Newspaper Archive of
Lassen County Times
Susanville, California
February 6, 2001     Lassen County Times
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February 6, 2001

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od PinePress Tuesday, Feb,6,2001 1B II hall of fame induction next for Barr spending over 50 years sky, this Janesville joins the list of and flying greats jets into the fu- extraordinare Sits comfortably in Lindburgh Earhart, Ameri- of the sky. resident will in March inducted into the :eremony held in , With the Interna- in Aviation lives in retire- lengthy career tours of duty D.C., the state Sacramento States Forest larr became the hired by the forest served as a lead But this achieve. ne of many firsts do a lot of said. "And it everything I did ever done do them just I wanted to fly my career. I a pilot and that's to do." was more important than mu- sic and before her parents knew it she had quit school and gone to work in a factory to pay for flying lessons. When asked if her parents thought her nuts, Barr smiled broadly and agreed her par- ents thought her daffy. While too young to join the Women's Army Corp, Barr in. stead moved to New York, where she Joined the war effort by working as a mechanic in an airplane factory. Barr man- aged to stay in the air after the war by flying around Brooklyn from a little field in Flushing Meadows. In 1949, Barr and husband Dave, who married in 1947, ar- rived in Susanville from Santa Fe, New Mexico with one goal in mind. And that was to make the Susanville Airport a suc- cess. The first winter was harsh and with a six-week old baby, the Barr's fought hard in order to stay warm. The house was "an old shack with no insula- tion in it," Barr said. "To keep the wind from blowing in all the windows, we rolled up rugs and put them against the windows. "An old oil stove we had, the lines froze and Dave had to go out there wRh a burning news- keepthe wind from blowing in all the windows, we rolled up and put them againsl; the w 63;usanville Airport owner back in Lindburgh dominated the women in more the excep- n known as Mary she learned to Cub at the Lo- An experi- than new it was Just " A big grass We took off and attending the lo- a music scholar. time, flying paper to thaw them out." Barr said during that first winter in the Honey Lake Val- ley she often longed for home. "If I had a way to have gone home I would have," Barr said, "but this was home. And we made it work for 25 years." During those business years theBarrs made a big impact on the lives of many area pilots including Susanville's Dec Blevins. Blevins was the person re- sponsible for nominating Barr for the hall of fame. Blevins said when he ar- rived in Lassen County, the Barr's were the first people he Photo by Woody Morgan Mary Ban# will Join the growing list of female pilots honored by the aviation industry when she is Inducted into the Pio- neer Aviation Hail of Fame. The March induction ceremony will be held In Reno. Barr was the first women to fly for the United States Forest Service. met. "They gave me the keys to the pickup," Blevins said. "They told me I could go into town if I wanted to. "They're from a generation that did their jobs and never asked ,for any gratitude. She is special." During the next 8 years the Barrs went about the business of running an airport. Dave, who was also a pilot, was the primary mechanic. But Mary could also be found working on the engines. And while she preferred flying over the work. shop, she too is a qualified and certificated mechanic. "We did everything we could think of to make it work," Barr said. "We sold gas, flying lessons and mechanical work and charter. Plus anything you can do to make a living at an airport. We finally managed to get it to pay a little bit." During the early years, Barr knew that she would need many skills to survive in the business and over time, through self-study obtained several Federal Aviation Ad- ministration certificates and ratings. In 1957, Barr was appointed FAA Pilot Examiner, for Pri- Photo courtesy Aviation NeWS eontrols In this photo off the oovor of FAA Aviation News. Ban was the tVr hired by the Forest Service in 1974. She celled her years in the Forest of her flying oaemer. Saw, show at left in 1975, also worked with the Smlthsonlan Institution Air and Space Museum exhibit in D.C. In Bamr worked behind thee ooenos In the museum with curator to develop an exhibit of Forest Service Aerial FlreflghthIjf, Barr was later responaMe f.r the hiring of four female pilots for the U.S. Forest Service. vate and Commercial Pilot cer- tificates and Multi-engine Rat- hags. She would hold that posi- tion for the next 17 years. In the late '50s America was engaged in the space race with the Russians but Barr and many other women would not be a part of the assault the out- er space. "I Would have loved to," Barr said when asked about being an astronaut. "But wom- en were barred. It was like they had a big sign 'we don't take women.'" But instead of pouting, Barr continued her career in avia- tion working in Susanville, fly. ing air races in Reno and rear- ing her two daughters, Molly and Virginia. Molly, that e-week old baby who came to Susanville in 1949, recently retired as First Officer from US Air where she flew 737 jumbo jets. Barr said she would have liked to have flown jets and worked for the airlines. But once again, the airline indus. try for many years did not use female pilots. "It was something I only dreamed about," Barr said. "But I've had a more interest- ingcareer in the forest service than I would have had with the airlines." Flying for the forest service was "the apex of my career" Barr says. She had to over. come prejudice, ignorance and a clique of military veterans to become the first woman ever hired by the forest service. "I had over 9,000 hours in the sky while my closest competi. tion had 1500 hours." Barr said, "but they found out that his hours weren't valid and his logbook was wrong. That's the only reason I got the job, He was a veteran and the forest service took a big chance. They had a heck of a time hir: ing me." Barr remembers the eupho- ria of the moment, "It was a dream come true. I loved every single minute of it. Later on I right there in the seat of pow- er. And then you get on the hot seat yourself. As National Avi- ation Safety Officer, I had to answer for the safety of the whole forest service aviation. Barr said she never found Washington or the politicians intimidating. "Sometimes I had to scram- ble around to do the job," Barr I I |dl [nhad over 9,000 hours in the sky "while my closest competitor had 1,500 hours. The forest service took a big chance. They had a hock of a time hiring me." Mary Barr Hall of fame nominee got into management but I still loved every minute of it." In 1978, Barr moved to the nation's capital to serve as Forest Service National Avia- tion Safety Officer. "I was in the Washington of- rice for several years," Barr said, "and that was a revela- tion. "I was the only woman and I went out on accident investiga- tions all over the lower 48 and Alaska too. It turned some heads when I would walk onto an accident scene." Barr spent 6 years in Wash- ington before returning to Cal- ifornia and said the political experience was a memorable one. "It was facinating," Barr said. " Some of it I didn't like but it was facinating. You are said, "but I loved it." Barr has since used those ex- periences to contribute to the realism and authenticity of daughter Nevada Barr's na- tional best.selllng mystery novels. Barr returned to California in 1985 to become the Rregton- al Aviation Officer for the Pa- cific Southwest Region. In this supervisory position Barr says "I managed all the aerial flre- fightinlg efforts in California including airplanes, hell. copters and airtankers. In 1988, 14 years after being the first female leadplane pilot, Barr hired four new female leadplane pilots for various places in the forest service. And then she retired. But See Aviatrix, Page Zll