A Linden Excursion

by Stu Simpson

The airfield was nothing more than a swath of cut grass running north to south near the coulee. It had a windsock at one end, and some power lines too. It was pure and simple, the way those strips are supposed to be. It’s not even on the map. Which isn’t really surprising since the Linden airfield, and the town itself, really belong to a time long past.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, jumping to the meat before I’ve served the potatoes, so to speak. The potatoes part begins at Kirkby Field.

I was in my hangar pre-flighting my Beaver when I heard two ultralights approaching from the south. It was Larry Motyer in his Merlin, and Wayne Winters in his Easy Flyer. And Bob Kirkby (the guy for whom Kirkby Field is named) was rolling his Renegade out of its shack. Yup, we were in for some serious fun this morning.

The day was terrific. The morning had dawned clear and warm with just a whisper of wind from the north. The breeze played in the grass bordering the runway while gophers chased each other in circles. It was the perfect setting for a trip back in time.

Larry and Wayne landed and the four of us chatted as Bob and I readied our airplanes. The Calgary Ultralight Flying Club had been invited to fly in to Linden, a small village an hour north of Kirkby’s, to participate in their summer fair day. The townspeople were holding a pancake breakfast, a parade, and fun and games all day long. It’s rather flattering to be invited to a party, so if the people of Linden were inviting us, we were darn sure going to show up.

We were just waiting for Don Rogers to make an appearance. But no one had heard from him. He’d said that he might not be able to make it so we assumed he wouldn’t.

The four of us saddled up and took off into the morning air. Turning north, I took the lead as Larry settled off my left wing. Wayne then formed up on the Merlin. Because Bob’s plane is so much faster than our bug smashers, he took a position out to the right and flew slow circles so he wouldn’t get too far ahead of us.

I felt myself drifting back through time. Watching the world going by beneath us, I realized it looked more or less the same as it did in the 1930’s. Tractors plowed dirt fields leaving huge clouds of dust to fend for themselves. The seeded grain fields, newly green and growing, created a beautiful contrast in the morning sun. Grain elevators rose up from the prairie like prophets of fortune. Towns surrounded them, like a congregation seeking salvation in the elevators offering.

Our small flight was a flying circus , a group of barnstormers in colorful, rag-tag airplanes that had been assembled in garages and hangars. Each plane was as unique as the pilot flying it. We were vagabonds roaming the summer sky until we reached our destination. Once there, we’d over-fly the area, just like the flyers of old, the noise of our motors attracting the attention of those less fortunate souls on the ground. The townspeople, drawn by the spectacle, would no doubt rush out to the nearby airfield in hopes of getting a closer look at these unusual craft and the courageous men who flew them.

As we passed the town of Irricana I heard a familiar voice in my earphones. It was Don. He said he was about 15 minutes behind us. I assigned him a call sign and smiled to myself, pleased that he’d made it after all.

We continued northward as we watched the world unfold. Bob called to let me know we were near the Beiseker airport. He said he’d switch frequencies and let any local traffic know about our position and destination. He did the same thing a few miles later as we neared the Acme strip.

By then Linden was visible in the distance. My heart raced with the anticipation of landing at a strange and new airstrip. I had driven through the town as a child and seen the strip beside the highway, but I’d never seen it on any maps. Hopefully it would be in the same place it was years before.

We approached the town from the south and I spotted the field immediately. It was beautiful. A long strip of grass set right inside the town limits. A rare prairie gem. A two-seat Beaver and something that looked like a Challenger sat off the end of the runway. And across the road the townspeople were gathered for their pancake breakfast.

We entered the circuit for runway 16. I landed long to give my wingmen some spacing. As I taxied clear of the runway I noticed another airplane in the circuit behind Bob. It was Ken Johnston in his Renegade. He hangars at the Acme strip and occasionally drops into Kirkby’s as well.

I climbed out of my Beaver and pulled it clear of the taxi way. I smiled to myself as I watched the other members of our troupe, including Don, land one after the other.

The plane that looked like a Challenger was in fact a Thundergull, a high-wing pusher similar to a Beaver but a little less draggy.

We were met on the ground by a very friendly fellow named Dennis Wickersham. Dennis was responsible for organizing the aviation end of Linden’s summer fair. He said he was really glad we’d made it and was very pleased with the number of airplanes we sent. He handed each of us a lapel pin and some info about the town, and even offered us a ride over to breakfast.

I’ve never been one to refuse a free meal (or for that matter a free ride) so we hopped into the back of Dennis’ pick-up for the short jaunt to the food.

I must say the people of Linden treated us well. They filled us up on flapjacks and O.J. and invited us to watch their parade and generally hang out with them. They are simple, warm, and down-to earth people. You just don’t find their kind of hospitality anymore these days. But in Linden it’s as common as cows in the coulees.

I had to get home for work and would have to miss the parade (though I did have another helping of flapjacks). Wayne, Bob and Larry decided they’d fly back with me, but Don decided to stick around and watch the fun. We made our way back to the airfield where a large crowd had gathered around our planes. They were milling and peering and probably envying our toys. I chatted for a few minutes with Don Westersund who had flown in from Three Hills with a Piper Cherokee. I also talked to John Page, the owner of the Thundergull, as we took a closer look at his bird. And just as I was taxiing out, a beautifully coloured red and yellow Piper landed and taxied past. I live for days like that.

The four of us blasted off and did one more quick circle of the town. We watched the parade, complete with fire trucks and floats, meander through the streets as people waved from the curbs. As we turned reluctantly homeward, this time with Wayne in the lead, I knew what I’d say if I were flying an airliner over the town right then.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out your left window you’ll see the village of Linden. Please set your watches back about sixty-five years. You’ll be glad you did.”