When Walt Straka read about the Ford Tri-Motor airplane’s 1929 stop in Brainerd it sounded familiar to him — not because he had heard about the plane, but because he flew in it that day.
The 93-year-old Brainerd man figures he might be the only witness of that event who is still living in the area. That he’s still around to tell the tale of the now classic aircraft’s visit should surprise no one. Straka is also a survivor of the Bataan Death March and years of imprisonment at the hands of Japanese captors. Straka, who still drives his own car, suffered his share of ailments as the result of his imprisonment. At one point his weight had dropped to 89 pounds. Still, he said he has outlasted 15 of his Veterans Administration doctors since the end of World War II.
Straka was 9 years old when his father loaded he and his three siblings into the family’s new Buick and headed to Rosko airport, which was located at the present site of Shipman Auto Parts in south Brainerd. The Strakas lived on North Eighth Street at the site of what is now Zion Lutheran Church, he said.
Tickets for a quick plane ride on the Tri-Motor were $3 apiece, he said. It was his first plane ride and the last one he would have until he was in the U.S. Army.
“It was kind of a thrill,” he said of the plane ride. “It was a rough old plane. No cushy seats.”
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport will host a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft Thursday through Sunday. Rides on the plane are available for $75 per seat or $70 in advance. Advanced ticket and more information is available at www.airventuremuseum.org/fordtrimotor/.
Straka also remembers a trip to a farmer’s field near Pierz where his dad picked up some moonshine on the day of the flight.
Straka said his dad was the type who liked to see attractions that were new and exciting. The World War II vet recalled his family being among the first customers at Bar Harbor when Coke was only a nickel.
He may be the only living area resident who was present at the 1929 visit, but he knows there are at least three others who remember that flight — his three siblings who made the flight with him and who are still alive today. Their ages are 98 1/2, 91 1/2 and 90. Straka also had a sister who lived to be 103.
Straka plans to go out to the airport this holiday week to get a second look at the classic plane.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.