Veteran Aviator vs. Daring Amateur

William M. Evans
Veteran Aviator and Daring Amateur Entertain Thousands at Elm Ridge
- Kansas City Post, 8 October 1910, p. 2.

Elm Ridge

It's a crisp, clear October day in Kansas City. The hills surrounding Elm Ridge Racetrack are just beginning to show the first brushstrokes of fall color. The constant rain that has stirred up mud and watered down your spirits for the past five days has finally ended, and you, like the rest of the crowd in town for the Priests of Pallas festivities, are ready for some fun and excitement.

You step off the streetcar and walk toward Elm Ridge. Thousands of people pour into the stands, and as you settle into your seat, you feel the electric hum of competition and technological wonder buzzing through the crowd. The Kansas City papers have promised some real auto racing and a brand-new wonder at today's events: an aeroplane race between Captain Thomas Baldwin, seasoned aviator and nationally-known King of the Air, and William Evans, a local Kansas City boy whose recent flights out at the Overland Park air field have caused a stir.

On the Racetrack

The automobile races prove to be crowd-pleasers, but they are not without peril. W. H. Gillmore takes a bad turn in the twenty-five mile free-for-all and wrecks his Apperson car, and Pete Hickerson just barely avoids calamity in the sixth lap of the ten-mile race when he rounds the back stretch and his Indian motorcycle skids out of control, throwing him into the fence. Applause and sighs of relief ripple through the crowd as each man emerges unharmed from the wreckage.

Your ears gradually tune to the near-constant growl of car engines and the pop-pop of motorcycles. The races drone on through the day, and some of the crowd has started to thin out. The sun begins to fade toward the hills, and the late afternoon haze settles in, but you aren't ready to leave - not by a long shot.

The Red Devil

You and your seat mates have been sneaking glances at a large tent positioned just inside the track. The tent flap flies open with a dramatic flourish, and from your position, you can just make out the shape of an aeroplane. The crowd bursts into applause, and Captain Baldwin leads the way as several men from his crew wheel the “Red Devil” aeroplane toward the grandstand.

The Greene Biplane

Not to be outdone, William Evans and his team push his Greene biplane forward to stand beside the Red Devil. The reporter next to you remarks that this daring local kid might just stand a chance against Baldwin. You agree that the Greene biplane, while not as graceful and classic as the Red Devil, seems just a bit more eccentric and rakish.


By now, the auto races are over and all eyes are focused on the two aeroplanes and their pilots. The machinists step forward and start the engines on both planes, unleashing a machine gun blast of noise. Baldwin, the senior aviator, climbs into his seat and motions to his crew to release the plane. Man and mechanical bird skim along the ground for a few yards, then slowly rise up and over the track and over the fence to curve around the stands, then swoop back down into the infield for a graceful landing. The crowd cheers, and Baldwin graciously waves to acknowledge the applause.


Young Evans takes his seat and makes two short test flights across the field. The crowd shifts forward, ready for the race between the man-birds to begin. Evans' machinist, Harry Boore, motions for a moment's delay. He is concerned about the Greene biplane's engine, and Evans agrees to another test flight.

Evans' plane performs on command, soaring up fifty feet toward the east, and as the young pilot turns back toward the field, the crowd cheers, pleased that the local fellow, a relative newcomer to flight, should do so well. The aeroplane tilts to one side, and as you glance away from the biplane, you see Captain Baldwin and machinist Boore watching the flight, their faces pulled tight with worry. They know what the crowd will see in moments: The engine has stalled, and the machine is about to fall.

Instead of Baldwin's birdlike swoop, Evans' descent is a straight drop, and the few women in the crowd scream as the plane turns its nose downward and plummets thirty-five feet. Evans quickly pulls himself from the plane's wires and jumps from the machine mere seconds before it crashes to the ground.

The police strain to hold back the crowd for a third time today, but before the sea of people can flood to the site of this wreck, Evans shakes off his fall and moves to stand by the crumpled biplane, waving his hands in the air to show the crowd that he is safe. Another cheer bursts from the crowd, and the reporter next to you remarks that the celebration could not have been greater had the boy aviator actually succeeded in establishing an altitude record instead of a crash landing. Survival, especially in these early days of aviation, is worth celebrating.

I'm Downright Sorry, Evans

Baldwin strides forward to shake Evans' hand. “I'm downright sorry, Evans.” Baldwin, a seasoned aviator, is no stranger to the fortunes and misfortunes of aviation. Although he is richer by the $500 prize he now receives by default, Baldwin seems genuinely sorry to see the Kansas City fellow lose. The Post later reports, “As for Evans, it may be said he was a game loser. Of course, it was a great chance gone in a minute, but the young man had a plucky smile on his face as he and Captain Baldwin clasped hands. The older man seemed to be the more grieved of the two.” “Thanks, captain. I hope for better luck next time,” Evans says. He has had a chance to stretch his wings alongside his hero, and he knows that as soon as his aeroplane can be repaired, he will be in the air again.

The Kansas City post reported, “Young Evans had gone out to Elm Ridge expecting to do something brilliant, something great, something that would gain him world renown, by defeating at his own game the master of aeronautics. And, although he failed, he lost as gracefully as only a thorobred can.”

One loss - one crash landing on that crisp October day - was not the end of William Evans' flying career. Although the race at Elm Ridge did not end in his favor, it did mark the beginning of a friendship and professional association with Captain Thomas S. Baldwin. Evans would go on to make solo flight demonstrations in Kansas and would later join Baldwin's crew at Mineola for a time. The young amateur's dreams of flight and fame were just beginning to take off.

Next: Wreck of Evans' Biplane