Skip to main content

Interview with Harmon and Harold Johnson

:: ::


Johnson, Harmon ; Johnson, Harold ; Wood, Wanda


Harmon and Harold Johnson describe learning to fly in the early 1930s under the direction of Edwin Link. They operated the Chenango Bridge Airport. They discuss the requirements for licensing, and progressing to commercial, transport, and instructor's ratings. The brothers also discuss various aircrafts they have flown, working as pilots for corporate businesses, and how post WWII affected their operation. They operated a dealerships for Aeronca and Piper airplanes. They talk about changes in flying school, air shows and stunt pilots who visited Chenango Bridge, and how the airport's usefulness has declined due to modern developments in aviation.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


44:31 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Harmon and Harold Johnson

Interviewed by: Wanda Wood

Date of interview: 31 January 1978

Wanda: This is Wanda Wood interviewing Harmon and Harold Johnson on Airport Road in Chenango Bridge, and the date is the thirty-first of January, 1978. Now, you Johnson brothers have operated the Chenango Bridge Airport since the mid-thirties, and we'd like to know a little something about the history of the operation or any remembrances that you have which you'd like to put down on this tape. So who wants to start first?
Harmon: I'll say that I got the flying bug in about 1930. I went for a ride in a an old Tri-motor Ford at the old Bennett Airport, and from then on decided flying was for me and a I saved my money and in 1932 learned to fly with Ed Link at the old Bennett Airport. He had a school there, I soloed out in about the first of May and got a private license in June. At that time it only took ten hours to get a license and the inspector never rode with you. He stood on the ground and watched you. I think he was afraid to ride with you. We didn't have that much time.
Wanda: [laughter] That's funny.
Harmon: Ah, only a joke, I guess, but, ah…they didn't ride with you. They stood on the ground and watched you. After that I flew along with Ed's airplane and got a limited commercial license, and then a couple of years later Harold and I went—my brother and I went in together and bought an airplane, and we brought it up to the Chenango Bridge Airport. There we carried a lot of passengers. Everybody wanted to ride, and we'd take 'em. I guess a dollar a head. Two at a time. They had the Italian field day over here at the old airport and when they had that these people would come from all over—like a big fair. We'd carry a lot of people—just ride around the field.
Wanda: Italian field day here, at this airport?
Harmon: Yeah. Umhmm.
Harold: They'd have them across the river sometimes, too—
Harmon: After that.
Harold: —in the pasture there. It was like an island over there they used to have.
Wanda: So then, Harold. You started to…fly?
Harold: Yeah, I learned to fly on the old American Eagle biplane that we bought together in partnership. My dad helped us out. We didn't have money enough to buy it, so we—the three of us went in. Gave him his money back when we sold it.
Harmon: Well I'd say this. We paid $600.00 for it, which was a lot of money then.
Harold: I'd forgotten what we paid for it.
Harmon: $600.00. Two hundred apiece.
Harold: I learned to fly in that and soloed it, and took a private flight test. And I—the inspector came in to Endicott and I went down to take the flight test on that airplane to get a private license and I came in and he was riding with me. He thought I was too high to shoot for a spot-landing on the airport. He grabbed it away from me and slipped it. And I had to put the power right back on, and drag it in because it was gonna hit short of the field, you know. The inspector did that. I always remember that. He slipped it too much. It was down a hundred feet short of the end of the runway if I hadn't dragged it down, but he just laughed. He didn't say nothing. Gave me my license. I met that guy in Washington. Down there when I was flying in there for some—probably E.J. or somebody at Washington International Airport, and the guy came walking out and wanted to know if I was Johnson from Binghamton and talked with me for a while. He was one of the wheels in the F.A.A. at that time.
Wanda: Oh, he went up the line.
Harold: He's probably retired by now. Maybe he's dead, I don't know, but that was a good many years ago. I got the—I went about a year using a private license. I got the transport in ‘37. That was after we had our C-3 Aeronca. I took that to Ithaca for my transport license.
