Streets Paved In Gold
RAVENNA, Ohio — Peter Graichen knows how to make an entrance. On a breezy March afternoon, his bright orange and red Kitfox airplane glides along the ramp in front of his hangar at the Portage County Airport.
The chugging motor decelerates. The propeller slows, then stops. “Hi, I’m Peter Graichen, and I’m late,” he says.
It’s that same sense of off-timing that brought Graichen to the United States some 52 years ago. The son of a Nazi Luftwaffe pilot, Graichen began building and flying gliders as a teenager. He hoped to make piloting his livelihood; however, the still economically devastated post-war Germany offered little in the way of an aviation industry. At 21, Graichen decided to board a boat to New York, leaving behind his small town of Schweinfurt.
Coming to America
“You were always told it’s where the streets were paved with gold,” Graichen says. “I got off the boat in New York City and went to the Air Force recruiting office and said ‘Here I am. I want to join the Air Force. I want to fly.” But before Graichen signed on the dotted line, he learned that flying for Uncle Sam wasn’t going to be as easy as he expected.
“He said to be a pilot, you must be an officer, and to be an officer, you must be an American citizen, and to become an American citizen, you have to be in the United States for five years. And I said, no, no, no – I’m coming here volunteering for military service and for that I get accelerated citizenship after only a year.” The problem? The law enabling immigrants to take a speedy track to citizenship through military services ended on December 31, 1956. Graichen came to the United States in April 1957.
Rather than join the rank in file of the Air Force as a grunt for five years, Graichen decided to put his aviation dreams on hold. Needing to find work, he told the recruiting officer that he had experience working in a factory that built equipment for tire manufacturers.” He said ‘Oh tires, you have to go to the rubber capitol of the world, which is Akron.’ He said, ‘You go down to Grand Central Station and take a train to Ohio,'” Graichen recalls.
On his first day in the Akron he landed a job as a factory worker at General Tire and Rubber Company. But as the years passed, he could never quite let go of his flying dreams.
Tires and a Dream of Flying
“I just went on, did my job at General Tire but hoping someday I’d get the chance to fly,” Graichen says. That chance came after a decade of toiling in General Tire’s factory. Graichen launched Peter K. Graichen Inc., a company that sold German factory equipment to American manufacturers, primarily in the rubber and tire industries. In pursuit of new accounts and clients, Graichen would take to the skies, renting planes from Kent State’s aeronautics program to fly around North America, selling his goods.
Peter K. Graichen, Inc. closed its doors in 1995 when Graichen retired – from the business of selling factory goods, that is. Flying remains his daily passion. He spends several hours a day at his hangar with his Fox Kit flyer, keeping up his own log books, doing his own oil and filter changes, performing general maintenance on the aircraft, and flying of course.
Lou Gliozzi, a certified flight instructor at the airport and his wife, Debbie, help Graichen with the maintenance on his aircraft as well as preparation for annual inspections. “Oh, he’s out there every day,” Lou Gliozzi says. “He’s very dedicated to flying. Heck, that’s why he came to the United States.”
Graichen says flying fills the void that baseball or golf may satisfy for others. “It’s an adrenaline rush. I mean a hobby,” Graichen says. “You have to be very disciplined. You have to understand the potential perils of flying and never let your guard down. It’s not a lackadaisical type of task.”
Taking to the Ohio skies in his Kitfox flyer still leaves Graichen with the same sense of awe he felt as a teenager coasting over Schweinfurt in a glider. And as he grows older, he sees no reason to land just yet. “Will I ever stop flying?” Graichen says. “Yeah, when I’m dead.”— Jenna Staul is a journalism major at Kent State University and serves as the campus editor for the Daily Kent Stater. She is from West Middlesex, Pa., and hopes to work as a reporter for a news organization after graduating in May 2010.“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see first hand how passionate some people are about aviation. It was a priviledge to have the chance to tell Peter’s story.”