The year was 1908, and it was Fair time. Fairgoers were excited because officials had booked an amazing exhibition. The Strobel Airship, which had just won first prize in the International Races in St. Louis, was coming to Boise.
Charles J. Strobel of Toledo, Ohio had built the contraption. The dirigible looked a bit like a flying sausage. The silken bag was filled with hydrogen and had a rudder and 15 horsepower motor spinning a propeller installed on the framework that hung suspended beneath.
The Strobel Airship was to be piloted by Captain Evan Jenkins Parker. He made some bold promises to Boise Mayor John M. Haines. The Idaho Statesman quoted him as saying he would sail his big aerial craft from the fairgrounds to the business district and guide its course around the peaks on the city hall building and play with his toy over the tops of business buildings.
On October 20, Parker made a couple of successful runs at the fair much to the delight of the crowds. Then, on October 24, he set out to keep his boast to the mayor.
Parker took off and was making rapid progress toward his circumnavigation of city hall when a gust of wind twisted the gas bag in such a manner that the propeller caught one of the airship’s suspension ropes. The whirling prop pulled the rope down tight against the bag, tearing a 12-foot hole in the air sack.
The hydrogen began escaping and the ship started to drop. Parker scrambled to the front end of the frame to tip the airship at an angle that would keep some of the gas from leaking out. In that unconventional manner he brought the dirigible down on River Street without further damage to the ship or to himself.
It was Parker’s first crash with the Strobel Airship. It wouldn’t be his last. A gust of wind pushed the machine into a roller coaster in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1910. In 1911 he hit electrical wires at a fair in Lynn, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter he retired from flying gas bags, going to work for Eastman Kodak where he had a 38-year career.
Thanks to the Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. website for much of this story.