Wanda: Oh yes, we want to put in here about some of the a—different planes that you've handled and owned and so forth here at Chenango Bridge.
Harmon: We started out with the old Eagle and we sold that. Or Harold started out, actually—I'll take that back. After we sold the Eagle you bought the C-3 Aeronca,didn't you?
Harold: The old Razorback.
Harmon: On your own. I didn't have any money.
Harold: That was about a 1930 or '31 model airplane.
Harmon: And didn't have it any length of time at all and lost it in the fire over here—it burned up.
Harold: Probably six months or something like that.
Harmon: Yeah, we lost it. And then we went back together and Jesse Haskell, who was the owner of the airport, said, “If someone wants to fly, I'll build them a hangar.” So he knocked together a little 2x4 hangar out there—a cheap thing.
Harold: For one airplane. Cheap.
Harmon: For one little airplane.
Wanda: Oh.
Harmon: And nailed some contact supports together and that's—about what it was, a real cheap-built thing. And we started out then teaching students to fly on our C-3 Aeronca. Later on, we got the Aeronca dealership for the Aeronca K, which wasn't much of an airplane. And they changed over in a couple of years and came out with the Aeronca, what they called the Aeronca Chief, which was a good little airplane in its day. It was hard to beat. It was very comfortable riding, very quiet, and good performance for the horsepower that was on it.
Wanda: And you paid how much for the first Aeronca Chief?
Harmon: First Aeronca Chief was right around fifteen hundred—fifteen-fifty or something like that, if I recall.
Wanda: And what are they now?
Harmon: Today if that airplane was built, being built today, would be right around $10,000.00, just about.
Wanda: Mmm.
Harmon: Maybe even more than that. Maybe twelve?
Wanda: So you had dealerships with the Aeronca and the—what's the other one?
Harmon: Piper.
Wanda: Piper. And then a—how about the students and the teaching part of it? You both were—have been instructors all this time.
Harmon: Yes. We got commercial licenses that you have to have to have an instructor's rating and got our instructor's rating as we went along. And, uh, taught for many years. Seems like we always had about all the students we could carry. And I worked a lot of the time at another job, and was always kept pretty busy.
Harold: Before we built that office building that's there now, we had a little shack out in back of there for an office. It had a phone in it and a little stove in it and a desk in it and Doris worked there. But we had appointments so far ahead that... There was so many students wanted to fly. You couldn't take care of them, you know. If you wanted a half-hour on a weekend you'd have to book it at least two weeks ahead. To get in a half-hour lesson.
Harmon: And the weather was against us too, of course. We couldn't fly students when the weather was bad, and this really pushed them in together and—
Harold: Them old airplanes was awful light, you know. You couldn't fly with very much wind with them, with a student. They flobbed around a lot. They was real light airplanes.
Wanda: I want to say I admire you for flying with students anyway. There's a certain amount of risk involved there, isn't there?
Harmon: Oh there's bound to be. Even if you don't get rattled, and stay with it while you're in trouble.
Wanda: And this was mostly during, after the War that you were so busy?
Harmon: Yes. Before the War and right up through the War and on beyond the end of it. And then as the economy—after the War everything let down, if you remember right, and—
Harold: About '48 it started lettin'—
Harmon: '48 it gradually went down. About '50 it was really bad and so I left. I couldn't make a living anymore and I left and went in industry and stayed there until I retired. And we ran the airport as a sideline after Harold left, about 1957 or '58. I continued on with three airplanes. Two Tri-pacers and an Aeronca Champ and it got too much for me. As I stayed and my duties got greater and greater and I got into supervision and I just couldn't handle so much. And I was getting older, too. So I sold one airplane after another and finally wound up with just one airplane that I've run now for the last ten or twelve years. And now I'm down to no students at all and my own airplane. I keep still, a lot of other people's airplanes. Still run the airplane, airport. Mow a lot of grass and plow an awful lot of snow—boy. For nothing, I guess.
Wanda: And Harold, you, you tell a little about when you—a—flew for Endicott-Johnson.
