Nebraska Prairie Museum

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Nebraska Prairie Museum
P.O. Box 164
N. Highway 183
Holdrege, NE 68949-0164
(308) 995-5015

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Museum's quarterly publication The Stereoscope which gives articles on Museum happenings, special events, entertaining articles relating to general history as well as local Nebraska history.

Stereoscope Article: "The Adventurous Dr. Frank Brewster"

written by Sandra Slater

This story is dedicated to the memory of Don Lindgren whose tireless work has preserved so much of our county's history. His collection of articles and letters provided the information for the researching of this article. Also thanks to Furnas County Genealogy Society for additional information on Dr. Brewster.

Dr. Frank Brewster, who received his medical license in 1900, was one of the early pioneer doctors of central Nebraska having his first office in Beaver City, Nebraska. The horse and buggy was the transportation of the day in the early part of his career. However, he used many forms of transportation, including train, bicycle or handcar. Many times the roads were almost impassible which took precious time away form saving a critical patient.

When the automobile became available, Frank purchased the first auto in the county, a one cylinder Cadillac with no windshield or top, with acetylene lights. The $750 car came from Detroit in a furniture car and included an instruction book shich Dr. Brewster used to learn how to drive with. This mode of travel was a great improvement to the horse and buggy, but still, there were many times when he could not get to his patients in a timely manner.

A conversation with his neighbor, Wade Steven, a former WWI pilot, suggested an airplane would be a good form of transportation for a doctor. Brewster said, "I'll buy it if you can fly it". In April 1919 the biplane type Curtis Model IN-4D-2 Airplane, costing $8000, was shipped to Beaver City by flat car in two large boxes. The local drayman used his team of horses to haul the boxes to a recently made hanger constructed on a landing field about one mile east of Beaver City.
The plane's minimum speed was 45 miles per hour and could fly 74 miles per trip. In an interview in 1969, Dr. Brewster's first pilot, Wade Stevens, then a McCook attorney, recalled, "It was a bright quiet evening on May 19, 1919 when the first flight was made." The flight was successful after cruising around to get some altitude and finding the plane was properly aligned. "I did a few spirals, a few wing overs, then went to a stall and then into a spin. With plenty of altitude remaining, I came out and circled for a landing. Dr. Brewster was the first passenger on the following flight."

A critical patient, named Guy Sidney, whose skull had been crushed in an oil rig accident in Herndon, Kansas, became ther first patient Dr. Brewster flew to. On May 23, 1919, flying 55 miles in 50 minutes, Dr. Brewster arrived an performed the spectacular operation in a Herndon hotel room, assisted by other local physicians. The patient survived only because of the quick care he received. Dr. Brewster always said it was the plane that saved his life.

A pasture was a good landing place in the early days. Many times a bed sheet was put on the windmill so the doctor knew where his ill patient lived.

Verna, Dr. Brewster's wife, was not nearly as enthusiastic about flying as her husband. "I could only see the dark side of flying and being left a widow with two little boys to raise. I tried every woman's perogative. I argued, I cried, I pouted. Then, one day as he was ready to go to the office, I issued an ultimatum. I said, "Frank, if you get killed in that airplane, I will marry one of the eligible practicing physicians of Beaver City and I named the M.D. (of course I had made no previous arrangement with the unsuspecting M.D. Frank was angry and said in no uncertain voice, "I don't give a -!" and walked out. Since then, I have taken an old adage, if you can't lick'em, join'em." She did so by receiving her pilot's license many years later.

After a couple of years, Wade Stevens wanted to attend college, and Dr. Brewster asked Curtis Friday to fill his contract. Dr. Brewster had met Curtis Friday when he booked an exhibition up on the High Line around Curtis and Maywood, Nebraska.

A letter written by Mr. Friday in 1969 to Don Lingren states he and Mr. Forrest Swanson purchased a plane form Mr. C.S. Prime, local Ford Dealer in Holdrege, in 1920. Mr. Friday also taught flying lessons in Holdrege. But only one person received pilot lessons as a tornado put Mr. Friday out of business.

Dr. Brewster hired at least seven pilots and purchased at least 10 planes in the 41 years of using the airplane. Other pilots that were, Warren Kite who was later killed in an accident in Grand Island; Dr. J. Hodge D. Smith who gave up flying to become a doctor; Earl Barnes who reportedly helped teach Charles Lindbergh to fly; Joe Lowry who was killed in a plane accident near Davey, Nebraska in 1930 and local Holdrege business man and pilot Arvine Bierman who piloted for 13 years.

Dr. Frank Brewster treated patients all over southern Nebraska and northern Kansas. He not only owned the first airplane in the county but also had the first x-ray machine in the area.

In 1930, the flying doctor's area covered 25,000 square miles. He commuted daily between Holdrege and Oberlin, Kansas, logging about 150 miles a day by plane.

No serious accidents occurred during all his years of flying. He always hired professional pilots to fly him. When he turned 71 years old, Frank Brewster decided to get his own pilots license which he used mainly for pleasure trips. His wife, sons, and daughter-in-law Delia all learned to fly.

There are many firsts in Dr. Brewster's career. The first hospital that he built was in Arapahoe, Nebraska. He also built hospitals in Beaver City, Holdrege, Lexington, Nebraska and Oberlin, Kansas.

The first airport in Nebraska was built in Beaver City, Nebraska. Dr. Brewster later financed and helped build ther first airports in McCook, Grand Island, Holdrege, Nebraska and Oberlin, Kansas. It is believed that Dr. Brewster was the first person to use an airplane commercially in the world. Paramount Universal Studios in Los Angeles, CA contacted him to do a short Technicolor film called "The Flying Doctor". The studio was filming individuals with unusual occupations for their shor feature films. Much excitement occurred during the filming and showing of the short film. The film was shown in motion picture theaters in 1939.

Dr. Brewster moved to Holdrege in 1923 and started the Brewster Hospital. He was a practicing physician for over 50 years. He died in 1961 in Holdrege, Nebraska at the age of 89 years. Holdrege's air field was named the Brewster Airport in honor of him in 1969.