The magical mystery week is waiting to take you away, or, Does anyone in the blogosphere know anything about the Richards aerosled or the Lawrence aerosled?
Yours truly hails you, my reading friend. May I welcome you to a new fiscal year?
I dare to hope that you are well on this hysterical day. Being both lazy and curious by nature, I thought of killing 2 birds with 1 stone, metaphorically of course, by presenting not 1 but 2 mysterious and magical subjects this week – 2 subjects on which I know very little. Who knows, you may hold the key to either of these vehicular enigmas. And no, the subjects in question are not Aprilian subjects. They are little gifts I am offering myself on this day, and this month, my birthmonth.
So let us start the first of said enigmas, caught during a research expedition within the pages of the French daily newspaper L'Auto, a fascinating publication if there was ever one before it disappeared in 1944. The photograph which caught my attention was / is found in the 9 February 1940 issue of said daily. It is of course at the beginning of this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The caption for this photograph read / reads as follows:
An airplane fuselage, a motorcycle engine, skis, a propeller and, at 90 kilometres (55 miles) an hour Kenneth J. Richards roams the vast icy expanses of Canada.
Yours truly would like to be able to pontificate for pages on this aerosled / snowmobile and its designer but I am not able to do so. I have indeed found no other information on the Richards aerosled. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Imagine my frustration.
This being said (typed?), I believe I have identified the engine of said aerosled. It is a Henderson air-cooled motorcycle engine, and here a tale lies. Humm.
The first Henderson engines, manufactured in the United States by Henderson Motorcycle Company, a firm founded by Thomas W. “Tom” and William G. “Bill” Henderson, for use on their motorcycles, left the factory in 1911. In 1918, these brothers sold their interests in the company to Excelsior Motor Manufacturing & Supply Company, another American firm. The motorcycles produced from that time on were known as Excelsior Hendersons. Struck hard by the start of the Great Depression, Excelsior Motor Manufacturing & Supply closed its doors in September 1931. Its personnel, which had not been warned, was shocked and dismayed by this decision.
It should be mentioned that Henderson engines were used to power a number of Eliason snowmobiles built between 1924 and 1940. These vehicles, made in the United States by Carl Eliason & Company, founded by Carl Eliason, were likely the first snowmobiles to be put into production anywhere in the world, with those of Joseph Adalbert Landry of Mont-Joli, Québec, tested for the first time in 1922.
And yes, my reading friend, some homebuilt airplanes completed in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s were powered by a Henderson engine. And no, I do not intend to pontificate on this subject today, and ... What does that smirk mean, my reading non-friend? Sigh.
Just for that, I will include in this text a list of homebuilt airplanes completed in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s which were powered by a Henderson engine:
- a Heath Parasol, christened Skylark, registered in December in 1929 by Theodore Joseph “Ted” Dietrich of St. Agatha, Ontario;
- a Heath Parasol registered in March 1930 by Reuben E. “Rube” Hadfield of Winnipeg, Manitoba;
- a Church Mid Wing Sport registered in December 1930 by Sydney G. “Syd” Woodstock of Kingston, Ontario;
- a Heath Parasol completed in 1931, but not registered, by John Stanley “Stan” Baxter of Sudbury, Ontario;
- a Russell Light Monoplane / Russell Sport / Russell-Henderson Monoplane registered in February 1932 by Ernest J. “Ernie” Rousseau of Callander, Ontario;
- a Heath Parasol registered in June 1933 by Stephen Stanley “Steve” Albulet of Regina, Saskatchewan;
- a Russell Light Monoplane / Russell Sport / Russell-Henderson Monoplane completed around 1935-36, but not registered, by the aforementioned Rousseau; and
- a Heath Parasol registered in May 1939 by Frederick William “Fred” Hotson of Toronto, Ontario.
You will of course remember that Albulet was mentioned in a January 2020 issue of our you know what. Hotson, on the other hand, later became a well-known and respected nonprofessional aviation historian. Would you believe that Hadfield later became a pilot with Trans-Canada Air Lines / Air Canada and that, in his day, Dietrich was one of the best known residents of St. Agatha?
