James J. Wagner Biography
Submitted by Melissa Wyant
Huntington Beach, CA


My grandfather's home in Bath New York around the turn of the century.  From left to right:  James C. Wagner (grandfather), Manley (child in wagon, James's older brother), Robert B. Wagner (father, standing on lawn), James J. Wagner (child on lawn), Mabel Wagner (mother), Julia Wagner (grandmother).

 
JAMES J. WAGNER
1897 – 1980


Great Grandparents:
Charles Wagner, Oct 8, 1809 – Oct 2 1894, buried in Hunt Cemetery, Bath, Steuben County, N. Y.
Nancy (?), Nov 8 1817 – 1911, also buried in Hunt Cemetery, Bath, Steuben, N. Y.
Grandparents:
James C. Wagner, Nov 1837 – Mar 30, 1915, buried Nondaga Cemetery, Bath, Steuben, N.Y.
Julia (?), Feb 1845 – Dec 1901, also buried in Nondaga Cemetery, Bath, Steuben, N.Y.
Parents:
Robert B. Wagner, Sep 1867 – Jan 1954, also buried in Nondaga Cemetery, Bath, Steuben, N.Y.
A. “Mabel” Bennett, Oct 1874 – Feb 14 1935, also buried in Nondaga Cemetery, Bath, Steuben,  N.Y. 

Jim started his career as a mechanics’ helper (age 16) for Glenn Curtiss in 1913 in Hammondsport, New York, where among many other models, Curtiss built the Tractor Biplane, (distinguished from the pusher) in early 1913.  Later Jim helped to develop that plane into the first “Jenny”.    When the controversial Langley plane was taken from the Smithsonian Institute for tests, Jim helped condition the ship and installed a new motor that actually flew the plane.  In 1916 he was transferred to Buffalo, New York .  When the Curtiss company moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1917 (age 21) he was made factory superintendent building Model F flying boats for the Navy.  After the war, Curtiss started to build the NC flying boats for the Navy.  The NC-4 plane that finally made the transatlantic trip, was the one on which Wagner had spent most of his time.
From the Curtiss Company Jim then moved to Mayer Field, Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, and as a pilot and mechanic performed his “daredevil” stunts of Wing-walking for a flying circus.  One afternoon he narrowly missed death.  He was hanging from the undercarriage of a biplane by his knees only 50 feet above the heads of the fairground crowd when the plane’s motor sputtered and stalled.  Suddenly he found himself staring from that up-side-down position at a nearby orchard.  The trees were coming right at him!  He managed to climb back into the plane and the pilot landed it in an adjoining hay field. 
He was with Mayer Aircraft Corporation, at Mayer Field for seven years where he flew everything from OX-5 Jennies, Canucks and Standard to the more modern Wacos, Travelairs, Eaglerocks and other of the vintage 1926 and ’27.  He also had many hours in British Avros.  He later moved on to the Wright and Pratt and Whitney powered equipment which was the ultimate in those days. 
A later move was to Bettis Field , Pittsburgh to become chief mechanic for Clifford Ball Inc., Air Mail Line.  It was here that Wagner built his own plane called, “The Langley Jr.”, with most of the work on the plane done in his spare time.  The Langley Jr. was a two-seat training plane and on its’ maiden flight was declared nearly perfect.  While working for Ball he was declared the best mechanic in the state of Pennsylvania and one of the top five in the nation.  In 1931, Pennsylvania Airlines took over Balls’ air mail route and Jim moved to Butler Airport until 1934.  When Pennsylvania Airlines lost their mail contract he left to go with Central Airlines and stayed until the fall of 1935.  Central Airlines, which through many mergers later became Capitol Airlines.
In late 1935 Jim went with the Procurement Inspection Branch of the Air Force at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.  In 1936, he and his family were transferred to Los Angeles, California to the Northrop Aviation Corporation.  From there he was transferred to Vultee Aircraft Corporation in Downy and then to Consolidated Aircraft Company for the duration of the war.  He was in charge of government inspection on the B-24 bomber.  After the war in 1947, he was transferred back to Los Angeles from San Diego and became Deputy Chief of the Quality Control Division, Los Angeles Air Procurement District, U.S. Air Force until his retirement in 1956.
Jim held Federation Aeronatique Internationale pilots certificate No. 6491 (a racing and sporting pilot society with only six members in the United States at that time)and Department of Commerce, A and E mechanics license No. 1053.
Jim and his wife Eleanor Husler of Carnegie Pennsylvania were the first couple to elope via airplane on May 15, 1926.
Jim flew Eleanor from Bridgeville, PA to Wellsburg, W. VA in record time of 38 minutes, first couple to arrive by airplane at Gretna Green.
Jim was a crew member at one time for Ruth Law, the first woman pilot.
Jim played clarinet for the town band (photograph appears in The Heritage of Bath, N.Y., 1793 – 1993).


 



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