A good percentage of the 293 people living in Bristow, Iowa, in 1936 gathered at the Opera House on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The Mason City Globe Gazette covered the event honoring a hometown native son.
Clayton Folkerts had just returned from several national air races where his plane, “Folkerts’ Special,” had captured some impressive prizes.
Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.
Cheryl Mullenbach is a former history teacher, newspaper editor, and public television project manager. She is the author of four non-fiction books for young people. Double Victory was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” and The Industrial Revolution for Kids was selected for “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” Her most recent book, Women in Blue traces the evolution of women in policing.
Visit her website at: www.cherylmullenbachink.com
Folkerts had started building planes when he was just a kid on the family farm about two miles east of Bristow. The local newspaper, the Greene Recorder, called him a “mechanical genius.” He ended up working for Miller Flying field in Dubuque for a time and eventually went to Wallace Field in Bettendorf and Central States Aero Company in Davenport.
By 1927 Folkerts had designed and built a monoplane that had room for one passenger, with the pilot and passenger sitting side by side in an enclosed cabin. A crowd of 5,000 had witnessed the first test flight of the “beautiful little Monoplane” at Davenport in April 1927. They reported it was “unique, comfortable and handsome.” Flying out of a Moline airfield, it had reached a speed of 100 miles per hour.
In 1929 Folkerts tested a plane the Davenport Democrat and Leader called the “smallest airplane ever designed and flown in the Tri-Cities.” Designed and built by Folkerts, the “tiny ship” had a wing spread of 24 feet and a length of 17 feet. It weighed 260 pounds. The test revealed the plane averaged 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline and had a ceiling of 10,000 feet.
By fall 1936 a plane designed and built by Folkerts’ was winning national air races around the country. The “Folkerts’ Special,” built in Canfield Hangar in Waterloo, “broke all existing records for planes in its class” in a race in Los Angeles, according to the Greene Recorder. Folkerts walked away with prize money totaling $10,000 for reaching speeds of 243 miles per hour. From there he traveled to a race in Detroit, where he won first place in all four of the races he entered. He won $5,000 there. Then it was on to Cleveland, where Folkerts once again captured first prize.
After the national races, Folkerts dismantled his plane, stacked it on a trailer pulled by his car and headed to Bristow for a little break. Crowds gathered at Merfeld’s garage where the plane was stored. They wanted a glimpse of the amazing little plane.
The celebration at the Bristow Opera House was a big success. The Commercial Club had organized the festivities. The school band and girls’ glee club provided music. The Butler County sheriff and the mayor spoke. Folkerts was given a gold wrist watch.
No title. Rock Valley Bee, July 31, 1936.
“The Amazing Monocoupe,” IPTV, Iowa Pathways.
• “Bristow Honors Plane Designer,” Mason City Globe Gazette, Oct. 1, 1936.
• “Bristow Man Cops $15,000 in Prizes,” Greene Recorder, Sept. 23, 1936.
• “Bristow News,” Greene Recorder, July 24, 1929.
• “Bristow Young Man Is Again Air Race Winner,” Mason City Globe Gazette, Sept. 23, 1936.
• Coopman, David T. Quad City International Airport, Arcadia Publishing, 2011: 24-25.
• “Dwarf Airplane Gets Tests at Moline Field,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, Apr. 29, 1929.
• “Hall of Fame Spotlight—Clayton Folkerts,” Iowa Aviation Museum News. Antique Preservation Assn, vol 24, issue 1, p 3.
• Greene Recorder, Apr 27, 1927. “Late Bristow Items.”
Type of work: