"On a nice summer night, somebody would say 'Come on, let's go flying.' We'd park a car at each end of the grass strip with the lights on." To illuminate the runway's edges, they would fill six Coke bottles wth coal oil, stuff them with wicks, and use them as lanterns.
Eventually a 3,000-foot asphalt runway was laid. And that was pretty much the state of affairs when John Cournoyer, who had several airplanes based at the airport, learned the land was up for sale.
"The guy who owned the driving range across the street offered $1,000 more an acre than we did," says Stix, "but Ducks didn't want it to be a golf course. He wanted it to be an airport."
"This is a neat little airport here," says Bo Mabry, who has flown his Cessna in from South Carolina. "Ya'll are lucky. Ya'll are real lucky," he says to a group of Creve Coeur natives standing nearby. Like the chorus in a Greek drama, five or six Creve Coeur airport bums are usually close at hand to comment on events and accept compliments from visitors. They know they are lucky. They nearly lost the airport, and that brush with disaster undoubtedly brought them closer together. Unfortunately, another pair of tragedies brought them closer still.
Talk to folks at Creve Coeur for a few minutes, and inevitably somebody will mention Bud Dake. For a man who, his friends say, spoke so little, Dake had a tremendous impact. He was one of the first, there in the early days with Jack Oonk, and he was one of the gurus: Everybody at Creve Coeur learned something about airplanes from Bud Dake. Dake flew Monocoupes and said to an Air & Space/Smithsonian reporter the year before he died: "It's like Ford or Chevrolet. You decide which one you like and you stick with it."
Dake crashed in a Monocoupe on a fine Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2004; he and his friend Kenny Love were both killed.
Not three weeks after Dake's death, Creve Coeur suffered another shock. John Mullen died. The coroner reported that he had been poisoned with arsenic. The crime remains unsolved.
"We all felt like we'd been hit in the stomach," says Don Parsons, a corporate pilot who spends every weekend ("every chance I get") at the airport. "We just couldn't breathe."
In addition to having secured Creve Coeur its reliever designation, Mullen started a project at the airport that everybody felt a little pride in: Where else but at Creve Coeur would you find a 1929 Zenith Z6a being restored? A six-passenger biplane that Mullen bought at an auction in 1986, the Zenith was built at a time when every town seemed to have an airplane manufacturer; this one was in Midway City, California, and it stayed in business long enough to build seven airplanes.
Glenn Peck, who restored the aircraft for Mullen (he had worked on it for eight years and had finished its taxi tests just before Mullen died), believes the Zenith is airplane no. 3, one of two purchased by Bennett Air Transport of Boise, Idaho, and used to haul freight.