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Sequim boasts a rich aviation history
by Judith Reandeau Stipe
For the Sequim Gazette
The old history books of the area tell us that the first plane to arrive in Sequim was in 1914, but no details or pictures were found so we can only imagine where it landed or what kind of aircraft it was. Recently, Dan Johnson gave a detailed description of the airstrips in the area (many of which he built) at an interview at the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
As we approach the annual Air Affaire, we are reminded of what a large part aviation has played in the development of the east end of Clallam County.
In the beginning ...
A little-known fact is that the first airport was right in Sequim: north to south on Cedar to Spruce streets and east to west on Third to Fifth avenues. The pioneers remember that it was built in the early 1930s and used until after World War II when the village of Sequim encroached into its space.
Traveling pilots made a living taking the locals up for $1 a ride that lasted five minutes and created a life-long memory.
Also, airmail was delivered in specially marked small canvas bags. The little writing paper and envelopes were made of tissue to keep the weight of the letter to under an ounce. Charlie Fenwick put his tail wheel in the rumble seat of his Model A Ford to tow his Piper Cub to the end of the runway before take off.
Although that would be frowned upon now, it seemed like a good idea at the time and other pilots still express admiration for Charlie. Today, no trace of an airstrip can be seen.
Pavement not needed
Next came the pre-war grass landing strip in the early 1940s on the east side of “the old highway” (Olympic) on the sharp curve by the Hargrove House. It was in an area nick-named the “Snake Ranch.” This one is also history and no longer visible.
In about 1950, the Sapp Farm runway was built south of Beebe’s game farm and north of the Bill Ward homestead. Johnson says, “When I built that airstrip, only smaller planes could land because of the large hump in the way, but in the 1980s, I leveled that 5-foot-high mound to accommodate larger aircraft like a Bonanza that often landed there.”
That strip is visible from the air and was a busy place before the airport in Carlsborg was built by the Sallee family.
The most well-known Dan Johnson-built airstrip was Duke Teitzel’s, located south of Washington Street near the present location of the post office on Sunnyside Avenue. It got pretty busy in the 1960s not only with Duke’s planes but also anyone else who arrived by air.
Taking off east on this one-runway airport put you over King’s Tavern (now a motel), with Sequim Bay appearing directly ahead.
The story was that Duke landed on Washington Street in the 1960s, and although there are no pictures of it, many witnesses swear it is true.
Shelli Robb-Kahler, executive director of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, knows her father’s aviation abilities because the Teitzel girls flew often with their dad from this airport, one that still is listed on a few maps on the Internet.
When Edquist’s IGA (the building Sequim Cleaners occupies) was built, it shortened Duke’s runway.
Orville Hendrickson had his own runway north of the city limits. It began west of the old Hendrickson home — now the office of Olympic Ambulance — and over to Kendall Road near the mobile home park Orville developed.
The old runway, built in the 1960s south of Hendrickson Road, is no longer used for planes, but provides many retirees with a wonderful place to live.
In the spring, the property is bordered by bright flowering trees that turn the street pink when the blossoms drop.
A tight fit
Johnson’s next airstrip was circa 1970 on the Reinke property on Riverside Road (now River Road) on a frighteningly short, narrow piece of the farm.
With tall second-growth trees to the south and west, in addition to the Stipe family orchard to the north, the only way out was to the east. Possibly the only pilot to land and take off from Reinke’s was Gene Adams, with Johnson and Ted Thornton standing nearby holding their breath.
Dana Davis, from Davis Sand and Gravel up north on Evans Road, hired Johnson to build an airstrip in 1979 on the east side of his property, west of Sequim-Dungeness Way. Johnson, Thornton, Adams, Doc Henderson and Denny Butcher were some of the pilots that flew in and out on this grass strip before it closed in 1982.
In the early 1980s, Bruce Cramer decided to build a grass airstrip on Blue Ribbon Farm (on the north end of Cays Road and east of Voice of America Boulevard), so Johnson was the obvious choice to construct it. This newer development was close to the water and had amazing views, so it attracted even more residents with the new runway, which still is well used today.
Out north, in Jamestown
The next grass strip also was in the 1980s, only this one most unusual, as Johnson remembers, because it ran north to south. This was in Jamestown near Serpentine Avenue.
The airstrip was only 1,300 feet long with prevailing winds out of the west near the Strait of Juan de Fuca. When trying to convince the homeowner that this wasn’t a healthy idea failed, Johnson built this strip while mentally noting that he as a pilot would not be actively involved here unless it was on a bulldozer.
In calm weather when the conditions are right, a plane can land on this private property, and this summer, that was observed from the beach in Jamestown.
The next grass airstrip was out in Carlsborg, due east of where the Sequim Valley Airport later was built. Dick and Carol Weir and their two children moved into their home before Dick was retired, so he commuted to the city in his plane. The flat farm field west of their house was the perfect place to land and take off daily for work. Their son, Guy, recalls lots of family adventures involving the Cessna 180.
Sequim Valley Airport
Last but not least was the long-awaited addition to our community — our very own airport! The dream of Jack and Winnie Sallee was not only to develop better facilities for air service here, but also hangers to store and repair aircraft and a local commuter airline (no longer in business).
Johnson recalls that Albert Haller, Val Zalewski and many local businessmen were involved as shares in the airport were sold to make this happen.
Although Jack and Winnie Sallee are gone now, their hard work is continued by the younger members of the Sallee family.
Dan and Wilma (Rhodefer) Johnson spent many hours in the Piper Cherokee 160 with their children enjoying the views from the air.
Previously, so little has been recorded about the aviation history of the Sequim prairie, Dungeness Valley and surrounding areas. Now thanks to Dan Johnson, we can share this history with everyone.
Add to the collection
The Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley is looking for photos of old airplanes, airstrips or anything about our local aviators.
Note: This article is dedicated to the memory of Robert (Bobby) Reandeau Sr. also known as “Chicken” in the cockpit.