Looking West, in the recent photo shown below, is the old Sherwood Air Field is boxed in by Creston Road on the West, Sherwood Road on the North (right), Fontana Road on the East, and Scott Street on the South (left). The area indicated in yellow outlines the runway and the hangar apron — and a red arrow points to the last visible remnant of the main runway.
Paso Robles' Other Air Field
The rest of the runway lies buried under houses and commercial buildings. Near the corner of Fontana and Sherwood, one can still access that area alongside a chain-link fence next to Cornucopia Tool & Plastics Co (small, narrow building at the lower right), or from Commerce Way at the fence by J.I.T. Manufacturing Co (large, white-roofed building left of the arrow), and walk out to stand on the original asphalt. It is an eerie touch with the past. Sherwood Field was originally a private airport, owned by T A Osborne.
Located about one and one-half miles southeast of downtown Paso Robles — at that time outside of the city limits — it had been started sometime in the late 1920s or very early 1930s. It had two dirt strips with a few locally-owned aircraft. In those days it was quite an event to have "barnstormers" visit Paso Robles, and when they did, the whole city turned out to see them. Rides were offered for only a $1.00.
Sherwood was also used as a stopover for Goodyear blimps traveling up and down the coast in the thirties. Bruce Denim came through from Los Angeles flying a four-place Ryan cabin plane. He became acquainted with some of the local residents, one in particular Dr Fred Ragsdale, to whom he who talked about the advantages and benefits of flying. Denim felt he could run a successful flying school at Sherwood, and Ragsdale became interested in the idea. They arranged to buy a 1933 Great Lakes trainer and went to Los Angeles to pick up the new biplane. The plane had motor problems, however, and they had to stop in Goleta to do some repairs. By the time they left Goleta it was becoming foggy, and they were compelled to fly at a low altitude — as Ragsdale put it, "We chased owls out of their trees." Denim also purchased a two-place Luscombe and a Culver Cadet, but was unable to meet payments, so Ragsdale took over.
In February 1940, a flying club, in joint ownership with the Paso Robles airport, was planned. The Chamber of Commerce proposed a club of 10 to 15 members as the nucleus with the possibility of merging with other clubs in the area.Chamber president Paul Turner reported to an airport committee, consisting of R B Robbins, B A Tunison, P D Fowler and D R Chambers, about a proposed survey by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) on the feasibility of the airport. In March, the committee anticipated a $10,000 improvement program tentatively promised by the CAA. J C Hopper, a CAA field engineer, said that the field would be surveyed by May 14 to meet certification; however, it had to be owned or have a long-term lease by the city, county, or other political body.
Property owner Osborne offered to sell the airport to the city for $12,000, or lease the runway for ten years for $500 per year. Paso Robles Mayor Liddle said Osborne's offer was excessive. He also said the county's lease would expire at the end of March, but hoped they would continue to pay the $200 a year for maintenance as they had done for several years. It was expected that the city would have a lease- purchase agreement in obtaining a another site. In a special meeting, the city council decided that quick action was needed or some other city would be granted the CAA certification.
Three sites were selected: Sherwood Field, another off Shandon Highway a mile northeast of Paso Robles, and one on the Estrella Plain about four and one-half miles to the northeast. The following week, the council met and decided to leave the airport at its present site, and put the question up to the voters at a special election on April 9, 1940. Voters would have to appropriate $9,000, payable in three installments. Robbins said if this was voted in there was a possibility the Army Air Corps would use it for maneuvers and training, bringing revenue to the city. That was the needed incentive, as the vote passed by a ratio of 6 to 1. Osborne was paid off, and Paso Robles had its first official airport!
A field survey by the CAA was completed by April 18 with the team recommending a beacon, radio signal tower, and weather station. Some grading would have to done, and weeds removed. The Federal Government approved the airport site in the middle of May, and in June they asked to place a flying school there. A concerted drive began. The airport board met with county supervisors to ask for their aid to help maintain the field. Harry Twisselman, William Santelman, W V Graham, and Paul Turner said they would meet with the airport board to study their plans. Apparently the two groups agreed with one another, for on July 18, CAA inspector Hugh Brewster said that time was essential in getting the field completed to get approval for the training school. He also said that the landing strips would have to be re-oiled, some trees removed, and a hangar constructed.
The ground school part of the instruction would begin by July 23, with completion of the 72-hour course by October 1. Runways were then 150' wide by 3,400' and 1,600' long respectively. C S King, local agent for Shell Oil Company, submitted a proposal to construct an underground gasoline storage and dispensing area in return for exclusive fuel rights. CAA set the deadline of August 1, 1940, for a complement of 50 students for the Civilian Pilot Training School. There were 36 students enrolled by July 25 — one of them Betty Lyle, daughter of Henry Lyle of Paso Robles, plus three other local girls: Ruth Candudy, Virginia Sanders, and Mrs Alan Loose. The rest arrived by the end of the month. Classroom instruction was given by H R Martinson, Professor of Aeronautics at Cal Poly. George Annis, a flight instructor from the Army flying school in Santa Maria, helped with students who were enrolled earlier that year. It was at Sherwood that locals John Hibbard, Carl Von Stosten, and Leslie Anderson completed their instructors' ratings, which required 200 hours of supervised flight.
