History of Bruce Field
“Quoted” from the 1944- E Class Album
“A couple of years ago it was a cotton field. Today it’s a bustling primary flying training school with a record of having turned out fledgling pilots who are now flying in every one of the widely scattered world battlefronts. That’s the story of Bruce field in its nearly two and one-half years of operation.
Although it didn’t take long to build after necessary groundwork had been passed, Bruce spring Venus-like from nothing. Fred Harman had compiled with the well-known legal red tape and working with Mr. R.E. Bruce, chairman of the Ballinger aviation committee, finally located the field here. Six hundred forty acres were purchased and on July 23, 1941, groundbreaking exercises were held. Construction began immediately, although part of the work was held up while the cotton growing on the site was harvested.
The whole town turned out to welcome the first cadets to the new field – Class 42D, After the opening on October 4. That opening was the successful culmination of a race against the elements for adverse weather had held up construction. Believe it or not, there were floods that fall.
The train was delayed by the high water but townspeople met everyone until the cadets arrived.
The first men were still wearing civilian clothing and as the barracks weren’t ready, were housed in the Central hotel. They met ground school classes in the courthouse.
The story of the field becomes more real to its cadets when it is seen as reflected by the personalities of who have built it, who make it what it is.
Standing first in this category is Bruce’s founder and civilian director, Fred Harman. No doedoe himself, Mr. Harman comes from a flying family. His father operated the airport at Dallas and it was in his father’s air school that he learned to fly. Later he barnstormed the West in the “Tin Goose”, one of the famous old Ford tri-motors.
After a few years away from flying, he came back to help operate a Texas airline, managing the field at San Antonio until 1940. By this time, he already had a contract to fly civilian pilot trainees for the CAA, in which the program he operated four schools. The wide experience in student pilot training put him in an excellent position to step into the army program during its expansion.
Every cadet at Bruce appreciates Harman’s easy accessibility and congeniality, his personal interest in such things as the welfare of visiting families down for Christmas, Fred Harman is synonymous with the warm feeling cadets have for Bruce field.
No man is long at this field when he first comes in contact with Leon Thomas, pilot of one of the big yellow busses. But to call Leon a bus driver is a gem of understatement. Tucking up the flaps and taking off with that bright fire wagon is something he does at odd moments stolen from his full-time job of graduating a 100 percent class of cadets. He’s a cheer-upper, father confessor, gig-fixer, and general factotum – a sort of universal lubricant in the machinery of primary. Leon was present when Mayor C. P. Shepherd turned the first spade full of dirt at the field and has been around ever since. He, himself, has a son in the air forces.
Tall tales fly with Leon and R.B. Thomas, a fellow Ballinger resident and flight dispatcher at Bruce since it’s beginning, get together. Cadets have long since taken to referring to the dispatcher as “Blow”. The name has nothing to do with his vocal proficiencies, although he has never been known to use the amplifying system to address the bustling crowds in the stage house. Nor is there any derision in the appellation; cadets recognize Thomas’ deep sensitive nature and wouldn’t hurt him for the world. “Keep ’em flying” has a special meaning for Thomas, and he does his job with gusto.
On the quieter side is Bowden, one of the post barbers and another man who was around when it all began. A tonsorial artist specializing in brush-cuts, he accompanies the falling locks with local yarns. He was pulling his Delilah act on cadets long before there was a barbershop at the post. Despite this lack, an unshorn cadet is not to be tolerated and the men were taken into town by buss to be worked over.
A lot of cadets have passed under the barber’s shears, in Leon’s bus, over Thomas’ dispatch sheets, and under Fred Harman’s watchful eye. These, and the other men and women who run Bruce have a good cross sectional picture of the men fighting the air battles of today. They pretty much agree that though this class may be younger as a whole than its predecessors, they’re not much worried about how 44-E will hold up the tradition of the men who have gone before (at Bruce Field).” (end History Quote)
A new cadet went through three stages of training: (1) Primary Training using the PT – 19, then he would go to another field for (2) Basic Flight Training using the BT – 13, and then (3) Advance Training using a AT – 6. Bruce Field was for Primary Training. LR Muller
The PT – 19 had an inverted straight-six engine with the crankshaft at the top and the valve cover at the bottom. It produced 200 HP. – LR Muller
The PT-19 (at right) is part of the Confederate Air Force, today. It is restored to the original colors The first PT-19s produced had the striped tail which was later painted silver.
The top was sheet metal while the sides were fabric. The wings and tail section were wood framing covered in fabric. The running gear was mounted in wood frame work, and had only a few instruments.
“Thanksgiving morning (1944) saw Bruce field cadets drawn up to parade in honor of a fellow member of the air forces who has given his life for the cause to which they too are dedicated. The ceremony was held for T/Sgt. Wagner Byler, of Ballinger, who met death at his post as turret gunner on a Flying Fortress in a raid over Kiel, Germany. Major Landon E. McConnell, commanding officer of Bruce field, presented three posthumous awards, along with a citation from Gen. H.H. Arnold to Mrs. Hamp Byler, mother of the youth. The awards consisted of the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart.” – Source 44-E Album
In 1946 a tornado hit Bruce field taking off the top of the Control/Staging Tower and destroying the “Number Two” hangar. Today, only one of the original hangars remain, which was known as “Number One.”
After closing Bruce field the U.S. Army deeded it over to the City of Ballinger to be used as a Municipal Airport. It is still in service today by the City of Ballinger. – LR Muller