Yreka’s Siskiyou County Museum Exhibit—Aviation History
● By Tim Holt
Story by Tim Holt
ROBERT TRIMBLE was one of the key players in the history of aviation in Siskiyou County. He trained pilots in World War II. After the war, he learned to fly helicopters. He settled in Etna in the Scott Valley in the late 1950s and started his own company, Aetna Copters, which did rescue and firefighting work.
Trimble pioneered the precision landing techniques needed in rough mountain terrain so he could rescue hunters and hikers who got lost or injured in the woods. He scouted for fires, and transported supplies and equipment to firefighting crews.
Bob Alexander was also a Scott Valley resident and World War II veteran. He flew fighter planes in that war and flew bombers in the Korean War. In peacetime, he used the skills he’d developed in wartime to drop fire retardants from surplus military planes. He was another aviation pioneer, developing techniques for low-altitude flying in mountainous terrain. It required careful, precision work – if you didn’t want to have a power line wrapped around your plane.
Trimble and Alexander are featured in a new exhibit at the Siskiyou County Museum in Yreka, “Aviation History in Siskiyou,” that runs through next spring. It features historic photos, interpretive texts and scale models of airports and airplanes. It touches on the high points and colorful history of aviation in the county since the first plane flights there in 1918.
Another pilot featured in the exhibit is Brian Favero, who, at 72, is still flying corporate executives all over the world from his home base in Lake Shastina. His main claim to fame, though, is that as a Navy aviator he was part of the recovery mission for the Apollo 16 moon flight. While other pilots picked up the three astronauts in South Pacific waters, Favero’s job was to ferry moon rocks back to Hickam Air Base in Hawaii.
“I kind of drew the short end of the stick on that mission,” he says. The lunar rocks he picked up are on display at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Favero spent the rest of his tour of duty flying mail, medical supplies and injured soldiers from Vietnam to bases in the United States.
One of the more colorful parts of the Siskiyou museum’s exhibit centers around hot air ballooning. The first flights were in the 1920s, and it became an organized sport in Siskiyou in 1994 with the first Balloon Fair at the Siskiyou County airport in Yreka. It moved around quite a bit after that before settling in at its current home at a field near Montague, where it attracts upwards of a dozen colorful craft each year.
Like other pilots, balloon pilots are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. It requires a good deal of skill and training to properly fly a balloon. Pilots steer them by raising or lowering the balloons to pick up wind currents that will send them in the right direction. Propane burners heat the balloon’s air to raise the balloon; turning the burners off cools the air inside to lower the craft.
John Rogers of Yreka has ridden along on many flights at the Montague Balloon Fair, both in his role as a professional photographer and as a hot air balloon enthusiast. What impresses him most about the experience is not so much the view from high above, although that can be spectacular, or the sight of all those colorful balloons floating above the landscape.
“I’m always shocked by how quiet it is up there,” he says.
Airports are also featured in the museum’s exhibit. Montague had the first airport in the county, established in the early 1920s. It amounted to little more than a dirt strip for takeoffs and landings. Swirling crosswinds at that early, primitive airport caused serious difficulties for pilots trying to land their planes, so it was moved to a safer location in 1928.
Six others have been established in the county, including those in Dunsmuir, Weed, Dorris and Happy Camp.
“I think most of the museum’s visitors will be fascinated to learn the role that Siskiyou County has played in the history of aviation in this country,” says Patricia Lord, a Redding-based consultant who helped put the exhibit together. “I certainly was.” •
Siskiyou County Museum • 910 Main St., Yreka • (530) 842-3836
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm
Admission: $3 for ages 13 and older, $1 for ages 6-12,
free for children 5 and under