"" Writer's Wanderings: Island Airlines - The Ford Tri-motor Remembered

Monday, July 11, 2011

Island Airlines - The Ford Tri-motor Remembered

A deep rumble permeates the plane and its passengers as they taxi to the end of the airstrip. A pause. A turn. The pilot, Harold Hauck, looks back at his passengers, grins, and then turns to the controls as the Ford Tri-motor he pilots gallops down the runway and finally lifts into the air. It is a thrill I fondly remember from my youth in the late 50s and 60s as my family made our weekly visit to their vacation home on South Bass Island in Lake Erie.

The Ford Tri-motor, or the Tin Goose as it was nicknamed, was a major mode of transportation for the Island Airlines of Port Clinton, Ohio, for over 50 years. At one time I believe they owned three. It carried passengers and cargo to the Lake Erie Islands of South Bass, Middle Bass, North Bass, and Rattlesnake. In the winter, it was the only means of public transportation to the islands and was used as a “school bus” for the children on the outer islands who attended school at Put-In-Bay or Port Clinton on the mainland.

My very first plane ride was in the Tin Goose whose corrugated metal sides shone brightly in the sun. The Goose had room for two pilots and seventeen passengers who sat on small metal seats padded lightly with vinyl cushions. The back of the metal seat barely made it to the small of an adult’s back (the restored version appears to have much more comfortable seats) and most hunched forward to look out the windows as the plane flew its scenic route. Often cargo was stacked on one side of the plane, passengers sat on the other and when the plane banked, hands would go up to be sure the cargo stayed in place.

The most exciting trip for me came later when my husband and I hitched a ride on the mail route on the Tri-motor. We lifted off and touched down at each of the islands where mail pouches were exchanged. Landing and take-off at Rattlesnake Island was as exciting as any amusement park ride could be. The airstrip was cut across the little island and the pilot had to judge his landing quickly at the start of the runway so that he had enough distance to brake and turn before falling off the cliff at the other end. Take off was equally exciting as the plane gunned engines at one end of the runway and took off with a burst of “speed” while everyone held their breath to see if we could lift off before reaching the lake on the other side.

There were only two crashes that I know of in the islands. One took place on Kellys Island in 1954 and the other at Port Clinton in 1972. The pieces-parts of the Island Airlines Tri-motors are shown here in a series of photographs taken in Vicksburg, Michigan, where the plane was being restored.

There is a restored Tri-motor that tours in the summer and offers rides. What a privilege we had to ride at a $5-10 rate when we were kids. Fond memories.


Anonymous said...

After WWII, I worked for a contractor doing masonry work on South Bass Island in 1946. That is Put-In-Bay. The air transportation was Island Airways that flew Ford Tri-Motors. It was fly from the Port Clinton Airport or take the Neuman boats out of Sandusky. Either way was a thrill but the Tri-Motor was the greatest. The Port Clinton Airport was home base to the shortest scheduled airline in the world. They had vintage Fords that had seen lots of service in South America and were brought back to Port Clinton to serve as parts reserve to keep the Tin Gooses flying. Great Memories.
Gus Metz, now of Point Texas.

Wandering Writer said...

Thanks for the extra insight, Gus. My dad built our house their around 1958 and today my brother lives there and is enjoying the island. The last of his kids graduated this year from PIB school. Big class of 13.

Anonymous said...

My first husband was one of the Tri Motor pilots from 3/1969-9/1971. I loved the stories he would come home and tell me, especially about landing on Rattlesnake Island. I enjoyed flying on those old planes. It was exciting then and is a happy memory now.
from Tucson, Az.

Wandering Writer said...

Pat, So glad you had an opportunity to experience the Tri-Motor too. I was newly married those years and not in Ohio so I didn't fly with your husband but I'll bet my parents did. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I too grew up in Sandusky and got to fly the Tin Goose over to Rattlesnake as a kid. Your description matches my memories of that trip exactly! Where can I find more information including history and photos of the planes used during that time and in that area?

Judy in Hinsdale, IL

Wandering Writer said...

Judy, I'm not sure where you can get more information other than the Tri-Motor Museum that is near the Port Clinton Airport. Try googling for more. Perhaps there are others that have posted some things.

Unknown said...

Kermit Weeks of Fantasy of Flight I believe owns what was the last Trimotor that flew for Island Airways. It got destroyed in Hurricane Andrew at his old Miami facility before he moved to Central Florida. He sent it somewhere to Michigan to get restored

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