Blade

The Paul Bunyan Clan

Paul Bunyan Clan of Traverse City, Michigan

 The Paul Bunyan Clan
Above: John Quick is keeper of the blue ox.
Below: The 1949 meeting of the Clan, at Paul Bunyan airport.

FLYING magazine
August 1957

The Paul Bunyan Clan
Zane Barnes

Everyone-well, maybe not everyone-but certainly every lover of tall tales of the timber country from Michigan westward, knows about Paul Bunyan. But in case this might not be the case, I will set down certain established lore concerning Paul. It is well known, in some quarters, that the gargantuan Bunyan trekked north to the big woods every winter and operated a huge lumber camp between the winter of the blue snow and the spring that (rain) came up from China. To help him handle the very largest logs was Babe, the blue ox. Babe was the pride of Paul’s heart and measured 42 ax handles and a plug of tobacco between the horns.

As would be natural, many talented writers have devoted their talents to Paul and Babe. I am sure that much of what they have written is allegorical and would not stand up in law.

The nearest I have come to an indisputable incident in Bunyan’s life is the formation of the Paul Bunyan airport at Traverse City, Michigan. This story has to be believed for there the airport stands-prima facie evidence for anyone who wants to go and look at it, and I hope everyone will for it’s a wonderful place.

Its original grading and landscaping came about in this manner. Travelling north toward the big woods of Canada one autumn, Paul as usual had to pass through Michigan. On this particular evening he was especially weary and thirsty, as was Babe. They decided to camp for the night near beautiful Grand Traverse Bay.

The great Paul and his ox set about making themselves comfortable, Paul smoothed the ground with his mammoth ax and piled the dirt to the east end of what was to be his bed. This hummock he would use as a pillow. At the west end of his bed he scooped out a great hole and let it fill with cool water from a meandering spring-fed river. In this pool, later named Boardman Lake, he cooled his tired feet.

Naturally, it took very little genius for pilots who came upon the place in later years, to realize that this flat spot between the bay and the hills had been tailor-made for them-and that the lake was also ideal for seaplane landing and anchorage. They would have been nothing less than a lot of ingrates to have named the airport for anyone other than Paul Bunyan or to have doubted how it came into existence. But they went even further to their great credit. They formed a Paul Bunyan Clan.

The Paul Bunyan Clan was originated in 1940 by his faithful disciples in the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce aided and abetted by Col. Floyd Evans, then director of the Michigan Department of Aeronautics and Bruce Anderson, Lansing hotel manager. By-laws of the Clan were patterned after the Alligator Club of Orlando, Fla. The Bunyan devotees met for the first time on July 27, 1940. At this meeting, it was decided to abandon formality. Therefore, only one officer was elected-a camp clerk, the job held in Paul’s time by Johnny Inkslinger. Bruce Anderson was the unanimous choice. In 1941 the Clan initiated 92 new members.

World War II curtailed the activity of the Clan as most of the pilots went into service. Those too old to join the Air Force or unqualified to teach flying, joined Civil Air Patrol. After the war the Clan was reactivated (1948) with a bigger-than-ever celebration.

Each fall now the Clan members prepare the rocky tote road for the initiation ceremony. After a meal of planked lake trout, the candidates are readied for their journey. Before entering the trail to “Big Paul’s” camp, the prospective member is examined by Paul’s personal doctor. Physical condition must be good enough to stand the rigors of the journey without risk of permanent disability.

Most of the initiation is secret and is changed from year to year, but always ends with a big kiss for Babe, the blue ox. What’s in between the doctor and the ox cannot be told, but it is guaranteed to be fun. Many famous people have embraced Babe. “Miss Michigan” went over the trail in 1956. At this writing over 1,000 pilots and many associated friends belong to the fun-loving Paul Bunyan Clan.

The Traverse City Airport has progressed along with the Clan, maybe even faster. The first Clan meeting found a field about a mile square with 3,600 feet of usable runway. There were no paved strips or ramps. One small hangar housed five aircraft and the manager’s office. Today the Traverse City Paul Bunyan Airport has four hard-surface runways over 5,000 feet long. There is adequate housing for private planes on the field and the main hangar will shelter any transient aircraft which may desire inside parking.

Not counting airlines, military aircraft, or fly-ins, over 3,000 aircraft stopped over night last year. Over 20,000 take-offs and landings were made at the field in 1956.

The future holds a lot of promise for the Paul Bunyan Clan. The biggest meeting yet will be in 1957! The scenic beauty of the region will be at its peak. The lakes and streams will be filled with fresh clear water, and the trees will have their first fringe of autumn color. The Clan will be out in full force with a group of new members to brave the rugged initiation.

Sponsors of the Clan hope that you will be among the flyers present, October 4th, 5th, and 6th, 1957, when the Clan gathers again. As an old member back for a good time or as a neophyte prepared to walk the dark, slippery, log trail to “Big Paul’s” camp, you are sure to have fun.

Query and Comment to paulb AT paulbunyanfineart.com