The Scott County Fair-grounds were a mile and a half from Scottsville.
A little after two o’clock, the “aeroplane” cavalcade was on its way
there from the freight-house. In front, rode President Elder of the
fair association, with Lafayette, or Lafe, Pennington, the bank clerk
and amateur dabbler in aeronautics, by his side. Then came a dray with
the four-cylinder, 25-horse power, 190 lb. Curtiss engine elaborately
crated. Next was an express wagon with boxed engine accessories, such
as gasoline tank, water cooler, chain drives, and the dismounted
propeller blades. In the rear, in the big farm wagon, rode proud Bud
Wilson, busy preserving the balance of the spruce sections of the
In the excitement attendant upon the fair, the procession attracted
little attention. Buggies and passenger hacks raised clouds of dust
in which wagons laden with belated exhibits made their way toward
the great enclosure within whose high white fence Scott County’s
agricultural exhibit was fast getting into final order. At the sight
of President Elder, the gate attendants threw the white portals wide
open, and Bud had a new joy–he was working for the fair, and didn’t
have to pay to get in.
“I never did pay,” laughed Bud, speaking to the driver of the wagon,
“but this is the first time I ever went in at the main gate.”
Winding their way among the plows, self-binders and threshing-machines
already in place, and then directly between the two lines of peanut,
pop, candy, cider and “nigger baby” stands–already making a
half-hearted attempt to attract trade–the aeroplane wagons passed
through the heart of the grounds. Near the “grand stand,” where for ten
cents extra, one might view the trotting and running races, President
Elder alighted and personally superintended the unlocking of the gates
leading onto the race-track. Across this, the three vehicles made their
At the far end of the space within the smooth half-mile race-track was
a newly built shed, made according to directions forwarded from the
aeroplane factory in New Jersey. In front of this, the wagons halted.
There were not many persons in attendance that day on the fair, but
there were enough to make an audience of several hundred at once. The
aeroplane shed was a temporary structure–a shed with a board top and
canvas sides. Willing hands soon had the different sections of the car
either in the house or near by in front.
Lafe Pennington’s coat was off, and he superintended the unloading with
a great show of authority. By this time, a carpenter and a machinist
had arrived, and the officious bank clerk announced that spectators had
better be dispersed in order that he might work undisturbed.
“What do you want Bud to do?” asked President Elder.
Lafe smiled feebly.
“Nothing just now,” he answered. “He can stay outside and see that we
are not disturbed. I don’t think it will take us very long.”
The confident clerk started to enter the shed.
“How about the starting track and the derrick for the drop weight?”
asked Bud innocently. “I don’t see any material here for those.”
Lafe stopped suddenly, and looked up in surprise.
“Yes, of course,” he faltered, “where are they?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said President Elder. “I guess
Pennington made a quick survey.
“Oh, they are not here,” explained Bud. “I discovered that some days
“You’re right,” conceded Lafe. “They must have forgotten them. We’ll
have to telegraph for them.”
“Telegraph nothing,” blurted the president. “We’ve no time for
telegraphing. They can’t get ’em here in time. If it’s something you
have to have, I guess we are stuck.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Bud, “the manufacturers expected you to make this
apparatus on the ground. The ropes and automatic release block are
“How can we do that?” sneered Pennington, already irritated at the turn
affairs were taking.
“Very easily, I imagine,” replied Bud, “if they sent specifications.
The manufacturer sent word how to build a shed and how big to make it.
Didn’t they send a letter?” he asked, turning to President Elder.
“Letter? Why, yes–I forgot that–a big letter,” exclaimed Mr. Elder,
reaching into his inside pocket.
Pennington took it, glanced it over hurriedly, and exclaimed:
“Sure, here it is, sketch, measurement, and all.”
“Couldn’t I look after that?” asked Bud turning from the president to
“That’s carpenters’ work,” answered Pennington at once. “We’ll have the
carpenters see to that. They can order the stuff by ’phone at once.”
He turned again to begin the work of uncrating the aeroplane.
“How long do you figure it’s going to take to put the car together,
Lafe?” asked Bud.
“I don’t know,” retorted Pennington sharply, “but I’ll get along all
the faster if I’m not stopped to talk about it.”
“It ought to be done to-night, shouldn’t it?” queried Bud, turning to
the president and showing no irritation.
“Certainly, if possible.”
“Then we ought to get some lights–three or four gasoline flares. That
work can’t be done before dark. It’s going to take all night. It’s a
tejous job. And after the frame is set up and made fast, the engine
must be tested and anchored and the shafts set.”
“Hadn’t we better get the lights ready?” asked Mr. Elder of Pennington.
“Of course, we’ll need them,” answered Pennington, who had in reality
not thought of them. “Better let Bud go to town for them.”
“All right. Here Bud, take my horse and buggy and go to town, and get
what’s needed at Appleton’s hardware store. I’ll be at the ticket
office when you get back.”
Pennington had disposed of his rival temporarily, but Bud took his
defeat cheerfully. However, he could not resist the temptation to turn
the tables once more.
“You want gasoline for the lamps, don’t you?” suggested Bud.
“Certainly–and matches, too,” said Lafe with another sneer.
“Well, how about some gasoline for the engine?”
Lafe grew red in the face, and turned away impatiently.
“And some oil for the engine?”
“You don’t expect a fellow to think of everything at once, do you?”
snorted Lafe. “I haven’t been hanging over this thing for a week. I’ve
had something else to think about.”
“Seems as if Bud had done a good deal of thinking,” suggested President
Elder. “Hurry back, Bud, we may need you again.”
