The Liberty GazetteEly Air Lines
January 18, 2011
January 18, 2011
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Back in the olden days boys used to tinker, and make things. They had projects and used their minds and worked with their hands. Lawrence Dewey Bonbrake was one such boy. Born in 1899 in Woodston, Kansas, Dewey was a bright kid, always into stuff. For instance, he and a cousin built a glider and flew it off the roof of a barn when they were teenagers. Then they built a sled powered by a motorcycle engine, with a propeller. When Dewey rode it 19 miles to the next town, Stockton, someone wrote an article about him, a 15 year old kid with a powered sled.
In 1912 when an aviator flew in to town offering rides, to say Dewey, then 13, was intrigued would turn out to be an understatement. With a brilliant and inventive mind, he began studying at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and though he didn’t graduate he learned enough about engineering that by the time he was 19 he designed a single pilot air ambulance, using a Liberty engine.
Not long after, Dewey acquired a Curtiss JN4 Jenny as Army surplus, learned to fly it, and became a barnstormer, which led to, among other things, meeting his future wife. Dewey happened to walk in to an ice cream shop in Kansas City, where the lovely young Leona Allita Lamb had stopped in for a tasty treat. She was the daughter of prominent saddle maker Willie Lamb, of Arkansas. The daring, dashing young man all dressed out in his jodhpurs and helmet and goggles, swept Leona off her feet. A beautiful family and more great adventures were yet to come.
Mike: One time while flying his Curtiss Jenny across Arizona Dewey ran out of gas and landed in the desert. His hand was cut and infected by cactus, and he almost died from exposure, but he was rescued by someone passing through in a donkey cart. They helped him get gas for his airplane and he off he went, back into the sky.
Once a man convinced Dewey he was a pilot, talking him into letting him fly the Jenny. Since a Jenny is flown from the back seat, Dewey had removed the control stick from the front seat where the passenger rides so that none of his passengers would have control of the airplane. The guy must have been very convincing for Dewey to trust him that much because once he climbed in the front, he had no control. Unfortunately, the so-called pilot got the airplane into a flat spin – a very dangerous situation – and there was nothing Dewey could do to stop it. The family story goes that in preparation for a crash, Dewey took his goggles off, put them in his pocket and waited for the inevitable. He survived, but suffered several injuries, including broken facial bones. The other guy wasn’t so fortunate.
Dewey and his friend Blaine Tuxhorn bought a Bahl Lark monoplane made in Nebraska. It was a single seat parasol where the fuselage hangs below a single wing, attached by struts and flying wires, powered by a three cylinder engine. A terrible flying airplane, Dewey and Blaine re-designed it, naming it the Bonbrake Parasol. From this Dewey developed the idea for the airplane that would later be known as the Inland, which is where all this history is headed. See you next week with more on the Inland’s fascinating story. Til then, blue skies.
Photo 1, Left: Lawrence Dewey Bonbrake with Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, 1920
Photo 2, Right: Leona Lamb Bonbrake with Dewey's Curtis JN-4 Jenny, 1921
Photo 3, Lower Right: Lawrence Dewey Bonbrake, circa 1925
Photos courtesty Lance Borden, from family photo ablums.