5,000 defy heat for Wings-n-Wheels in Howland today
By JORDAN COHEN
Temperatures exceeding 90 degrees? No problem. High humidity? We’ll deal with it.
How else to explain the turnout of more than 5,000 aficionados of classic airplanes and cars for the Sixth Annual Wings-n-Wheels at SLOAS Airfield Sunday.
“Look at all the people,” marveled Bill Griffin of Howland, owner of SLOAS and operator of the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum next to the 3,000-foot grass strip. “How can you not be satisfied?”
On one side adjacent to the airfield, classic cars from the 1920s along with modified vehicles and revered sports cars from decades ago drew thousands who snapped photos with their cellphones and, in some cases, negotiated with owners looking to sell.
Airplanes lined the opposite side and many of them appeared to delight the crowd when they flew low over the airfield. One that drew a loud reaction was the flyover of two rebuilt Christen Eagle biplanes.
Their pilots – Connor Griffin, 24, and Mark Paul, 29, both from Howland – released smoke from under the tails of the aircraft as they flew over the spectators, the roar of their biplanes muffling the applause from the thousands watching below.
“We always fly with each other,” said Griffin, adding that neither he nor Paul perform aerobatic maneuvers. “We just love taking these biplanes [to events].” Recently the two flew their Christen Eagles to Oshkosh, Wis., for the annual Experimental Aircraft Association show – the largest of its type in the United States.
Among some of the other eye-catching aircraft were a restored Navy AT-6 Trainer believed to be at least 60 years old and a single-engine Nieuport 23 built by Salvatore Arbie of Warren and Rich Bennet of Thompson. The model on which the design is based was originally constructed by the French in World War I.
Bennet said their Nieuport 23 is built with aluminum tube construction covered by aircraft fabric and painted gray. It’s not a plane for beginners.
“It’s very challenging to fly,” Bennet said. “Things happen quickly when you open the throttle, and you have to be ready to steer immediately.”
Nestled among the antique and classic cars was a modified truck that grabbed the attention of children and probably their parents. It’s called “Mater” and is named for the vehicle highlighted in the animated feature “Cars.” Like its cartoon inspiration, Mater is a restored 1956 Chevrolet Stepside pickup containing painted eyes on the windshield, buck teeth where the grill would be and a deliberately rusted appearance.
“I’ve been a body man for 35 years,” said William “BB” Simmons of Mecca, who took six months to create Mater after “I dug it out of the weeds.” He said his daughter’s charity work became his inspiration to create the Mater Foundation, a charity based in Middlefield.
“We bring it to ‘Santa’s Hideaway’ [in Ohio] for terminally ill children, and it’s by invitation only,” he said. Simmons said he has also driven Mater to events for children with Down Syndrome.
“We only do it for charities,” he said.
Griffin said the turnout was so large that all 5,000 printed admission tickets “were exhausted” by noon, yet the crowd kept growing as volunteers continued to sell admissions at the entrance. Griffin said all funds go to the museum named for Hall, the aviation pioneer from Warren, the Animal Welfare League and Northeast Ohio Adoption Services.
“The museum is [nonprofit],” Griffin said. “Nobody is making money out of this.”
An estimate on the amount of revenue Wings-n-Wheels raised Sunday was not immediately available.
The intense heat appeared to take its toll on at least one spectator. Howland Fire/EMS teams attended to a woman who lay on the grass near the antique cars after suffering an apparent heat-related medical issue. She was taken to a hospital for treatment.