Harold: Yes. After things got quiet here, in order to help out, I, I flew for G.A.F. for about four or five years. That was just on a monthly retainer. I'd fly when they wanted me to. Sometimes I didn't hear from them for a month and then sometimes I'd make a trip to California and back with their airplane. They had two—a Beach Bonanza and a 180-Cessna. At other times they had Tri-pacers, different things I flew for them, but they kept those two for a long time. Then E.J.’s—Asa Dodge was the pilot for E.J.’s.
Wanda: Asa Dodge?
Harold: Yeah, and we knew him well—in fact I'd given him some dual years ago. And he was a—he'd been flying for several years for E.J.’s different airplanes. They bought a brand new Aero-Commander-680 with $20,000.00 worth of electronic gear in it. In them days, that was a lot. And they wanted to have two pilots. So I was, I left G.A.F. and went to work for them full time.
Wanda: And you're a—are you teaching now at all?
Harold: Hmm?
Wanda: Are you teaching now at all?
Harold: No. I haven't done any flying in ten years.
Wanda: ls that a fact?
Harmon: I've told him, "Hey, come around and fly my Tri-pacer,” but [he] don't want to do it.
Harold: If I could afford a nice twin-engine airplane like a new Aztec or something like that for myself, and afford to operate it, I'd have one and fly it.
Wanda: Yes.
Harold: But, ah…I'm not much interested in flying little machines around locally. I did that too much. Many thousands of hours of it.
Wanda: How many hours do you suppose you, both of you have got logged in this?
Harold: I don't know. Got twenty-some thousand—I don't know what it was.
Harmon: I have logged around ten-thousand and have flown probably many more than that I never logged.
Wanda: Yes.
Harmon: For years, I never bothered with log. Too much of a nuisance to make out a log book, I guess. At the end of the day you're tired out, 'n’ you go home…forget it.
Harold: Yes, for the first ten-thousand I logged most all the time. Where if I didn't, my wife did it for me. She kept it up, you know.Then hit and miss. When I'd work for E.J.’s we had to—we had time to go to the airplanes, and the same way with G.A.F., they had to have the time, you know, but just—flyin' over here and half the time I didn't bother to log it.
Wanda: And, and you've always done your, your own maintenance on these planes?
Harmon: Pretty much, yes.
Harold: When we weren't flying in the wintertime that's how we got by. We used to build airplanes for other people. We used to build wrecks, and overhaul the engines, fix our own up too, during the wintertime get 'em ready for to keep them during the summer, you know? That was the idea. We had a heated shop, heated to a certain extent, enough so that we could work in it you know.We'd have sometimes two or three airplanes torn apart. I remember one guy that bought a wrecked airplane. He bought pieces here and there. Remember Eddie Walker? Harmon: Yeah.
Harold: He made an airplane out of it—and he flew it away. There was some pieces gone. I remember splicing wood spars that was broke right off—splice 'em and glue 'em, you know, clear 'em all up, get them inspected—flew 'em that way. We had the tail end off one airplane, and the front end off another, but as long as we could get 'em and make 'em fly—
Harmon: The F.A.A. came in, you know. We had to take the airplane to the F.A.A. inspector and have it inspected by them. And they would approve it—
Harold: They had to inspect it before, before it was covered, though, you know. Inside and then afterwards and—
Harmon: We'd have to contact them, and they came here to the airport and checked—looked them over, and OK, and then we could cover them.
Wanda: Mmm. There's probably a lot more rules and regulations than a—when you first started out.
Harmon: Oh, it's terrible anymore.
Wanda: Anything interesting there?
Harmon: Anymore there's so many rules and regulations that the F.A.A. themselves don't know. They gotta go get the book and get it out and read the book on it. You couldn’t possibly remember them all. No way. It's got to be the most complicated thing that ever was, in my book.
Harold: In fact, now I'm miles behind on the regulations. I don't even try to keep up with them. After ten years, the heck with it.
Harmon: I'm sure a lot of it I'm not up on, but I, I go to school every two years ah—to a refresher—three days—24 hours of classroom and get my instructor's rating renewed and that—updates me again, to a certain extent, but I guess nobody can remember all the regs that you've got today.
Harold: Requirements for a license have changed a tremendous amount since we learned to fly.
Wanda: What were the requirements when you first flew?
Harmon: In fact, that only—we had to have ten hours to be able to fly around the patch and that was it.
