|"Fish" Hassell, 1970.|
In the early fall of 1915, Ray Morris came thru Chicago on his way to the Curtiss Co. in Buffalo. When he saw the crate I was flying, he was quite perturbed. A week later, he had the Curtiss Co. wire me an offer as instructor on the Curtiss F-Boat at Buffalo. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Wish I could remember the salary I received.
We flew the boat from the hangar on the lake using a long, rough ramp. We turned the boat in the hangar by hand. My first students were Al Johnson and Fish Hassell.
Fish was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, the son of Ellis and Elizabeth Hassell. For a time, he was sent to a school to study for the ministry. But that didn't take. After leaving Rutgers University, he decided on an aviation career and took flying lessons from Glenn Curtiss in Hammondsport, N.Y.
On June 15, he soloed and immediately entered into barnstorming. A fancier of Seaplanes, Hassell while flying one over Reed's Lake near Grand Rapids, suddenly lost his power and wound up in the drink. That incident gave him the nickname "Fish", a name that still holds to this day.
When the United States entered the war, he became a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps. Here he was made a flight instructor and taught many of our overseas combat pilots to fly.
After the war, Hassell went barstorming again, and for a time worked for the U.S. postal system. During this time, his great dream of flying the great circle course to Europe was developing. He wrote voluminous articles and a book, "The Hiking Viking", in which he pointed out the advantage of such a route.
The people of Rockford, Illinois became interested and decided to back his scheme. A Stinson Detroiter monoplane was obtained and planning of the flight began. As his co-pilot and navigator, Hassell selected Parker "Shorty" Cramer, and together they began making test flights in the vicinity of Rockford. They set the date for the take-off as July 26, 1928. When the appointed time arrived, they took off with the crowd cheering. But the fuel load proved too heavy and they wound up in a corn field west of the river.
After repairing the plane, they again took off on August 16, 1928 and headed for their first scheduled refueling stop, a base on the Sondre Stromfjord in south-west Greenland. After twenty hours in the air, they failed to find the base and were forced to make an emergency landing. The two adventurers set out to walk to the base. Fourteen days later, they encountered a group of Eskimos who brought them into the camp, just as they were about to be given up for lost.
From the base, they worked their way to Holstenborg, on the coast where they got passage on a tramp steamer to Europe. From there, they made their way back to the United States and Rockford.
Robert Carlin, district manager of National Airlines in Houston, an aviation buff and a native of Rockford, started a crusade to bring the plane back to Rockford. The Hassell family joined in. Parker Cramer, in the meantime, had lost his life in another exploring adventure.
On September 11, a Sikorsky helicopter lifted the "Greater Rockford" from its resting place. Unfortunately, however, the first step proved to be the easiest. As the Hassell-Cramer flight was not a military one, there was reluctance to place the now disassembled plane in the belly of a big transport plane and return it to the United States. Finally, arrangements were made with a private aircraft leasing company, and the flight was made. On June 17, 1969, the "Greater Rockford" came home.
"Fish" or B. R. J. Hassell died in 1974. He was an original member of the Early Birds of Aviation.
The Official Publication of the EARLY BIRDS OF AVIATION, INC.
Just today, January 11, I learned that the Greater Rockford plane has been restored and is on exhibit at the Midway Village & Museum in Rockford, IL. I had sent an inquiry to the Greater Rockford Airport Authority which was answered by Franz Olson, Properties Manager at the Greater rockford Airport Authority. Here is his response to my email inquiry:
As a long-time airport employee I vividly recall the aircraft remains being stored in a warehouse at the Greater Rockford Airport for a number of years. The aircraft remains were sent on for restoration and the complete airplane is on static display at Midway Village Museum located in Rockford, IL. You can probably contact the Rockford Park District at (815) 987-8800 for additional information. Hopefully I have been of some assistance?
Greater Rockford Airport Authority
Just to add to the end of the story, the Greater Rockford is located at the Midway Village Museum. The Aviation Gallery was opened to the public in 1988 and the plane became the highlight of the gallery.
Maralyn Kloweit, Midway Village & Museum
Midway Village & Museum
6799 Guilford Road Rockford, IL 61107
Phone: (815) 397-9112/ FAX (815) 397-9156
Open Monday through Friday, 10:00a.m. - 5:00p.m.
April through October, the hours are extended to weekends 12:00 noon - 5:00 p.m.
Admission: $5 adults, $3 Youth 3-15 years
Reserved group tours available year-round.
E-mail to Midway Village & Museum