The Accidental Hang-Glider
By Eldon in his “Copperfield Remembered” book -- page 186-7-8
|Flight from the top of the Giant Chief Dump top right|
Telegraph was the upper most part of Copperfield, (Upper Bingham) in 1938. The old U.S. was a mile or two farther up Galen Gulch so it was not generally referred to as part of Copperfield. Halversons lived in Telegraph just below the sharp turn of the road that went up to Galena Gulch. Their house was the very farthest up the canyon in Bear Gulch as it turned right towards Queen so they were somewhat isolated.
Gene’s Story; I started building model airplanes while living in Frog Town. “Buck Rodger’s” got me started with his airship. Then mother bought a few more as they eventually passed into history. I was crippled by an automobile accident and could not walk by the time they moved to Telegraph and there were no other kids his age so mother bought me more models to build. They came in a box containing long strips and flat pieces of “Balsa” wood with plans and paper to cover the finished model. Each rib or section were cut and notched for the spars to exactly match the blueprint. It was sanded and covered with the furnished paper. Lee is still amazed with how good they looked. Well, the first thing that went was the wheels, they were worthless in rocks and boulders, skids were better. The propeller and elastic was soon eliminated and adjustments made for balance and they flew father. When repairs could no longer be made the top wing on a biplane was fitted with a front extension and balanced. In time I just made wings, I made two or three out of one kit.
He continued making small airplanes for two or three years. With each plane be become more adept at improving their flying ability by such devises as adding adjustable weights to the wings. He made lots of twelve to fourteen-inch wingspans. These planes never did fly more than a hundred feet or so. Some stayed up in the air for a fair while and did some dipsy-doos but they had their limitations. He tried many launch sites; they could be thrown from the top of the stairway in his front yard, and at Marcel Chia’s house also built on a mine dump and even on the dump in Dinkyville near Carter’s house.
Gene’s Story; One day while trespassing on the U.S. Mine property for some reason or other I came near this great big saw and watched these two guys cutting strips of wood off these big boards. As soon as they left with their boards, I ran behind the saw and grabbed a whole armful and ran home. OH, what fun! I can really make a big airplane now and I did.
He decided to embark on a grandiose project. He would build an airplane that was bigger than any that they made kits for. He went down to the lumber shop of the U.S. Mine (The Niagara Tunnel) in Copperfield and found some 2-inch wide by ¼ inch thick by 14 feet long pieces of scrap wood that were laying out in the yard. He took as many pieces as he could drag and took them home. He worked in his front yard to build this enormous model. Rather than airplane glue he used bailing wire (also from the lumber yard) to hold it together. The covering for the plane was an ingenious material that most boys don’t often see—his mother’s and Mrs. Bodmer’s petticoats and bloomers. It took him two or three months to build this huge plane. When finished the wing had a fourteen-foot span by four-foot wide and weighed about twenty-five pounds.
Gene; well, the word got out and the boys from Copperfield and Dinkyville had come to watch it fly. I can’t really remember how many were there six maybe seven, I can remember Leon Miller and Max Ivie but then my memory fails me. I really did not expect to fly it that day because there was nothing around the house heavy enough to balance it. Well the boys just grabbed the wing and took off as I was making excuses. I grabbed a pliers and some wire and followed. I did know a place by the mine where there were a lot of pieces of iron so they dropped the wing and followed me over there.
There was one critical problem with the plane, however. It wasn’t balanced properly. Gene got a large bearing cap from an old abandoned steam-driven hoist engine at the old Giant Chief Mine. It weighed about twenty pounds, as much as the wing itself. He attached it to the front extension so that its position could be adjusted to fine-tune the overall balance.
|Chea's house top left hea's damaged Garage|
The dump of the Old Giant Chief mine was an ideal place to launch from it was at least a quarter of a mile above my house with the wind blowing up the canyon. It was a half a mile walk up Bear Gulch and back over an overgrown trail to the top of the dump but was well worth the effort. The wing if successful could actually fly hopefully over Copperfield and even the Copper Pit.