Harold: You could carry passengers.
Harmon: Yeah. They stood on the ground and watched ya. You took a little written test on the rules and regulations. Ten questions, practically nothing to it, and the—
Harold: Write them out with pencil, and throw it away.
Harmon: The inspector told you whether you passed that or not, and then he stood on the ground and watched ya. And you went out and did some—figure eights or—I took—I went down to the old Bennett Airport to take my flight test and the guy had, he busted the airplane. He landed so hard, it…that it had spread the landing gear, distorted th—some of the tubing on the bottom side—we couldn't fly it anymore. So my instructor said, "C 'mon, we’ll go to Tri-cities and catch the inspector. He's down there—or he's going there. We'll catch him this afternoon and get you a flight test on another airplane." Which I'd never flown. A pusher-type airplane, Curtis Pusher. So he checked me out in the airplane and we went down there and he let me go in that airplane, and I flew it around the patch and made a few landings and done some turns around the water tower there, where the railroad track went through and they had a little stop there where they put on water. I turned around that tank and something else and came back and landed and he gave me my license. Next day, I took you for a ride. [laughter]
Harold: That's the only time I ever flew out of that field down there. I flew with him.
Wanda: And that was the Tri-Cities Field—the old Tri-Cities Airport that you’re telling about?
Harold: They didn't call it “Tri-Cities” at that time.
Harmon: It was known as Endicott Airport.
Harold: It was Endicott Airport at that time. It was right along the road—by the—between the Main Street and the railroad tracks on the west side of Endicott.
Harmon: The Endicott owned it by themselves. Johnson City and Binghamton were not in on it. It was just Endicott Airport period. Then when they moved to where they are now, some years later—
Harold: There was no true runway or anything. It was just a field, you know, just a grass field is all.
Harmon: At that time they didn't do any flyin’—they didn't plow the runways or nothing—they just forgot it.
Harold: Most airplanes was open airplanes then, you couldn't fly much in the winter anyway—couldn't stand it. They closed 'em.
Wanda: Have you ever done any chartering flights?
Harmon: Yes. When we were at the airport full time makin' a living, we bought ourselves a nice Stinson. We bought it from Dr. Moore in Endicott. It was almost new. It was $3,000. We did a lot of charter work with that airplane.
Harold: We lost that in the fire.
Wanda: Mmm.
Harmon: Yeah, we failed to say that in nineteen fifty—five? Coulda been right—we burned out over here.
Harold: Four.
Harmon: Fifty-four. We burned out over here and lost—practically everything we had. We had no insurance.
Harold: Labor Day weekend.
Harmon: We don't know actually what caused the fire, but there was a man there working on his air lane and he started it somehow. He never would say and we never made him. Smoking or with a, not covering a light bulb. So we started up again, with one little airplane, built it up again to where I had three airplanes and did—a lot of students then but it got too heavy for me with my job. And I wasn't about to quit a pretty good job and try to make a livin' flyin' again. Not off that airport anyway, so—gradually sold them off to one.
Wanda: This airport, after it started in 1923, it was—there was a lot of activity here, wasn't there?
Harmon: Yes. As I remember it being a kid coming up here, at times when they had the—like the Ford Air Show and the fly-ins, there was a lot of activity there. And they did a lot of charter work with those old airplanes out of here. I've heard Mr. Haskell, who is long deceased, tell about it. And they were actually good pilots in those days. They had some pretty good airplanes, too. Some of the business men of the area, of Chenango Bridge and Port Crane, put the money in the field and a—do you remember the names?
Harold: Macomber was one of them.
Wanda: Yeah, Theodore Macomber.
Harmon: And there was another one—
Harold: There was a fellow by the name of Rowe, R-O-W-E. Carl Rowe.
Harmon: He was manager of the airport.
Harold: He run the—he was the instigator of it, really.
Harmon: And there was a man from Sanitaria Springs who had a lot of money, a lumber dealer.
Wanda: Cushman, was it?
Harmon: I believe so. Something like that. If it wasn't his name, it was something like it. Used to hear Mr. Haskell—
Harold: I don't remember that one.
Harmon: —tell us about him, tell his name.
Harold: Do you remember Myron Baird?
Harmon: Yeah.
