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Dreams of Flight

My name is Bruce Beaton and I am the third in line with that name. My son, also Bruce is the fourth. My grandparents were Wallace and Linda Beaton.  They had two daughters, Mildred and Linda and two sons, Ralph and Bruce. My father was W. Bruce Beaton and my mother was Hester M. Pritchard Beaton.

I grew up at 2789 Pratt Street in Bridesburg. My story actually took place in Bridesburg, but I have ties to Frankford. My wife’s name is Jean. We have three children, and all went to Frankford High School. For some time, I was active in Simpson A.A up on Arrott Street and I was also President of the Frankford High School Alumni Association

This is a story of a memory of mine. I was not yet born when this incident took place, but I have a vivid memory of a tale about my Grandfather, Wallace Beaton, told to me by my parents that circulated in our family for as long as I can remember.

My grandparents Wallace and Linda Beaton, and son Bruce (my dad) lived at 2767 Pratt Street in Bridesburg. During Frankford Home Week, granddad built a small toy plane for my father Bruce when he was about three years old. It was a good model of a monoplane. It stood about three feet high and had a six-foot wingspan from tip to tip. The frame and body of the monoplane was mounted on wheels and the seat for the “airman” was similar to that in the in the real monoplanes used by the French and English armies. There was a propeller in the front and a steering wheel from which the wings could be controlled. Wire braces held the wings in position and the plane had other features embraced in real aircraft. The only thing lacking was a motor to set the propeller in motion. The monoplane with my father in it won first prize as a novelty in the Baby Parade.

Young Bruce played in the streets with his plane which was very popular with the neighborhood kids. He eventually tired of his street flights so it went into storage in the Beaton home. Bruce’s play mates constantly badgered him to bring out the plane so they could play “air war” with imagined enemies.

The time period was during World War 1. Now granddad was an instrument maker employed at the Frankford Arsenal. After his experience building the toy monoplane, he had a plan to construct an air craft that could successfully defend the city against Zeppelins in the case of war given the present crises with Germany. He felt that in case of necessity he could build large planes and that many employees at the Arsenal could probably do the same if the craft were needed to guard the city. If such a necessity arose, an airplane shop could be erected in the Arsenal.

As an example, Granddad built a full scale plane most likely in the Arsenal and they issued him a 45 pistol so he could go up and shoot down the German Zeppelin attack.

Notice the bicycle wheels and large propeller. The wings were constructed of bamboo with a strong fabric covering. None of the family remembers what kind of engine he used. His plane stands here on Melrose Street. Frankford Arsenal is in the background.

So, here is the wildest part of my story. My granddad actually did build that full-size one-man airplane. His plane is shown in the picture. I am not sure where he built the plane, we guess the Arsenal, but the picture we have is on what was then Melrose Street with the arsenal in the background.

AS for the flight, at Harbison Avenue and Bridge Street prior to SKF factory being built, there was an open field. That is where granddad would take off and fly his plane.  This field was next to the rail lines running from Washington   to New York ( It is now where the ShopRite is located).

For some unknown reason granddad got the bright idea that he would race a train to New York.  He sat in the cockpit with engine revving just waiting. Well the train was coming and so he took off. We were told he  went up and flew about 50 feet above ground so he could race the train.  We do not know how far he went but he never made it.  Why we do not know, and the plane came down and crashed.

That is when my grandmother told him it was either the plane or her.   He chose her over the plane.  That was the story our family was always told.

The family still has the home on Pratt Street in which daughter Linda still lives today.

This story was read at the Historical Society of Frankford by Fred Prescott on October 6th at the Second Annual Conference for Archival Researchers and Friends