THE STORY OF WRAM
A Brief History of the Westchester Radio Aero Modelers
Darryl Hunt, President, November 2008
To paraphrase an oft-quoted and canny observer of human nature, George Santayana, those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. For many of us who joined the Westchester Radio Aero Modelers, Inc., popularly known as WRAM, decades after its founding, the history of our Club has been, for lack of a better way to describe it, fuzzy. We have heard only bits and pieces from the veteran members. An overall grasp of the historical facts, the experiences, and, yes, the sacrifices, of our predecessors for the most part has been unattainable.
Because of this void and realizing how beneficial a brief history of WRAM could be for current and especially future members, I set out to gather as much information as I could from the archives and from personal interviews with some of our long-time members. Neither source has been easy to probe for completely accurate facts. The Club is already in its 50th year. Memories of our surviving early members had to be massaged to a great extent and the archives were, to be kind, scattered, and nonexistent in many instances. Before attempting the history, I first cataloged the half-dozen or so boxes of files, notes, and documents in our “archives.” These archives, by the way, for several years have added to the basement space commandeered by my planes and tools, already the accustomed bane of my better half, who, in truth, has always supported me in this hobby and also helped with this history.
I thank the members who very patiently related their memories into my tape recorder. I gave them transcript copies of their recollections as an opportunity to add, subtract and otherwise edit for quoting in this history. Unfortunately, due to time and logistic constraints, I was unable to interview all the members who could have added to this collection of facts and anecdotes. The anecdotes included in the history help, I think, give some (and only some) of the flavor of the times and trials involved in flying R/C, founding a club, finding fields, running a money-making show, and purchasing a proprietary field. It takes a sense of humor, which, I hope, comes out in the telling. Speaking of a sense of humor, this telling of the WRAM owes special thanks for his input and critique to our king of retorts, Fred Penichet. I also am indebted to Jon Chappell, who generously took on the task of formatting this history, and Bob Krull, who printed the hard copies.
This history is meant to help preserve the memory of the Club’s founders and those who through the years have continued to inspire the membership with the dedication and hard work that has made WRAM one of the premier R/C Clubs in the U.S. Without them we could not enjoy our outstanding field, good relations with the Patterson, NY community and the relatively seamless way our Club functions. The history might also serve as a guide and reference for any future policy decisions by the WRAM Board, officers, and membership.
Very few R/C modelers anywhere are privileged to have our benefits at such a small cost of our own time and money, thanks in no small measure to our predecessors. It is my fond hope that this history will help keep alive the spirit of the founders and pioneers and thereby foster a greater esprit de corps among our current and future membership.
It was 1956, the Second World War still a vivid memory for grownups. A pack of Camels was selling for 25 cents. You could buy a Chevy roadster for about $2,000. Texaco’s gas was increasing to 29 cents a gallon. And some starry-eyed scientist was publishing an article about putting a man on the moon by the end of the century. They even had some military pilots they called astronauts training for it in Houston. Things were getting so expensive that a few married women were joining the workforce to make ends meet.
Undeterred by the “rising” costs and increasing demands of the post-war era, a handful of model airplane enthusiasts in the White Plains area of New York got together on weekends at an open field to hone their model flying skills. It wasn’t long before the commonality of their pursuits led them to form a Club in 1956, which in time became known as the WRAM (Westchester Radio Aero Modelers).
Founders and Pioneers
Frank DeVore, who passed away after our interview, said he was the eighth WRAM member, counted among the original founders Jack Ruggiero, Ed Pomponi, George Wagner, Charlie Zimmerman, Max Pruner, and Alan Sheppard, although he was not as certain about Sheppard. Alice Wagner, George’s widow, thinks there were only five founders since George had the number five. She claims Sheppard worked with her husband, a body and fender man for a Pontiac dealership in Hawthorne Circle, and was later brought into the Club by him. She also thinks Ruggiero joined later, about the same time as Frank DeVore and Bob Foshay. Bob Arnold, who designed the WRAM logo, was member number seven. Both Alice and Frank agree that Max Pruner was a founder but dropped out of the Club early on. A recently deceased WRAM member and among the first ten members, Andy Medwid, remembered Charlie Zimmerman as one of the founders.
Unless memories improve or facts somehow are resurrected, there seems to be agreement about four of the founders (Pomponi, Zimmerman, Pruner, and Wagner) and doubts about a mysterious fifth one, possibly Ruggiero, who had a photography shop at the time. The WRAM received its official certificate as a non-profit corporation in the State of New York on September 19, 1961. The signers of the incorporation papers included: Edward Pomponi, Jack Ruggiero, Frank DeVore, Vincent Yosca and Robert Foshay.
“It was just a little Club,” Alice claims, “until they got the logo and DeVore and the others joined. They actually started the Club right after George and I were married in 1956. Frank [DeVore] says that we weren’t really WRAM as we know it until later on. My son was born in ’58. Vinnie Yosca and the others were around by that time. Roy Horn also came around the time of Frank Devore and Bob Foshay. Roy, who was a state trooper, started the newsletter, the “WRAM’s Horn.”
‘Greatest Generation’ Early Members
In the Club’s early days, many of the members were World War II and Korean War vets, part of that generation that Tom Brokaw lauds in his book, “The Greatest Generation.” Their families had endured the Great Depression. They weren’t expecting instant gratification and were ready to tackle a challenge.
One of WRAM’s early members, Nat Weinberg, who became inactive when the Club moved its field to Patterson, N.Y. in 1978, is a former B-17 bomber pilot. Nat says he got his private pilot license in Pawling in 1942 flying Piper J2 and J3 Cubs. Then he went into the Army Air Corps. “I went to San Antonio to get assigned to primary but the guy says you’ve got about 55 or 60 hours. That’s what they have in basic, so I was sent to be a bomber pilot. There were no options because they needed bomber pilots with the 8th Air Force getting shot all to pieces.
“I went into training on Bamboo bombers. I got a couple of hours on them and the instructor said: ‘Hey, you’re okay with this, so we’ll send you over.’ So at the end of ’43, I went over to England as a B-17 pilot with the 8th Air Force 332nd Bomb Group. I flew 31 missions. I flew my required 25 missions but D-Day was coming up and they said they couldn’t let us go yet because we need you. We flew 3 missions on D-Day, then right after that 3 more."
“You asked me about the hairiest mission we flew. I would have to say all of them.”
Another pioneer, Jim Mahon, who since died, was a glider pilot during WWII and trained other pilots for the invasion of Normandy. “We were in canvas flying coffins,” Jim said. “I would be lying if I told you we weren’t scared.”
In the first decades of R/C flying, there were no ready-to-fly or almost-ready-to-fly kits. You either bought a kit that required 100 percent assembly or you got hold of plans and built from scratch. Even radios were built from scratch.
“The first few years I wasn’t allowed to do too much with the airplanes,” remembered Medwid, former hobby store owner and National Cash Register technician, with a smile, “just build them. Finally, we got started flying. R/C was just beginning to get popular, so I built one of the early systems. It was a Babcock Magic Carpet. You had to assemble them and solder all the components. It had a rubber band escapement in it. One beep for the right rudder and two beeps for the left rudder. Of course, the first plane I put it into was a beautiful airplane. I think it was a Rudder Bug. I flew it right out of sight.”
Jim Daleo, a retired engineer and active flier with WRAM in 2008, says he got interested in R/C in the early ’50s after he injured his back and was laid up with time on his hands. “I was going nuts, so my wife Dot bought me a model airplane, a DeBolt trainer at Andy Medwid’s hobby shop in Elmsford. My wife has always supported me in this hobby even though it hasn’t always been so easy.”
