Pecatonica Airport
The Pecatonica airport was a grass landing strip at the
corner of Pecatonica Road and Blair Road, just north of
Pecatonica, Illinois. The airport operated a 2,300-foot
grass runway on approximately 100 acres, from the
1940s until at least the 1970s. William Harris, his cousin
Roy Neely, and Leroy Berkebile operated the airport for
many years, providing flight instruction, airplane rentals
and crop dusting services.
Technically the Pecatonica Airport still exists, at least in the Winnebago County real estate records. A
residence has replaced the hangars, and only the silver-roofed building remains. The airport property
was about one-half mile long and about 1,800 feet wide (Google Maps image, 2014).
Above Left: This aerial photo was taken in 1939 as part of the USDA's project to photograph the
Midwest from the air. The airport facilities are on the bottom right of the photo, and they don't look like
much. But after the war, the airport would expand to meet the needs of the local community.
Above Right: In 1945, World War II ended and in November of that year, the Freeport
Journal-Standard reported that the Pecatonica Airport was expanding. Three years later, the airport
was home to at least 30 airplanes.
The Pecatonica Airport owners were probably glad to see 1948 go. Before the fire in November, high
winds took down a hangar. The July 23, 1948 edition of the Freeport Journal-Standard reported on a
hangar that was blown over after a tornado passed through the Pecatonica area.
Left: The GI Bill
following World War II
provided flight
instruction for veterans.
William "Neely" Harris
trained many of them
in Piper Cubs. In his
2009 obituary, he is
said to have had as
many as 75 students at
one time. This
advertisement
appeared in the
Freeport Journal-
Standard in the late
1940s. In 1946, two
1939 Piper J-3's at the
airport were listed for
sale in
Flying
Magazine
. For a
Above Right: During the year of the tornado and fire, Pecatonica Airport advertised the crop dusting
company operated by its owners. By this time the Canner's Aerial Dusting Service maintained a fleet
of 18 aircraft. Many of these were Piper Cubs that were modified for spraying fields. The planes
sprayed for aphids on many acres of peas grown for the Keene-
Belvidere Canning Company. Crop dusting was also about the only way to protect corn against corn
borer worms, which weakened the stalks when the corn was too tall to apply pesticides with ground
application equipment. Canner's Aerial Dusting Service was among the first crop dusting companies
to spray for corn borers in the 1940s.
Above Left: The airport made national news in March of 1948, by way of a horse with an unfortunate
name. The lowlands around the Pecatonica River are prone to flooding, especially when snow melts
in the spring. So it is no surprise that an animal would find itself stranded on an island in early
March.  This version of the story appeared in the Freeport Journal-
Standard, but many other newspapers around the country picked it up on the national news wire.
Above Left: Canner's Aerial Dusting Service made news in June of 1946 when one of its planes was
the first in Iowa to apply insecticide for European corn borer.
The
Wessels Living History Farm has an excellent description of crop dusting in the 1940s. As
mentioned in their article, genetically modified corn has mostly put an end to crop dusting for
European corn borer.
Above Below: Bernard Redlawsk was one of many crop duster pilots who found trouble with
inanimate objects. He apparently survived this crash in May of 1952 and lived until 2009.
Below Left: John Schrader was employed by Canner's Aerial Dusting Service when he was killed
while spraying a field in September 1947.
Below Right: In 1961, Ruth Kottman received national attention when her story was published by the
Associated Press. In 1964, the future Mrs. Jack Garr was said to be one of only 5 women airplane
mechanics in the United States.
Below Left: Tragedy struck the airport in 1967, when a skydiver was electrocuted while attempting a
landing on the runway.

Below Right: Leroy Berkebile was one of the owners of Pecatonica Airport over the years. In June of
1972, he piloted American Airlines flight 119 out of St. Louis, which was
hijacked by Martin J.
McNalley.
This was the last of the articles I could locate for
the Pecatonica Airport, and I can only assume the
airport did not last much longer.
The airport made news several times throughout its history, mainly from incidents of fire and tornado
damage, and mishaps from its crop dusting service and skydiving. But the national press occasionally
picked up some interesting, positive stories that are highlighted here.

The airport grew after World War II, when new hangar space was added to accommodate the growth
of the crop
dusting industry and flight instruction for war veterans. The airport offered Piper Cubs for flight
instruction and rental. Crop dusting took off in the 1930s, and over the years the airport owners' aerial
spraying company covered many acres of vegetable fields with insecticides.

Above is photo of the airport as it appeared in
This is Winnebago County (John Drury,
1955).
modest $1,400 investment, an 1800-hour Cub could have made a new home with a pilot who didn't
want to fly very fast.
Above Right: The November 16, 1948 edition of the Janesville (WI) Daily Gazette reported a
disastrous fire at the airport. The crop dusting service took the worst of it. Roy Neely and two other
partners incorporated their crop dusting company in 1945 as Canner's Aerial Dusting Service, which
did work for the Keene-
Belvidere Canning Company in Belvidere, Illinois (now operated by
Green Giant, a division of
General Mills). Just two months later, the airport was at least partially back in business. In January
1949, the restaurant reopened under the management of
Glen Mullican. The Freeport Journal-
Standard reported that the restaurant seated 32 and was built with "the latest styles in equipment
and fixtures."
Below: The airport's claim to fame was being part
of a barnstorming documentary in 1974. A youthful
Hugh Downs produced the film
Nothing by Chance
in the style of Bruce Brown's
Endless Summer and
On Any Sunday. The documentary was a recreation
of Richard Bach's book of the same name. One of
the highlights of the documentary for Pecatonica
locals surely must have been Hugh Downs playing
banjo with the "Nothing By Chance Orchestra"
under the stars at the airport.