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Dinger Daugherty
New Martinsville's Fabulous Flying Fool

By Sam McColloch

Morris R. "Dinger" Daugherty (1895-1964).

Over the years New Martinsville has had a number of colorful citizens who can be classified as “characters,” but probably no one left a record quite like that of Dinger Daugherty.

Born in 1895, Morris Raymer “Dinger” Daugherty was known as the one-armed, legless aviator, who once attempted a trans-Atlantic flight from New Martinsville to Europe. His nickname came from his athletic prowess when someone remarked, “He sure is a humdinger!” In the days when everyone seemed to have some kind of nickname, this got shortened to “Dinger,” and stuck.

Dinger’s career encompassed stunt flying, car racing, book writing, song composing, blood hound breeding, various political posts, trained detective, motorcycle and bicycle riding, boat racing, small-scale inventions, and various other fields. His would be an amazing tale if it were told about a man with two healthy arms and two healthy legs. When you consider that Dinger had only one of his four limbs, having lost both legs and one arm in a near-fatal accident, the story becomes incredible.

Toasted from New York to Florida and landing in 30 states while single - and that’s literally - single-handedly piloting his planes, Dinger Daugherty was a nationally known figure in the “Roaring 20’s.” In spite of his severe handicap, Dinger supported himself and had been able to own an assortment of machines, vehicles, and contraptions, as well as a number of animals and birds. His backyard, trees and all, was covered with a large net to keep his birds and animals at home.

Up until Tuesday, July 30, 1918, Dinger Daugherty had been an athletic young man. He had left high school to complete a college business course in Wheeling. He then entered the law office of his grandfather, where he soon became experienced enough to try cases before a Justice of the Peace and the Mayor’s Court.

Being an outdoors person, however, he soon tired of having an indoor job, so he accepted a position with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a patrolman. He had recently been elected constable, where he checked on truant school children and helped see that law and order were enforced in his territory. He had also received his draft notice to report into the service in two weeks, as World War I was raging in Europe and the United States had recently entered that conflict.

On that fateful Tuesday, the day of his life-changing accident, Dinger was patrolling the railroad, looking for tramps riding for free. A freight train rolled through New Martinsville, and Dinger was monitoring the train looking for hobos that he was instructed to roust off the train and arrest. He spotted two riding a coal car near the end of the train. He was unable to signal the engineer to slow the train, so he swung aboard, climbed to the top of the cars, and headed in the direction of the tramps. Somehow he lost his footing on the swaying train and fell to the ground beneath the moving train where he was run over, costing him both legs, his right arm, and a broken back.

People who witnessed the accident felt he could not possibly live with such severe injuries, but Dinger took charge despite his condition and directed his friends in how to handle him. After treating him as best they could, his helpers called for a locomotive to transport him to the nearest medical facility, which at that time was the Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale, about 30 miles up the Ohio River. At that time there was no medical facility in New Martinsville. The doctors in Glen Dale successfully treated his wounds, and Dinger spent 78 days in the hospital. After making a miraculous recovery, he decided he wanted a safer job, so he took up flying. And fly he did!

Dinger owned four different planes in his flying career, one of which cost $27.50 after it had been parked in a junkyard for 11 years. He became a stunt man with the famous Seaman’s Flying Circus, and flew in all parts of the country. In a day when it was daring to step inside an airplane, Dinger was urging his rickety planes through thunderstorms and over hazardous mountain ranges, spreading the name of New Martinsville from coast to coast in a spectacular manner.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.