1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



Pence Springs Airport

Causby Parker - April 18, 2015
As Told To Her By Suzanne Tolley


Barry Worrell

When the town of Alderson WV comes up, it would be safe to say the word "airport" would rarely be in the conversation. However, just 7.2 miles south west of Alderson lies a small airfield that has been there since 1933-34. Of course the pilots from around the area know it's there, and maybe at one time was very happy to see it there to land their plane.

For me there was a certain interest in the airfield, other than a decent bicycle trip out of town. I had two class mates that were very interest in Pence Springs Airport. Both Jim Meadows and Sonny Bennett are pilots today and I sure they have an affection for the airport, and a little of that rubbed off on me. I can recall scrounging around to get enough change to take off and fly around the field and land.

As you read this history and look at the pictures you may notice the different names use to describe the airport. On the back of the building, facing the highway is written, "Hinton - Alderson Airport". On the front of the building is written, "Pence Airways", as is on the office door. During my time in Alderson, it was always referred to Pence Spring Airport. I do have a question: Who was the fellow that was a pilot and had a black patch over one eye. _Barry Worrell  (Be sure and follow the link below for more pictures)

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 service.

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 air.

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 other.

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 close by.

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.

Photos From Yesterday

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 Terry May


The Black & Orange "Coyote" Plane Belonged To Dave Spockie


Margaret  Tolley


Ruth Gwinn


Jim Tolley


Melanie Humphrey, Suzanne's Daughter

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  to Pensacola.


Pence Springs Airport Today Photos


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