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MailTribune.com
  • Medford's airfield was in southern part of city

  • I was talking with a friend who said Medford's airport used to be located in the area where the south Medford Fred Meyer is. Do you have any information on that?
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  • I was talking with a friend who said Medford's airport used to be located in the area where the south Medford Fred Meyer is. Do you have any information on that?
    — Lewis H., Medford
    Do we have information, Lewis? Of course we do and just to prove it we didn't even have to leave the friendly confines of the Since You Asked Spa and Mausoleum.
    Turns out your question is not exactly original. But no worries, it's such a good one that we already answered it in 1997. Not that we're lazy or anything, but we do have a hot date, so we're just going to give you the same answer we gave Rikki C. 15 years ago. Here it is (slightly modified to fit your question):
    ... You might be interested to know . . . that the first local airplane landing site was a wheat field on the Gore Ranch, about halfway between Medford and Jacksonville. Barnstormers in 1909 used it to give rides for $5. But there was no hangar to protect the flimsy craft from bad weather, and the planes were often vandalized.
    In 1922, the federal government decided to establish an airport for Forest Patrol planes. The old fairgrounds at the south end of Medford — now part of the South Gateway center — were purchased by the city and county for this purpose.
    It is believed to be the first land purchased for an Oregon airport, and was named for Newell Barber, a Medford man who died in World War I. He was the son of Dr. Milton and Turi Barber of Medford.
    The gravel runway at that old airport was 1,500 feet long and 25 feet wide, and the airport included a building combined with a hangar. Night flights arrived to the fiery glow of gasoline burned in a metal washtub. Standard Oil Co. (now Chevron) had the exclusive lease for that gas and for aviation fuel.
    Pacific Air Mail Transport, one of the companies that combined to form United Airlines, started air mail operations through Medford on Sept. 15, 1926. The plane was a Ryan M-1 monoplane with Wright whirlwind engines.
    As planes grew in size, the field became too small. Ford Tri-motors weighing 4 tons and capable of carrying 15 to 20 passengers and their luggage had difficulty landing. The Aviation Insurance Underwriters and the Army and Navy condemned the field, and in 1929 the airport facilities were moved to the present site north of town.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.
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