James 'Jim" Tolley knew in his
youth, one day he would fly. In 1933 and 1934, his dream became
reality, and along with it, an airstrip began to transform from an
apple orchard. Along the Greenbrier River, at Pence Springs, the sod
field, 2,800 feet long and 600 feet wide was being built by W.P.A.
workers. The hanger housing a Cub Trainer was built on the east end
of the field.
Flying, in those days was new to the area and people were excited to
have an aerial view of Summers County. There was flight instruction,
charter flights and an occasional air show to generate public
response. In 1940, after World War II was declared, every available
pilot was being utilized for War Training Service. Jim received
draft notice to report to Princeton Municipal Airport where he would
train and instruct Cadets attending Concord College. Uncle Sam gave
him a second choice of reporting to the foot Army. At forty years of
age, he decided it was easier to fly than march.
He closed his operation at Pence Springs and went to Princeton, West
Virginia to began the War Training Program. At the end of the War,
he returned to Pence Springs, to once again operate the Airport. Two
hangers and the office were constructed. Sam Meads, a veteran pilot
whom Jim taught to fly, instructed and operated the business until
Jim could close out at Princeton. Mary Ann Wetherby, who instructed
at Princeton to fly, moved to Pence Springs to be his secretary,
instructor and girl Friday. The operation consisted of sight seeing
rides over beautiful downtown Hinton and the Bluestone Dam. Also,
the G. I. Bill provided funding for many boys returning from the
war, to learn to fly.
One dreary, rainy day, when only the birds were flying, a D. C.
Three landed. The plane scooted sod as the pilot used every means of
stopping possible. The pilot got out and asked who had been watching
us the bench, if this was the Greenbrier Airport. He replied, "Does
it look like it?" They had flown a woman in to be transported to the
Federal Prison for Women at Alderson, West Virginia. Between the
landing the takeoff the field was a rutted mess. Several months
later a check arrived in the mail as restitution for the damages.
As the 50's rolled, Pence Airways housed privately owned planes and
student pilots were soloing and logging hours for their Private
Pilots license. Dr J. W. Stokes owned and flew an Aeronica Sedan.
Jim Ball had an Cessna Twin Engine which was recovered in the hanger
and painted black and red, Jim had a Stinson Voyager and a Cessna
180 which he made charter flights for people wanting to arrive
faster. He also owned a PT 19, which is a low wing win aerobat
plane. He enjoyed entertaining visitors on Sundays with a "little
snow". Banners for Pepsi Cola were side and pulled by a Waco over
Alderson and Hinton.
Each year, in September, the field
hosts a fly-in-picnic. Pilots from Huntington, Charleston, Kentucky,
and surrounding areas arrive early to camp over, picnic and tell
some of the wildest tales one has ever heard. They pilot home builts
and conventional aircraft. Although there are Ultra-lights and a
Gyro-copter. The ultra-lights are virtually gliders with a motor.
The gyro-copter is a scaled-down helicopter. The gentleman who flys
it is from Virginia.
Once at an air show, Ruth Gwinn, Jim's daughter, dressed as an
elderly lady was taking a plane ride with Jim. Jim escorted her to
the plane and helped her board and then was called to answer the
phone. She appears to bump the throttle causing the plane to start
moving forward. The crow went wild chasing her and grabbing the
aircraft. Finally after taxying faster they let go and she took off
and flew around the field, showing that she was capable of flying an
airplane, and then landed to enjoy the rest of the show.
In the later 50s, Mary Ann left the operation to continue her
instructing at a small field in California. Margaret, Jim's wife,
along with Mary Alice Richardson of Hinton, maintain the business
and bookkeeping, while Jim continued instruction and charter
In 1961, Jim passed away, leaving
the airport mostly idle until his daughter, Ruth returned from
Germany. She then began to rebuild the business, offering flight
instruction and passenger rides. She has continued the operation
much the same as her father. A Cessna 172 and Cessna 150 are housed
at the airport. Billy Joe Meadows, of Hilldale, now Lewisburg, has
offered flight instructions in the past is now instruction part-time
at present. Steve McCoy of Hilldale hops passengers on Sundays. He
has housed an Aeronica Chief and a Cessna 172. Beverly and Roy
Carter fly a Cherokee. Larry Fox has a Mooney. Although their planes
are housed a Lewisburg, they are Pence Airways flyers.
During the flood of 1985, the
hangers had 5 foot of water thus causing damage to the planes. The
weather service gave conflicting reports, along with poor flying
conditions, resulting in the planes being left at field. Each plane
had to be totally overhauled as the results. Doug Dillon's Baby Ace
originally yellow, became a home built-rebuilt and painted red. The
other planes were dried out, engines overhauled and put back in the
After 35 years in operation, Pence
Airways has had a good safety record. There have been no fatalities.
The base Unicom System maintains radio contact; that is if someone
happens to be in the office to answer. Each pilot looks out for the
The field has had gas for years but
no longer offer this for pilots. Although now that planes can be
licensed for automobile fuel, this can be purchased at the store
Although at present, there isn't
much activity on the field as in the past. Pence Airways remains
open for pilots to fly in from all over. When the Flea Market is in
season, pilots land and walk down to look for bargains.
For the most part the field offers
a place for the family to go, just as Jim planned it, as they begin
to grub the apple trees from the orchard and run way was being
built. He wanted to fly, but wanted others to have the opportunity
to do also.
Every September they always had an annual picnic . There was a horse
riding ring above the airport that Jim built for his daughter
Suzanne. At the picnic, the pilots would line their planes up on
the field. One year one of the wooden prop planes, upended on the
end of the runway.
The men & women would lined up in
front of the building for pictures. The tall man on the left in polo
shirt is James Tolley, The 5th man, to the right is Sam Meades, The
tall woman in plaid blouse was a student, Mabel Houchins. Lady on
the end is Suzannes' sister, Ruth.
Helicopter Owned By
Black Fly Spray
The Powered Ultralite Glider Belonged To
The Black & Orange "Coyote" Plane Belonged
To Dave Spockie
Melanie joined the Army reserves while still
in school. She went to Kansas for basic
training , 5 days after she graduated, then went
to Texas to finish AIT. She went Active Duty
to Bosnia in 1998 & 1999. She served as
medic and drove a Tank while in Bosnia. She
went to Kuwait, served 14 years in the Army.
She transferred to Navy Reserve and went to
Afghanistan for 6 months in 2012. She was
stationed at the airfield and would transport
the injured to the nearby hospital and
transported the CEO's to and from the
Airfield. She then came back to the
states, to Texas for a while and then on
Pence Springs Airport Today Photos