Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Perfect Restoration

Incredible people cross my path. One such person lives nearby and is part of the family. Uncle Len. Fourty years separates us, to the day. We’re both born in May with the same number.
Leonard, as he prefers to be called is a retired boat builder. He also restored an old Curtiss Jenny airplane many years ago in Friday Harbour at the Lucy T Whittier Flying Machine Company, for a Mr. Paul Whittier. I asked him to tell me the story on how it all came about.
In his quirky style he quickly explains how Whittier decided to take one on. Restoring a 1917 airplane that is. A style he’d flown as a young man. Saw a picture, made all the right connections. Before long a moving van pulls up to the shop. Leonard gawks at the load. A bunch of boxes and a couple broken wings.
“Looked like it all had been eaten up by rats,” he laughs.
The whole shop went into roars of laughter he explains.
“We’re a bunch of fuckin’ boat builders. What did we know about the Curtiss Jenny? Nothing! That’s how it started.”
There were no plans at all when they began. A Popular Mechanics Magazine article - that was it.
Later, when they did get the blue prints, they discovered their measurements were a mere 1/16” out. Remarkable.
The Curtiss Jenny JN-4D biplane was one of over 8,000 built. Many used to train pilots in WW I. Also a plane that flew the first Air Mail.
Whittier wanted it restored so he could fly it at Oshkosh. In 18 months the Jenny was re-born. It’s final destination intended as a donation for the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
It made the perfect exhibit. The design in itself. Uncovered.
“They have other planes in there that are covered but you can’t see how they were built,” Leonard explains.
That was in the late 1980’s. However, for some reason less then a decade ago (2004), the Curtiss Jenny JN-4D display was broken up.
Along with a close friend, Leonard has been pushing to see it become one again. Tonight we’re near the Boeing airstrip outside Seattle. Ready to wake up in the morning and visit the Museum. Ready for Leonard to see fit the coming together of a perfect restoration. The 1917 Curtiss Jenny JN-4D.

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