a field.”
Dave Allen, who will fly his 1930 Waco ASO in the tour, is “so grateful to relive the Golden Age of aviation. The more we share about it the happier we are.” He says he and his wife Jeanne are “just a couple out in the middle of nowhere in Colorado having a good time flying our Waco.”
For people like Herrick and other owners of Golden Age aircraft, the rides and the carefully restored Wacos, Stinsons, and Ryans are all about spreading the news. No one sells these airplanes on a whim or just for the money. The enthusiasts talk among themselves about each new discovery in some rancher’s field, and want to be sure no single collector corners the rare-bird market. When Herrick first started buying up lots of Golden Age airplanes in the 1990s, “there were some hard feelings initially,” says Pemberton. “But it turns out he’s a nice guy and he sends his planes to all sorts of small-time airshows, which is really decent of him. I’m a bottom feeder [in the collection business] and he talks with me.”
To be a member of the Golden Age collectors’ community, you have to share the airplanes, share the stories, and feel a strong emotional connection to the era the airplanes represent.
Near the end of my tour of Herrick’s collection, we pause in front of a beat-up 1928 Stinson Detroiter SM-1B with a jammed door and torn fabric. Of course, Herrick has to share the wounded relic’s story: “This airplane made the first diesel-powered flight. Look at the shoelaces around the fuel tank. That way when they had to replace the tank they could easily pull these off without tearing the wing apart.”
He bounds around to the tail and pokes his head inside a tear in the canvas. “Hey,” he shouts with alarm, “someone didn’t clean the grass in there, did they?”
The mechanic who helped us open the airplane’s door insists he hasn’t cleaned anything.“I liked it because it was from 1930. That was 1930 grass in there.”
Herrick’s right. Such details do help bring it all to mind. The Packard diesel motor roaring away, the pilot charging toward a chalk-lined grassy strip that’s supposed to pass for an airfield, the soft soil pulling on the wheels, the grass catching in the small tear in the fabric, the local people lining the field, just dying to rush in and touch what they see.