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It's a Street, it's a Runway, and That's a Plane!

Remembering Robbins Airport and a close call.

Before I was old enough to drive myself, Mom would drive and we would sometimes cruise around town just for the fun of it or maybe for her to practice.  She got her license in her late 30s and was never entirely comfortable behind the wheel.

If there was nothing else to do, we’d go for a ride to see who was out and about in town. One fine day, while we were either deep in discussion about life or the latest antics of our cat, she turned down an unfamiliar little street off of Collins Street, not far from the Holten Street intersection. Perhaps she was curious, or maybe a little lost. Yet she confidently took the turn.

Scant seconds later we both nearly bailed out of the car when we saw a small airplane headed right for us on a pint-sized runway!

There was a gentleman standing outside the building waving his arms at her to stop, his eyes bulging out of his head as much as ours were. I can only begin to imagine what the poor pilot must have thought.

Mom backed up the car without even looking behind her. I was riding shotgun and did look out the back window, but at that point, anything short of a Sherman tank behind us would have been preferable to a plane preparing for takeoff, zooming in our direction.

We were just fine and “the incident” wasn’t talked about often. I don’t know if we ever told my father.  I told friends who thought I was making it up. Most people that I talked with didn’t even realize there was a small airport there. Granted I was talking to other kids, and I’m sure adults knew the airport existed. 

In thinking about this recently, I dug around the Internet and found this Web site, Abandoned and Little Known Airports: Massachusetts.  I learned that the airfield was named Robbins Airport and that it had quite a history. According to the Web site, it had been a private airfield in the 1950s and became a public airfield in the 1960s, only to return to private airfield status sometime in the range of 1967-1971. Earl Robbins owned the airport and operated Robbins Air Taxi Service. There is some confusion about when the airport actually closed. You can find several maps and photographs of Robbins Airport at the above mentioned Web site.

A Mr. Dusty Traill is reported to have flown frequently out of Robbins Airport and over Boston with his Tripacer folding computerized night sign.  I wonder if he was flying the plane we encountered. It’s likely it was not him if he was a night flyer, but you never know, and I rather like his name, so I think I’ll go with him as the possible pilot.

“It was a short runway with a lot of obstacles, but by pilots following his rules, they had an excellent safety record,” is a quote from a Mr. David Savage also on the Web site.

I have absolutely no doubt, however, that our white Ford Fairmont was an obstacle that they never expected to appear at the end of that short runway on a sunny afternoon, especially with a nervous driver and a scared silly girl gawking back at them. It was a face-to-face encounter with destiny that could have gone wrong., but luckily we were spared.

When I told my dear husband Mike that I was writing about this story, his reaction surprised me. “So what,” he said, “my mother did the same thing.” I was taken aback.

“WHAT?” I asked, wondering why I hadn’t heard about this before. “Tell me more,” I said, adding a quick “please” to the statement.

“There’s nothing more to tell. She drove down there with us in the car, saw the runway and backed up.”

“So you didn’t have a plane headed for you?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said while shaking his head.

“That’s pretty anticlimactic,” I told him.  He nodded.

While mine makes for a more dramatic story, I’d rather have lived the less terrifying one.

Karen Lewis April 30, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Great story, Laura! Robbins Airport was located where that gym is on Prince Street. Earl Robbins also owned a home construction company in Danvers.
Karen Watson April 30, 2011 at 02:14 PM
I remeber Robbins Airport well. I lived on Mello PKWY and always walked by the airport to and from the Highlands School. I loved watching the planes land. It always seemed like they were going to hit the tops of the trees with each landing, but they never did. In the summer of 1976 I had a college summer job working in the office of a Beer Company that had been built on the runway, so I know that it was at least closed by 1976. I thought it was so weird to be working in a building that had been built on the runway. That is why I remember it. I still miss watching the planes land and take off from Robbins Airport. Karen
Maria April 30, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Great story Laura. I so enjoy reading about Danvers past and present stories. Maria Bonita Springs, FL
GM Dagley May 01, 2011 at 01:41 PM
In the 1970s we kids would pester our folks to drive down Collins Street in hopes that a little plane would fly over us....it often happened to our delight! Most folks in town have no idea the airport ever existed.
Laura Hinds May 03, 2011 at 08:25 PM
Thank you all for the comments and your own tidbits of info and stories! I always love hearing from Danvers Patch readers.

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