AERIAL RESCUE Antique plane salvaged



June 19, 2013 - 12:00 AM

The skeleton of an airplane constructed in the loft of the old Iola Planing Mill, 404 North St., took flight — after a fashion — for the first time ever Tuesday evening.
The plane was constructed in 1929 by Iolans Wayne Jeffers and Melvin Burns, complete with wings made of spruce and delicate thin spruce ribs carefully tied with thread to the fuselage of tubing. It was a four-seat monoplane with a 44-foot wingspan.
Otis Ayling owned the mill — many cabinets in older Iola homes have his stamp on them — and Jeffers was his brother-in-law, which led them to use the loft.
For whatever reason, the plane never budged from the loft. It’s likely Wall Street’s crash and the beginning of the Great Depression in the fall of 1929 turned the men’s attention elsewhere.
During the 1930s Ayling and others scrounged for whatever work they could find to survive, forcing them to forego leisurely pursuits. The spruce wings disappeared — maybe to become parts of fine cabinets, or even for firewood.
Jeffers moved to California. When he retired and returned to Iola in 1972, the airplane was still in the loft, minus its wings. The engine and fuel tank also were gone.
It would have been a good airplane, Jeffers said, more than 40 years after he helped build it.

ITS REMOVAL from the mill loft came after Roberta Johnson, who bought the mill several years ago with late husband, Charlie, recently sold the mill to contractor Andy Beatty.
An aviation museum in Wichita and one in Iowa had heard of the plane and asked Johnson to donate it. She decided, with an offer from David Toland, that it should stay in Iola, which led to it seeing the light of day for the first time Tuesday evening.
Friends joined Toland in moving it through a door at the east end of the loft and into a scissors-bed truck provided by Ron Boring of Boring Roofing.
The task wasn’t overly difficult, with six people carrying the fuselage across the loft, but did involve having to twist and turn it a bit to get the front of the plane out and into the truck’s bed. Struts holding wheels, which were removed ahead of time, are seven feet wide; the opening about six.
With Jim Smith giving direction, the task was accomplished.
The plane, including the frame for its tail and several other parts taken from the fuselage, will be stored again in a building Toland owns. He hopes not for long.
“I’d like to find a place to display it in downtown Iola for everyone to see,” Toland said.
A roof top might be nice, or even a set of standards on the courthouse lawn that would have the plane swooping from the early days of aviation into modern times.

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