This year is the centennial anniversary of a family from Milford who entered a racing car in the Indy 500 in 1915.
Each year on Memorial Day the Indy 500 race is featured. Observing the racing cars this year just blew my mind. My question is why don't they fly? The speed of the racers is out of this world -- 100 m.p.h. used to be good but now they talk about 200 m.p.h. so it is no wonder when a tire goes bad or a mechanical failure occurs they turn end over end, flip around, burn and the driver comes out unscratched. Will wonders never cease?
The early racers in the Indy 500 were very primitive, plus a mechanic rode along just in case the car needed a bit of tinkering to keep it going. The driver and mechanic wore only leather helmets and goggles and probably a pair of coveralls and gloves. They had little protection but the top speed in those days was 75 m.p.h. and your vehicle can do that very easily. I wonder if the early Indy racer even had a seatbelt.
One-hundred years ago, a family from Milford built and entered a racing auto in the Indy 500. The family was the Rube Donaldsons. If they were alive today, they would probably be the first in town to have a Harley, first to have a iPad, first to have a cellphone and the first to get a computer not to mention the new vehicle that had all the "bells and whistles" attached. The following is some information about this amazing family. I grew up with the Donaldsons and their children but didn't realize all their achievements until later in life.
The Donaldson family of Milford had an outstanding reputation in racing. Automobile racing was the fad in the early 1900s in and around the Lakes. Spirit Lake and Milford both had tracks with cars buzzing around about every weekend during the summer months.
Rube Donaldson married Flo Gessinger in 1885 and they had six children: two girls and four boys. The boys were Orville, Grant, Lou and Flavius (Putch). Rube became a salesman of implements and farm machinery in Milford. He bought the first car ever owned and driven in Milford. He and his boys became very interested in racing cars.
In 1915 they built a racing car, the "Emden" and entered it in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The officials wouldn't allow either Grant or Lou to drive as they had never driven on a brick track, so they rode as mechanics. Each rode 250 miles of the 500 mile race. The "Emden" was the last to start and they were awarded 11th place out of 25 cars. The car was made entirely in Milford. That same summer Rube Donaldson was killed driving the "Emden" at a dirt track at Spirit Lake on Aug. 1, 1915. His mechanic, C.C. Wilcox, was also killed.
The sons continued the family business and they became interested in aviation. World War I came along and Grant and Flavius (Putch) enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. Both soloed but the war was over before they could see action in France. After the war, they saw an advertisement in the paper that offered for sale some surplus airplanes. They bought one for $1,150, assembled it in Minneapolis, and flew it back to Milford. Later they bought two other planes and formed the Donaldson Air Circus. The Milford Airport was along the east side of Highway 71 going north from about where the DeMuth Landscaping & Design is today, north to the road just north of the Smith Stoneworks. I recall seeing airplanes landing and taking off at the runway or parked by the hanger when we drove to Arnolds Park or Spirit Lake on Highway 71.
In May 1919, the Donaldson Air Circus performed before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people at the Clay County Fairgrounds. They also drew the crowd before the air show by conducting races with miniature cars they had built. They continued the air circus but soon learned that carrying passengers was much more profitable. In July 1923, a record-breaking crowd assembled at Terrace Park on the south end of West Lake Okoboji to witness an aviation show sponsored by the Milford American Legion. Ten planes took part in the program and eight flew in formation over the lake to the delight of the crowd. After that flight a parachute jumper descended from an airplane.
Speaking of thrills, the most notable event of that afternoon was the spectacular transfer of a man from a speedboat to an airplane. The speedboat was the "Disturber" owned by the Hartman family of West Okoboji that was able to go 60 m.p.h. The airplane, piloted by Grant Donaldson, was to slow his airplane to match his speed to the speed of the boat so a man could grasp the rope ladder hanging from the airplane. The jumper or grabber was Curley Florence from Cherokee.
The first attempt did not match speeds so on the second try Curley grabbed the rope ladder and hung on. Because of his added weight the plane nearly nose dived and carried Curley along in the water for about 200 yards. The pilot, Grant, couldn't see what was happening but finally managed to pull up just before he got to the crowd at Terrace Park. He circled around and went back over the water again not knowing whether or not Curley had a good grip on the rope ladder. If not then Curley could drop into the water but much to the delight of the assembled crowd and to Grant, Curley finally was able to climb up the rope and get into the cockpit of the airplane. Wow!