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Learning to fly at Clark Field in Putnam County

Oct. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Yes, Virginia, it is true there was once an airfield in Putnam County, Clark Field, owned and operated by Glen T. Clark, one of the pioneers of aviation in the Kanawha Valley. It was located a few hundred yards north or down river from where the I-64 bridge crosses from Nitro into Teays Valley.

Speaking of Teays Valley, as far as I know and have been able to find out, there is no town, village or post office called Teays Valley. The best information I have from the geologists tells us that many years ago the Teays River that flowed through all the area called Teays Valley went underground.

When I was a student at Marshall, I looked at the large topographical display of Teays Valley. It showed the Teays River running north of Columbus, Ohio and then turning west and flowing west through northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and emptying into the Mississippi River.

The highway signs seem to be to be incorrect pointing out that its three miles to Teays Valley when you are already in Teays Valley. South of Columbus, there is a large sign pointing east that reads, "Five Miles to Teays Valley High School."

Shirley Stocks, wife of Jim Stocks of "Delicious Barbecue Fame" sent the following information to me.

"This happened in the early fall of 1947. We remember this because my brother, Harold Ray Anderson, was still in Winfield High School.

"Since we lived across the road from the airport, we learned the sounds of the plane's engines. This time it was the same engine as it circled the field many times. The pilot realized he didn't have enough fuel to reach his destination and wanted to burn up the excess fuel before he attempted to land.

"While he was circling the field, it become dark and he was attempting a landing coming toward the southern end of the field. There was a red light that he thought marked the beginning of the field, but was instead a light that marked a bend in the river and was a signal for boats. As he began his descent, the tip of his wing hit a treetop and flipped the plane over into the house of David Craft.

"My brother, a first cousin and I had been watching the plane circle and they were at the crash site in minutes after it hit. A fire started in the plane's engine but the boys beat it out with their hands. Two were killed instantly. The third man was out walking around after the crash. He died later of tetanus because he was not given a shot after the accident.

"When Mr. Craft, who died at 99, returned home from church, he not only found a plane on top of his house, but a plane engine in the middle of his bed."

Glen T. Clark, also known for his seaplane base on the Kanawha River, was killed doing what he loved best - flying.

The stories of Putnam County are filled with a rich history.

Bill Ellis is a syndicated columnist who can be reached at P.O. Box 345, Scott Depot, WV 25560; phone 304-757-6089.