Day Trips

The Ezekiel Airship soared more in the imagination of its builders than it did in reality, but it gave the town of Pittsburg in northeast Texas one of the most unique tourist attractions in the state.

Pittsburg was carved out of William Pitts' plantation in 1854. By the late 1800s it was the county seat of Camp County, the third smallest county in the state. There was no shortage of work for a machine shop with cotton gins, sugar cane mills, and a thriving logging business in the county.

It was to the owners of the Pittsburg Foundry and Machine Company that the Rev. Burrell Cannon pitched his vision of a flying machine inspired by the Bible. "...And when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up." (Ezekiel 1:19).

The airship had a three-part canvas wing covering eight large wheels with paddles driven by a four-cylinder engine. In 1901, Rev. Cannon and Pittsburg businessmen formed the Ezekiel Airship Manufacturing Company. Machinists at the Pittsburg Foundry finished the airship by November, 1902.

There are at least three versions of what happened next.

One account says that in 1902 -- a good 12 months before the Wright Brothers' experiments at Kitty Hawk -- a Mr. Stamps piloted the craft on its first flight. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen the airship lurch forward a short distance and then raise into the air. The engine vibrated so badly that it was turned off and the airship gently descended back to the pasture.

A former foundry employee claimed that he and other employees were the first to fly the machine. On a Sunday, while Rev. Cannon and company officials were away, they supposedly took the plane out, flying it about 160 feet at a height of 10-12 feet. Fearing the loss of their jobs, the conspirators made a pact of silence, which would explain why there was no news coverage and why officials denied the flight.

Rev. Burrell and company officials claimed the airship never flew and was destroyed when it blew off a rail car in a storm near Texarkana. The aircraft was on its way to the St. Louis World's Fair.

In 1913, Rev. Cannon made another attempt to build the Ezekiel Airship in Chicago, but it was damaged when it flew into a pole. He returned to Longview, south of Pittsburg, and died in Marshall in 1922.

In 1987, the Pittsburg Optimist Club built a replica of the 26'-x-23' flying machine from historic documents and old photographs. The Ezekiel Airship now sits in a corner of Warrick's Restaurant.

Poultry is the biggest industry in the county and it is the headquarters for Pilgrims Pride Industry. The county is a top peach producer with a number of pick-your-own farms. There are six lakes within 20 miles of the county seat, including Lake Bob Sandlin and Lake o' the Pines.

A local favorite food is the Pittsburg Hot Link. The sausage is called "hot" because it is served hot, not because they are spicy. Franklin's Food Store, 115 Jefferson, has been serving the hot links since the 1930s. The restaurant in the back of the old store also offers barbecue and hamburgers.

Pittsburg Hot Links Restaurant, 136 Marshall, specializes in the hot links as well as chili, chicken fried steaks, and hamburgers. The owners also have Warrick's Restaurant, home of the Ezekiel Airship, next door. Warrick's menu covers a variety of fish and steak dishes. They're open Mon.-Thu., 11am-9pm, Fri. & Sat. 11am-10pm, and closed Sunday. Food purchases are not required to see the airship.

Coming up....

100th Southwestern Exposition & Livestock Show & Rodeo in Ft. Worth is the nation's oldest livestock show and the world's original indoor rodeo, Jan. 19-Feb. 4. 817/275-4600.

Anson Jones Birthday Celebration in Anson, Jones County, honors the last president of the Republic of Texas, Feb. 20. 915/823-3259. n

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