Tonawanda News


April 2, 2009

ADAMCZYK: Defending Ken-Ton for 50 years

I drove past it again the other day, that little blue aircraft that guards the entrance to Kenney Field at the intersection of Brighton Road and Colvin Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda. It occurred to me that when a second-ring suburbanite inquires about life in Kenmore, it usually involves snow removal or the proclivities of life on the city line (Gasp! So close to Buffalo!). If he or she is from Ken-Ton and knows I’m imbedded in the area’s preservation of its history, the question often concerns “the jet.”

It is a story I’ve told a hundred times, and I’ll tell it a hundred times more before I’m through, how Tonawanda ended up with the world’s coolest piece of playground equipment, and it’s got nothing to do with the usual parents’ answers from the front seat of the minivan to the inquiries from the back (i.e., there was once an airplane factory on the site, it parked there after it ran out of gas etc.).

The Korean War-era plane — technically an “airframe,” an aircraft missing its engine, controls and landing gear — is a Grumman F9F-6 fighter plane, its Navy nickname “Cougar,” misidentified on an accompanying signpost as an F-4 “Phantom” until recently. It has nothing to do with local manufacture (it was built on Long Island) or any pilot with Ken-Ton in his background. Local kids have long referred to it as the jet (as in “meet me at the jet”).

In 1958, Life, Redbook and other magazines your children never heard of presented articles on the availability, to municipalities across America, of “surplus Navy aircraft” and other obsolete military vehicles, and that gave Franklin Diemer an idea.

Diemer was employed by the Kenmore school system until he became the Town’s first full-time director of its rapidly expanding recreation department in 1958 (he ended his business correspondence with the phrase “Sportingly Yours”). His legwork, with a little pull from the the office of Congressman William Miller’s office, located the plane at the Niagara Falls Naval Air Station. It was loaded onto a truck without its wings and sunk into the concrete of Conway Field (now named Kenney Field) in May 1959. By September, the first of many local kids became stuck inside it — in this incident, a 14 year-old was sitting in the cockpit while the canopy closed over him — and was in need of rescue by the Brighton Fire Department (the canopy was eventually sealed and replaced with aluminum).

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