Dave Kirschstein, a patent lawyer and early member who still flies at the WRAM field, remembers joining after Daleo. “I think I first came into the WRAMs in 1957, several years after it actually started. Jimmy Daleo and Andy Medwid were already in. Also, Bob Foshay and Frank DeVore. So I think it began 4 or 5 years before that. I know they were flying at other places. When I joined there was a limit of 20 members and there probably were just about that many…20. I think Frank DeVore was one of the founders. I don’t remember the names of the other people that were mentioned as founders. But by the time I got in they weren’t even in there anymore. The only person who is still in the Club now who came in before me is Jimmy Daleo.”
Kirschstein has been helping the Club with legal matters since joining. “I incorporated the Club at the very beginning when I joined. Gradually we raised the limit on the number of members and finally ended up at 60.”
Alan Siegel, another early member still active when interviewed, joined because of Kirschstein. “I think I first came into the WRAMs three or four years before the first Show. I started building model airplanes when I was five years old and continued until I discovered girls. Girls lasted for a long time. I ultimately became an attorney, had a family, a house in the suburbs, and all that good stuff. I used to commute on the New York Central. One day I was looking over someone’s shoulder and saw that he was reading Model Airplane News. I hadn’t built any models in 20 years or more but the virus lingered. The Model Airplane News reader was Dave Kirschstein. We started talking and it was through Dave that I discovered the WRAMs and attended my first meeting. I remember visiting Dave and seeing his Sr. Falcon which boggled my mind. At that time is was a very huge airplane and my previous experience ended with Class A free flights with 36” wingspans.”
Another early WRAM member, Ray Windas, who is still active, reflects that the “members have come from all walks of life, gravitating to the common level of modeling, hobby, pastime and a passion for flying. We all came with varying expertise and drive. The hobby, the Club, the field, the time and effort brings everyone in from different dimensions while being involved in all other parts of life.”
Ray claims that his own case is quite simple. “I had the same curiosity with planes, trains, cars, tractors, and untold other types of gadgets and models. That grew with the advent of WWII and the great airplanes that were part of that era. Family members were part of that story and put life into what the models themselves were. The curiosity and intrigue were part of the process of pursuing engineering after the Navy. That step only caused a greater curiosity to continue to learn and, frankly, R/C modeling seemed to again fit the situation. When our children arrived and they put stuff together, we went flying. We met the guys—Andy, Frank, Vinny, Bob, and others—and I eventually became a formal member of the WRAMs in the early ’60s.”
Home Meetings and Growth Pains
“When we first started,” said DeVore, “we had to be AMA [Academy of Model Aeronautics] members for the insurance, but we weren’t chartered right away. We were a pretty loose organization. In terms of membership numbers, we had limits and kept building it up. Don’t ask me how or when the numbers went up, but they usually went up in fives or tens.”
Bob Foshay, who moved to Arizona in 1996 after almost 40 years with the WRAMs and who recently passed away, said that the Club had 20 members when he joined and the membership had increased considerably by 1960 when he was president. Medwid, who had just married in 1956, said that the members would meet in Bob Arnold’s home about twice a month. Arnold was the President, and already the Club had rules.
In those early days, Club members would meet once or twice a month in each other’s homes until the membership expanded beyond living-room size. Alice Wagner recalls some of the home meetings. “I remember Mary Jane, Eddie Pomponi’s wife, having a fit because they spilled dope or something on her dining room table, so they had to find a meeting place somewhere else.”
The meeting places multiplied almost by the same ratio as the flying fields. “They always had their meetings in different places,” remembers Alice, who still works voluntarily every year during the three days of the WRAM Show at the Westchester County Center, “the Armonk Library and down in Rye for awhile…wherever they could get a meeting hall and have their coffee and doughnuts.”
Daleo remembers meeting at the Scarsdale Legion Hall when he had a 1962 Austin Healy. The Club members also got together at restaurants around the county. “We used to have big turnouts for the dinners,” according to Alice. “Then we got fancy and fewer people showed up.”
Long-time WRAM member Ron Faanes remembers the Club meeting at Sloan Kettering Walker Lab in Rye, N.Y., “an actual meeting room, from 1975 to the late ’80s, maybe early ’90s. We would buy them something we could use for our meetings. One year a coffee pot, another rear a TV set, another year a microwave oven. Most of the stuff we got back when the lab closed.”
“The behind-the-scenes efforts and struggles,” Windas recalls, “that went on during the early days were conducted so matter-of-factly they were seamless in the on-going growth of the Club.”
Although the Club met twice monthly in the early days, the by-laws now stipulate once-a-month meetings with mandatory attendance at a minimum of four meetings a year. The WRAM met for many years in the Ridgeway Alliance Church in White Plains, N.Y. Customarily, the Club gave a $50 donation for each meeting at the Church, usually November through April. Since November of 2007, meetings have been held in the Valhalla United Methodist Church and a similar donation has been made to this church. The other meetings (May through October) were and still are, held at the WRAM field in Patterson, N.Y. If the weather does not oblige, the meetings move to the Patterson Town Hall.
In the early days, the Club’s activities were reported in the WRAM’s Horn newsletter. As David Kirschstein remembers it, “the only WRAM’s Horn I ever saw was written, edited and published by Art Byers. I would say that it was, perhaps, a small thing, but at the time it came out many Club members were pleased with having a newsletter as several R/C clubs had and still have. The publication included drawings, suggestions, news of occurrences at the flying field, and opinions. What Art had to say sometimes was rather controversial, and eventually, the WRAM’s Horn disappeared.” Actually, current member Stan Kulesa edited the WRAM’s Horn in the early-mid-1970s. He succeeded Byers as editor until he moved to Connecticut and believes no one else took on the job. The last issue in the archives is Vol. XIV, No. 5, October 1978.
Finding Flying Sites
Finding a place to fly before a proprietary field came into the picture was even more difficult than finding meeting places. Jim Daleo recalls those days. “I was number 22, the 22nd member to join WRAM. We kept a seniority list by numbers for many, many years. Membership was limited to 20 for the first years of the Club. We really had a close relationship with each member in those years. There was more camaraderie with a closer-knit group.
“I lived in Thornwood and we flew in Grasslands. Vince Yosca was 21. We filled two vacancies in the Club. I may have joined in 1956. There’s a picture of me with the DeBolt and my ’55 Victoria. I’ve always been an active member since joining.
“In the early days,” Daleo asserts, “you got a successful flight if you took off, flew for two minutes, and landed—a tremendous event. I built my own transmitter because there wasn’t much available then. It was a little square box with a 9-foot whip antenna. You’d push it into the ground to make sure it was grounded properly. We made servos out of little Mighty Midget motors. You had to have an FCC license and they’d assign you a 27-meg frequency.”
Actually, it was the 1950s before AMA was able to obtain the first license-free R/C radio frequency, which expanded to five frequencies before the decade ended. In the mid-1960s, AMA petitioned the government for the first 72 MHz frequencies.
“My memories,” Daleo recalls, “include the tough times. We had to clean up the fields and pick up the stones. Then you flew or crashed on Sunday, and two weeks later you’d lose the field.
“As for the fields we flew at: Grasslands; West Lake Drive; Towners with its 100-foot high tall trees; Port Chester High School; White Plains High School; Mahopac; Indian Hill Farm; the Croton Dump, where we dodged seagulls and hand-launched off where the trucks dumped their garbage; Somers, where IBM is now and we could fly in as guests of another Club; and Muscoot Farm.” “The Club lost Muscoot,” says current member Bob Van Tassel, “because then County Supervisor Richard Del Bello’s wife did not want people driving through the farm, as she was afraid of accidents.”
