But Grisard Field didn’t go away. A handsome, dashing World War I aviator from Alabama, Maj. Hugh Watson, and his brother Parks acquired the Blue Ash property, renamed it Watson Field and soon had flying circuses, airshows and an airmail contract and even scheduled Ford Tri-Motor service with Universal Airlines. Hangars replaced the Army structures that were moved to Lunken, where they still stand today.
In a strange turn of events, Cincinnati bought the field back from the Watsons following the end of World War II. After the 1937 flood had submerged Lunken Airport, it was obvious another site was needed if the area wanted a major airport. While local leaders had decided on Blue Ash, Cincinnati voters and Washington politicians had other ideas. So Cincinnati owned an airport surrounded by the city of Blue Ash while its “Greater Cincinnati Airport” would be located in Northern Kentucky. Meanwhile, Hugh Watson sold his flying operation to “Moose” Glos, still in business as Co-Op Aircraft Service.
I hate to see Blue Ash disappear because it’s a vibrant and historic treasure but mostly, I guess, because it holds so many memories. That area northeast of the city was still farmland when my oldest sister, Pat, and her family built a house nearby, and it was a long drive for this 12-year-old who thought her four rug rats were a pain in the neck. Then I discovered a neighbor, Harris True, had an airplane in his garage. It was something called a “Piper Tri-Pacer,” and Mr. True belonged to a flying club at an airport just down the road. That was Blue Ash, and the club was called The Flying Neutrons because most members were engineers from the big GE jet-engine plant down the hill in Evendale.
It would be nearly 10 years until I actually set foot or, more specifically, “booty” on Blue Ash Airport. Clueless and helpless, riding in the back end of a Cessna 195, we arrived and swerved wildly off the grass runway, out through the boonies. What felt like “The Whip” at Coney Island was my graphic and rude introduction to the phenomenon of a ground loop.
This ragged-out old (even then) 195 belonged to a “Damon Runyonesque” character named Tony Maier who rented out T-hangars and pumped gas at Lunken Airport. The pilot, Jim Bettes, was a happy-go-lucky young guy who flew a Cessna 310 for Queen City Barrel Co. and later went to Braniff Airlines. Nobody was sure if Tony was actually a pilot, but Jim was in the left seat and, anyway, those were the days (you remember them) when you’d jump into anything for the chance to go flying. I think this was a mission to pick up parts at the T.W. Smith Engine Co. on South Blue Ash Airport.
Jim took nothing very seriously. So when Tony grabbed the wheel on final approach, Jim just let go and yelled, “You got it, Tony.” Then Tony took his hands and feet off the controls with “No, no, Jimmy, you got it.” Control of the airplane changed hands (and feet) a number of times until we flared out over the grass and it turned into a truly dual operation — both of them were steering. Tony yelled, “Go around, go around,” and, laughing, Jimmy shouted, “Hang on, Tony, we are going around.” And, boy, did we go around. Miraculously, when the dust settled and the voices were quiet, the prop and wingtips were still intact.
Notice I said this was on “South” Blue Ash Airport, and therein lies a tale. ...
At some point in the ’30s, Parks Watson, a small, quiet man compared with his dashing, flamboyant brother, fell madly in love with Hugh’s wife. I guess the attraction was mutual because Hugh’s marriage and the airport were forever split in two. Hugh operated the north strip and Parks the south.
When I came back home from my FAA years in Chicago and Indianapolis, the sleepy little grass runways had morphed into a modern airport with instrument approaches, a paved 3,700-foot runway and three FBOs. Could it really just disappear? Doesn’t seem right ...
“I have no plea for shaft or stone
to mark the furrowed ruts
where flight was born.
Like all that was,
the meadows served their day
and now, no longer graced
by high-flown dreams,
lie undistinguished from
the common clay.
But this I mark.
When men do what they can
with what they have at hand,
a clearing by a road becomes
a promised land;
the springing turf of
some green meadow sod
a catapult from which
man leaps to touch
the face of God.”
– Gill Robb Wilson