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Tue, Aug 12, 2008

'The Busiest Little Airport In Wisconsin:' Central County Airport

The Proverbial $100 Hamburger Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

by ANN Correspondent Larry Stencel

If you didn't know better, you might think that you had somehow entered a time warp as you pull into the Central County Airport in Iola, WI (68C) for their Friday lunch. You see an absolutely pristine vintage Packard limousine with wooden wheels parked next to an old wooden hangar, three grass runways, a Waco biplane and a Cessna Airmaster pushed into the nearby uncut grass.

Cessna 140's, Cubs, Champs, Ercoupes, homebuilts, a Luscombe and a Pietenpol and dozens of other airplanes are parked all around a newer red hangar.

Add the smells of barbecued food and four rows of picnic tables set end to end in inside a beautiful clubhouse hangar. More tables sit just outside on this gorgeous summer day and all are nearly filled to capacity with folks eating. This is the now infamous Friday lunch served to "members only" by the Central County Flyer's Association at Iola, 37 nautical miles northwest of Oshkosh.

Iola is a small town of about 1,300 widely known for its very large annual Old Car Show and Swap Meet held each July - one of the largest in the Nation. During 2008, more than 100,000 people attended. It's also home to Krause Publications, which bills itself as the worlds largest publisher of magazines and books aimed at hobbyists and collectors. The Company publishes 53 magazines and circulars for the special interest enthusiast plus a plethora of like books. The Company was started in 1952 by a local carpenter, Chet Krause, who was interested in coins and published a single page "Numismatic News."

On a gorgeous Friday just days after AirVenture 2008, my wife and I decided to take the short drive to Iola to see for ourselves what the all the hubbub was about. What we experienced was a treat beyond our expectations.

Heading north out of Waupaca on County Highway E, we got a hint of what was to come when we saw a farmstead with an old early '50's Hudson Hornet being worked -- hood up --- and a 50's Studebaker plus a homebuilt airplane without wings sitting next to a neat as a pin garage with visible gas pump. The "mechanic" working the Hudson was nothing more than a mannequin prop. Wow!

Of course, we had to go back to get a picture.

Coming up to the airport, we see two of the grass runways being used as a parking area for all the visiting airplanes. We would later learn that their previous record for numbers of airplanes flying in was broken that day -- 60 airplanes, plus two helicopters had come in for lunch.

Sitting next to the Central County Flyer's Association hangar was a beautiful Cessna 140 sitting on wheeled skis which belongs to Bill Kinsman, an early EAA member and President of the Central County Airport Association. He's also the chief cook of the Friday luncheon cookouts. In order to eat, one must first obtain a lifetime family associate membership in the Association for $10. The Friday feast will set you back $7 more per person.

With our fees paid, we entered the chow line; this particular day there were hamburgers and brats, corn on the cob, potato salad, beans, watermelon, pie and a large birthday cake for one of the members. Finding a seat near the open hangar door, we enjoyed the food while watching the first few airplanes beginning to leave. The menu changes each week but the food is always good and there's lots of it.

Near the door is a display case showing some of the mementos of 94 year old member Paul Johns who soloed in 1929 after three 15 minute lessons. Paul went on to fly Pan Am Clippers from San Francisco to Hawaii. On the wall above hangs a homemade nav chart he actually used with a star tracker; you can't help but put this in juxtaposition with the modern day GPS nav we now depend upon. We look around the crowd... and there he is, smiling and eating near us.

We see a picture taken last year of a local retired airline pilot making a low pass over the airport in a DC-3. Everywhere you look there are interesting aviation pictures and hanging from the ceiling are great numbers of large model airplanes of every sort. In the corner is a real handmade fireplace for those cold winter days.

Above the hangar door are large letters stating: Central Co. Airport, est 1946, Built For The Love of Flying, CCF 2000. We ask Bill Kinsman what the significance of the dates are. He tells us that in 1946 the airport was built by a local doctor who had learned how to fly and wanted a local airport. Within a few years in the late 40's, he realized that he needed to turn the airport into a public entity for liability and tax purposes.

How it finally came about is a story in itself, but the Central County Airport Association was formed to own and manage the 138 acre airport, a former potato field... which it does to this day.

Circa the late '90's, the members came to own one of the hangars which needed new trusses and a roof. The repair cost was far higher than they expected or could afford. A suggestion to build an entirely new hangar was spawned by a donation of $22,000 from a local pilot and foundry CEO, Don Brunner, and $10,000 came from Chet Krause. Other donations and pledges came in from near and far and the Central County Flyer's Association was formed.

Around 2002, the new red hangar was completed. During spring of 2003, a hangar housewarming lunch for the regulars was served and the word got out fast. In no time at all, Iola became THE destination for Friday lunch in Central Wisconsin.

Today, there are about 550 members from all over the Midwest and beyond. On this particular day, 13 new members join; ourselves included. Bill tells us that they serve Friday lunch year around except during AirVenture and that they additionally allow use of the facility by outside organizations for the public good. Since 1981, they hold a fly in during the Iola Old Car Show; the members feed breakfast for all who come by and provide transportation to the car show for arriving pilots.

Watching the airplanes crank up and head out is a treat in itself. Most had to taxi by the open hangar and we couldn't help but think, this is how it used to be. The Waco cranks up and taxis by followed by the Airmaster.

Almost all of the 60 visiting airplanes leave in little more than an hours time. I'd hate to have to make a perfect landing in front of THAT bunch, I thought.

Iola's Central County Airport and the Friday lunches served by the Central County Flyer's Association is a unique, one of it's kind "institution" in the area. Now that we're members, we'll be back. Next time, with my airplane. Hope to see ya there.

FMI: http://netnet.net/~wjknjan/people/

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