Airport of the Month: Bagley
Bagley is the "Gateway to Itasca." In 1832, Henry Schoolcraft found the headwaters of the Mississippi in what is now Minnesota's best known State Park. Schoolcraft spent two years exploring the upper reaches of the river. He had to contend with rapids and long portages. The last leg of his voyage from Big Sandy Lake in Aitken County to Itasca took over three months. You could still canoe up the Mississippi to Bagley, but getting there is a lot easier now because Bagley has a first class general aviation airport.
Athletic teams at the Bagley High School are known as the "Flyers." That's appropriate because the school pioneered aviation programs for teenagers. In fall of 1974, the students started building an airplane. It was a Davis Model DA2A. That's a low wing, two seat monoplane. It's unique in being all metal with a "V" tail similar to the Beech Bonanza. Construction took two years and inspired a number of other Minnesota High schools to initiate similar programs. Besides being one of the first high schools to build an airplane from a kit, Bagley was the last to play outdoor hockey. The team didn't move indoors until after the 1995-96 season. But, being the "Flyers" has nothing to do with the airplane building. An aviator inspired the nickname, although he's an imaginary one. For years the school's mascot was a famous comic strip dog that fantasized he was a World War I flying ace and that his dog house was a Sopwith Camel. Issues with copyright laws brought a new mascot, but the name "Flyers" stuck. However, Bagley did produce two very real war time pilots.
Kenneth Neujahr graduated from Bagley High School in 1938. Art Neujahr, his father, was a pharmacist and undertaker. The senior Neujahr's friendship with "Speed" Holman got him into flying. In the 1930's he operated Neujahr's Flying Service at the "old" Bagley Airport. The flying service had an Aeronca and one instructor. Ken learned to fly there and went on to be a military instructor at the start of World War II. In 1944 he transferred to the Air Transport Command (ATC). Before the end of the war he'd crossed the Atlantic 75 times flying for ATC. After the war he was a pilot for American Airlines, but eventually studied Medicine at the Illinois College of Optometry. In 1950 Dr. Neujahr came home to Bagley and spent the rest of his career improving the local vision.
While Neujahr was flying the Atlantic, Roger Kanten was a B-17 pilot in North Africa and Italy. He completed 51 missions and was hit only once by enemy fire. Many airfields in that theatre were fairly primitive. Refrigeration was non-existent or at a premium, and Roger had a reputation for bringing his crew and airplane home. To take advantage of the cold at 25,000 feet the ground crews would stash their beer on Roger's airplane knowing they could count on him to come back safely with some nicely chilled beverages. Mr. Kanten returned to Bagley after the war to farm and do aerial application. He did some fun flying too. Some of his aviation wisdom was passed on to his son-in-law, Dennis Huwe (that's HooVee). Mr. Huwe is now the Bagley volunteer in the Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association (AOPA) Airport Support Network.
The "new" Bagley Airport is on a hill south east of town. Flying to Bagley is really scenic and even on the ground the view is pretty spectacular. That's appropriate since at 1500 feet above sea level it's one of the highest airports in Minnesota (Grand Marais is first at 1799 feet). Bagley is the seat of Clearwater County.
The Mississippi and all the other rivers and streams flow out of the county. Only rain water comes in, so if you think bad things flow downhill this is the place to be. Bagley's first airport was just north of the town. It wasn't the best location, so the city worked with the state to develop an airport at the present site. Originally built with turf, the single runway was paved in 2004 and lights were installed. The runway's 3800 foot long. There's a new Arrival/Departure building and plenty of parking space for airplanes. A camping area is on the airport and a courtesy car is available. Fueling and hangar space are still in the works so for now you'll have to bring your wing covers and make sure you have enough gas for the next leg of your trip.