“The first place I flew at,” remembers Kirschstein, “was the Wartburg Estate, the fellow who owned it let us fly there. We gave him a box of cigars each year. Before that, I think they flew from a big company place. I think it was Union Carbide. Jimmy [Daleo] would know. Those were the days when you couldn’t hold transmitters in your hand. They were ground-based. There was a stone platform to put the transmitters on. The most significant thing was you could only turn left. You had to launch in a way that you couldn’t turn right or you would launch into trees. So everybody learned to fly left. And when we finally got a place where we could turn either way, nobody ever made right turns, at least until they were up in the air. When we lost that left-turn field, probably because he wasn’t allowed to let us fly anymore or there was an ownership change or something, we looked around and I think the next place we flew was at the old Armonk Airport, which was off [Route] 22 before they reorganized the traffic pattern there. That was a small airport and we used to fly there. That one had the difficulty that you looked into the sun in the afternoon. So you were always blinded if you got into the sun. We used to trim our planes so they would turn a certain way so we knew which way it was turning when we got out of the sun. That was the second place I flew at. I think the next one was up at Zipkin’s farm in Mahopac. Then the horse farm down the road from Mahopac after we couldn’t fly at Zipkin’s place anymore.”
Nat Weinberg remembers another field, where he first learned to fly R/C. “I first joined or got interviewed to join the WRAMs when they were flying over on Virginia Road, where Union Carbide is. That’s where I first met them. I was flying out of Westchester Airport [as a commercial pilot]. Must have been in the ’50s.
“I just drove by and saw them flying model airplanes. So one day I left work early, drove by the field, and saw the guys flying. I stopped and asked them about it. I think Vinnie Yosca was one of them. He was a mechanic over at Westchester for Green Air. We were friendly at the time because we met when he was filling in for other mechanics at Sinclair and came over to our hangar. All the mechanics at the time had A&Es and were pilots. And that got me further into it.”
Daleo recalls the week-to-week anxiety about where they could fly. “We were always worried about where we’d be able to fly the next week. ‘If anybody hears anything, let us know.’ We kept on the move because people complained about the noise. We’d get permission to fly a little while, then somebody would screw up and we were off the field. It happened many, many times. That’s why we started the Show, to raise some money and get our own field.”
Al Reinhardt traces his field experiences to the mid-’60s. “I came into the Club somewhere around 1965. The first field that I was flying at when I started in the Club was Wartburg. It was across from the West Lake High School. But I don’t think West Lake High School was even there at the time. Now it’s a big housing development and all filled with houses and trees. There were actually two fields at Wartburg that we used. We flew at one field at the north section and then we moved to another field that was basically a cornfield in the southern section of the same property. We flew that up to the fall and that was basically about it. Then it started to be developed by a developer. That killed that whole arrangement.
“The next year we flew in Armonk, New York, off the runway of the Armonk Airport. Ray Johnson, who was a member of the Club at the time, got us the availability of that field for a while. We flew there for two, maybe three years at most. And we lost that field because neighbors were complaining about sound and they were in the process of building Interstate 684 at the time. They thought they had problems with us, but that was nothing compared to their problems with 684.
“From there I think we went to Muscoot Farm but I can’t remember exactly. We flew at Muscoot for several years, way up over the top of the hill. If you got up over the woods, you ended up in the reservoir--that’s how far up it was. You were not that far from the reservoir.
“From there we went to the, I’m trying to remember, to Mahopac and the old farm store at Baldwin Place. Actually, we might have gone there first, before Muscoot. I can’t remember exactly the chronology of the thing. We flew at Baldwin Place for several years. I can’t remember why we left.
“Then we went to Indian Hill off Route 6. It runs parallel to the Taconic State Parkway, just north of Route 6. It was kind of like a pitched field. We flew off it like this [indicates 30 or so degree angle]. It wasn’t level. There was a tilt to it. You had to take off on a tilt all the time. But I never flew in there. We rented that field, and I believe not too long after that is when we started getting involved in buying our own field here in Patterson.”
Medwid also remembered the tilted fields. “I remember a certain number of the fields we flew at. I remember Wartburg for one thing. There was the gravel pit, and I remember flying up at Baldwin. It was on the side of a hill. None of the fields were level. You had to stand tilted a little so you wouldn’t fall down the hill. They had a series of these things there, and I remember I had a wonderful time over there. At that time I had a New Ruler. I put a radio in it and hit a thermal. That thing stayed up as long as I wanted it to. That’s because they had plowed the field. As soon as I got over the plowed field, there was hot air issuing out of the dirt. It was the longest I’ve ever stayed up.
“I don’t remember why we had to change to so many fields, but some of the time it was because we got better fields. Each field had something that wasn’t quite right, but it was just a field where you could fly. Every member liked the gravel pit, but if you didn’t stay in the center of that, you were in trouble. You were surrounded by hills. I remember flying an airplane at the side of the hill that was tilted. Everyone had their fingers crossed that I would miss everybody, and I did miss everybody. Wartburg had a cement platform that we could fly off from. Things like that until we finally got a real good field.”
“I don’t remember the names of all the places we flew,” Siegel laments. “I know we flew at the old Armonk airport before IBM was built and I also remember Towners, Somers, and a couple of other places, including the Croton ‘dump,’ where I flew a seagull I mistook for my plane. Both the gull and my plane disappeared.”
The search for new fields had its own minefields. Kirschstein tells of one incident. “Bob Foshay and I almost got arrested once. We trespassed on the property to see if it was suitable and a cop came in. We had to talk our way out of it. Then we used to drive up into the farm country to see if farmers were interested and that kind of stuff. The officers [of the Club] and the people who helped did a lot of looking around trying to find a place. It was very hard. And the next one after the horse farm might have been where we are now. I don’t remember a place after that before we got here [Patterson].”
Joe Wimbrow writes in his well-researched document, Notes Relative To The Purchase of WRAM’s Air Park [See WRAM Archives], which was prepared for the AMA and meant to be useful to other Clubs, that as of 1977 some of the WRAM long-time members could recall that “during the approximate 20-year history of the Club we had found (and lost) 11 different flying sites.” Frank DeVore thinks WRAM changed fields 17 or 18 times before owning the current field at Patterson, NY. “I tried figuring it once but I would have to sit down and do it again. We went through about 17 fields…different flying sites. We lost them for various reasons. For a while, we flew at the end of Hangar E at Westchester County Airport, on a runway there. We flew over at Grasslands. We flew all over the place.”
Alice Wagner remembers the revolving fields. “We went from field to field until we were thrown off. I think someone broke a windshield one time with a plane. Nobody liked the noise, so we were chased from field to field. We rented some fields. We were all over the place. We had a field down in Thornwood. It was an old abandoned farm. We would run down almost every night and fly. In the summertime, as soon as my husband would come home from work after five o’clock, we would run down to the field and get in a couple of flights before it got dark.”
Wives and families were also caught up in the different experiences at each field. “Every weekend everybody brought their kids,” Alice Wagner remembers. “My son was about 6 months old when we were up in Mahopac. There was a flatbed truck there, so I put the kid on the flatbed and I was standing in the grass. I was a city girl who knew from nothing. So Frank DeVore comes up to me and says, ‘Alice, are you allergic to poison ivy?’ I said, ‘Poison ivy, I don’t know. I’ve never been in it.’ He says, ‘Well, you’re standing in it.’ Well, I had poison ivy up the whole length of my legs. When I went to the doctor, the blisters were so big. Someone had told me to put Clorox on it and that made it worse. The doctor had to tape my legs because the blisters were so bad. I looked like a racehorse. Then everybody kidded me about the poison ivy.
“But we used to have a bus up in Mahopac. When it rained we stayed in the bus, the kids and everybody. It was just an abandoned bus. When it stopped raining, we would go out and fly. Then it was back in the bus if it rained again. If the kids got wet, we changed their clothes in there. Eddie Pomponi’s son still remembers that. When his mother died, he came up and told me that he still remembers when he got wet, and I told him to take off his pants. He didn’t want to do it, so he says I told him either you take them off or I’ll take them off. So he did it.
“I used to bring hot dogs and things up to the field. Everybody would mooch off of us wherever we were. We flew at the airport right off the runway. I was pregnant and they dropped this thing right beside me from the plane. They had a tow line. A car came down the runway with someone yelling something, but I didn’t hear it. All of a sudden one of the guys, Bob Burroughs, I think, yelled, ‘Get down.’ Then it dropped right near us. I mean from a full-scale plane, a regular plane.”
Veteran WRAM member John Isbister recalled that the Club experiences of the early days were more socially oriented. “Everybody brought their wife and children to the field. I came up both days of the weekend. Most of us flew, and every weekend was like a picnic really. Everybody got together. They had these little dining flies [tents with no siding] and they set them up almost touching one another. It was like a whole tent area. We had a roof on it. The wives were a big part of it. The men socialized more. There were several groups of a few people who would go out somewhere after the meetings and have pizza and shoot the breeze.”
Field experiences included lost planes, poison ivy, crashes, and even lost dogs. “I always remember when I first soloed,” Weinberg recalls. “Joe Schmidt, who passed away several years ago, got me into flying at the field off Route 6 behind the farm in Mahopac. This one day we were up there and Joe went around a couple of times with me and left. Everybody left. So I had this Graupner Cirrus glider that I had built along with a Moraine Solonaire. After everybody left, I said I’m going to fly it. I’ve got enough time flying real airplanes and shouldn’t have any problems flying this thing. I took the Moraine off, made a couple of circuits, then some touch and goes and landed her.
“One time I went up with my family, including two daughters and a Dachshund that we had. I flew the glider and had my daughter Sandy fly it. Great, great…she was all excited. Isabelle, my wife, was excited. Sandy, who was about 13 then, got in some good time. She kept it straight and level and made some turns. As I say, this was a gas engine and there were no thermals. Of course, I had to land it. There was no way to go around again. So I landed it and then said, ‘Let’s go home.’ We got back in the car, started driving down the road and someone said, ‘Where’s the dog?’ So we had to go down to the end and come back. Off the field was this high grass. Well, a Dachshund’s only about nine inches high. We’re calling and calling and finally, he showed up.”
“In those days,” according to Siegel, “you were very lucky if you had a complete flight. Last week we were up here [Patterson field] and we were reminiscing with some of the younger people. We commented that we used to come to the field and there would be at least one crash every day [on the day of this interview there were two.] I hadn’t seen a crash in a long, long time. I came into the Club before there was proportional control. We were flying escapements and reeds. An escapement was a rubber-band powered mechanical device that operated your rudder. ‘Rudder only’ was very common. When you opened and closed the circuit, you’d get a ‘bang, bang’ all or nothing movement of your surface control one way or the other. One beep was left and two beeps were right, very confusing, and a real challenge. The first proportionals that I remember were the Ace actuator and the Galloping Ghost. Your rudder was in constant motion and you could see the tail of your airplane fish-tailing. The transmitter stick determined which side the rudder would spend more time on. Oh, yes, and we built the planes we crashed! The first ARFs I remember had blow-molded fuselages and came from Lanier. They were .60 powered and flew pretty well but were pretty ugly.”
Many stories can be told about the men and their flying experiences with the WRAM. Bob Foshay remembered when Howard Linartz flew a plane into a tall tree at the field. “We couldn’t get it down, so I went home and called a power lineman friend of mine. He secretly got it down and we called Howard the next day using a small boy’s voice. ‘Mister, did you lose a plane in a tree? Are you giving a reward for it?’ Howard said yes that he would give him $10. ‘Hey, Joey, burn the damn thing; he’s a cheap [expletive].’ We hung up and let Howard stew about it for the rest of the day, then we called and told him we had his plane.
“Another time, Walt Schroder was up at the field with his son. Linartz asked the son to launch his motorized sailplane for him. But the propeller was on backward and the plane went right into the ground. Linartz started jumping on the kid for being a poor launcher. Schroder had been watching the whole thing, knew the prop was on backward and said he would launch. So he pitched it nose down right into the ground.”
Kirschstein remembers “a lot of crashes and trips into the woods to look for planes. More guys used to come with their families than now. Once in a while, someone brings his wife or girlfriend. That happened more often in the past. At the Armonk Airport, I remember that when you lost a plane there, it was like going into the Amazon. It was just amazing with the spider webs. It’s pretty bad here when you get into the swamp but there it was quite a thing. I remember all the looking for lost planes. Frank DeVore promised to climb all the trees if you could find them. He was able to get up to them.”
Alice Wagner has many stories to tell about experiences at the flying fields. “We used to go up to the field when they had these big transmitters with the big antennas. Only one guy could fly at a time and, if he made it back to land, everyone would clap. We would spend the whole day at the field. If you got two flights in, you were lucky. We used to bring all the kids too. We’ve seen the kids grow up at the fields. They used to go off and do their own thing."
“Before we were married, a date consisted of going to a field and chasing George’s airplane. He would let it go and I had to chase after it to wherever it landed. He wasn’t into radio control until we got married. I bought him his first radio. The field was close to our home in Pleasantville, so we would run down there after work. He worked for Chevrolet after Pontiac went out of business. He used to build on our kitchen table because he didn’t have a workroom. He used to cover his planes with silk and dope. Our kids always slept well. I think we doped them up.”
Launching the WRAM Show
The hassle of having to keep moving from field to field took its toll on the membership. But it spurred the members into presenting the First Annual Eastern States R.C. Jamboree. It was held in White Plains, N.Y., the cradle of Revolutionary War History, according to the July 1969 WRAM’s Horn. Ten thousand square feet of space was devoted to manufacturers’ displays and model exhibits. There were 2,400 paid spectators taking in the products of 14 manufacturers and 85 model airplanes and boats were on exhibit. Spectators lined up three deep at the booths. The show was a great success for attendees and vendors alike.
Bob Foshay claimed he started the idea of having a Show after attending a Toledo show. “Medwid, Schroder, and three or four others supported my proposal, so we launched. There were quite a few naysayers. As they say, ‘Failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers.’ We made several thousand dollars on the first show but some wanted to divide up the money. Instead, we banked it, continued having the shows, and eventually bought the WRAM field….”
“I was president of the Club for the first Show,” recalls Siegel. “Bob Foshay came back from the Toledo show raving about it and convinced that we should have one too. It was really Bob’s idea and he promoted the hell out of it. I remember going out to Toledo with Walt Schroder of Model Airplane News to see what the show was about. We decided to give it a try. Frank DeVore, Bob, and I went to the County Center to see if we could book time for a model airplane show. The guy running the County Center (and we won’t publish his name) had been doing it forever and behaved as if he owned it personally. We’re all talking to him, about our great idea but no matter what we said, he had no dates available for us. Finally, perhaps because I was a little more “New York” than Bob or Frank, I ‘got it’ and asked Bob and Frank to leave the room. For a contribution of $200 to this guy’s college fund, we got a date.
“That was the inception of the first WRAM Show. We only had part of the basement for the first Show. We didn’t have the upstairs. It was very exciting. I don’t remember how much we made. If I had to guess, I’d say $800. We had done some legislating in anticipation of a problem that we sensed was bound to arise. Somehow, either through the by-laws or whatever, we made it so that all the proceeds of the Show could go only toward the procurement of a Club field and not to individual members. Like eating oatmeal, it was the right thing to do! Right after the Show, there were some guys, and we had predicted who they would be, who said, ‘Okay, I want my share of the $800.’ They were soon gone. That first show was the beginning of this beautiful field [Patterson].”
Kirschstein remembers Schroder’s outstanding contribution. “Walt Schroder was the editor of Model Airplane News [he later moved up to president and publisher of the parent company Air Age] and, I would say, a real historic figure in the hobby generally. He joined the Club before I did. He got the idea of having a show on the Eastern Seaboard. The only other one people knew about was in Toledo. Then there might have been some trade shows that had the same purpose. Well, he got behind it and helped organize it. He knew the people who were manufacturers and distributors because they advertised in Model Airplane News. So he was the moving force in getting it going. Model Airplane News gave a cocktail party on Friday.
