By Margaret DiBenedetto
In 1945, Ward Reynolds was fresh out of the Army. During his tour he’d seen action in the Pacific Islands, had come back stateside and was in training to become an Army glider pilot when the war ended.
Ward was born in Fleischmanns and grew up working on the family farm in Halcott Center. After graduating from Fleischmanns High School, he headed to Manhattan where he worked in the Garment District and started college. But the war came calling and he’d gone off to serve.
In 1945, Ruth Franckling was a flight instructor at the Kingston Airport. She’d grown up in Woodstock, and graduated from Kingston High School when she was 16. She’d wanted to fly since childhood, but couldn’t afford the lessons. So, she worked at the airport and got paid in air time. By the age of 17 she’d gotten her pilot’s license. Soon afterward she received her commercial rating and then her instructor’s certification, all of which contributed to her earning a spot as a pilot in a brand-new program for women aviators called the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP. For two years she, along with nearly 1,100 other women, flew bombers, combat aircraft and pursuit planes from factories to airfields around the country. After her service ended, Ruth resumed instructing in Kingston.
“Let’s do something fun,” Ward said, one day, to his brother Odell, and they ended up at the airport. Two instructors, one male and one female, approached them on the tarmac.
“I’ll take the pretty one,” Dad said, and a year later, he and Mom were married. For their honeymoon, they aviated over to Martha’s Vineyard.
Ward and Ruth moved into the big family farmhouse in Halcott and acquired two little yellow Piper Cubs. Mom called them “Paper Cups”. Patience and Betsy were kept on a fairly level field next to the farmhouse – the field between the present Kasanof and Rauter homes on County Route 3. Anyone who knew my parents would probably figure out that Patience was Mom’s plane, as Dad (and I share this with him) had never exhibited much patience with anything. Time not spent working on the farm was for flying. The planes were frequently seen (and heard) above the Halcott Valley, and above Roxbury and Lexington as they would often visit Bob Maben’s little airstrip on Airport Road in Prattsville. When they could get a few days away, they would fly off somewhere on vacation, wherever they wanted to go. Sometimes Mom flew to pick up small equipment or things needed for the farm. Once she took Patience to Ohio to get a replacement for a broken piece of hardware for Betsy.
Mom continued instructing in Halcott as she had in Kingston, and many young men in the area became pilots under her supervision. For some reason, not many women were interested in piloting planes. Bob Munro from Roxbury was one of her students; he later kept his own plane at the Maben airstrip. Mom also took people for rides, conducted civil air patrol drills, and even found lost cows from the pilot’s seat.
My brother Alan soon came along, and Mom and Dad attempted to juggle flying with farming and raising a family. Perhaps they’d have been able to do it, but little Alan never warmed to the planes – in fact, the sound of the engines terrified him, and so they decided to sell the planes and they stopped flying.
In the mid-1990s, my son Kane and I accompanied Dad to the old Maben airstrip. When we got there, Bob was sitting out on the porch that overlooked the strip and the hangar across the pasture. Dad and Bob, both having a hard time walking by then, sat on the porch and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, talking about flying days. Kane, who was 12 at the time, and I wandered down to the hangar. Inside we found Bob’s son Glenn with his head inside the engine compartment of what would be Bob’s last airplane. Glenn was an acclaimed test pilot of experimental aircraft, back home for a rare visit to his dad. He finished tightening bolts, cleaned up his greasy hands, and invited Kane to go for a ride. “Go,” said Dad, “it’s a good day to fly.” They taxied down the field, soared off the ledge at the end, and lifted into the air. They headed toward Halcott. Glenn gave Kane a bird’s-eye tour of the farms and villages, and even buzzed our house. When they landed an hour later, Kane was beaming.
In the 1950s, flying was more accessible. Lessons and aircraft were less expensive and more common. Several airfields dotted the Catskills. As with most of them, the Halcott airstrip is now a hayfield, with nothing to mark its history. A few photographs, some memories that linger with aging souls who, as youngsters, were lucky enough to go up for a ride. But when we – Mom and Dad’s family – hear a plane overhead, we always stop and look up, and say what Dad often said: “It’s a good day to fly.”