Thursday, November 19, 2020

Russians land plane in Riverside County rancher’s field of dreams in 1937

Three Russians who dropped into Earl E. Smith’s Riverside County ranch in 1937 soon got a lesson in good old-fashioned Yankee capitalism. Smith’s pasture in San Jacinto was the site of a real international incident the morning of July 14 when a huge Russian military bomber made a rough landing there, ending a world-record long-distance non-stop flight from Moscow. San Diego was the three Russian pilots’ goal for the end of their over-the-pole flight, but after flying around above solid overcast along the coast and running low on fuel, they picked Smith’s pasture in which to land. Another farmer, Walter Harvey, saw the landing and met up with the Russians, none of whom spoke English. With some difficulty, word went out to U.S. military and Russian authorities, and the long-distance pilots finally were welcomed for their achievement. Meanwhile, Smith probably looked at this as something that wasn’t going to do much for his diary business, especially with the giant plane guarded by troops from nearby March Field. But, to paraphrase a haunting voice from the film, “Field of Dreams,” Smith soon realized that “if you land it, they will come.” And just like the story of that magical Iowa cornfield, “they” started coming, and in great numbers. It didn’t take long for Smith to realize he had a real tourist attraction in his hands, noted the Sun newspaper in San Bernardino on July 15, 1937. He set up a toll booth to handle the visitors, charging 25 cents a carload. That quickly was upped to 25 cents per person. “Within an hour, roads leading to the pasture were lined with automobiles, and before noon more than 4,000 persons had visited the plane,” wrote the Sun.Smith said he was making about $250 an hour, no small amount in those Great Depression days. He collected about $1,000 for the first day (that’s about $17,000 in today’s money)...MORE

1 comment:

Rich said...

This story is recounted in Svetlana Lokhova's "The Spy Who Changed History." These Russian pilots were spies testing US defenses. And they were quite impressed with the farmer's capitalist ingenuity!