“Originally, the show was only Saturday and Sunday. And originally, they wouldn’t let people sell anything there. But pretty quickly they started to permit selling. Then it went to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I think the feeling was it wasn’t appropriate at first, that it was just supposed to be to see the manufacturers of the hobby. But the idea of selling there was a pretty compelling one. Very quickly the qualms went away and you see what it is now. The first show was on the bottom floor. Then after a year or so we got the main floor.
“It was at the County Center for years and then for a year or two, we had it at the Yonkers Raceway, which solved the parking problem tremendously. But there were other problems. You couldn’t call out of there because it was a race track. This was before cell phones. And the way it was set up you couldn’t move from one end to the other because it was so crowded. You had to walk outside to get to the other end. We were there a couple of years and then came back to the County Center.
“An incident that I remember most when I was president was when the Show got so crowded the fire chief came up and said he was going to shut it down. In those days the area outside wasn’t much of a parking lot. We had demonstrations of helicopters there, which we scheduled for the afternoon. So I got the guy who was in charge of the demonstration and told him we had to do a helicopter demonstration right this minute. This dragged about a third of the people out to watch it. That reduced the crowd and they didn’t close it. Then they dribbled back in and we were okay. They used to park up and down the Bronx River Parkway for about a half-mile. And the County was furious because they parked all over the place and ripped up the turf. They wouldn’t permit that anymore, of course, and there’s less space in the lot now. That was one of the things I remember.”
The Show, known during its initial years as Eastern States Jamboree, was successful but not easy to plan and execute. “I ran the show for two years,” Foshay says, “and burned out with the vendor problems and the politics. We were having trouble with the County Center manager and suspected he was on the take. Alan Siegel checked it out and discovered it was true. He expected us to cut him in on the show with a couple hundred bucks. This guy was notorious. He got away with it for several years until he tried to put the bite on a local monsignor who wanted to rent one of the upstairs rooms.”
Alice Wagner has had a lot of experience working the Shows. “We had the Show upstairs [in the County Center] and the airplanes on the main floor. Every time they opened the door the wind would blow the airplanes around. It was terrible. The dealers used to come in there and you’d freeze your butt off. After that, we took over all the floors.
“Before, we had to hang up all the booth curtains. Frank DeVore said to me one time, ‘Go down and get them working because they all disappear and we have to roll up the curtains.’ So I went down and said, ‘Okay guys, set up the tables, and let’s roll up the curtains.’ So we started doing it. Then they came down faithfully every year and said, ‘Alice, we’re here. What do you want us to do?’ Now the County does it.
“One year the Center was under renovation and we had to do the Show at the Yonker’s Race Track. But they took charge of selling the tickets, and I think they robbed us.”
The Club had already sponsored some events before taking on the big show, according to Frank DeVore. “Actually we sponsored two AMA airplane meets—the whole thing, U-Control, Free Flight and Radio Control, the whole ball of wax. We held them at Westchester County Airport. I would say probably in the early ’60s.”
Alan Siegel was WRAM President in 1969 when the Club decided to put on its own R/C show. Siegel had the special assistance of DeVore and Walt Schroder, who was President of Model Airplane News at the time. Frank ran the Show after Foshay and Walt and was instrumental in promoting it. The first show was held in the basement of the County Center in White Plains and in subsequent years expanded to the whole Center.
“Back then,” says Daleo, “we still had only 20 members and it was a lot of work. Frank DeVore ran the Show, like Lou [Scarlino] does now, and he still comes up from Florida every year to help Lou. He used to bust his chops…worked like hell really and truly.”
Scarlino’s experience with the Show has been a baptism of fire. “I got involved in the Show because, as a member, I had to work at the Show. Since I had a financial background, they put me right into the cashier’s window. It was a struggle to become a member because the Membership Committee at the time was controlled by an individual who had his own ideas about who should or should not be a member. The word I got subsequent to becoming a member was that the only thing I wanted to do was fly and not really work for the Club, and the only reason I actually got in when I did was that they needed a Treasurer. They needed someone who had a financial background. The guy who had been doing it, Tom Moore, who was a delightful man, died. They had no one to do the financial work for the Club, so I immediately came in and became Treasurer.”
The relationship with DeVore became a lifelong friendship. “Working the Show, Scarlino said, “I became very close friends with Frank DeVore, who is still a very good friend. In fact, when he got married again after his first wife died, I was his best man. He’s a great guy. Frank is truly one of the most honorable persons I’ve ever met in my life. It was a pleasure to work with him. He taught me everything I know about running the Show. Most of what I do is just what he did. His thought was, and I try to pass it along to the members, the public comes to see the exhibitors not to see WRAM members. So we have to do everything we can to make the exhibitors happy.”
Scarlino was the WRAM Show manager from about 1999 to 2013. “I took over managing the Show from Frank about seven or eight years ago--I can’t remember exactly--and Frank mentored me for a couple of years before he gave it up. I took it over when he left. He still works the Show, you know. He does the floor plans every year. I count on him. I still couldn’t do it without him. What was so amazing about it to me was that Frank did everything manually by himself. I had secretarial help at the office until I retired in 2007. I have everything on the computer. But I can’t begin to tell you how many hours it takes to do the Show. It’s not bragging or anything. It’s a major undertaking. It’s a big operation, and it’s important to the Club, so someone has to do it. Fortunately, now I’ve got Danny Carozza and I had Stan Kulesa before. Bob Van Tassel and a lot of the guys offer their help and I take them up on it, because I just can’t do it alone. I don’t have the time. But it’s well worthwhile.”
Scarlino recalls that the most memorable thing about the Show was “when we almost didn’t have it. There was a year when Frank called me. He was still here and in a transition period. He was told by the County Center that we could not have the Show on the dates we had already agreed to. Now the problem with that was, of course, that we had sent out all the advertising, thousands of dollars of advertising. At least 50 percent of the exhibitors had already sent in their applications with money. We couldn’t change the date easily, so the County Center offered to put up a tent to hold the Show. Obviously, that wasn’t possible. The reason given was that they had made a mistake in calculating Easter. When the Easter holiday came, that determined when the section one basketball tournaments would be held. So we would have preempted the section one basketball tournament. They didn’t want that. Politically, it wasn’t good for Andrew O’Rourke, the County Executive at the time, to give that up. So we arranged to meet with him, but a couple of us got together and determined that there was nothing they were going to do to give us the Show on the dates we had agreed to. So we retained a lawyer.
“We got a temporary restraining order and injunction against the County to prevent them from giving the dates to someone else. We heard that O’Rourke was really unhappy about that. We won in the first court battle in the State Supreme Court and we went to the Appellate Division, and at the Appellate Division, they held in our favor unanimously. It precluded the County from going higher. They couldn’t go one step further with the New York State Government. So we had the Show, but it cost us what we would have made on the Show. It was over $35,000 in legal fees. That was the most memorable. We had to do it, though. If we had lost one year, it would have been a disaster. We were lucky. We had a good lawyer and a lot of people involved who really knew what they were doing.
“The County itself, the people who run the Center, is like family. This had nothing to do with them. This was strictly on the executive level. In fact, when O’Rourke was interviewed, one of the things he said to the news media was that he was going to ‘slam dunk’ the WRAMs, these men who were playing with toy airplanes, depriving our children of their right to play basketball, their day in the sun. When we won, we very politely said we just suspected that Mr. O’Rourke fouled out. Actually, he held no grudge because subsequently, he asked us to put up the airplanes at the Westchester Airport, which are hanging there now. One of the high-wing airplanes hanging there, maybe a Taylorcraft, was a plane that he had taken lessons in when he was a young man. He asked us if we could get that for him and we did.”
Another near catastrophe was the time several years ago when the New York Sales Tax Department suddenly appeared at the Show. “Someone blew the whistle on our exhibitors for not filing sales tax returns,” Scarlino surmises. “We incurred a bunch of money representing them because it was a felony offense. These guys would have had to come from all over the United States for months after the Show to plead their case, so we had our own attorney do it for them. That meant a lot to them and to the Show because our reputation was upheld.”
