The Liberty Gazette
May 15, 2012Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: On February 17, 2009 we brought you the story of a JN4-D "Jenny" at Kickapoo Downtown Airport in Wichita Falls, and the only two people permitted to fly it for its new owners, the City of Wichita Falls, David Martin and Tom Danaher. At a recent gathering of antique airplanes in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma we discovered another piece of this fascinating historical puzzle, a man named Chester Peek.
Born November 11, 1920, Chester served with the Army Air Corps in Europe during World War II. Upon his return to the states he and his wife Marian raised two sons while he worked as an engineer for a Frigidaire distributor designing commercial refrigeration plants throughout the Midwest. Chester later returned to college where he completed his Doctorate of Engineering and later became the head of Oklahoma State University’s MBA program, retiring in 1989. Mr. Peek has owned more than 31 different airplanes over the years, many of them he restored, including a JN4-D "Jenny". We met him when Linda struck up a conversation with him and his lovely bride at a table full of books he has written over the years.
Linda: Chester told us about Ray McWhorter, returning WWI Army barnstormer who bought a "new" surplus Curtiss JN4-D "Jenny" on July 29, 1919 for $4,650 from the Herring Motor Company in Des Moines. McWorter told them, "don't wrap it up boys, I'll fly it home the way it is," and he did. He flew that Jenny around the Midwest from his family farm in Iowa for more than two years as a barnstormer giving rides and aerial demonstrations like wing walking stunts at county fairs. In 1921 a mid-air collision during a wing walker exchange in rough air over Mason City nearly killed McWhorter. The plane was hauled to his farm where it remained in a barn for 50 years. In 1970, Ray McWhorter gave the parts to a man named Dean Gilmore, saying, "You know this old airplane is valuable and there isn’t enough money in the world to buy it from me. But I’ll give it to you because I really believe you’ll restore it." Thus began the 12 year restoration journey.
Dean Gilmore worked meticulously on the Jenny and had completed about 60 percent of the restoration when he unexpectedly died in 1982, a shock to his family and community. To settle his estate they had to sell the Jenny. The family placed an advertisement in Trade-a-Plane where Chester saw it, called and eventually when to see it.
He told us that all his life he had wanted a Jenny, and when he saw this airplane his heart just ached because he knew they could not afford it. He came home and told Marian about the airplane. She simply said, "If you really want a Jenny, this is probably going to be your only chance to get one." So they made the plunge and completed the work that Dean Gilmore started. The airplane took flight for the first time on October 6, 1987 with Chester Peek at the controls. His first passenger would be Marian.
The plane was eventually sold to the City of Wichita Falls, but Chester’s family’s name will forever be linked to the airplane. The entire story can be found in "Resurrection of a Jenny" by Chester Peek.