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.

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.

At left is photo of the airport as it appeared in
This is Winnebago County (John Drury, 1955).
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Left: Tragedy struck the airport in 1967, when a skydiver was electrocuted while
attempting a landing on the runway.

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.

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.
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.