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Aviator got his start on local golf course

Saturday, October 19, 2013
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Pioneer aviator Edward Bayard Heath tried to fly his first airplane at the Antlers golf course in Fort Johnson in 1910. Today, the golf course is called Rolling Hills.

Heath was born in 1888 and raised in Amsterdam. His first airplane was built at the Johnson Machine Shop on Cedar Street with the help of Heath’s uncle and cousin, Chester and Frank Johnson. The Aviation Heritage website indicated Heath’s plane, patterned after a Bleriot monoplane, had some successful flights in the Mohawk Valley.

However, historian Hugh Donlon reported an ignominious outcome to at least one of Heath’s tests.

“Twirling the propeller for the start was hazardous and when the plane’s motor finally got the go-ahead spark, aviator Heath had to climb aboard while the ground crew temporarily restrained all 36 horsepower. Not far down the improvised runway and traveling at tremendous speed, the wheel post broke and a wing sagged. The pilot escaped and the plane was towed back to the shop.

“Similar disappointment came in later tests on the Mohawk River flats east of Fonda, but when the flying machine was exhibited at the Fonda Fair in October it attracted crowds.”

Heath moved to Chicago, where he started a company that made airplane parts in World War I. He won trophies in air races and manufactured the Heath Parasol, an ultralight airplane he marketed as a kit. A 1928 ultralight built by Heath was called the Baby Bullet.

Heath died in a 1931 test flight crash in Morton Grove, a Chicago suburb.

The company he founded — Heathkit — changed from making airplane kits to making kits for amateur radio gear, electronic test equipment and even television receivers. According to Wikipedia, the firm filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and began restructuring in 2013.

Bottling works

Founded in 1882, Fitzgerald’s Bottling Works was located at 465 E. Main St. Extension in the town of Amsterdam. Company President Gerald Fitzgerald lived with his wife across the street from the plant, was known as “Fitz” and died in 1970.

Long affiliated with Pepsi Cola, Fitzgerald’s relocated to Freemans Bridge Road in Glenville in the late 1960s. Apparently, the firm closed some years after that.

For Amsterdam native and former Fitzgerald’s employee Richard Sidlauscus, the 1960s bring back memories of Mountain Dew. Sidlauscus, who now lives in Wallingford, Conn., said when Fitzgerald’s Bottling Works started carrying Mountain Dew, they couldn’t keep up with the summertime demand.

“The limiting factor was the number of glass bottles,” Sidlauscus said. “For some reason, it was not possible to get bottles from the glass manufacturer without a long lead time. This meant that in order to produce the soda, we had to rely on returns.”

The best-known Fitzgerald’s product was ginger ale. Sidlauscus said the company also bottled golden ginger ale, with a bit more tang. Fitzgerald’s made a lemon-lime soda called Lithiated Lemon and distributed Teem, a lemon-lime soda, under franchise. Fitzgerald’s sold Saratoga Vichy, but got it already bottled from Saratoga. The Amsterdam bottler also had an exclusive for Schweppes products. Fitzgerald’s bottled its own grape and orange soda plus two other flavors — lemon and cream.

“The lemon soda was yellow and had a sweet lemony flavor,” Sidlauscus said. “I have never seen it anywhere else. Lemon-lime, yes, but just lemon, no. The other was cream soda. Now, a lot of other bottlers made a cream soda. However, there was one feature about Fitzgerald’s cream soda that set it apart: It was red in color. The flavor was cream like all the others, but all the others were a pale brown color.”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

 
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