Bernard A. Drew: The OL Dunton plane built in a North Adams workshop did not fly | Columnists
This title is a teaser. The North Adams resident’s monoplane flew, but it didn’t land…a US Army contract.
So he continued to manufacture his patented washing machines.
Orravill L. Dunton (1859-1942), originally from Chelsea, came to North Berkshire from the Heywood-Wakefield Chair Co. in Gardner in 1901 to work for Arnold Print Works as an engineer and master mechanic. It moved to Hoosac Cotton Mills and then to Hamer Improved Washer Co. in the stone mill on State Road near the Williamstown line. Here he proposed several mechanical improvements and filed patents.
The Hamer firm had organized in 1904 to manufacture the patented “Perfect Washer” developed by Harry R. Hamer (1857-1902) – it resembled the lower half of a large wooden barrel on legs, with a motorized agitator at inside.
By 1914 Dunton had a controlling interest in the business.
Besides clean laundry, Dunton was fascinated by the possibilities of theft.
“In early aviation, Mr. Dunton had extensive experience in designing and building aircraft,” the North Adams Transcript said. “He was recognized as exceptional in his field and his advice was often sought by those employed in the same field on difficult issues.”
He received U.S. Patent 1002908 on September 12, 1911 for an “aeroplane”. “The objects of the invention are to provide a more stable balance, to automatically adjust the planes in which each will bear its proper proportion of the weight, and to predict direction both vertically and horizontally…” he wrote.
Another patent – No. 1018413, issued February 27, 1912 – was for “a flying machine having oppositely arranged main support planes supported on axes at their inner ends to swing substantially in the plane of their support surfaces, by which the center of support the pressures may be moved fore or aft relative to the center of gravity of the machine…”, as reported in the March 9, 1912 issue of Aero. idea?
Dunton built his own single-seat monoplane in Hamer Improved Washer’s workshop. It was equipped to maintain automatic balance, The Transcript said in July 1916. “The airship which is practically ready for assembly has been built in the Hamer Company shop on State Street and it will be ready for a flight of “test within two weeks. A hangar has been prepared for this at the rear of the shop and the test flight will be carried out at the field east of State Street. It is planned to have the flight carried out by a experienced aviator and the exact date will be fixed in the next few days.
Aerial Age Weekly of September 4, 1916, anticipated the craft’s airworthiness trials: “The new aircraft embodies a number of new ideas for airship construction, among them a new shape of wings which are calculated to offer minimum air resistance when the ship is in flight.Their flight area is at least one-third larger than most aircraft and their shape and lines are entirely different.The tail is also built on new lines and is much longer than usual.The plane body is a little shorter than the usual length and also a little narrower.
Its six-cylinder engine was rated at 90 horsepower, with capacity expandable to 250 horsepower. It promised great speed and high lift capacity.
The city expected the plane to be manufactured locally.
Dunton was ready to ship his plane to Long Island for a test pilot to try out.
A year later, Dunton had yet to hear from Army officials if a military contract would be forthcoming. On May 24, 1917, the Transcript prematurely headlined an article: “Dunton to Make Planes for Army”.
He exhibited the prototype at the Hoosac Valley Fair in the fall of 1917. “Mr. Dunton said today there were many elements of danger in attempting a flight from the fairgrounds, but he was perfectly willing to put the machine at all risk. He is confident that the machine which is the result of 12 years of aircraft studies on his part will pull through with flying colors,” the Transcript said.
‘The Dunton plane was brought to the fairgrounds this afternoon and attracted a great deal of attention,’ the newspaper said, ‘as did the performances by the Tasmanian Girls and the singing of Madame Cara Sapin.’
World War I broke out.
No military contracts came – there was little time for experimentation.
While he waited for word, Dunton (and others at North Adams) experimented with “potato pens”, the deep planting of tuber seeds in late fall to produce potatoes the next season.
Dunton left the washer factory, which had reorganized but faced a competitive market.
In 1920 Dunton was a maintenance engineer for the Richmond-Wellington Hotel Co., responsible for its private power plant. During a severe shortage of municipal water, he devised a device to connect the buildings to the roof gutters of the Wellington Hotel to provide enough liquid for the steam plant. He retired in 1939, when the hotel switched to natural gas.
Dunton and his wife, the former Etta Eddy (1863-1960), lived at 77 Yale St. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1942. They had one son and three daughters.
And a monoplane with unverified potential.