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Saturday, December 12, 2020

60 Years of Memories: Landing in Butler

60 Years of Memories of Butler

by James Ring

 

The Airports of Butler

 

When I first arrived in Butler 60 years ago, the town’s airport was right about where it is today. But I heard tales from the older residents about airplanes landing in places other than the airfield out north of town. During World War 2, an Army Air Force P-38 fighter plane crash-landed on the Butler golf course, which was located on the south side of Highway 52 West, between the railroad tracks and today’s Family Center store. The pilot escaped and the wreckage no doubt gave the townkids something to play on.

 

Back in the barnstorming days when itinerant pilots would hop from town to town selling rides, I was told that such an operation took place from the field west of the present hospital, later occupied by the Deems Farm Equipment dealership, and that a Kansas City barnstormer named Ben Gregory once landed his tri-motor Ford airplane in the pasture that’s now the Gilbert Heights subdivision, near highway 71, north of Mill street.

 

I did witness aircraft landing on the Butler Square in the 1960s, two helicopters that sat down on the bricks in front of the Butler State Bank (now the City Hall). It was a promotional stunt by Butternut Bread, with passengers dressed up like bakers, floppy hats and all. They just stayed a few minutes, handing out samples of some baked goods, then roared away. About 25 years ago, Kansas City traffic reporter Johnny Rollins landed his Channel 9 TV helicopter in the playground of the grade school to speak to the kids.

 

Of course, we now see helicopters inside the Butler city limits routinely, landing and taking off at the Bates County Memorial hospital’s pad. I had to ride in one myself, on an emergency basis, about 15 years ago, the memories of which escape me because I was barely present.

 

In 1960, the town’s airport was in an 80-acre farm field, with a run-down hangar and a few old planes sitting around. I understand that it was started in 1948 by Mr. Grover Gilbert (the same man who developed Gilbert Heights) but had fallen into disuse a dozen years later. The City of Butler bought the property in 1963, after Mr. Gilbert’s death, and secured government grants to lay pavement on the grass airstrip.

 

At the time, county seat towns with a public airport were rare. Only Nevada had one; Harrisonville just had a small private airfield south of the city, and Clinton had a flying club airfield out by the present hospital location. 

 

As time went on, the Butler airport was enlarged by buying additional land and the old City Limits sign was moved farther north to bring the airport environs into the city’s boundaries. I can recall when the edge of Butler was just north of the intersection of Highway 71 and Lee street

 

Today, the Butler airport is a fine, well-kept facility and brings travelers into the town from far and near. We’ve come a long way from the barnstorming days.