Managing the WRAM Show is no cakewalk, according to Scarlino. “The major problem …is making sure we have the exhibitors. But it’s finding enough exhibitors who have really different products and would be of interest to the public. We don’t need 20 battery companies at the Show. The other problem I have is when I do have multiple exhibitors of similar products, how do I place them. Everyone wants to be on the upper level. The lower level is a less desirable place. Although, this year was the first time I had someone ask me to be put back down on the lower level. It blew my mind. That’s really our big problem, and the other big problem is poor weather. We’ve never been snowed out. We had snow insurance one year when we did have a big snowstorm. We lost about $10,000 from the admissions but the insurance made it up. That was about 6 or 7 years ago. The cost of that insurance is now prohibitive, so we don’t take it. That’s really it. The rest of it is relatively simple. We do it by rote now. I have a set plan. Applications go out in September, so it’s kind of a seamless operation.”
During the process of managing the Show, Scarlino has seen some “sea changes.” “At one time, we did everything. We put up all of our own drapery. We moved things around. We brought the freight in, moved it to the exhibitors’ area. We set up all the tables and put the chairs up. But now that the Club has aged, we pay to have it done. The guys just don’t have the will and/or the ability to do it anymore. I have the freight company move all the exhibitors’ displays into their booth spaces, with the help of our members who are capable. The County Center does the rest of the work for us.”
Managing the Show is a gargantuan undertaking in itself. “We have the second-largest Show, behind Toledo, which is much larger,” Scarlino asserts. “As far as Westchester County is concerned, it is the biggest event that takes place in the County Center by far. For the three days, we have the largest attendance and we take up the entire County Center, every square foot of it. No other exhibitor does that--both levels, all the meeting rooms, all of the private dressing rooms. We take it all because we need the space. We can even use more space.
“At our peak, we were counting 17,000 in attendance, although we’re doing less than that now. The whole hobby has declined. In my various discussions with people in the hobby, they complain that their business is way, way down. They’re very concerned. In fact, I have to make allowances for some exhibitors to pay us at the Show, which we never did before. They just can’t afford it. It’s not the cost of the booth space. It’s travel, accommodations, and freight.”
The WRAM Show is the largest three-day event of its kind in the eastern United States. It features a wide array of competition-based static displays, manufacturer exhibits, seminars, racetrack, youth events and much more that cater to those interested in radio-controlled model airplanes, helicopters, boats, and cars. The Club’s focus is to advance the interests of model aviation and this event attracts exhibitors and spectators from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The Swap Shop is a very popular Show attraction for modelers. John Isbister has been managing the Swap Shop for almost three decades. “This is the 38th Show [2007, without counting the canceled year],” Isbister says, “and I probably have run the Swap Shop for 35 of them.” A Show event that attracts young participants is the WRAM Flyer Program. WRAM member Tony Tartaglia has led this aspect of the Show for many years. According to Tartaglia, “through this program, we help children build rubber-powered model airplanes. It takes about 30 minutes, and once they’re finished, they get to fly them and bring them home. It gives them a great sense of accomplishment and hopefully starts them on a fun and rewarding hobby.”
“It’s great to have worked the Show as a ‘professional’ ticket-taker at the gate since it began,” Windas says. “The WRAM Show is a model of how to get things done, despite the undertows, cross-currents, rip tides, and all sorts of interference.”
In the summer of 2011, Scarlino reported to the Club that an opening had occurred at the Meadowlands Exposition Center (MEC) in Secaucus, New Jersey, that favored the Show’s annual timetable. After careful vetting by the Show Committee, the Club decided it was an offer that couldn’t be refused. MEC provides a modern facility with 61,000 sq. ft. of unobstructed space on one level and a 20-ft. ceiling, unlimited free parking for trucks and trailers, and 6,000 free-indoor-parking spots for the public--all for a cost comparable to or below that of the County Center. The new and exciting venue is part of a commercial complex that includes 5 major hotels, 25 restaurants, 14 movies, and dozens of retail shops within a 5-minute walk. There is regular bus service, a 15-minute ride, from in front of MEC to mid-town Manhattan. Newark International Airport is only minutes away.
The first WRAM Show at the new venue opened on February 24, 2012, and the reviews accorded it a great success. The number of vendors and attendees was up considerably over the previous year’s show, and the enthusiasm was palpable. For the first time, the static displays ran through the center of the Show and a large pond gave RC boaters an opportunity to demonstrate their aquatic skills. Needless to say, MEC is destined to be the Show’s venue of choice for some time to come. In the meantime, after a self-sacrificing 13 years as Show Manager, Scarlino has handed over the task to Bob Krull. Bob not only agreed to run the Show but also to serve a second term on the WRAMs Executive Committee. The Club owes monumental thanks to dedicated members like Lou and Bob.
Hat in the Ring
The Hat in the Ring program, introduced by the WRAM Club in 1996, is based on a unique concept using a historic aviation symbol. “Our goal,” says Hank Nielsen, who originated the idea, “was to encourage and help kids become involved in the hobby of model aviation. Thinking about historic or thematic tie-ins, we sought permission to use the famous ‘Hat in the Ring Squadron’ symbol. This air-wing squadron, one of the first in the U.S., was formed during World War I and made famous by such flyers as Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the leading U.S. ace.
“The idea was to get adults to help kids learn about aviation by throwing their ‘hats in the ring,’ just as the daring WWI flyers did in helping the Allies win the war in France. After some effort, we obtained official U.S. Air Force permission to use the symbol. It’s interesting to note that the historic squadron is still active as the 94th Fighter Squadron. Instead of SPAD and Nieuport biplanes, it now flies F-15 Eagle jets.”
In addition to conceiving the Hat in the Ring youth program, Hank also designed the Wrampager airplane, plans for which have gone all over the world and were probably the first such for an airplane model to appear on the world wide web.
WRAM’s Hat in the Ring program assists teachers, scout leaders, parents, and civic groups to help kids develop airplane modeling skills through classroom presentations and demonstrations, training sessions on and off WRAM’s airfield, subsidized teaching aids, including model materials and flight-training videos, Internet instructions, and email inquiry and response.
“Seeing just one young enthusiast pick up on his own where we leave off with our initial instruction and materials makes all our efforts more than repaid,” says Bob Tiernan, who chaired Hat in the Ring from 2004 to 2008. The distributed materials range from trainer planes to radios to videotapes made possible by raffle income from the Hat in the Ring booth at the WRAM Show and through donations from R/C vendors and others.
Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut was one of the beneficiaries of the Hat in the Ring program. In a letter to WRAM, Jim Knapp of the Technical Education Department wrote: “The students and faculty at Pomperaug High would like to express our gratitude for the wonderful donation of twenty Futaba R.C. servos and related hardware. Also, we would like to thank you for sharing your time and expertise at our annual student field day(s) at the F.L.Y.R.C. Field, Mitchell’s farm, Southbury, CT. The representatives of your outstanding organization not only help bring our students to a new level of technological understanding but also serve as exemplary models.”
Landing a Proprietary Field
With income from the Show, the membership decided it was time to look for a proprietary field. The search was on to locate property in a pastoral setting that could be purchased and dedicated solely to flying. An active Field Finding Committee began the scouting in 1970, which included flying full-scale planes over a wide area. One of the pilots was WRAM member Ken Smalley, who now lives in Georgia. The Club subsidized his airplane rentals when he was trying to find a field.
Joe Wimbrow notes that the Field Finding Committee succeeded in locating an acceptable site in 1975 off Route 129 in Croton, the former Croton Sky Park, which was almost ideally central to the memberships’ residences in Westchester County. Unfortunately, because of a lawyer’s error in the announcement of intent to purchase and the Club’s unprepared approach to town meetings, the intended purchase was not approved. “Effectively,” writes Wimbrow, “we went to the meetings, hat in hand, and asked, ‘May we fly our planes in your territory?’ We had not presented to the board or residents any advantage to them if they approved our permit.”
