#HomeGrownStories – Bob & Patty Wagner
Dayton natives Bob and Patty Wagner have been involved with aviation for the past fifty years. They were instrumental in establishing the WACO Historical Society and museum in Troy. For decades, Bob and Patty performed in air shows; Bob flew and Patty walked on the wing of the plane. Earlier this summer they donated their plane to the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum. Their Stearman Biplane was used in their Girl on the Wing act for many years.
The 20th annual WACO Vintage Fly-In at Historic WACO Airfield and Museum is September 15 – 17.
How they ended up moving to Miami County:
Bob – I’m from Miamisburg. My grandparents’ farm was near the Miamisburg Mound. It’s the largest conical Indian Mound in Ohio. I ran an airport on the south edge of Dayton at Moraine from when I got out of high school until we moved up here. We’ve always been involved with airplanes and aviation. We moved here in…?
Patty – In 1982 we became Miami County people. I’m from Montgomery County but I’m a city girl. I grew up in Dayton off of Salem Avenue and Philadelphia Drive. I met Bob at the airport. He was not my instructor but I was flying at the airport. It was like a big family there with all kinds of people interested in airplanes. On Saturday nights and all day Sunday, we were in the clubhouse on the other side of the airport. It was an old barn. We would meet there for dinner and people would cook on the big grill. It was the whole experience of flying and people who liked the same things.
We started the Girl on the Wing act in 1971 but we used planes that belonged to someone else. The man whose plane we started with was a good friend. He was from Indianapolis and decided he wanted to sell the plane to us. In 1976, we started doing air shows.
We were young, I was in my 20s. So we sold everything we had to buy the plane and do the air shows full-time. I had a full-time job before we got married and before I started flying. Most of the shows are on weekends but we had to fly the airplane there. We didn’t truck it there. That involved a lot of weather and sometimes mountains. We didn’t have cell phones then. We would get to airports and often they would be closed. We’d have to look for a payphone to call someone to help us get gas. It was a whole different era.
Once we started doing this full-time we wanted to have our own airport and house. Someone told us about this property in Miami County. We were looking all over — not only in Miami County — but we made the best choice coming here. We’ve been here ever since at Wagner International Airport.
About their Girl on the Wing act and performing in air shows:
Patty – We have had our plane in every state in the continental US except Rhode Island. Somehow we bypassed Rhode Island.
Bob – We flew over it [laughs].
Patty – We’ve done quite a bit in Canada. We were in Quebec: some of the shows were in French [laughs] and we had no idea what they were saying. We’ve also been to Saskatchewan, Alberta, and all the way to British Columbia. In the late 1970s, we left Florida and went down to Venezuela. We did a month of shows down there.
Bob – This airplane (their Stearman biplane) is going to the WAAAM [Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile] Museum. It’s in Hood River, Oregon. We used this plane in our Girl on the Wing Act. I flew and Patty rode on top of the wing.
How they became involved WACO Air Museum & Aviation Learning Center:
Bob – The first airplane I owned when I was sixteen was a WACO. I took all my money out of the bank and bought an airplane. I couldn’t afford to fly it much so I conned my buddies into buying gas so we could fly. That plane was a WACO Cabin. I kept it for about a year, sold it, and made a profit. I bought another airplane, which was also a WACO. I still have it, in pieces [laughs] it’s a 1935 model.
We knew all the WACO people when Clayton Brukner was the owner of the factory. He sold out in 1965. I was up here at the factory for the auction. He sold everything. When he sold the factory he also sold the airport. A developer by the name Archer bought everything. Archer Boulevard, which comes off of State Route 55, is where the old runway was. There are still some WACO buildings there. The UTC Aerospace Systems building, which used to be Goodrich is where they built the gliders. There’s a lot of history right in that spot. We were always interested in WACO and when we came up here we got involved with the WACO Historical Society. At that time it was a group of retired WACO employees and pilots. We got involved and we’ve been involved ever since.
We’re still very involved with WACO. I work for the WACO Aircraft Corporation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In the 1980s a group of investors picked a WACO airplane that they wanted to build. WACO built 60 different models airplanes here in Troy over the years. They got the paperwork and certification for one model of airplane to build. They’re still building that airplane today. I delivered one to Texas about six weeks ago, brand new. Another one will be coming off the line here shortly and I’ll go test fly it and deliver it to the owner.
Patty – Sunny, the yellow airplane at the museum is a new 2004 model. A man in Texas bought the plane and then his family donated it to the museum last year.
Bob – We use Sunny to produce income for the museum. We do rides, tours, and instruction. When we moved up here we found our niche so to speak.
Their favorite things to do at WACO:
Bob – Our favorite thing to do, of course, is flying the WACO.
Patty – See it fly, hear it fly! We want to let people experience what WACO is. I love seeing their faces when they get off the plane when we have a ride weekend. When people get off the plane they have so much excitement on their faces and in their eyes. That’s one of my favorite things.
Bob – Our historical society has a very active learning center. The Robinson Foundation donated money so we can build another building.
Patty – It’s so great what all we can do for kids. This summer the camp program had a lot more girls than they have had in the past. The girls were saying it’s the best camp ever! What they do with the robotics and the Legos – it’s just amazing! We also have the aviation cadets who are a little older. They are learning only flying related things. They go to different places and they learn how to make a rib and stitching. They learn a multitude of things in aviation and it gets that spark started. Some of the kids have gone to have careers in that area. That is very rewarding for us to see.
Their favorite things to do in Miami County:
Bob – It’s all food related [laughs]! I’ve been all over the US and we have two of the best Mexican restaurants right here in Troy.
Patty – La Fiesta and El Sombrero.
Bob – So two Mexican restaurants in town. Then downtown, we have restaurants on every corner! We have a fantastic Italian restaurant, La Piazza. Then there’s Basil’s which is unique and has excellent food.
Patty – Submarine House is one of my favorites. K’s if we want pie [laughs].
Bob – Yes, K’s for pie. We just eat around [laughs].
Patty – We have dogs and we love taking them to the Miami County Parks. There are so many different park programs to do and they have dog socials.
Bob – John De Boer has had amazing programs in the parks. He’d always have his little black dog with him and his flute. He tells all kinds of stories and he’s a musician. He plays a lot of Native American music. He did all kinds of programs like one at twilight with stargazing.
Patty – You could hear the flute through the park it was amazing.
Bob – His nature walks are fantastic. The other people are wonderful too, but John is just there and he’s with it!
Patty – We take our dogs to the Duke Park dog park in Tipp City. Our younger dog is a runner and he does not get all his exercise out here. Our older dog will stay around at the end. There’s so much to do here with the parks and the river. We didn’t think about that when we moved here. Our main focus was getting enough land for an airstrip and that’s hard to find.
It’s a really neat area to live. The community is wonderful and so many people come to help out at WACO.
Bob – We like the Troy Civic Theatre.
Patty – Oh yeah, we like to go there [laughs]. They have about four plays a year in the red barn in Troy Community Park.
Bob – We’re members there. We go to all the plays. That’s a lot of fun.
Patty – We used to go bike riding and we do the trails all the time. And there’s so much to do! We don’t have kids or anything. I can imagine all the parents and all the activities that the kids are in. How do they ever have free time?
What they love most about Miami County:
Bob – It’s rural. There’s good farm ground. I don’t see subdivisions moving very far out. The farmers out here are working hard to make it. They’re not going to sell their land anytime soon. A lot of the land around here has been passed down from generation to generation.
Patty – I’m thinking of all the things combined as opposed to like one specific thing. I like that it’s very rural where we are but the interstate is just over there to hook up with everything. When we have Dragon Baseball tickets and we can get on the interstate and zoom down there. Everything is very accessible, but we’re still off the main road.
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