Bud Wilson had long been pointed out as the prize example of juvenile
perverseness. Many persons, including Lafe Pennington, were in the
habit of referring to him as a “bad” boy. But in this, they were wrong.
Bud’s differences from other boys of better reputation meant no more
than that he was headstrong and so full of ideas that the routine of
school went hard with him. The boy often shocked his teacher. Instead
of the old-fashioned speaking pieces, Bud was apt to select some
up-to-date newspaper story or verse. Once he even ventured to recite
some poetry of his own, in which Miss Abbott, the teacher, did not
When he was left an orphan and went to live with Attorney Cyrus
Stockwell, the lively youngster gave up most of his school hours to
drawing engines. At that time, he planned to be an engineer. Succeeding
that, he aspired to be a detective. In this new ambition, he read a
great deal of literature concerning crime. But this new profession
was soon forgotten with the advent of aeroplanes. From the moment Bud
realized what a heavier-than-air flying-machine meant, he was a rapt
disciple of the world’s new aviators.
Verses of his own and detective stories were now forgotten. Given the
task of writing an essay, by Miss Abbott, for some lapse of discipline,
he produced a wonderful composition on “The Airship.” It was so full
of Jules Verne ideas that Miss Abbott visited Bud’s foster father, and
suggested that something be done with the boy.
The something that Attorney Stockwell did was to take Bud out of school
and put him at work on rich Mr. Greeley’s farm, where, for a time,
he labored in a gravel pit shovelling. Learning to operate the steam
shovel, he became the engineer, and after that, for some months in the
summer, he had been Mr. Greeley’s chauffeur. Just now he was back home
without a job, and a half promise of another try at school when it
Lafe Pennington was everything Bud wasn’t. He graduated from the
high-school, and was a clerk in the First National Bank. He was popular
with the young ladies, and already wore a moustache. Lafe’s interest
in aeronautics was older than Bud’s, but his knowledge was largely
superficial. Young Pennington’s information did not extend much further
than what he had written in an essay he read before the Scottsville
Travel and Study Circle. This paper, entitled “The Development of the
Aeroplane,” had been printed in the Globe-Register. Ever since its
publication, Lafe had been trying to live up to the reputation it had
When Bud Wilson read the article, he at once pronounced it a
“chestnut,” and declared that it was copied almost wholly from a
magazine and an old one at that. Bud repeated this statement to Lafe
himself on the memorable occasion when the aeroplane or glider dumped
While running the steam shovel at Greeley’s gravel pit, Bud had the
long summer evenings to himself. There was a tool house, plenty of
lumber, and, what prompted the manufacture of the small aeroplane,
several long, steep switch tracks running down into the pit. After
several weeks of work, based on a mass of magazine photographs,
newspaper clippings, and scientific paper detailed plans, Bud finally
constructed a pretty decent looking bi-plane airship, complete in all
respects except as to the engine. It was a combination of the Curtiss
planes and the Wright rudders, with some ideas of Bud’s in the wing
This work was done in the abandoned engine house on the slope of the
gravel hill above the pit. Lafe learned of the experiment through Mr.
Greeley, who was rather proud of his young engineer, and who did not
fail to talk about the amateur airship to those in the bank.
As chief aviation authority in Scottsville, Lafe felt it his duty to
investigate. And, to Bud’s annoyance, the bank clerk made his first
visit to the gravel pit on a Saturday afternoon just as Bud was about
to make a trial flight.
“What do you think of her?” asked Bud proudly.
Lafe screwed up his mouth.
“Pretty fair, for a kid. But what’s the sense of it? You haven’t an
engine, and I reckon you never will have one.”
“What’s the good of it?” repeated Bud. “I suppose you know the
heavier-than-air car–the aeroplane–was developed before the
experimenters had any power. If the Wright Brothers had waited for an
engine, they’d never had a machine. The thing is to know how to fly.
You can only learn by flying.”
Lafe smiled in a superior way.
“All right,” he laughed. “Go ahead. I’ll see that you have a decent
Lafe even helped Bud carry the fragile frame down to the head of the
switch track grade where Bud had a small tool car–no larger than a
hand car. On this the motorless planes were deposited, and when Bud had
taken his place on his stomach on the lower frame, an idle workman gave
the car a shove.
To young Pennington’s gratification, the experiment was a fiasco.
Even after several trials, it was found that the car would not get up
sufficient momentum. The model would not leave the moving platform.
Finally, Bud got grease for the car wheels, and then stood up with his
arm pits resting on the light framework. As the car reached the bottom
of the incline, the boy sprang forward. For one moment, the surfaces
caught and held the air and the planes seemed about to rise. Then, with
a sudden twist, the frame sprang sideways and downward. Bud’s feet
struck the gravel and he stumbled. To keep from mixing up with the car,
he hurled it from him. The aeroplane sank down with only a few strains,
but Bud landed on the side of his face.
The following Saturday, as a sort of a challenge, Bud invited Lafe and
a reporter for the Globe-Register to witness his second attempt. This
time he abandoned the car. The gravel pit had been cut into the side
of the hill. At the edge of the pit, there was a sharp drop of nearly
fifty feet. When his guests were ready, Bud had them raise the light
car–only twenty feet long–on his shoulders. Balancing the planes, he
gripped the lower struts, and before Lafe or the reporter had time to
protest, he ran a few feet down the slope–the car had been removed to
the old engine house on the hill at the brink of the pit–and stumbled
over the precipice.
His guests caught their breaths. But Bud did not fall. When he reached
the gravel bed at the bottom, he had flown one hundred and fifty feet,
and he came down easily and safely. It was the account of this in the
Globe-Register, under the title of “First Aeroplane in Scott County”
that cemented Lafe’s jealousy of Bud’s nerve.