Wanda: Well what were some of the other activities that you remember about—any special stories you want to tell about it?
Harold: You didn't get about Ed Link's flying signs on there, probably.
Wanda: No. Let's do that. You said he had a—designed a—an advertising sign that—
Harold: A—he'd a—dreamed it up and made, on a high-wing airplane he made a low wing out of square frames, about 8 or 9 or 10 of 'em. Each one would make a letter. And he used a paper roller out of his player piano. He was in the player piano business, his father was, Link pianos they made. He had the holes in that paper set up so that it would make a sign light up any letters that he wanted on it. He'd fly around at night and it would light up. I remember he had a contract with Spaulding's. He had enough letters to make the word SPAULDING across it. He'd light up SPAULDING, when it would go off he'd light up CAKE, go off and he'd light up CRULLERS, and go off. And he’d fly low over the city, see? And he took contracts in Cortland and Syracuse, and Philadelphia, and all around the country. I don't know if he had one for New York or not. But he had three of those airplanes fixed up that way at different times. That's what he was doin' for, for an income.
Wanda: Is that right?
Harold: The piano business was pretty bad. They gradually closed it up, but then he dreamed up the Link trainer which was half a player piano too. He invented that. Had the bellows that they used out of player pianos. Some bellows that moved different things—he had 'em to push the trainers around. That's what moved them around. He used a vacuum pump with suction and pressure to push them trainers.
Harmon: When I learned to fly with Link he still had the piano factory down on Water Street and in this factory he had a room set up where he had ground school. And two of the trainers that he'd built. And they looked a little bit like an airplane. They had wings on 'em and a little fuselage, tail assembly. All worked, and before we soloed out we had to have time in those trainers. And I had so much on the instrument trainer, so much on the—we called it the “bump” trainer. You'd get in and turn it on. It would sit there for a second or two and then it would dive off one way and you had to correct, and on the wall he had a light. And on the nose of the trainer was a—tatting [sic]—what would you call it?
Harold: Gun sight. A gun sight.
Harmon: Yeah, like a gun sight, or a ring. And you'd look through that ring at that light and keep it in the light. And it would duck off sideways and you'd control it and bring it back and this was how you—it helped you to control an airplane after you got in the air.
Harold: You were fightin' rough air to keep this thing on the target.
Wanda: Well was it essentially the same feeling that you had in a plane?
Harmon: A little bit. Yes. It helped. It…it did.
Harold: The nose went up or down and the wings went up or down. It rocked both ways on both axles. And turned also—three axles.
Harmon: But it was from the pianos that he designed this. And this—like Harold said—later on was the C-3 'blue box' as the military called it, and they built a tremendous amount of 'em for all the countries in the world used them, that were in the War.
Harold: They put a hood over the thing so you couldn't see out, with instruments in it. Simulated instruments.
Harmon: I'm pretty sure, certain it was before World War II that Ed Link and his wife went to Japan and the Japs bought some of them.
Harold: Yeah, they bought two or three of them. Herb Chamberlain went over there.
Wanda: Might have had a pretty good market over there.
Harold: It's just hearsay, but they said Herb Chamberlain went over there and the Japs had taken one of them trainers completely apart—every piece out of it, and they couldn't get it back together again. He went over there and worked on it to get it, to get to work again.
Wanda: We could have lost the War. Did he make some of those early trainers in Cortland, did you say?
Harmon: Yes. He sort of got disenchanted I think, with the city of Binghamton. They gave him a rough time, this area did. Mobil Oil was one of them. He wouldn't buy Mobil no how, for many, many years, because they gave him a rough time. I guess he owed them some money, couldn't pay it and they wouldn't go along with him. But anyway he left here, went to Cortland and was up there several years. He left this area while I was learning to fly and I followed him to Cortland and drove up there and flew his airplane for two or three years in completing what education I got from Link's school. And a—while there he progressed rapidly as we moved into World War Il and made many many trainers there and probably got his first financial footing there. Got really started there. Then—
