Just a stone's throw down U.S. Highway 23, about a mile from our
Lands' End homeplace in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, an airplane is parked
by the side of the road.
It's hard to miss.
The vintage Boeing C-97G Stratofreighter casts its massive shadow
across the front lawn of Dodgeville's Don Q Inn, a local motel-restaurant
complex. With its 141-foot wingspan and quartet of 3,500-horsepower
engines, the big metal bird has made itself the object of considerable
"They landed it right there on the highway," someone will tell you. "There
was only enough fuel for one pass," another insists. Some even claim that
when the plane rolled to a stop, Farrah Fawcett (remember her?) stepped out and
waved to the crowd. There's evidence: the flourish of her autograph still graces
the airplane's silver skin.
Those aren't precisely the facts in the case. But, as it turns out,
this is one of those instances where truth outshines legend.
Ron Dentinger runs our local Chamber of Commerce. He was, in years
past, a close friend of Don Quinn, the man responsible for bringing
a Boeing to Dodgeville. Don was a corporate pilot who, when he wasn't
circling the globe on business, brought the company plane home to
Dodgeville, touching down on a 2,800-foot unpaved landing strip in
his backyard. "He parked a DC-9 outside his house the way you'd
park your company car in the driveway," Ron Dentinger laughs.
In 1968, Don opened a restaurant on his property. Merging equal parts
frugality and promotional savvy, Don cobbled up a veritable dime
museum of repurposed architecture. "Everywhere you looked there
was a story," says Ron. Floorboards from a Douglas Aircraft
factory. Floorboards from a railroad boxcar. The brass doors off
the First Wisconsin Bank. Of course, Don wouldn't describe his doors
so prosaically; instead, he'd intone, "Behind these doors, the
plan for the MasterCard was conceived."
Sometime in the 1970s, Don decided an airplane out front was the
thing he really needed. And not a small airplane.
The plane Don fixed upon had once starred in a Lincoln Mercury car
commercial. Co-starred, we should say. The big Boeing shared the
screen with Farrah Fawcett, then riding the crest of her "Charlie's
Angels" celebrity. (The autograph - remember?)
In the fall of 1978, a trio of Air Guardsmen guided the aircraft
out Dodgeville way. Dick Schmidt was the pilot, Tom Thomas occupied
the copilot's chair. The flight engineer was a gentleman named Harold
Waligorski. Afterward, it amused Don to report that his plane made
the journey with Tom, Dick and Harry at the controls.
The highway was closed down for the landing - which was nearly as
perilous as legend recalls. The landing gear were three feet wider
than the runway. One wingtip passed within 20 feet of the hangar.
But the sheer audacity of the stunt garnered coverage in newspapers
as far-flung as The Miami Herald and The San Francisco Examiner.
Locally, the plane soon established itself as a landmark. Don delighted
in claiming there were black marks on the highway from people slamming
on their brakes to get a better look.
Some even slowed down long enough to dine at The Don Q.
Don Quinn died in 1988. His restaurant has passed into other hands.
And the stories are largely forgotten.
But one man remembers.
Ron Dentinger: "You wouldn't want a world full of people like
Don... but thank God there was one of him."
TO THE STORE,
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