How Pennsylvania Wilds Entrepreneurs Helped the Original Smokey Bear
I must have known the original Smokey Bear story as a child; however, it wasn’t until this past year that I realized a piece of the Southwestern tale has a direct connection to the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Established in 1985, Sentimental Journey seeks to celebrate Piper Aircraft’s history in Lock Haven – and within that history is where you’ll find Smokey Bear.
A young bear cub was treed during a wildfire in Lincoln National Park, Capitan, New Mexico, in spring of 1950. While crews battled the blaze, local forest rangers and game commission personnel watched the cub, hopeful the mother bear would return to take it to safety.
After removing the cub from the tree, a rancher took him home to care for him. While the little bear survived, it sustained burns to its paws and back legs. A New Mexico Game and Fish ranger heard about the cub and decided to step in, so the bear could be flown to Santa Fe for burn treatments. He was flown in a Piper PA-12, owned by the Game and Fish department.
Word traveled of the little bear’s survival and efforts to help him. It was decided “Smokey Bear” would be transported to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and become the national symbol for efforts to prevent forest fires.
Commercial airlines were only willing to carry the cub as freight or cargo, but apparently a local dealer and William T. Piper Sr. – owner of Piper Aircraft Corp., based out of Lock Haven at the time – thought the national symbol deserved a better ride. Piper told the local dealer to donate a new Pacer 135 to the cause – but he had one condition: Smokey Bear’s image and name must be painted on both sides of the plane so it could be identified during travel.
That’s how Smokey Bear made his journey to the East Coast – and how his adventure was directly impacted by the Pennsylvania Wilds.
So, next time you hear someone mentioning Smokey Bear, or “Only you can prevent forest fires,” feel free to share this little piece of history and tell them all about how the rural Pennsylvania Wilds region played a huge impact on the national story of forest fire prevention.
ABOUT PIPER PLANES
Piper Aircraft’s predecessor, Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corp., was owned by brothers Clarence and Gordon Taylor and originally located in Rochester, NY. With advice and investments from Piper, the brothers decided to relocate the operations to Bradford, PA – another city located in the Pennsylvania Wilds – in the 1920s. Piper bought out the company in 1930 and after a fire decimated the Bradford plant, the operation was moved to Lock Haven and renamed Piper Aircraft Corp. in 1937.
Piper cubs were often used during World War II and are still commonly found on airstrips today. The iconic yellow Piper J-3 Cub was designated as the Official State Aircraft of Pennsylvania in 2014.
The annual Sentimental Journey Fly In provides a rare opportunity to see an entire field of the classic planes in one location each year, alongside other vintage planes. The 2018 event will take place June 19-23.
Learn more about the Fly In at http://www.sentimentaljourneyfly-in.com/.