Man searches Clanton history for vintage propeller details

Published 11:27 am Thursday, November 16, 2017

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Herb Brunn stands with his circa 1920s-30s wooden propeller. The propeller is thought to be from a Curtiss JN-4. (Contributed)

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

A vintage propeller has a Montgomery man searching through Clanton history for answers.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Herb Brunn acquired the circa 1920s-30s wooden propeller from former Clanton resident Irving Lande.

Brunn met Lande when his daughter became engaged to Lande’s grandson.

“He was living in San Diego at that time. As a matter of fact, he was a professor at San Diego State,” Brunn said. “We kind of hit it off, if you will. He was prior military and I was prior Air Force.”

As the friendship grew, Lande told Brunn about finding the propeller after a plane made an emergency landing in Chilton County in 1932.

Lande said the 8-foot diameter propeller came from this plane, either at the landing site or in a nearby body of water.

Brunn is hoping to find some current Chilton County residents who may remember the incident.

The propeller is a Signal Corps contract used for large, single-engine bi-planes, including the

Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” and Douglas O-25 aircraft based at Maxwell Field in Alabama, according to Brunn.

“An 8-foot wood propeller like that is pretty unique,” Brunn said.

The landing was said to be west of Clanton. Brunn said the incident was recorded as a crash by the Air Force, and he has the documentation.

Based on his research at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base, Brunn said, ” The airplane was being ferried from Patterson Field (Ohio) to Maxwell Field by Major A.L. Sneed. Flying at 2,700 feet, he elected to make an emergency landing in the furrowed cotton field, due to engine oil leak … The forced landing in the uphill field, with 2- to 3-feet-high ‘wind rows’ about every 25 yards, caused left landing gear damage and the aircraft nosed into the ground.”

Brunn also researched Clanton newspaper articles from 1932 in hopes of finding additional details of the forced landing and Lande’s story.

“Rev. G.W. Stewart and some neighbors arrived at the scene just after the pilot had gotten out of the plane,” Brunn said. “Staff Sgt. Norvelle Chaudron, from Maxwell Field, arrived at the scene by late-afternoon to assess the damaged aircraft. The next day, Feb. 9, a recovery crew arrived with truck and flatbed — disassembled wings and empennage — and transported the aircraft to Maxwell Field.”

Lande, who was 8 years old at the time, was among the community members who came to see what happened. According to Lande’s story, he and two of his uncles carried the propeller from the site, Brunn said.

Brunn described the propeller as “dinged” and said it was stored at Lande’s mother Sadie Schwartz’s house. Schwartz and her sister Bertha Margulis operated a store, possibly called The Leader, in Clanton.

The propeller remained there while Lande attended Birmingham-Southern College and served in World War II.

“He had always told me that that propeller was going to come to me one day,” Brunn said.

When Lande moved to a long-term care facility in Florida, his oldest son “had that propeller professionally shipped to me,” Brunn said.

Some of Brunn’s research has left him with more questions than answers. Based on a reference to the propeller being bent in the Air Corps Accident Report, Brunn believes the propeller that was actually on the plane as it was flying was metal. His theory is that the wooden propeller had been replaced with a metal one before takeoff and the wooden one was stored under the wing or somewhere else on the exterior of the plane for transport.

“I am thoroughly convinced that that was not the propeller on the air plane when it crashed,”

Brunn said.

Anyone with details about the 1932 forced landing near Clanton can contact Brunn at