Roots of the MMM and Early Model Flying
There has been a lot of discussion of where the “Magnificent Mountain Men” came from. One good guess would be hunger for the unknown, but like all lost sheep in the wilderness, they searched for an identity. “Magnificent Mountain Men” is not only immodest sounding but there is no mention of free flight or aero-modeling for that matter!
Well as a lot of folks also know, the MMM originally stood for Martin Model Masters, because of the large number of members that worked at the Glenn L. Martin Company known as Martin Marietta Aerospace (now Lockheed Martin) in Denver.
Back in the early to mid 1950’s the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore, Maryland moved some of its folks to Colorado to develop and build the “Titan” family of ICBM’s. Not too much information exists regarding those early years of how the Martin company actually became the sponsor of the “Martin Model Masters,” a model airplane flying club, but one thing is for sure, there were many clubs that were sponsored by the Martin company for it’s employees and a model airplane club would not be any different. Even today, the evolved company sponsors a ski club, a riding club, a model railroad club, a hunting club, and others.
According to Bill Etherington and Ed Smull, names of a few guys he thought were also connected with both the Glen L. Martin Company and the MMM were Bud Rhodes, Tim Dannels, John Yeagley, Ray Combs, Ed Smull, Dewey Beech, and George Batiuk Sr. were the guys who proposed the idea of a club. The MMM club was started as a recreation club by Martin employees who used the name “Martin” because that’s what they all had in common. Bill Etherington didn’t think that the company gave any financial support, but Bill Gieskieng indicated that the company sponsored the group with an annual $400.00 kicker for trophies, etc. Ed Smull said that the club would give a budget for trophies and other expenses to the company and the company came through which would collaborate Bill’s impression. Martin started sponsoring the Martin Model Masters about 1959 or 1960 and it was originally made up of Martin employees only. The only data point on that is our current “Hi-Point” trophy has the name of the first winner as Bill Etherington, dated 1961! Of course the club soon recruited outside! Even though the “Martin Model Masters” was sponsored by Martin, they allowed people who were not Martin employees, like subcontractors, to be in the club as well.
Most of the flying was done at a field near the Marathon Oil Research Lab located on south Broadway just north of C-470. Looking back on it, it may have been a wide open space as the paved road only ran to Marathon at that time, but now it’s surrounded by lots and lots of housing. Not much open space left!
A second field was utilized in the mid to late 1960’s at the East Colfax Airpark. There was another club, the Aurora Prop Busters that was also in operation at that time. It was mostly a control line club and flew free flight too, but it had access to using the airpark. Harley Ellmore, a member of the Prop Busters, was instrumental in obtaining the field for flying free flight.
At some point in time the Martin Personnel Department discovered that by 1966 or 1967 greater than 50% of the MMM were non-employees, so they pulled the plug on the sponsorship and it no longer seemed appropriate to retain the company name. Bill Etherington’s recollection is that it was a club decision to break from Martin, but it was an amicable decision on both parts according to Ed Smull. Another likely scenario is that the Department of Defense funding for Titan II ended in 1965 and the employment level at Martin fell from a peak of nearly 12,000 employees to under 4,000 in about a year and a half! According to Tim Dannels, who worked there at that time, so many of the engineers and others left that it nearly left Littleton Colorado a ghost town. Funding for quite a few company “perks” went by the wayside. Bob Lynch was the president during this transition.
Off shoots were the Model Museum Flying Club started by Tim Dannels and eventually SAM-1 when the MMFC started chartering SAM clubs in the late 1960’s. Tim Dannels said he started the MMFC because he could not get the modern FF’s to fly but could get an old timer to fly!
In any event, in 1966 Martin finally pulled the plug and the club had all the trophies with “MMM”- “MMM”- “MMM” splattered everywhere.
Bob Lynch was president about that time. Ed Smull was there too. Indoor meets were in the School of Mines armory. George Batiuk Sr….and of course there was little George growing up. Bill Etherington was a presence in indoor and outdoors. Then of course Mike DesJardines signed up. Dean Carpenter, Ed Collins, and Bill Gieskieng came in about the same time. Within a short time Annie Gieskieng was the MMM club secretary, and later Bill and Annie did the MMM newsletter, were officers in the NFFS, and soon got tapped for doing the NFFS Digest when it faltered. Mike DesJardines became the NFFS director…. only to be killed while on a pit crew at a car race. That was a real loss. For a three year period NFFS operations was essentially located in Denver and only made possible by MMM members.
The Martin Model Masters continued to carry that name into 1966 when the finals were at Bong and Floyd Miller was the CD. A lot of MMM fliers were there, both flying and helping run the contest. Well, it turns out that the MMM guys were indispensable with their help during the flyoffs. In the nick of time came the Bong finals Contest Director, Floyd Miller’s thank you note for all the support the club had given for this first ever central team selection meet.
A historic meeting of East and West and South and North and all parts in between first identified the club as:
“The Magnificent Mountain Men.”
The Magnificent Mountain Men salutation Floyd Miller gave us was a god’s-send to rescue our MMM initials and save our trophies. So since a lot fewer of MMM guys worked at Martin anymore, the name stuck. So, that’s it. A nice little piece of Free Flight Americana, whether you asked for it or not!
By the way, the MMM logo was developed at a spring club contest which was being blown out. We sat around waiting for the wind to subside discussing club matters. Jerry Murphy challenged Gary Baughman to come up with a new logo and he sketched it out on a piece of paper using someone’s car fender for a desktop. I believe the date was somewhere around 1975 or so.
Contributors to this little article are: