On the Wright Track

Monday, June 25, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Travelin' with Steven, Day 6:  Dayton, OH

Wilbur (L) and Orville Wright  (photos from Library of Congress)
Like others in our clan, Steven has been nurtured on family stories about his Great-Grandmother Wright's distant cousins, Wilbur and Orville.  When we looked at a map of the midwest in planning our trip, Dayton seemed a natural choice so we could explore some of the places where these remarkable brothers had lived and experimented in the early part of last century.

Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center
The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park comprises five sites associated with the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar, Orville's high school friend and another Dayton native son.  The NPS brochure explains the link:
"The human imagination found its highest expression in three men from Dayton, Ohio:  Wilbur and Orville Wright, first to fly a powered, heavier-than-air machine and creators of a practical airplane, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American writer to win high distinction in American literature."

Though a well-written explanation, the budgetary practicality of combining the sites was probably more of an influence in this arrangement, but it seems to work fine once you wrap your mind around Dunbar's tenuous connection to aviation.  At any rate, our first stop was the interpretive center for the national park passport stamp.  While there, we spent quite a bit of time perusing the exhibits about all three men as Steven conducted research to earn another Junior Ranger badge.  Of particular interest was the rubber-band powered helicopter toy that young Wilbur and Orville's father had brought them when he returned home from a trip.

The helicopter toy that sparked the Wright brothers' interest in flight
The brothers constructed and tested several copies of this toy, making it the first powered aircraft they built together.  This experience sparked an interest in flight that the brothers would rekindle in later years.  Next door to the interpretive center, which once housed the brothers' print shop, we paid a visit to the Wright Cycle Company, the fourth of five locations where they operated a bicycle manufacturing and repair shop.  Today the shop houses exhibits related to the Wright bicycle business.

From there we drove to the Wright Brothers Aviation Center at Carillon Park and on to Woodland Cemetery, where we visited the grave site of Wilbur and Orville.  Since neither of the brothers ever married, they are buried with their parents and younger siblings.  Wilbur once told someone that his desire to fly was the consuming passion of his life and that he "did not have time for both a wife and an airplane."

Wright graves at Woodland Cemetery, Dayton
Due to conflicting signals from our GPS and various street signage, we struggled to locate the NPS interpretive center at Huffman Prairie Flying Field.  We located the field itself easily using the street address provided by the NPS brochure.  Today it's part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but in the early 1900s, the field was a 100-acre farm meadow where Orville and Wilbur could test their continuing developments on the airplane without the time and expense of a trip to Kitty Hawk.  Seeing the replica of their 1905 hangar and catapult used in testing on this natural prairie, one could imagine that they might land at any moment.

Huffman Prairie (photo from NPS)
At the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center, some four miles away by road, visitors can participate in a simulation of flying a Wright B flying machine.  It took a couple of tries before Steven completed the 3.5-minute test flight successfully without crashing to the ground or plowing through the trees. 

In addition to his NPS Junior Ranger badge, Steven asked this morning if he could try for a Wilbear Wright aviator teddy bear, a kids-only reward for visiting a minimum of seven of Dayton's 14 aviation-related sites (including those described above) and collecting stamps in a special aviator passport.  It sounded like fun, until we finally took a closer look at the feasibility factor as we were leaving Huffman Prairie.

Several circumstances had sent the challenge level soaring.  Five of the 14 listed sites were closed on Monday, leaving 9 to choose from.  Two were located in other cities, one 40 miles away, the other 60 miles.  That left 7, the minimum number.  Of course, all these seven (and the two distant sites) closed at 5 p.m.   It was 4:45, and he still needed two more stamps.  Both sites were at the same location—the National Museum of the Air Force, which was high on our list of places to see anyway.  But could we really see the museum and obtain the two needed passport cancellations in 15 minutes?  We took a vote:  Yes - 0; No - 3.  Time to regroup.  So we found a hotel in Dayton for the night, cancelled our reservation in Cincinnati and had a relaxing dinner at the hotel, planning to start our day at the museum tomorrow.  

Before starting on our aviation related sites this morning, we visited Dayton Memorial Park to search for four letterboxes hidden there, including one honoring Agnes Moorehead, the classic mother-in-law on the TV series Bewitched.  She is interred at the cemetery, and the box stamp was a terrific portrait of that talented actress.

Unfortunately, when we rounded the back of the car at the location of the last box, Steven was tripped up by a hole, falling on an unsuspecting yellow jacket, who defended himself by stinging Steven's leg.  As you know if you've ever been victimized by one of their lance-like barbed stingers, he felt like his leg was on fire.  We treated it with a cold compress (wet wipes were a great substitute) and immediately gave him a Benedryl tablet, to which his body responded very well.  Within an hour or so, we were relieved to see that he was unable to even locate the site of the sting.  Hooray for Benedryl!

The box we were about to search for was planted in honor of a motorcycle-shaped gravestone.  Since his dad is an avid fan of motorcycles and a photographer, Steven did not want to miss the photo op.  Even as he was suffering miserable pain from the sting, he moaned, "Please take my camera and get the picture of the motorcycle!"  We did, and we  found the letterbox that inadvertently triggered this unfortunate incident.

More Photos from Today

NPS Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center
Wright Memorial on Wright Brothers Hill near Huffman Prairie
Dayton from Woodland Cemetery
Wright grave site
Simulating flight of a Wright B Flyer