This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.
During WWI in Waco, the puttering, sputtering sounds of biplanes filled the skies. The area around today's Extraco Events Center had been converted into an airfield to serve as a military training facility, and by the time the war ended, Rich Field had graduated some 400 flyers, many of whom served in France.
Lee Lockwood, the son of a Waco banker, remembers how the financial community, knowing the training center would be good for Waco, offered its support:
"The field could not be obtained without having railroad facilities. It was a long distance from the main line—railroad line. But arrangements were shortly made to buy the necessary property. And a spur track was run from the Cotton Belt railroad through what is now known as New Road and went on forward through to Camp MacArthur. After the war the railroad was abolished and New Road was opened which we used quite often in the city."
Lockwood explains that the field provided ample free entertainment:
"Aviation at that particular period of time was rather new. And we did go out quite often to watch the maneuvers and the training going on at that time."
The amusements of Rich Field extended to other counties as well, as Bobby Joe Fulwiler of Waco describes:
"There was one, had engine problems and landed at Calvert. And, of course, everybody in Calvert ran down to see the airplane. It was just marvelous to see an airplane on the ground."
After WWI, Rich Field was turned over to the city and became a municipal airport. In a 1988 interview, Jack Flanders of Waco recalls how the airport allowed him to fulfill a dream during his student days at Baylor:
"Christmastime, late '40, I told my dad they had a Civilian Pilot Training Program that I'd just give anything if I could take. I just wanted to fly. I always loved the air. Well, he came up with the money, fifty bucks, which included about fifty hours of flying, plus ground school. Ran across larger part of the semester, and we'd go out to what is now called Richfield High School. Well, it was Rich (pauses) Field. And the old office area is in what's the Lion's Den now. I learned to fly out there, [took] ground school on campus, and got my wings in the spring of '41."
Two years later, Flanders entered the army air corps and flew 51 missions over Germany.
The municipal airport at Rich Field closed a few years after WWII, as it was no longer able to accommodate the newest commercial planes. The Heart of Texas Coliseum, now Extraco Events Center, was built in the early fifties, and Richfield High School, now Waco High, opened in 1961.
Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.
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