After many flights, queries, and searches by car, an ideal property across the Westchester line in Putnam County was found by Don Kilgus with the help of a real estate agent on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1977. He went to the Patterson Town Hall and found out who owned it. It was an 81.48-acre lot off Route 311, farmland formerly owned by Mortimer H. Dykeman, Jr., and his wife, Gloria, which had been sold to a consortium of developers [Brookside Associates].
“You have to thank Tom Moore and Joe Wimbrow,” recalls Frank DeVore. “They were the moving forces, Tom Moore especially because of his ability to finance it. We signed personal notes, but we didn’t have to put anything up. He [Tom] bent a few arms at the bank. Tom was the treasurer of a big company…. Joe Wimbrow worked along with Tom on it. He was with IBM.”
Joe Wimbrow estimates that during the 6 or 7 years of the search, with an increasing level of activity each year, in 1975 and 1976 alone, he personally visited and walked around on 29 sites and drove by almost 20 others. During the 14 months between the deposit and the closing on the field, Tom Moore, the Treasurer, and Wimbrow, the President, spent an average of 6 to 12 hours per week on the project, a total of 500 man-hours. By early April 1977, Wimbrow and Moore were close to getting an agreement with the owners to purchase the field, so they hired Mr. Edward I. Sumber of Carmel, New York, a lawyer experienced in local real estate law and permits, to represent WRAM.
Kirschstein also had a hand in the selection. “As far as our field is concerned, I wasn’t involved except to help get a local lawyer. We had to get a guy who had knowledge of the local laws and real estate. I’m a patent lawyer, so I don’t know that much about it. I participated to some extent but the legal work was done by the guy we picked. I remember that we went to the Town to put our case before them. It was my first picture of how small-town America works. These local citizens were running their own meetings. I’d never seen that. I had started in the City. We had an elderly guy then [Tom Powers] who knew about this type of thing. He knew how to handle it. We presented our case and got the resolution that is all on the record. You’ve got that in the archives, the records approving us. That’s our treasure for the Club in my opinion. That’s the basic document, the Use Permit for our purpose.”
Wimbrow, Moore, and Sumber attended a Patterson Town Board meeting on April 13, 1977, to explain the need to request a Special Use Permit and re-zoning to allow model airplane flying on 75 of the almost 82 acres to be purchased. Their presentation included a demonstration of Moore’s scale WACO, wiggling its control surfaces with a transmitter. On the afternoon of May 7, 1977, they organized a flying demonstration on-site for members of the Town Board, Zoning Board, Planning Board, the City Engineer, and local residents.
After several more meetings and presentation of documentation, including the Club’s Field Rules and an engineering report on sound levels of up to 0.61-cubic inch motors, the permit was finally approved on January 27, 1978. In the permit application, the engineering report prepared by William F. Zeller, Assoc. of Mahopac stated that “Ninety-five (95) percent of the property will remain as is with the remaining five (5) percent being used by the APPLICANT. Virtually all the land, if used as proposed, will remain forever green.” A later meeting with the Town’s Environmental Protection Committee clarified that “forever green” was not meant as a permit restriction.
Frank DeVore also was directly involved. “We bought the field from a group of developers, who were caught between third base and home plate when housing went into a slump as it does cyclically. They wanted $2,500 an acre but I offered them $1,500. Banks weren’t keen on financing undeveloped land, so we signed personal notes to cover the shortfall. So many of us signed that the bank was over-subscribed. At one time, we were offered $4 million for the field, but I said we would just have to find another field so why sell?”
Actually, 18 WRAM members signed liens against their home mortgages for a bank loan of $70,000 for the closing on April 7, 1978, to cover the difference in the Club’s cash payment and the negotiated price. The note signers included: Edward Alexis, Charles Auerbach, Allan Davis, Ronald Faanes, Robert Foshay, Don Kilgus, Andrew Medwid, Elizabeth Moore, surviving spouse of Thomas Moore [deceased], Robert Parilla, Vincent Perillo, George Plumer, Edward Pomponi, Joseph Schmid, Sr., Kenneth Smalley, Ernest Stein, Curtis Tilton, George Wagner, and Joseph Wimbrow.
Alice Wagner remembers George coming home one day and telling her he signed for the field. “Oh God,” she said, “what if they can’t pay for the field or something? He said don’t worry, they’d work it out. Eddie Pomponi bought two shares, but my husband did only one share. We couldn’t afford any more than one. I remember when they made the final payment they burned the mortgage at the field.” The mortgage was paid out in full and discharged by the bank six years later, on November 13, 1984.
After work was completed on the runway, access road, and parking lot, the field was officially opened with a “Dedication and Grand Opening” on July 15, 1978. The Town Supervisor did the ribbon-cutting honors with many Town officials, residents, and media in attendance. Flight demonstrations, of course, accompanied the ceremony. The successful event was chronicled in the local papers [see Appendix].
Shortly afterward, the following October, the Club secured an Easement on the southern end of the field for another $2,000. [See Archives about the Deed and Town certification.]
Then, in 1985, an adjacent farm and old house owned by the Evans Product Company, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Horsham, PA., came on the market and the Club decided to make a bid for it. The $60,000 bid was accepted and the 5.79-acre plot was added, giving the field a total of 87.27 acres, plus a right of way on the south end of the field in common with Mortimer Dykeman, his heirs and assigns forever. There was a well and an old house/barn on the new plot. Hank Nielsen, who was Club President at the time, suggested offering the old structure to anyone who would dismantle it and haul it off. Hank then arranged for the offer to be quickly taken up by a local farmer, which represented a savings of $10,000 for the Club.
Things have gone smoothly with the Town and the Patterson community ever since. At one point, though, a group of developers proposed to the County that part of the field be designated a landfill dumping ground. WRAM members and lawyers for Jehovah's Witness neighbors immediately rallied townspeople to confront the County Legislature, which subsequently supported the landfill sight proposal. Patterson townsfolk were invited to the WRAM field for a festival barbecue and opposition promotion. The JWs covered legal expenses and other costs.
So many people turned up for the first scheduled landfill Town meeting they overflowed the Mahopac Falls School 300-seat auditorium, causing the meeting to be postponed and moved to the 1,200-seat auditorium of Mahopac High School. However, it was the potential damage to the Great Swamp that finally caused the cancellation of the proposal. Lou Scarlino and John Isbister were at the field when they heard that the County Executive was bringing a hydrologist for testing to prove the ground acceptable for the huge garbage dump. The sheriff and another officer were also present. After arguing that the Executive had no jurisdiction and was trespassing though he claimed eminent domain, both sides threatened arrests. But then Isbister, himself a professional hydrologist, took Lou aside and told him to let them dig. He said they would find the water table in less than 20 feet, which would be unacceptable to the DEC protectors of the NYC water system. As predicted, the dig resulted in water at l5 feet. The proposal never surfaced again. For the past several years, WRAM has made a donation to the annual Patterson Day festivities and has sponsored flight demonstrations and an open invitation to Patterson officials and townspeople.
On May 25, 1992, in honor of his hard work on the WRAM Shows and his dedication to the Club, the field was officially named the Frank DeVore Field. There is a dedication plaque at the field by the radio impound stand.
By-Laws, Rules, and Responsibilities
The oldest set of by-laws found in the archives was adopted by the WRAM in June 1967 (see 1967 By-Laws in the Archives). At that time, membership was limited to 50 members. The annual dues, if paid in advance, were $18, otherwise $1.75 per month. By 1978, membership was limited to 60 and so stated in WRAM’s appeal for a Special Use Permit from the Town Board of Patterson for its authorization of R/C flight at the WRAM field. It has been held at 60 members ever since the application for the Special Use Permit.
