Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bill Engebretsen & a Ryan flying machine ....

This snapshot, small and somewhat faded, turned up yesterday when I was filing photographs at the museum and caught my eye because of the familiar look of the aircraft in the foreground.

The photo came to the museum during 1969 along with others from Stanley Fletcher (1907-1988) and the subject, standing beside the plane, is identified as his friend, William H. "Bill" Engebretsen (1906-1989).

The bonus is a typed three-paragraph jokey message from Engebretsen to Fletcher on the back, which reads:

"Stanley: I am doing a bit of aviating, or was going to when this picture was taken. My first time up and I hope not my last. The plane is one of the Ryans, a sister ship to Lindbergh's. Rides pretty fine.

"That binocular case is in my grip. Just what makes you so dumb anyway? I have often noticed a slight vacuum where your brain should be but could never quite figure out what caused it. You know, I have decided that you must need stamps pretty bad.

"Life is too easy here and is beginning to pall on me. Guess I will have to take to the open road again. Write and give me all of the lowdown. What do you ear from Stag, or did you get a return of your letter?"

Although Engebretsen is blocking some of the lettering on the side of the plane, it appears to read "Ryan Flying Service, San Diego, Cal."

The photo probably dates from the late 1920s, when both Stanley and Bill were in their early 20s, and not long after Charles A. Lindbergh had captivated the world by crossing the Atlantic from Long Island to Paris solo and non-stop on May 21-22, 1927 --- flying a single-engine monoplane built by Ryan Airlines in San Diego.

The Lindbergh plane was a modified version of the 1926 Ryan M-2 mail plane --- kitted out for a transatlantic flight --- so the plane Engebretsen is standing by most likely was indeed a "sister" to the Spirit of St. Louis.


Bill Engebretsen, although he apparently did experiment with life on the "open road" as a young man, spent most of his life in Chariton, where he was born and where his dad, Henry J., was serving as sheriff during the late 1920s. 

He operated Hawthorne Hills Game Farm for a number of years in partnership with is brother, Paul "Tiny" Engebretsen, as well as operating a restaurant and ice company. He also served as executive director of the Lucas County Conservation Board during the years when the Cinder Path was developed. He died at 82 during March of 1989.

Stanley Fletcher, also a Lucas County native, operated several businesses in Chariton before moving to Florida where he worked as a pharmaceutical salesman. He returned to Chariton during 1979, after retirement, and died during 1988 at the age of 80. Bill Engebretsen was one of his pallbearers.

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