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Wilbur and Orville Wright turned the world upside down when they built the world’s first successful airplane and got it into the air Dec. 17, 1903.

Seven years and a couple of months later, a young adventurer named Fred Wiseman braved nasty winter weather and made the first airmail flight, a distance of 15 miles from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, Ca.

It took Wiseman two days to finish the flight in which he carried letters, Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspapers and a bag of groceries from Hickey and Vonsen’s store in Petaluma. Animals made funny noises and ran for cover as they heard the unorthodox “creature from the sky” approaching. People on the ground looked up and wondered what the bleep somebody was doing driving a strange looking air machine at the perilous height of 100 feet.

The dates were Feb. 17 and 18, 1911. Total flight time was a bit under 20 minutes.

Soon, Sonoma County will celebrate Wiseman’s feat with a huge 100th anniversary party.

Jeff Tobes, the Historic Walk specialist of the Sonoma County Historical Society Board, is planning a special trek to trace the Wiseman trail Friday, Feb. 18, starting at 6:30 a.m. at Kenilworth Park, Petaluma, rain or shine. The walk is scheduled to end at the old Enz Dairy just south of Santa Rosa where Wiseman ditched his plane 100 years ago.

Tobes, who has led six annual historic summer walks in San Francisco and Sonoma County, urges walkers to reserve their spot in this historic event, which will be held rain or shine. Cost is $20 in advance, which includes a T-shirt, brunch, bus ride and contact with a good number of fun people. Non-walkers who pay the $20 fee may also pick up the bus at the end point for a tour of various historic spots. Checks may be made out to the Sonoma County Historical Society. Tobes can be contacted at 605 Speers Rd., Santa Rosa, 95409, at his voice mail 707-284-3968, cell phone 707-888-1670 or at jefftobes@hotmail.com.

Information can also be obtained from Petaluman Bill Hammerman at b.hammerman@comcast.net or the Historian editor at torliatt@sonic.net.

Other groups planning activities include the Sonoma County Air Museum, the Windsor Museum, the Cotati Museum, the Petaluma Museum and Petaluma Library, the Petaluma Air Museum, Cloverdale Museum and Santa Rosa Museum.

The young pilot, born Nov. 10, 1875, grew up in and around Santa Rosa. According to historian Steve Lehmann, Wiseman lived in East Windsor and honed his skills doing takeoffs and landings at the Laughlin Ranch.

At 23, he became a bicycle shop manager and also was a champion cyclist and race car driver. In 1908, he  and partner Ben Noonan won prize money as drivers of Stoddard-Dayton race cars.

The local boys combined money and skills to create a California-built, 670-pound biplane with front and rear elevators, and upper and lower wing ailerons. Wiseman persuaded Noonan to put up $10,000 for the project. Wiseman, along with J.W. Peters, and D.C. Prentiss built a plane called the Wiseman-Peters. When Wiseman took an inaugural flight May 30, 1910, it barely got off the ground. By July 1910 both Wiseman and Peters had flown the plane and Wiseman warmed up for the air mail flight with an air race in San Francisco in early 1911.

A few days after the Petaluma-Santa Rosa run, the pilot/hero put on a display in Cloverdale, where his engine stopped in mid-flight. Horrified watchers raced to the lumber pile where he landed, fearing the brave young man had flown his last flight. There was general relief when he came out of the wood pile, brushed himself off and pronounced himself in perfect health.

Finally deciding there was more money in oil than cars, he retired from racing and spent most of his life working for Standard Oil Co. His plane and artifacts are on display in the Smithsonian Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Published on October 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Welcome