Waist rock from the Giant Chief had been hoisted out of the mine and ejected over the hill for twenty years or so beginning in the 1870s or 80s. with each carload of waist that was hoisted out of the mine and tipped over the edge the dump extended father and farther down the hillside. By the time the mine shutdown in the early 1900s the waist material had covered all the bushes and trees for a distance of two hundred yards down the hill and the vertical from the top of the dump to the bottom was over two hundred feet. In later years a road had been bulldozed so there was an elevated point on the very end.
Gene decided that this dump was the perfect spot! The vertical height and the unobstructed takeoff path were more than adequate. And for a glide space—he could see down the canyon for miles! If a plane, after takeoff, didn’t lose altitude too rapidly and kept to a course down the canyon it might soar for three miles or more!
|Gene when he flew|
This was the “Big Day”. His brother lee and six or eight of the boys from Copperfield carried the plane from the house to the dump while Gene followed behind with some tools. There was a strong wind coming up the canyon—this would help the airplane take off. He and all the bystanders envisioned this flight in their minds—Gene would hurl the plane off the dump. It would swoop down the hill, gaining speed, and then lift up and over the trees and glide away down the canyon like a huge bird. It would fly on and on, becoming smaller and smaller in the distance until it was only a speck in the sky above Copperfield and then they would lose sight of it as it sailed over the open-pit copper mine and went on past the main town of Bingham. Hundreds of people would see it and point at it in the sky above them. There might even be articles in the newspaper of the sighting of the mysterious silent airplane.
Gene stood on the high point of the dump and held the plane up in the air with both hands. Then he shifted it around to determine whether the nose was too heavy or too light. He laid it back down and moved the brass bushing to adjust the balance. He checked the balance and moved the bushing several times until it felt right to him. Then he held the plane above his head with both hands and prepared to launch it.
He wanted to take a short dash forward and throw if off the dump just as a gust of wind came up but it was hard to guess when that would be. It was hard to stand steadily upon the tip of the dump while holding the plane that was being buffeted by the wind so the other boys crouched down by his side and helped him keep his balance.
|it flew over the Halverson Home|
Gene took several quick steps toward the edge of the dump but the wind died down so he stopped short and held the plane. He almost fell but the other boys caught him. Then he tried again but with the same results and the boys caught him once more. On the third try, however, there was a sudden, extra strong gust that caused the plane to lift up higher above his head and he slipped over the dump. The other boys tried to catch him but missed. Gene held on helplessly as the plane pulled him off the tip of the dump and started flying down toward the trees and roadway below. At first he tried to run while holding on to the plane but after about twenty yards the plane picked up speed and his feet barely touched the ground a couple of times. The surface of the dump was a hard as a rock and very rough—he didn’t dare fall off. Then the plane lifted still higher and, with him dangling below it, zoomed down the mine dump at what seemed like forty miles an hour! He had no control over the plane and held on to it for dear life, not knowing what else to do. For a fleeting moment he thought the plane might crash into the trees so he had only to hold on until then. However, by the time the plane reached the bottom of the dump Gene was ten feet above the ground and was gaining altitude and speed every second.
The other boys, after failing to catch Gene as plane pulled him over the edge, were stunned to see him still holding on to the plane and racing at breakneck speed down the dump. Then, as the plane continued to go higher and faster, they realized the seriousness of the situation. They all started to shout, “Let go! Let go!”
|Harvey Halverson Marcel Chea|
After Gene let the plane went straight out over the trees, crossed the road and flew over his house. Then it climbed high in the air and seemed, for a long time, to float lazily on the wind that was coming up the canyon. After several moments it slowly dropped downward and floated backward as it got lower. Then it gently began going down the canyon again. It appeared to be floating like a feather. But then what looked like a feather crashed into Marcel Chea’s garage with a loud bang! It hit so hard that the body and wings of the airplane were broken so badly that they were only good for kindling wood. The brass bushing came loose from the rest of the plane and made a big hole in the top of the garage. The length of the flight was about a half a mile.
|Gene Paul Vivian Mother|
This hang-gliding flight, though accidental, was certainly the first in Bingham Canyon and probably the first in the state of Utah. It wasn’t a particularly long ride (just a bit longer than the length of the Giant Chief mine dump) and it wasn’t reported in in any newspapers. But it has lived on in the memories of all who witnessed it and of many who heard the story. It is remembered by Gene as one of his outstanding lifetime experiences.