Holmes Airport, air, sport, and history!

Holmes Airport, air, sport, and history!

By Cindy Ladage

Just six miles north of Pawnee, along Pawnee Road is Holmes Airport.  Today private planes fly into and out of the airport, and the runway is home to the Sangamon Valley RC Flyers Club. This radio-controlled air club is active at the airport most days when the weather permits.

Gunsmoke Kennels

There is a lot of history that goes along with Holmes Airport. David Holmes shared that his father Herb Holmes and the family raised English Pointers. Naming the kennel Gunsmoke Kennels at the height of the show’s popularity, they bred and trained these amazing hunting dogs. Names of the dogs reflected the name of the kennel with pointers named SmokepoleCannonadePistolsmokeRiflesmokeBattlesmokeLongrifle, and Single Barrel.

“We had 1200 dogs, and had eight people here fulltime,” Dave said. “We had eight horses and worked the dogs.”

Besides the kennel, the family was also involved in Holmes Serum, a veterinary supply business. The business was founded by Dr. W.B. Holmes, Dave’s great uncle.  One special thing about the company is that Dr. Holmes introduced a sulfamethazine injectable solution to the veterinary business. Dave worked at the Serum Company until 1983, then went on to work and retire from Bunn O ’Matic, another successful Springfield business. He has three children, two daughters and a son.

While open, Gunsmoke Kennels managed several impressive accomplishments. Herb’s first dog was also named Gunsmoke, and they were both inducted into the National Bird Dog Hall of Fame, in Grand Junction, Tennessee. Dave said. “It is not often that people are still living when they receive this honor, but I remember when dad was, and it was a big deal.”

This was a huge operation with over developed many winning championships in various field trials. Open until the mid-1970’s, Herb Holmes and his son Bill moved his operation to Union Springs, Alabama.  Dave said that Bill, his younger brother, stayed in Alabama and later became a professional dog trainer.

Dave shared his father traveled often to Union Springs for field trials. “It was named the bird dog capital of the world.  He bought land and a house and moved down in 1980.”

Dave joked,” I was born in 1946, my family moved to Alabama when I was 50 and I became an orphan.”

Herb Holmes continued to breed exceptional dogs in Alabama like Hook’s Bounty Hunter and Gunsmoke’s Mickey Finn.

Establishing an airport

David Holmes was already interested in flying before the airfield was ever constructed.  “I got my pilot’s license in 1979 and was thinking of building an airfield.”

That’s when Fiat Allis came into the picture. David said at that same time across the road, Fiat Allis had a demonstration area where they would show equipment to potential customers.  For a quick reminder of Fiat’s history, on the Sangamon Link, a publication of the Sangamon County Historical Society, they state, “The Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. (later Fiat-Allis) made heavy construction equipment from 1928 until 1985 at a 70-acre plant between Sixth and 11th streets and Stanford Avenue and Stevenson Drive. At its peak in the 1960s, A-C employed about 6,500 people in Springfield.”

Wanting an economical way to bring customers to their testing site on Pawnee Road, David said that Fiat wanted to build an air strip on their farm.  “We got permission from our neighbor to take out hedgerows, build a pond and a runway,” David said.

Airport inspector, and pilot friend Charlie Wells directed them to build the runway east west, rather than David’s initial idea of north south.  Using Fiat dollars, in 1980 Holmes Airport became a reality. David joked that years later, Charlie would come to inspect the field and end the inspection fishing in the pond.

For those looking to fly in, David added that it is a private field and approval must be given prior to a plane arriving at the airport. On the FFA Identifier, Holmes Airport is at 3IS5.

Sangamon Valley RC Flyers Club

Bruce Kern, President of the club, hails from Virden, (originally Waverly). Bruce retired from Horace Mann where he served as the Building Manager. Phil Gillen, Secretary of the club is a retired small animal veterinarian that moved from Lincoln to Chatham. They shared history and information about the Sangamon Valley RC Flyer’s Club and their relationship with Holmes Airport. “I’ve been a member since 1992,” Bruce said, “and Phil has been a member for about five years.”

Prior to Holmes Airport being their base, the club met at Tommy George’s field near Sangchris Lake. At Holmes Airport, the club uses just a portion of the runway. “Our field is in the center of the runway.  We have benches and tables to put the airplanes together and barracks to protect viewers. We have a storage shed, and a large parking lot. There are older guys here almost every morning in the summer, and people are here all weekend,” Bruce added.

The purpose of the club is to promote the hobby of radio-controlled aviation. The club meets the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 at Holmes Field. “We have almost 40 members and have had as many as 72,” Bruce said. “If the gate is open, we invite people to come watch.”

“The club is for fellowship and to make friends.  If you like mechanical things you will make a good pilot,” Bruce said. “We have members from all walks of life, and they come out often with several generations.”

During the summer, the Sangamon Valley RC Flyer’s Club has an open house where radio control enthusiasts can watch a variety of planes in action. This year’s event is June 20th from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  “We all are members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).  On their website you can see events through states and towns.”

Besides the June open house, they also have a fall wiener roast for their members and other get togethers as well. Bruce said at times the club will also bring planes to events for benefits like one they did for Big Brother, Big Sister, and the Cub Scouts.  “We do various events to promote the hobby.”

One of the advantages that the AMA offers its members is insurance for those in the hobby. “We provide training for people who want to learn to fly.  After 30 days, they can get their membership, and then they can start flying on their own once deemed adept enough by one of the teachers,” Bruce explained.

Besides the AMA page, the group also has a page on Facebook.”

Phil added the main website for the club link.

Phil brought one of his models for us to view a World War II bird named Old Crow.  He also has a P51 Mustang.  He added, ‘I’ve got three flying planes based here.  My friend flies here as well several times a week.

Dave Holmes owns an RC plane, a Cessna 150 model. Radio control planes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some are battery operated and others electric. “The average size has a 30-cc gas engine like a weed eater,” Bruce said. “Several are bigger, and we have one member that flies a jet turbine that sounds like the real thing.”

There is also a helipad at Holmes Airport and the flyers note that helicopters flying in and out have right of way. “Air Evac maintains fuel here,” Bruce said.  “They were here full time, then moved their headquarters to Jacksonville in 2012.”

However, helicopters still land to fuel up now and then.

If you are interested in learning to fly a radio-controlled plane, contact Bruce at 217-725-3585 or leave a message on their Facebook page.

A Pawnee Story! 

Holmes Airport is a busy place.  With its Englis Pointer history, alliance with Fiat Allis, and all the men and women that have flown in over the years, the airport has a fascinating story to tell, and they are located right outside Pawnee! Dave’s former wife Brenda Holmes is a retired beloved schoolteacher that taught at Pawnee High School.

Today Holmes Airport is a busy place for the Sangamon RC Flyer’s Club, serving as a refueling site for helicopters.  It is still a place where planes are stored and flown on a regular basis.