Harold: He moved back down here on the corner of Gaines and Front Street.
Wanda: Gaines?
Harold: Yeah, on the corner of Gaines St. and Front St. He had that factory in there and that was about—just before the War and they had a big contract. That Casey Jones in New York was involved in it. Sold them a military contract and they were instrument trainers. They were all instrument trainers, nothing else. They made a lot of improvements. They had a fellow by the name of Lokrantz. Gunnie Lokrantz was an electronics wizard and he was from I.B.M., but Link hired him and he had a lot to do with it. I used to go down there nights. I was a sign painter and I lettered their crates for them. Ship them all over the world. He had me put the letters on the crates by hand, you know, to send them out. They had big wood boxes, like piano boxes you know? Big ones with parts of the trainer in 'em.
Harmon: That was the old Red Dot cigar factory on the corner.
Wanda: Corner of Gaines and Front.
Harmon: There's a bar and grill or something in now—now Front St. is off—you couldn't go that way. He moved from there over in—I guess it was the Hubbard, Eldridge and Miller furniture factory. Over on the Brandywine dump. It was built where the dump was or after the dump was in there. It used to go down through the hollow there across the creek and over to that factory. And it was a large flat brick building and he moved into that from Gaines St. and then from there he moved on up to the old—truck factory down here. Larrabee Truck in Hillcrest.
Wanda: Oh, that's where Larrabee Truck was.
Harold: I remember when they built Larrabee trucks there. I remember seein' 'em. They weren't much good, but they built quite a lot of them.
Harmon: Well. We say they weren't much good, but for their day, they were…they—
Harold: They had a chain drive on the rear wheel, some of 'em did. Chains—like a bicycle chain only a big one—on the side, you know? Sprockets on 'em.
Gwenn [Mrs. Harmon Johnson]: Isn't that one sitting down here on the Brandywine?
Harmon: No, that's a Lynn. That's a crawler-type truck. It has crawlers on the back and a—wheels in front. Lynn Tractor of Morris.
Harold: World War II vintage, or something like that.
Harmon: Lynn Tractor built quite a few of those in World War II and then they stopped.
Wanda: Well then, to get back to this airport, have you covered just about everything on activities that went on around here? Do you remember any of the show pilots or stunt pilots, and that sort of thing? Can you speak about the Waco—that was Waco Taperwing?
Harold: That Taperwing? Cy Bittner was traveling around the country with that one to all the air shows.
Harmon: He was the airline’s pilot—or airmail pilot. Airlines weren't flying yet. He was the airmail pilot and he worked out of Albany. And on his time off he used to go around the country to the air shows doing aerobatics and he had this airplane all fixed up with chrome wires and real fancy. He was an expert pilot. He was—finished himself off long ago.
Harold: There's some more of them pilots used to come here. I can't remember their names. I remember that one—with Harold Johnson with the Tri-motor Ford, that I saw perform in Syracuse, but—
Wanda: Did you say something about Roscoe Turner—being here?
Harmon: Yes. Back prior to our being over at the airport and I was up here on a bicycle, I guess—I was not old enough to even fly yet—they had the Ford Air Tour went across the nation. And it stopped at Chenango Bridge Airport. And it's possible at that time it was called the Binghamton Airport—
Harold: Yeah, it was.
Harmon: —because there was no airport at Bennett Airport or Tri-Cities either, this was it. It was the first airport around here. And a, Roscoe Turner was in the group flying a Gee-Bee. All of their airplanes were designed to fly out of small airports. Today our airport is awfully small. For the airports, or airplanes that are built, built today, our airport is too small, for most of them. They need concrete runways and a lot of it.
Wanda: Yeah. How long are these runways now?
Harmon: Twenty-one fifty is our longest runway.
Wanda: Mmhmm. That's the East-West.
Harmon: Yeah.
Harold: You can't do much nowadays with less than Three-thousand or Thirty-five hundred. Minimum, ya know. That's what Tri-Cities is: Three-thousand. 3000.
Wanda: There's no way to expand here any more is there, either?
