Students played a significant role in this weekend’s Cromwell Dixon Centennial festivities. From organizing initial stakeholder meetings to building a model of the Little Hummingbird, local students are a driving force behind the three-day aviation celebration in Helena.
Capital High student Sidney Wilhem, with the help of her father and grandfather, built a replica of the Little Hummingbird. The model of the early aircraft built from recycled bicycle tires won Grand Champion in this year’s Vigilante Parade and is now on display at the local science museum.
Wilhem, a sophomore, will dress up as Cromwell Dixon and meet with visitors for the kickoff event beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday at ExplorationWorks.
The model is built on a tricycle chassis, is powered by a lawnmower engine and will be on display at a Spokane, Wash., museum sometime in January.
While Sidney’s involvement in the centennial celebration might be the most visual, Claire Longsworth gets the credit for getting all the stakeholders together to set the wings in motion. She, with the help of fellow students Maddy Cade and Colter Brustkern, helped the vested parties organize.
Louise Ferst, a teacher in Montana City who worked with the students, said she always looks for projects that are significant to this environment and local history.
“I try to use place-based education,” she said.
Students were drawn to Dixon because of his significant achievements at such a young age, Ferst said.
Dixon was billed as the world’s youngest pilot at age 14 — about the same age Wilhelm is now — and became the first to cross the Continental Divide in a plane when he flew over Mullan Pass near Helena at age 19 on Sept. 30, 1911.
“Some students describe him as an unsung hero,” Ferst said.
Ferst said one of the most significant opportunities throughout the weekend is the participation of Jeff Berry, grandson of Dixon’s sister Lulu.
Berry recalls his grandmother talking about Dixon and will share his memories with Helena residents.
The weekend continues with flying opportunities for young people.
On Saturday (weather permitting) the Helena Chapter 344 of the Experimental Aircraft Association offers a pancake breakfast and free flights over the Dixon landing sit in Blossburg for students between 8 and 17 years old at the University of Montana – Helena aircraft maintenance hangar beginning at 8 a.m. Members of the Montana Antique Aircraft Association are scheduled to fly in to display their planes, and the Continental Divide Tuba Society will play early 20th century tunes.
Events at nearby locations include open hangars and visits to the 1911 memorial to Cromwell by the people of Helena at Morrison Park. These events are being offered voluntarily and hosted at participating locations along Airport Road. A shuttle will be available.
The centennial celebration wraps up on Sunday, Oct. 2 at the rustic shelter at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds from 1 to 4 p.m. It is the centennial of the day Cromwell died in a plane crash in Spokane.
A no-host (bring your blanket and basket!) old-fashioned picnic features a 2 p.m. presentation “Turkey Trot to Foxtrot” by Mark Matthews of the Missoula Folklore Society. Through music, contemporary accounts and demonstrations, Matthews brings to life the 1911 dance floor and shows how dancing helped build community. Student vendors will offer “peanuts, popcorn and cracker jacks,” lemonade and licorice, and the Hopeful Troubadours provide musical entertainment.