At present, Ranger Airfield in Ranger, Texas is home to grassroots aviation at its best. The field is city owned and maintained by volunteers. A number of restoration projects including “Barn Cub”, classics, and ultralights are based there. A Fly-In & Airshow is held annually on Memorial Day weekend and hosts visitors from far and wide.
The atmosphere is unique at the old airfield and for good reason. In late November 1911, a Wright Model B visited Ranger. The pilot, adventurer R.G. Fowler, was flying coast-to-coast with his modified Wright in an attempt to win a prize offered by William Randolph Hearst. Receiving the award required completing the trip in 30 days, it took Fowler 112.
When the McCleskey oil well blew in 1917 the small town of Ranger swelled to 30,000 people. The oil boom transformed the quiet community into a rowdy, fortune-seeking free-for-all. The discovery came when the industrial world was depending more on oil and supply was not keeping up with demand. Fueling the fighting machines of World War I placed an added urgency on the need. After the armistice Ranger was known for having “The boom that won the war.” In 1919 more freight was unloaded in Ranger by the Texas & Pacific Railroad than at any other location upon its line, including the larger stations of New Orleans, Fort Worth, and Dallas.
Ranger was the largest city between Fort Worth and El Paso. At one point Ranger was home to 29 oil companies, which included headquarters for 9 of the largest oil companies in the United States, 5 refining companies, 45 hotels, 43 groceries, 28 restaurants, 13 lumber companies, 9 drug stores, and 6 picture shows. In 1927 a group of citizens decided Ranger needed an airfield. Several plots of land were surveyed with U.S. Army aircraft and it was decided the original field Fowler chose in 1911 was most suitable. On November 11, 1928, Cooper’s field was officially deemed an airport. 44 airplanes and over ten thousand people attended the dedication.
Flying across the U.S. in July 1931, Amelia Earhart graced the grass in her Beech-Nut Gum sponsored autogyro. Her visit drew a crowd but the Great Depression was already placing a toll on the airfield and in 1937 survey photos the hangar was labeled abandoned. The airport would survive because of the looming war in Europe. A Civilian Pilot Training Program was established in 1939 to help provide pilots and mechanics with the knowledge they would need to fight victoriously. After WWII, the field was modernized and took the shape of a typical general aviation airport. An asphalt runway was added as well as a number of additions to the original hangar. But because of the decline in Ranger’s population the airfield was not improved or maintained thereafter.
By the 1990’s, when it was all but abandoned, a group of volunteers came together to clear the remaining grass runway of mesquite trees and utilize the old airfield once again. Today, Ranger’s population is just over 2000 citizens. Because of the city’s size and problems that trouble many small towns like it, little money is available. Volunteers still see to it that Ranger Airfield remains open but its future is uncertain. The asphalt runway is in dire need of repaving and the 1928 hangar is in desperate need of restoration. Support is needed to help restore and preserve the antique airfield for the education and enjoyment of future generations.