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Cyril Ludwig Stodolka

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Born July 3rd, 1892

Cyril Ludwig Stodolka was born July 3rd, 1892 in Langola township near Royalton, Minnesota. He was born on a farm west of highway 10, halfway between Royalton and Rice, Minnesota. Later, the Stodolkas moved to another farm about 2 miles southeast of Royalton.

Cyril was the third of five children born to Peter and Franciska Wilczek Stodolka. Both Peter and Franciska Stodolka were born near Falkowice, a small village within a section of Poland labeled Lower Silesia. They immigrated to Minnesota in 1872. Cyril had two older brothers, John and Ed, and two younger sisters, Martha and Matilda. Cyril served in Europe during WWI and returned to the Royalton area after the war. Cyril married Tracy Baron of Royalton on June 25th, 1928 in the Holy Trinity church in Royalton. Cyril and Tracy never had children.

Cyril became the pilot

Both Cyril and Ed were blessed mechanically. They could design, build and fix just about anything. They acquired motorcycles and often rode together around Morrison, Sterns and Benton counties. Ed once built an automobile out of parts from various cars and gave it to his sister who drove it for ten years. Progressing on, these pioneers bought an airplane in 1918 and transported it from Chicago to Royalton. It was a J1 Curtis biplane with an OS-5 engine. Ed rebuilt the engine and Cyril became the pilot.

Their flying days were memorable to say the least. Cyril and his brother Ed built a T-shaped hangar at the edge of Royalton on a small field that was used for takeoffs and landings. The hangar was equipped with tools and gasoline that was available for the airplane. Soon after, they hooked up with their cousin Tony Kalis, who wing-walked and parachuted off of their plane. During this time, they barnstormed and flew exhibitions at county fairs. Cyril gave many rides in this plane under one stipulation, "the rider must pay for the gas". One rider, Cyril's future wife Tracy, was proposed to during a flight. Cyril told Tracy if "if you say no, I'll dump you"! Another young woman, upon seeing Cyril land nearby, ran over and remarked that Cyril looked normal. She thought he might be from another planet.

Lindberg said he wanted to get to Little Falls before dark and acknowledged the engine problem

One day Charles Lindberg was flying his airplane Northward toward Little Falls and as he neared Royalton, he realized he was almost out of fuel. He landed at the Stodolka field and Cyril came out to see him since they were friends and often talked about the flying game in its early years. They put some fuel in Lindberg's plane and discussed the fact that its engine was running rough as he approached Royalton. Lindberg said he wanted to get to Little Falls before dark and acknowledged the engine problem. He used a long take off run and barely got the plane into the air before reaching a fence at the end of the field. Cyril said the last he saw of Lindberg that day was when his airplane was barely making it over fences and trees trying to gain altitude headed for Little Falls about ten miles away. It was just one of Lindbergs many adventures in aviation a long time ago.

He gave up flying in 1925 after he had crashed the plane for the second time

Cyril flew for a total of about 6 years. He gave up flying in 1925 after he had crashed the plane for the second time. Cyril tells about a takeoff on Royalton's short runway where he saw a whirl-wind kicked up at the far end. As he approached the swirling winds, the plane flipped and crashed. He walked away unharmed. A short time later, becoming more and more frustrated, he made a decision to stop flying. Cyril didn't have enough money at the time to rebuild it and start over again. Cyril is quoted on another reason why he quit flying. He claimed "the average life span of pilot in WWI was 35 days". During this time, the government was trying to get some control of aviation. They were collecting old planes and burning them.

Parachuting was quite primitive at this time

Cyril said they flew without a license or a parachute all the time. Cyril tells how they fastened the ripcord under the fuselage. In flight, the parachuter would get a signal from the pilot and crawl out onto the wing and down onto the wheel struts. They would jump off and the weight of the man would pull the cord enough to open the chute and break the cord. They eventually decided to fold their own chutes after having problems with static electricity. They designed a method of putting newspaper in between the folds to reduce the static problem.

Charles Lindbergh rode his motorbike down from their farm in Little Falls to meet the Stodolkas

It was during these early days of Royalton that a young man from Little Falls came down to the Stodolka airstrip and became interested in what was developing there. In 1919, Charles Lindbergh rode his motorbike down from their farm in Little Falls to meet the Stodolkas. Cyril says he was "a very quiet" young man. Cyril says he later talked with Charles quite a bit about the famous flight across the Atlantic. They talked about conserving fuel by using the trade winds to Charles' advantage. Fuel for the trip was a premium concern. They also talked about the pros and cons between a radial engine and a NC-4 engine that Lindbergh considered using. Cyril was quite knowledgeable on both types. Cyril also later met and befriended Amelia Erhardt.

Mixed brandy in the engine's water to aid in keeping it from icing up

Flying was only one part of Cyril's multi-faceted life. In 1912, Cyril used his 1910 Maxwell car, with wooden wheels, four bucket seats and a high wheel clearance to initiate a livery service in Royalton. It has been noted that in November of 1914, Royalton's "Doc" Watson had been out for two days when a call from a woman was received who was 14 miles from Royalton. The temperature was 30f and dropping with sleet and snow. There was no anti- freeze then. They left with horse blankets to be placed over the engine overnight to reduce the chance of freezing the water in the engine. On the trip they averaged 3 miles an hour in horrible weather. The trip took almost 5 hours. They had trouble with deep ruts along the very primitive road. They kept the blankets on the engine overnight and mixed brandy in the engine's water to aid in keeping it from icing up. A baby was born the next morning. Another time, a woman broke a leg in a buggy accident. Doc Watson set the bone and Cyril devised a tripod like traction devise that held the leg in place over the bed. She came to town months later. She was completely healed and walking without any trouble.

Cyril decided to be on his own and he moved to Little Falls

Prior to 1930 Cyril started an independent oil business. He sold gas and petroleum products to local stations under the Puroil name. Cyril found he could cut costs by buying bulk gas directly from the end of the pipeline. He bought a truck and transported gas from northern Iowa to the Royalton area. Cyril then bought the Drago service station in Royalton. Both he and Ed ran it for several years. In 1924 Cyril decided to be on his own and he moved to Little Falls. He continued to sell bulk gas there. In 1936 he bought out the C.L. Nelson Company and he started the C. L. Stodolka Cement and Asphalt Company. This company graded, paved and surfaced most of the roads north of St. Cloud. It became quite successful. Ed remained in Royalton continuing to operate the service station.

The C.L. Stodolka Cement company

Cyril was also instrumental in the erection of the Blanchard dam generating plant on the Mississippi River. He knew the superintendent who pondered how to get electricity and cement to the construction site. Cyril became involved and delivered power and cement to site northwest of Royalton. Cyril got interested in the huge diesel electric generators and read manuals for 7 weeks on how to hook them up. He said he had a natural desire and ability for electricity. He designed the process for start up the generators. He was asked to go to South America on a U.S. Government job, but he declined to stay with his petroleum and cement businesses. The C.L. Stodolka Cement company was eventually handed down to his brother Ed's daughter and her husband, Delmer Surma. Del has now given it to his son, Jack Surma who has renamed it. It is now the Tri-City Cement Company on the south end of Little Falls.

Cyril is pictured in the Weyerhaeuser museum in Little Falls.

Sources for this documentary

Jim Stodolka St. Paul, Minnesota
Mike Stodolka Mendota Heights, Minnesota
Mary Ann Surma Little Falls, Minnesota
Interview with Cyril Stodolka Minnesota Historical Society Tape Room
Gerald Sauer Royalton, Minnesota
Polish Genealogy Society records  

For more information, please contact Mike Stodolka at:

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