The 109th Founder’s Day & Heritage Festival will launch March 9, 2019 in Zephyrhills. Main Street unveiled the inventive theme: Planes, Trains & Automobiles, an interpretation of the hilarious and warmly-touching movie of the same label from 1987, written by John Hughes. Reminiscent of the antics of high-strung, marketing executive, Steve Martin, and eternally-optimistic John Candy as the duo desperately navigated obstacles to get back to their home town for the holidays, Main Street will reveal interpretations in exhibits and parade floats that weave-in historical institutions, events and personalities. Martin and Candy utilized nearly every conceivable form of transportation including air, taxi, rental vehicle, hitch-hiking, commercial vehicle, locomotive, while Main Street will ingenuously relate aspects of the history, with attention to the significance of transportation and travel as it impacted Zephyrhills which was established in 1910.
As for AIRPLANES, the earliest local airport was situated by Lake Zephyr near Winter’s Park with first airmail delivery in 1938. Later Zephyrhills Army Airfield was constructed as part of the New Deal’s WPA when the government had acquired the land that became the airfield by eminent domain, and the air training center transformed the town, with service men housed in barracks. A variety of air bases in Florida were teaching pilots to fly the sensational new P-51 mustangs, and the famed B-26 bombers. Pilots, crews to man the bomb bays, and gunners were being recruited throughout Florida. The local newspaper, “The Dade City Banner,” posted nearly weekly ads for recruits. “In that day, signing up to be a pilot was analogous to training to become an astronaut to travel to Mars in the twenty-first century!” said Bill Smith. At least three crashes of Army Air Corps planes occurred in the surrounding area, and although the crashes added to the patriotic zeal, they also illuminated the momentousness of war.
In 1946, so enamored with aviation, the ZHS senior class purchased a BT-13 Vultee Trainer airplane from war surplus supply and hired an aeronautics teacher. The love story of Zephyrhills icons, Henry Douglas and Christine Krusen emerged from the flying lessons given to Christine by war hero, Douglas who was later become her husband.
Ah yes, TRAINS. Originally named Abbott when Simon Temple purchased acreage in 1886 from Florida Railway & Navigation Corporation, the Seaboard Airline Depot was built, while the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot was built in 1927 which featured four passenger train stops daily. Closed in 1970, the depot was moved to the present site in 1987. Trains were significant to early industries, lumber and turpentine; and later revenues came from bringing vacationers and carrying produce to the north. Early locomotives were fired by wood until around the Civil War at which time many were converted to coal burners and later oil; by the 1940s, they were fueled by diesel. One could travel on the Seaboard Air Line with its corporate motto, “the route of courteous service,” in the first half of the twentieth century, along with its main competitor, Atlantic Coastline Railroad.
Zephyrhills’ constant was migration. Although travel was by cracker horse and frequently oxen which could better traverse deep sand paths, the horseless carriage catapulted change. Tin can tourists arrived around 1930 and although the phenomenon of campers and tourists visiting from the north impacted Florida, it took real root in Zephyrhills which became known for the numerous travel trailer camps that morphed into mobile home parks and spawned the Tourist Club. A taxi stand operated by hospitable Willette Phillips provided the first taxi service in the 1940s and 50s; her stand was by the drinking fountain at the corner of 5th Avenue and 7th Street that advertised “the city of Pure Water.”
Synonymous with Zephyrhills is the name Reutimann in regard to AUTOMOBILES, and it began when Emil and Amalie Reutimann migrated to Zephyrhills from Switzerland in 1915. They operated two garages in Zephyrhills over time, the most well-known was on Highway 301 and became Reutimann Chevrolet. Emil Reutimann and his son, Emil, Jr,. were fascinated with racing and when Emil, Jr brought home a hotrod, his father called it the nearest thing to nothing he’d ever seen…thus ‘the original “00” trademark number.’ The three grandsons, Dale, Wayne, and Buzzie were in racing. Fourth generation, David Reutimann recently retired from NASCAR.
Zephyrhills loves the Reutimann family and calls them their own. Among other accolades when Wayne and Buzzie were at the height of their racing career, they appeared in a Sara Lee commercial whose jingle went…”Everybody doesn’t like something. But nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee” Michael Waltrip said, “Every racer I’ve ever known hasn’t liked somebody. But nobody I’ve ever known hasn’t liked the Reutimann’s from Zephyrhills.”
Madonna Jervis Wise does an incredible amount of free volunteer work for her community! She does have many published books. Thanks to the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce for selling her books! Recently she was asked to write a blurb to support the theme for the 2019 Founder’s Day Event. Here is the blurb for public consumption!