Clayton Brukner recalled how the flying bug bit his friend and business partner Sam Junkin at a 1912 Chicago air show. They both wanted to fly and pooled their money so that one could take a four-hour flying course which cost $400. “Each of us was making only $14 a week at the time, so we flipped a coin to see who would get to take the course,” Brukner said. Sam won. Junkin then built a propeller and the two collaborated on an ice boat. This impressed some of the early plane manufacturers. “These boys discovered that I could make just about anything,” said Brukner, “but it welded Sam and me together for life.”
- Brukner and friend Sam Junkin joined Buck Weaver at his Ohio Aviation School in Lorain, Ohio. They built the first Waco nicknamed Cookie, followed by Waco 4 in 1921.
- In 1923, they moved to Troy, Ohio and produced Waco 6 under the new company name Advanced Aircraft Company.
- In 1925, Waco 9 was manufactured on the first aircraft assembly line in the U.S.
- In 1929, the company became Waco Aircraft Company then the largest commercial builder of aircraft in the world.
- During World War II, Waco designed and developed large troop and cargo-carrying gliders for the Army Air Corps.
Clayton John Brukner was born on December 18th, 1896 in Ravenna, Nebraska, the youngest of seven children. After the family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, Clayton graduated from Battle Creek Central High in 1915. In high school Brukner met Elwood “Sam” Junkin who became a lifelong associate. In 1917, they worked at the Aeromarine Plane & Motor Company in New Jersey where they first met George “Buck” Weaver. Sam and Clayton briefly worked at Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation where they helped build the Curtiss Jenny. In 1918, they developed an aircraft of their own called the Baby Flying Boat, but the project was not successful.
Clayton and Sam left Curtiss and moved to Lorain, Ohio, where they joined Buck Weaver at his Ohio Aviation School. In 1919, Brukner and Junkin, along with Harold Deuther, briefly formed the DBJ Aeroplane Company to continue working on the flying boat and other designs. Later, they dropped the DBJ name for the Weaver Aircraft Company. The first Waco, nicknamed the “Cootie”, was designed and built by Weaver, Junkin and Brukner that same year. In 1921, the Waco Model Four, capable of carrying three passengers, was constructed.
By 1922, the trio and Weaver Aircraft Company had moved to Medina, Ohio where they assembled the Waco Five. They also produced “Canucks”, the nickname for the Canadian version of the Curtiss JN-4 primary trainer. In 1923, unable to obtain financing, they moved to Troy, Ohio. Junkin was the designer and Brukner was the plant manager. In March, Brukner made a final settlement for Weaver’s share of the Weaver Aircraft Company. The name was then changed to the Advance Aircraft Co. The company occupied part of the Pioneer Pole & Shaft building on South Union street next to the old ice plant. That same year, the Waco Six was produced.
In 1924, the Waco Seven was built. This had the same three-place, open cockpit model but with one major change, the incorporation of a new airfoil design. The Waco 8 was designed and built in 1924 as well. This model carried eight people, six in the enclosed cabin and two in the open cockpit. It was the first cabin model made by Waco. Both the Six and Seven were exhibited at the International Air Races held at Wright Field that year but neither flew in any of the races.
In 1925, construction began on the Model 9. It became the first aircraft manufactured on an assembly line in the U.S. and the first Waco to use blueprints in construction. In 1926, the death of Sam Junkin struck a blow to both Brukner and Advance Aircraft. Brukner and Advance carried on with the Model 10, which appeared in 1927, and was an outstanding success. Next came the famous Waco Taperwing. It became the standard acrobatic plane of the commercial field. It was so popular that Charles Lindbergh personally delivered one to Waco distributor and pilot, Tex La Grone. Waco’s test pilot, Freddie Lund, performed the world’s first outside loop by a civilian in this model.
In 1928, in order to keep Advance from moving, the citizens of Troy purchased and gave to the company 115 acres of land. In 1929 the company became the Waco Aircraft Company. Waco was then the largest commercial builder of aircraft in the world.
In the early 1940’s all commercial aircraft production stopped and went towards the war effort. Waco produced the UPF-7 trainer first for the Army Air Forces and later was produced in large quantities for the CAA War Training Service Program.
As early as 1934, Clayton began the first step towards a retirement project. He purchased 146 acres on Horseshoe Bend Road, seven miles southwest of Troy, Ohio to develop a natural habitat for use as a wildlife refuge.
In the spring of 1941, Army Air Forces asked Waco to design and develop several large troop and cargo-carrying gliders. This was the start of Waco’s famous glider contributions to the United States’ war efforts. Waco employed more than twenty-six-hundred workers during the “glider years” and built nearly eleven-hundred military gliders. In all, almost fourteen-thousand Waco designed and contracted gliders were constructed.
In 1947, Waco announced that it would cease commercial aircraft production. Instead, Waco turned to the production of airplane parts. In 1959, Waco stopped production entirely and in 1963 was sold.
Brukner later sold the Waco parts entirely and turned his attention towards other inventions. He patented his “Lickity Log Splitter” which is still in great demand today. He also devoted time, hard work, and money to the Brukner Nature Center, an investment of nearly one million dollars. The center stood on the acreage that Clayton had bought over thirty years previously! On June 27th, 1967, the nature center was incorporated for charitable, scientific and educational purposes. The Brukner Wing at Stouder Memorial Hospital, where Clayton served as president from 1945 to 1950, was also a result of his generosity. Brukner once said “I made my money in Troy and I am going to give all of it back.” The Troy community was his family and this past year he was inducted into the Troy Hall of Fame. Clayton Brukner died on December 26th, 1977 and was buried in Marshall, Michigan.
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