Having nothing to add on the Richards aerosled, no, no, nothing, zip, nada, yours truly is rushing headlong into the second mysterious and magical subject of this week. I found the photograph of the vehicle in question in the 3 July 1939 issue of the populist daily newspaper L’Illustration nouvelle, the first tabloid newspaper to be published in Montréal, Québec, if you must know, long since gone.
The aerosleigh / aerosled / snowplane designed and made by James Keith Lawrence, Myrtle, Ontario. Anon., “Un hydravion qui peut se poser sur la neige.” L’Illustration nouvelle, 3 July 1939, 5.
The legend of the photograph reads ... And yes, my somewhat sarcastic reading friend, yours truly realises very well that the Lawrence floatplane had no wings. I assume the unknown photographer who captured this image did so before the aircraft was completed.
The legend of the photograph, say I, unless you want to interrupt me again, reads as follows:
The son of a farmer from Myrtle, Ontario, Joseph Lawrence, has just built this airplane able to land on water and snow. The department of Communications inspected and approved the airplane.
The name quoted in said legend being Joseph Lawrence, you doubtlessly wonder why the legend written by yours truly mentions the name of James Keith Lawrence. This is an excellent question, and this even if you dare to bring into doubt the dogma of curatorial infallibility – a near sacrilege if I may be permitted to say (type?) so. This being said (typed?), I forgive you this blunder. This time. But back to our story.
The name of James Keith Lawrence was mentioned to me if you must know. The person who gave me this information did not find a trace of a Joseph Lawrence in Myrtle during the 1930s or 1940s. James Keith Lawrence, on the other hand, was known in this region. Born in 1908, he served in the Second World War and taught with the Royal Canadian Air Force, an air force mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin thingee since November 2017. Lawrence became an aeronautical engineer after the end of the conflict. He left this world in 1985.
If it is true that there was a Joseph Russell Lawrence, born in 1884, apparently in Myrtle, and dead in 1954, this gentleman may, I repeat may, have immigrated to the United States by 1919 at the latest.
A detail before I forget, the Department of Communications mentioned in the legend above did not exist, at least not in Canada. It only saw the light of day in April 1969. The first Minister of Communications was none other than Eric William Kierans, a gentleman mentioned in a November 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. In 1939, it was the Department of Transport which was responsible for the examination and registration of homebuilt aircraft. There was / is no trace of the Lawrence floatplane in the Canadian civil aircraft register, however.
Yours truly would again like to be able to pontificate for pages on this floatplane and its designer but I am not able to do so. I have indeed found no other information on the Lawrence floatplane. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Imagine again my frustration.
Luck smiled upon yours truly, however, in the form of articles found by accident in late June 1939 issues of several daily newspapers published in Alberta, Ontario, Québec and Saskatchewan.
According to said articles, a James K. Lawrence, yes, yes, was to witness the christening of his invention, an aerosled, yes, yes, an aerosled, not a floatplane, the Northern Star, on 1 July 1939, in Port Perry, Ontario, north of Myrtle, on the shores of Lake Scugog.
Able to travel on water, snow and ice, Lawrence’s aerosled could carry 4 passengers and 1 pilot. It could be fitted with floats or skis, I think, depending on the season. Lawrence had put it together on his father’s farm, near Myrtle, during his spare time.
Eager to facilitate and accelerate the connections between isolated communities in northern Canada, the proud inventor hoped to sell a number of Northern Stars to the Department of Transport. From the looks of it, that did not happen. Pity.
Having nothing to add on said aerosled, I wish you a good week. Dress well, regardless of the hemisphere of our good old Earth where you live.
This writer wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.
And yes, please contact me if you have information on the Lawrence aerosled and / or the Richards aerosled. I would also like to have some information on the northern North America aerosleds in the photograph below, found in a February 1930 issue of the Paris daily Excelsior.
Two American aerosleds on which I know nothing, zip, nada. Anon., “Un nouveau modèle de traîneaux ultra-rapides.” Excelsior, 6 February 1930, 8.
Take care of yourself, my reading friend.