Harmon: No. It costs a lot of money. Unless you get Federal money or Federal help, it's pretty near impossible to run an airport today. Many, many little airports around the country are going by the wayside. They can't survive. Taxes are so high on the land and a—they get no help from anybody. It's open to the public but they don't want to put one dime in it, unless it's owned by the public. If it was a—a community-owned airport, like the—if Chenango Bridge or the town owned it, then you could get Federal aid.
Wanda: Yeah.
Harmon: But we can't have—get one dime. And, uh, now that we don't operate it commercially…why, it's almost impossible to make it run. My buildings are in bad shape. My equipment is old and I'm gettin' old.
Harold: Boy, how prices have changed on—like aviation gas.
Wanda: Oh, yeah?
Harold: Boy, we used to buy a barrel for what you can buy five gallons for now.
Wanda: Is that right?
Harold: Well, not quite that bad, but—
Wanda: The gasoline itself has changed a lot, probably, too.
Harold: Yeah. We used to buy an aviation-grade fuel. It came in steel, fifty-gallon barrels from Atlantic.
Harmon: About $10.00 a barrel.
Harold: $10.00 - $11.00 a barrel for 55 gallons. And it was very good gas, wasn't it?
Harmon: It was.
Harold: Never any water—I can't think what octane it was. Seems like it was 75, or something like that.
Harmon: It was low.
Harold: It was nothing like nowadays, but a, you could put your hand in it, take it out, it would dry it up white, right quick. Very volatile. It would evaporate fast, you know? Well we'd get it in fifty-gallon drums, and pour it through a chamois with a funnel into the airplane.
Wanda: Yeah.
Harold: Chance.
Harmon: Gasoline today I'm getting 87 cents over here and I'm under some of the other airports around. I guess I'm about 5 cents a gallon under.
Harold: Sure. I'm sure down around New York it would bring you a dollar a gallon for fuel.
Harmon: Today it's pretty close to that.
Wanda: Well, I'm trying to think what we haven't covered by now.
Harold: I remember that guy at Atlantic. He, he was the one—Ziegler was his name or something like that?
Harmon: Yeah?
Harold: He'd order up two or three barrels of gas for us. They'd keep sending it up by truck and he'd set 'em off, ya know. The old big steel barrels. They were galvanized, rounded barrels. They were not like these you see now, that are straight sides, you know. They used to be rounded like a—they were galvanized, they were heavy barrels. But they were a gasoline barrel. I remember being up in Canada with a Sea-Bee and having to go get me one of them with a station wagon and bring it in—hundreds of miles. Back in—
Wanda: Is that right?
Harold: —for gasoline for a Sea-Bee, you know.
Harmon: A good four place airplane today, equipped as it should be, minimum I'd call a good airplane about fifty-thousand. If you've really got the money you can go up—better than a hundred in a little four place airplane. So it's just got outta hand as far as the average man who is concerned to buy his airplane to fly unless it's business, something like that. And that's what the people that are doing most of the flying, I think, in buying airplanes today are small business or business people, because—they write that airplane off.
Wanda: There's—there's not the fun for young people, either, to go into it.
Harmon: No. No.
Harold: So many restrictions in flying now. You gotta have radio gear. You can't even go into Broome County without a radio, you know?
Wanda: Is that a fact?
Harold: You can't get to New York or Washington or Chicago any more without a lot of radio gear.
Wanda: When did you first start getting into the radio a—requirements? When did you—what kind of radio equipment did you—
Harold: World War II, they got some of it.
Wanda: Mm-hm.
Harold: And I was teaching instrument flying on Army and Air Force programs, and the radio was the old-fashioned, low frequency radio. They had a, a radio beam and you, you made instrument approaches and everything with it. That's what I was teaching, you know. After the War they came out with the new UHF, or VHF it was at first. The OMNI which is very popular yet today. There's a lot of big improvements in it, but. That static created—the old ones, when you had a thunder shower your radio went out, ya know. It was real crazy 'cause the static would just drive it right out if you had a thunder shower.
Harmon: A little trainer today, just coming out new by Piper and it looks like it was going to be pretty popular, two-place, one hundred and eight horsepower, low-wing, canopy top, nice visibility out of it, comfortable airplane to fly in—the minimum is $20,000.00.
Harold: Just a two-place.