The Club has three types of members: voting members 18 years of age or older; junior members who are 14 to18 years old and have been voted into full membership; and probationary members. As amended in 2007, all members are expected to attend at least four meetings a year and fill assignments during the three days of the WRAM Show.
In order to ensure the safety of the members and maintain good relations with the community, WRAM has developed a set of safety and sound field rules. There is an oversight committee but each member is expected to help enforce the rules.
Among the most important rules is the prohibition against flying alone without another responsible adult present. This is an obvious precaution in case of an accident, such as a propeller cut, or a heart attack, stroke, etc.
Limitations are also imposed on the amount of sound allowable. All two-stroke engines, regardless of size, are not to exceed 96 decibels at a distance of 9 feet from the engine on the ground. All four-stroke engines and gasoline engines, regardless of size, are not to exceed 98 decibels at 9 feet. These sound limitations, along with the restriction disallowing glow or gas engines running before 11 am on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, before 9 am other mornings or after dusk any evening, were established to prevent noise complaints from nearby residents and possible cancellation of the Club’s use of the field for R/C flying by the Town Board. The flying hours were explicitly stated in WRAM’s original application to the Town Board for its Special Use Permit.
Over the years, the WRAM Club established two awards: the Walter Schroder Cup to honor a WRAM member who has made an outstanding contribution to the Club; and the Howard McEntee Memorial Award to recognize and pay tribute to great contributors and innovators in the hobby of radio control.
“Walter Schroder,” according to WRAM member David Kirschstein, “was one of the giants of the model airplane hobby, right up there with Bill Winters, who was his predecessor at Model Airplane News. He did a lot for the hobby and, of course, for the WRAMs. I joined the Club because Walter called me after I sent him a postcard asking a question about getting into R/C. He suggested coming to a meeting of the WRAMs. Also, he told me later that he himself had joined the WRAMs because R/C was the coming thing in the model airplane hobby and he wanted to learn about it. His oldest son, John, as well as Butch, was a member, and both of them were very good flyers. Walt didn’t fly much, but he had a large store of knowledge and know-how with regard to model building, flying, trimming, engines, you name it. He also, as Alan [Siegel] says, was a force in the WRAM Show. He knew the companies in the model airplane business, and for years he had Model Airplane News host a cocktail party before the Show.”
The first Schroder Cup was awarded in 1962. It is awarded periodically by the officers of the Club in consultation with an awards committee. The Walt Schroder awardees are:
1962—Bob Foshay --- 1963—John Schroder --- 1964—George Wagner --- 1965—George Wagner --- 1966—Lew Sabato --- 1967—Frank DeVore --- 1968—Frank DeVore --- 1969—Joe Schmid, Sr. --- 1970—Bob Ehrlich --- 1971—Jack Ruggiero --- 1972—Joe Wimbrow --- 1973—Joe Schmid, Sr. --- 1974—Ken Smalley --- 1975—Lucky DiRubbo --- 1976—Tom Moore --- 1977—Tom Moore --- 1978—Frank DeVore --- 1979—Ed Pomponi --- 1980—Dave Kirschstein --- 1981—Don Kilgus --- 1982—Ron Faanes --- 1983—John Isbister --- 1984—Lou Scarlino --- 1985—Hank Nielsen --- 1986—Vince Perillo --- 1987—Frank DeVore --- 1989—Jerry Judge --- 1992—Lou Scarlino --- 1995—Vince Perillo --- 1996—Hank Nielsen --- 1997—Alan Wasserman --- 2002—Jim Onorato --- 2004—Bob Van Tassel --- 2009—Dan Carozza --- 2010—Bob Krull --- 2012—James Manecky --- 2014—Bob Skrobalak --- 2017—Michael Gagliardi --- 2019—Dan LeBeau
The McEntee award was granted annually by the Club and given to the honoree at the WRAM Show. The WRAM President and Officers consider nominations and choose the recipient, who is provided expenses to receive the award at the Show. Howard McEntee was an early developer and experimenter instrumental in helping the new hobby start its development toward the amazingly reliable systems we have today. When Howard died in 1972, Bob Foshay encouraged the Club to begin an award in McEntee’s name that would recognize others with the pioneering spirit and accomplishments exemplified by its namesake. Since its inception in 1973, the McEntee Award has been presented to 39 distinguished pioneers of radio control, including a special award to Bob Foshay.
The McEntee awardees are:
1973 - Maynard Hill --- 1974 - Ed Lorenz --- 1975 - Bill and Walt Good --- 1976 - Don Mathes and Doug Spreng --- 1977 -Bob Dunham --- 1978 - Phil Kraft --- 1979 - Gerry Nelson --- 1980 Hal DeBolt --- 1981 - Paul Runge --- 1982 - Bob Aberle --- 1983 - Nick Ziroli --- 1984 - Carl Goldberg --- 1985 - Bob Novak --- 1986 George Myers --- 1987 - Fred Marks --- 1988 - Don Lowe --- 1989 - Bill Hershberger --- 1990 - John Worth --- 1991 - George Steiner --- 1992 - Bill Winter --- 1993 - Cliff Weirick --- 1994 - Don Brown --- 1995 - Art Schroeder --- 1996 - Bill Northrop; Bob Foshay (special award to Club pioneer) --- 1997 - Jack R. Albrecht --- 1998 - Carl Schwab --- 1999 - Leon Shulman --- 2000 - Norm Rosenstock --- 2001 - Abbott Lahti --- 2002 - Hazel Sigafoose --- 2003 - Dave Brown --- 2004 - Pete Reed --- 2005 - Tom Hunt --- 2006 -Stuart Richmond --- 2007 - Dave Platt --- 2008 - Henry Haffke --- 2009 - Keith Shaw --- 2010 - Frank Tiano --- 2011 - Joe Beshar --- 2012 - No Prize Awarded --- 2013 - Roy Vaillancourt --- 2014 - Dave Johnson
Looking back, it’s obvious that WRAM brought into its ambit many different personalities from many different walks of life. Looking ahead, it depends on the new generations and their interest in aviation. “On a personal note,” says Ray Windas, “the WRAMs were an example we used with our children as they were growing up. We built models and flew them. Some crashed and we rebuilt them. We built radios, gadgets, and models that we fixed and flew again. The boys went on to be engineers, but have moved on to other careers. Our daughter is in the school-counseling area. One son spent 10 years as a Navy aviator and is now with United. The other son worked for Hughes on the Galileo Space Probe. So the WRAMs are unique; they are passionate about the Club, the field, the Show and, most importantly, in what they each believe on those subjects.”
The Club, in spite of its members’ advanced median age, tries to keep abreast of the times. It has had a website, www.wram.org, for almost a decade. Hank Nielsen, who died in 2014, provided the copy and photos for the initial website and Jonathan Siegel designed the layout. Several WRAM members publish reviews of the latest planes in leading R/C magazines. Other members contribute their time, monies, and planes to the Hat in the Ring youth program.
Still, the Club faces its challenges with all the distractions the modern world offers, as Alan Siegel points out: “If we don’t attract young people, I think the Club’s future is very limited. I don’t know what the average member age is, but I think it’s pretty ‘senior.’
“The old-timers grew up when aviation was king. It was the glamour field. Now the kids are into their computer games and space. I don’t think they relate to prop-driven airplanes. When I was a kid, Flying Aces was the magazine I ran to the newsstand for every month. Flying Models is its successor. When I go through Flying Models there are guys in their 60s, 70s, and 80s still flying rubber-band models and having a wonderful time, but you don’t see a lot of young people in those pictures. I don’t understand how this hobby is supporting all of the equipment I see in the magazines.
“The Club has always enjoyed a membership comprised of diverse and decent human beings. This has not changed and is, I believe, the secret to its success. Meetings used to be quite spirited. There were factions and there were arguments and it was very political at times. The thing that’s amazing about this Club is that it runs so absolutely smoothly and so harmoniously. If only the rest of the world could follow our example! That seems to be a good note upon which to end this.”