Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

April 16, 2024

Close call in Camp Wood

An airplane landed in the middle of the little community of Camp Wood, in the Texas Hill Country, in 1924. This was one of the biggest events in the history of that little town, but the wider world didn’t pay a bit of attention until years later when the incident became downright historic. 

The plane was a World War I surplus Canuck biplane owned by St. Louis automobile dealer Leon A. Klink and piloted by a friend of his that everybody called Slim, who was waiting on official acceptance to the Army flight school at Brooks Field in San Antonio. Klink had hired Slim, who already had 250 hours of flight time, to fly the plane south, away from a nasty Midwest winter to the Rio Grande and then west to California while Slim waited to begin flight school. 

The flight went smoothly enough until a minor accident in Florida required repairs to the plane. While there, they got word that Slim was to report to flight school on March 15. He and Klink decided they could still make it to California in time for Slim to get back to Texas by train if they took along some extra fuel, which Slim carried in two five-gallon cans lashed to the wing next to the fuselage. 

Slim later wrote of the experiment: “It was quite a job leaning out of my cockpit, into the slipstream, and unlashing one of those cans; and then, empty, lashing it back again. But with the aid of a steam hose slipped over the nozzle, I hardly spilled a drop.” 

In Texas, the young pilot mistook the Nueces River for the Rio Grande and followed that route until the plane ran out of gas. Slim put the plane down in a pasture near the little sawmill community of Camp Wood and hitched a ride into town to get some gas. They ended up spending the night with a nearby ranch family. 

The family later noted that Klink talked a lot more than Slim. Klink also called the pilot Old Swede, in reference to his heritage and Charlie, a derivative of his given name: Charles Augustus Lindbergh. 

In three years, Slim would be the most famous aviator in the world, but on that March afternoon in Real County he was just a young pilot who had made a slight navigational error and ended up in the middle of the Hill Country. 

The field where Lindbergh and Klink put down was soft enough for a landing but too soft for a takeoff. Lindbergh ditched the luggage, passenger seat, toolbox, and Klink to make the plane light enough for Lindbergh to get it airborne while Klink gathered all their stuff and caught a ride into town. Lindbergh flew ahead and put the plane down on Camp Wood’s graveled main street. This caused quite a commotion and the whole town turned out to see it. 

Taking off from Main Street was going to be a tight fit. Telephone poles lined either side of the street, which was 46 feet wide, but the plane’s wingspan was 43 feet. No problem. All systems were go until the plane hit a rut, veered out of control, and crashed into Warren Puett’s hardware store. Pitchforks, washtubs, saddles, and other implements of country living crashed to the floor. Fortunately, the store was unoccupied at the time because everybody in town was gathered outside to watch what was supposed to be the takeoff.

Lindbergh offered to pay Puett for the damages, but Puett declined. “No sir!” Puett replied when Lindbergh made the offer. “That airplane crashing into my store is the best advertising I’ve ever had. Why, there’ll be people from Concan, Anacacho, Uvalde and places all over to see where the crash happened.” 

 Lindbergh and Klink took a room at the Fitzgerald Hotel and waited for a new propeller and shellac to arrive from Houston. The local people showed the two visitors around the area, including a visit to a nearby cave and a demonstration by cougar-hunting dogs, until the plane was deemed fit for flight. 

An aptly named dagger plant tore a hole in their plane on their next try, grounding Lindbergh and Klink for eight more days. They never did make it to California. By the time they had the plane ready to fly again it was time for Lindbergh to report to San Antonio. Lindbergh gave folks a plane ride for $5 to help cover their unforeseen expenses. People in Camp Wood hated to see them go.

Three years later, Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York City to Paris, making him, for a time, the most famous person in the world. The town renamed a park after Lindbergh and a street after Klink in 1976. A hundred years after it happened, the episode might still be the most exciting thing to happen in Camp Wood. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Southern Livestock

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