Harmon: That's just two-place. And it's a very small airplane. Isn't fast. It isn't an airplane that you would buy to go somewhere with, it's strictly a training airplane. Or for someone to fly on Sunday or something if you want to go for a little ride around the airport. But to get up into a good four-place family airplane, fifty grand—about the cheapest.
Harold: In about 1954—ah—G.A.F. got a new Bonanza. It cost what—eleven or twelve thousand?
Harmon: Twelve thousand.
Harold: And it was a beautiful airplane. I flew it four hundred hours, something, for them. I remember a trip to Los Angeles and back with it, but that airplane, today, would be at least fifty-thousand, wouldn't it?
Harmon: Uh-uh. It's over a hundred. That airplane today is a hundred and nine thousand fully equipped. I've been reading about it recently.
Harold: It was listed like—twelve—thirteen thousand or something when they bought it. It was brand new, they got it from up there to Rochester from a dealer.
Harmon: So this is what's happened to the aviation industry.
Harold: It's priced itself off the market.
Wanda: Yeah, for a smaller operator like you are, you're just not going to be able to survive.
Harold: You can't do it. You, you can't—have a hundred-thousand dollar airplane and rent it out.
Wanda: Yeah. Just like everything else, it's getting too big.
Harmon: You’ve gotta be big business today to—to make a go and we have an example of that. A fellow in Endicott at Tri-Cities Airport was an engineer in IBM Owego. Got interested in flying, got all the licenses and so on. He left—got a leave of absence for the year from IBM. He got money to back him, they built a big hangar at Tri-Cities Airport, he's got a—is a Cessna dealer today. He's doing real well, but he deals in big airplanes. He sells to corporations around. I don't know how he does it, but he—he sold a twin-engine airplane to someone in Washington, D.C.—a brand new one, a 410-Cessna, which runs $300,000.
Harold: He's making it in sales, not the operation.
Harmon: Right. He's not making it on the operating, strictly sales. He's a salesman, he's got people working for him and somehow he sells airplanes.
Harold: An outfit in Reading there, did that and did real well. They—two brothers and I used to know 'em.
Wanda: You—you a—rent space in your hangar now?
Harmon: Yes. I have ten airplanes on the field, counting my own, and this is how it keeps running.
Wanda: Yeah.
Harmon: If it wasn't for the hangar rent and the little sale of gasoline and so on it would fold up, and Haskell's would plant corn there.
Wanda: Yeah.
Harmon: I have to give Haskell's, of course, more than half of what I take in and I—what's left over, it's pretty hard to make the thing run on that. I have to maintain the buildings and a they don't touch it.
Wanda: Mmm. The overhead and all that is your responsibility. Well, I would hate terribly to see the Chenango Bridge Airport go out of business. It's been a landmark for a long time.
Harmon: It's been here a long time, and ah—
Harold: Sooner or later it's bound to happen.
Harmon: Its days are numbered, I'm sure. As we know, Haskell's gave up the retail milk business this year. OK, how long they'll stay at the wholesale, let's call it, that they're in now, no one knows. Ah. They get pretty discouraged and I'm sure all farmers do and have over the years, as anybody else in business does, but a—who knows how long it lasts? Maybe I’ll give up before they do. I don't know. I get pretty exasperated, too, trying to run the place and—
Harold: You don't make any money on it and it's foolish to be tied up to it.
Harmon: We do an awful lot of work for nothing, you know, for that thing.
Gwenn: Find time to go fishing spring and fall.
Wanda: Right. But go by plane and enjoy that part of it anyway. Well, I want to thank you.
Harold: You and Charlie don't go on fishing trips, do you?
Wanda: Not much anymore but I—we're just about of time here.
Harold: I just brought some pictures over to show Harm.
Wanda: I want to thank you very much, and for your hospitality, and I hope we can maybe do this again.

Date of Interview



Wood, Wanda


Johnson, Harmon; Johnson, Harold


44:31 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Johnson, Harmon -- Interviews; Johnson, Harold -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Aeronautics; Chenango Bridge (N.Y.); Link, Edwin A. (Edwin Albert), 1904-1981; Airplanes; Air pilots -- Interviews; Link Aviation; Chenango Bridge Airport

Rights Statement

This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



Item Information

About this Collection

Collection Description

The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

Link to Collection Overview

Link to Browse Collection Items


“Interview with Harmon and Harold Johnson,” Digital Collections, accessed December 6, 2023,