On October 9, 1940, the City of Paso Robles and the War Department came to an agreement to have the City lease the Paso Robles Airport for $1.00 a year. The lease was signed by Mayor Schatler, Col A G Fisher and Capt George Henry of the Air Corps, and Lt Otis Finch, 9th Corps Area, Quartermaster Corps. One week later the private planes were moved to other cities, most went to San Luis Obispo. The Army also mentioned that it might be possible to have gunnery training of 500 officers and 1,000 enlisted men there. By October 21, the government gave its OK, and preliminary work was begun by engineers surveying building sites. Nine days later, ground was broken for the first buildings of an estimated $300,000 construction project awarded to the L E Dixon Company, who were also the builders of Camp San Luis Obispo. The project was under the direct supervision of the Construction Quartermaster, the Army agency in charge of all construction prior to December 31, 1941.
A large part of the project consisted of an underground network of utilities to service the area with water, sewage and drainage systems, and electric power lines. Telephone cables also were buried as they entered the area — strung wires and airplanes did not mix well! A huge sewage plant was also constructed at the southwest corner of the airport. Water, electricity, and phone services were obtained from the City of Paso Robles.
The airport had its own water distribution system, fed from a 50,000-gallon reservoir supplied by gravity feed from city sources. Pressure pumps served the system of fire hydrants and other outlets. During the construction, water was obtained from a small well drilled near the main hangar site. More than 5,000 feet of concrete drain tile and corrugated iron culverts lined both sides of the two main runways. This drainage system also extended through part of the area parallel to county roads that bordered the field on the north and west. Provisions were made in the camp layout and utility service specifications to double its capacity if needed.
The first unit to move into the new government-run airport was the 115th Observation Squadron of the California National Guard, which at the time was composed of 38 officer-pilots and 159 enlisted men under the command of Major E A Peterman. The majority was long-standing members of the National Guard from the Los Angeles area prior to their induction to full-time military service on March 3, 1940. The unit was attached to the 40th Division, at the time stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo.
Both officers and enlisted men lived in tent shelters, which were screened, as well as heated for winter use. Permanent buildings comprised of two mess halls, shower buildings and toilets, and a steel hangar. The mess halls were of an exceptionally attractive interior design, not authorized on the original standard plans for mess halls. Natural-finish redwood paneling was combined with white pine and buff-colored wallboard. Each was heated from its own central heating plant. The kitchens were a modern design for adequate movement and cleanliness.
Early in February 1941, the government appropriated an additional $254,346 for the construction of a new 4200' east-west runway, for which the City of Paso Robles purchased 20 additional acres. The runway was of sufficient size to accommodate any type of landplane then in use. All runways were hard-surfaced with a concrete apron.
A motion picture, with actor Robert Taylor in the role of an Air Corps cadet, was made early in WW2, and part of it was filmed at Sherwood Field. Legendary stunt pilot Paul Mantz flew the air scenes in place of Taylor (who actually later was a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater). One morning all airplanes were moved out of the hangar, both doors slid open, then Mantz took off, circled the field once, dove, and flew through one door and out the other. Hundreds of townspeople had heard about the planned scene, and were there to watch the action being filmed — Paso Robles' first air show!
One time in 1943, Army planes from Santa Maria were participating in maneuvers and on the way back, were told by radio that their field was fogged in, and to use the alternative Estrella Army Air Field. With fuel running low and darkness rapidly taking over, they circled around and came upon Sherwood Field instead, and started a descent. Mary Jo Webber, one of Sherwood's "Weather Ladies," heard them approaching and directed them in with a flashlight. The next day fuel was trucked in from Estrella.
Later in 1941, the Air Corps turned the field over to the Navy, who used it only as an emergency field — a full complement was never stationed there. On August 19, 1945, the Navy returned the field to the City of Paso Robles.
The airport fell into general disrepair after the war, since most aviation activity had shifted to Estrella — by then the official Paso Robles airport— and housing was fast encroaching. It was soon closed to flying altogether. In the mid-1950s, a housing tract was constructed on the property, where some residents trying to plant trees in their yard hit the old runway and parking ramps.
Sherwood Field is still with us today in visible reminders. The old Officers Mess is in use by the Paso Robles Shriners, and the big hangar remains, now occupied by Ennis Co, as does the original apron where the planes were tied down. The hangar and ramp can be viewed from Santa Fe Avenue, off Creston Road, where the apron is bisected by a chain-like fence from Ennis Co property. The concrete was just too much trouble to break up and remove, so it remains as a reminder of bygone days when the sounds of aircraft engines chattered in the soft, clear air over what was then open pasture land.
— Data research by MSgt Al Davis
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