Loggers Build Eatonville an Airport

Loggers and their equipment at Eatonville Airport, 1952
Loggers and their equipment at Eatonville Airport, 1952

In 1952, John Swanson, Eatonville councilman and logger, told the council that there was a need for an Eatonville airport. His expense statement was hard to argue with — it would cost the town nothing.

John’s plan
Roy Swanson, John’s son, who was 15 at the time and a budding pilot, says his dad had scouted a plot of land that would work. John and his brother Eric owned a piece of the land and deeded it to the town. They also paid $250 to Weyerhaeuser for an easement to the rest.

Next came manpower and the logging community and others rallied. “Dad got ahold of all of the local loggers, and they built it in about 15 days,” says Roy. “They donated all their time and their machinery.”

It wasn’t just the loggers who helped out. John Van Eaton and Cecil Jordon supplied thousands of gallons of fuel and Dan Christensen of the Mashell Telephone Company along with Hugo Pravitz and Keith Predmore offered to assist with moving power lines.

Celebration

arial of Eatonville at the time of building the airport
arial of Eatonville at the time of building the airport

Before the 1,850-foot airstrip was complete, Roy witnessed the first landing from atop of a hanger he was building. “Ernie Lodin from Mineral was the first. He flew in under the telephone line and landed.”

The town officially dedicated the Swanson Airfield at the 1953 Community Day celebration. The festivities included the high school band and a small airshow. Even stamp collectors got into it. The town got airmail from across the nation asking to be cancelled on the date of the event.

Primitive to First Class
The grass airstrip was primitive — the first lights were coffee cans filled with sand and gasoline, upgraded later by the pilots to army surplus lights. But in the 1990s, the airport got a big upgrade. One thousand feet were added, it was blacktopped and new lights were installed. Again everything was done with volunteer time, energy and equipment.

The men who built the Eatonville Airport
The men who built the Eatonville Airport — (back row, from left) Preston Parrish, Seg Osterdahl, Ralph Weigard, John Swanson, Earnie Christian and Fritz Guske, and (front row from left) Earnie Osterdahl, Norm Olden, Roy Block, Woody Wilson and Chuck Medlock. Not pictured — Roy Treadwell and Clarance Gemmel, heavy-equipment operators, Don Murphy who owned equipment and John Van Eaton and Cecil Jordon who supplied fuel. (Photo taken by Bud Blanchar)

To lengthen the runway, waste material from the resurfacing of the Cutoff Road was used as well as dirt from a nearby hill. Townspeople arrived with their dump trucks, scoops, dozers and various skills. This time the volunteer force included names like Severson, Swanson, Urich, McTee, and Van Eaton.

The pilots also got a grant from the Washington State Aeronautics, which they used to pave the runway and add new lights.

Your Airport
Today the airport is a great asset to the town. Not only can pilots play around, but it’s also a check point for the military and used to airlift folks needing immediate medical care.

And to think, it all started with a logger.

5 thoughts on “Loggers Build Eatonville an Airport”

  1. Pingback: Eatonville to Rainier » The Kids’ Pond — Four Days in the Making

  2. Pingback: Eatonville to Rainier » Swanson Airport Dedication – 1953

  3. Pingback: Eatonville to Rainier » Virginia Swanson and Swanson Truck (1930s)

  4. My dad, Roy Hanger. worked for John and Eric in the 1940’s. Dad was a cat skinner I know that much. Dad often talked about those two and liked and respected both. I was born 1940 so barely remember seeing both John and Eric in those years. So this article caused me to appreciate reading it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *