From Barbara Ball Ewing OX5 ID 21369
In 1955, I accompanied my father, Cliff Ball, to the founding of the OX5 Club in Latrobe and ever since have felt a loyalty to the members who carry on the commitment to the recognition of early American aviation history as part of our Nation’s heritage. I want to share with you the unique honors received by Clifford Ball, know in his later years as Western Pennsylvania’s “Grand Old Man of Aviation.”
__ Editor’s note: Cliff ball is one of the founding fathers of the OX5 in 1955.
International Forest of Friendship
In 1976, both my father and mother were honored with a tree planted for each of them, joining other aviation legends such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post, and Eddie Rickenbacker in the International Forest of Friendship in Atchison Kansas. My son, Michael Essad, their grandson, was able to make a visit there and met with the fabulous Marguerite Lawrence.
Tribute from United Airlines
A year later, United Airlines honored Clifford Ball’s airline “The Path of the Eagle” as the parent company of United. My mother, Helen Ball, an aviation pioneer and pilot herself, accepted the tribute.
Miss Pittsburgh in the Pittsburgh International Airport
It was a grand day in April 1995 at the Pittsburgh International Airport for Cliff’s airplane, Miss Pittsburgh. The Waco 9 with an OX5 engine, the plane that, in 1927, hauled the first sack of mail from Bettis Field in McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Ohio, came home to stay. The inauguration of the air mail service represented the beginning of commercial aviation in Western Pennsylvania. It’s quite a story of how the OX5 was involved in finding the plane in pieces in a barn in Rhinebeck, New York, worked hard to bring it back to Pittsburgh, have it restored to its original glory, and worked with Allegheny County to have it hung where it can be seen as you pass through the security line at the Airport.
“The Clifford Ball”
One of the most unusual events honoring my father occurred in August 1996. “The Clifford Ball,” was a live, outdoor, 3-day concert performed by the jam band Phish, held at the former Air Force Base in Plattsburgh, New York. Seventy thousand fans strolled around the Clifford Ball Village, which contained newspaper clippings of Clifford Ball’s achievements, while overhead, airplanes performed daring stunts. Michael was in attendance. Cliff would have approved – he had attracted crowds to his airport in the 1920s with music and entertainment. The band got the idea when they saw the plaque at the Pittsburgh Airport honoring my dad – it read in part, “Clifford Ball – A beacon of light in the world of flight”.
Pittsburgh’s Mr. Aviation
The latest of the honors bestowed on Cliff Ball was the play Pittsburgh’s Mr. Aviation performed in May 2011 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Junior by a cast from Point Park University. The play was written for 5th and 6th grade school children. My husband and I, who attended the premiere, as well as the adult audiences who attended the weekend performances, came away singing the praises of a well written, outstanding presentation that could be appreciated at any age. The playwright, Yoli, got the idea when she saw my son’s photos of his grandparents and learned their story of starting commercial aviation in Western Pennsylvania.
Among those attending the premiere on May 14, 2011, were from the left, a young man whose lineage goes back to Bessie Coleman, who in the early 1920s was the famous first female American pilot of African American descent; Michael Essad; Yoli; Keith Ewing, Barbara’s husband; Barbara Ball Ewing; Adam Lynch, journalist and former Pittsburgh TV news anchorman; and Jessi Sedon-Essad.
The Clifford Ball Suite Dedication
When the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Pittsburgh International Airport opened in 2000, they wanted their Presidential Suite named for a well known, local aviation pioneer. Clifford Ball was chosen. My husband and I traveled from Houston, Texas, where we live, and joined officers and members of the OX5 Clifford Ball Wing for the dedication. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to renew old friendships and make new ones with people as dedicated to aviation as Cliff had been. Barbara Ewing-Don Riggs
More recently Adam Lynch, a well known former anchorman at Channel 11 and Channel 13 in Pittsburgh, wrote an article for the spring 2011 issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine, “Taking Wing – How the Commercial Aviation Industry Got Started in Pittsburgh.” The lead for the story was Clifford Ball’s role as the pioneer who started the first airline here with a picture of Cliff and my mother, Sales Manager for Clifford Ball Airlines in the 1920s.
Clifford A. Ball, a McKeesport, Pennsylvania, automobile dealer and owner of a controlling interest in Bettis Field near Pittsburgh, won airmail contract route #11 on March 27, 1926. In April of the following year, The Clifford Ball Airline began operating between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Famed humorist and performer Will Rogers was known to be an early and regular passenger, but scheduled passenger service did not begin until April 28, 1928. The following August, it became the first airline to serve Washington, DC, from the west, offering its flagship “Path of the Eagle” service from Cleveland to Hoover Field across the Potomac River. Source-Wikipedia
Date 1929–Picture from Barb Ball Ewing
Cliff purchased the Fairchild FC-2 in 1928 to start the “Path of the Eagle” passenger service.
Currently I’m writing a book about my mother’s aviation experiences while promoting air mail with my father in the 1920s and her adventures as a pilot in the 1930s. I’ll notify the OX5 of the publication date.
Clifford Ball was a humble man. I know, however, he would be proud of these honors and, more important, proud that each of you is committed to the purpose of the OX5 Club.
Barbara Ball Ewing