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What I Did on My Summer Vacation


The Big Woods of Maine
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
A friend said I should post this, so what the heck...

What I Did On My Summer Vacation
(Or, how A Piper Cub got in my Garage)

The Really Big Splash

We're sitting in a swamp. At an angle. Hissing. Fervently.

I'm trying to be politically correct, but it appears we are being surrounded by curious bystanders wearing party hats and carrying tokens. So this is what happens when you pass. You are welcomed into heaven by casino goers!

But does your butt get wet when you depart? Mine sure is. Must have been the splash. And these people--they look a bit out of shape. They are large. They are wearing shirts with loud American slogans. They have sunglasses. Their hands are on their hips. They look concerned. Hell, we're concerned.

We seem to be providing no little amount of entertainment for them. Given that we haven’t seen a giant roulette table with St. Peter in front, I try and shake myself out of a stupor and take stock of the situation. Fuel tanks off. Is my buddy Chip, the pilot, alive? Yes. Is he hurt? No. Is he happy? Not in the slightest. Shoulder harness--thank you fellows you've done your work--off and out. No fire. No fuel leaks.

It's Saturday night. 5:45 pm. We've just crashed a floatplane in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Right on the edge of a Big Casino complex. Great.

The situation is not good. The bird is really bent. It's been mine for five whole hours. It's uninsured.

For a brief second I wonder how we can fix it to fly out of this mess.

As Bugs Bunny used to say "What a Maroon!"

Bugs knew what he was talking about.

I sure feel like a maroon.

Five Hours

They were, however, a good five hours. Spectacular scenery. Jimmy Buffet on the intercom via the MP3 player. Fins to the left, Wings to the left, lots of singing. $13.95 in sandwiches for an inflight meal. Getting my leg by accident while using the pee bag. My dreams heading Eastbound, home to Maine, three days of adventures away.

Dreams, as I've learned more than once in life, sometimes crumple. In this case, quite literally. I can personally assure you that an engine that eats a muffler baffle is a recipe for a crumple. Down we go, trying desperately to get back to the lake to land our little floatplane. We're threading a swamp, Chip flying for his life. Things don't look good.

We aren't going to make it.

I told you so, says the a chiding voice from the past…..

Little Airplanes Are Very Dangerous

Seriously. This is a Fact. An ex-friend authoritatively explained this to me once. The friend knew Everything. You know the type. The source of authority—the television. Like they get the facts right every single time! The friend is absolutely insistent that Little Airplanes are the Most Dangerous Thing Ever. Inherently Bad. Dangerous. No good. Period.

For a split second the impending crash gives me cause to briefly reconsider the pronouncement that Little Airplanes Are Dangerous.

Fortunately, the friend’s advice is a off on the courageous little Piper doing its best to fly a bit further.

Our lovely little left wing takes the hit, sacrificing the graceful ash bow at the end. Whump. We do a 180 around the tree and bounce in the swamp. The steel cage around us bends itself, instead of us. The shoulder harnesses save our faces. The floats absorb the rest of the impact, sacrificing their lives for out sake.

Little Airplanes are Not Dangerous. It's idiots like Chip and I that fly them that are Dangerous.

All in all, it's a soft crash. I've been in worse car crashes. Like the time I was in a taxi that hit a bridge abutment. Or the moose that wandered in front of my car.

Another of my nine lives used up.

DIY (Do It Yourself!)

My first job in the rebuilding process is to be a cheerleader. Don’t worry, Chip. We can do this. We can rebuild this. We can make it better than before. Stronger, faster (theme plays loudly). I make like "Bring it On" and chirp as fast as I can:

"Chip, Chip, you're the man
We'll rebuild it, yes we can!"

Chip is not sure. He sounds a bit despondent on the other end of the cell phone. He's standing in a hangar in beautiful Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Chip is looking at the bent airplane he's about to load in the back of a rented Penske truck. It's a really sad and sorry sight. He's hurting and on the verge of weeping.

Chip is having a moment.

I reassure Chip. Make him feel better. Try and make myself feel better. Rebuilding it is the only way to go. There is no other way to save face or our hissing egos. So I start singing cheerleading refrains again. Now he wants to stuff me in the trash, which makes him feel better.

Terrorists Afoot

Chip heads East with the airplane--if you can call it that--loaded in the back of the rented 24 foot truck. It's a long, sad trip and the quickest route is across the nice highways thoughtfully provided by our Northern Neighbors.

Canadian Customs is a joy. They are friendly, efficient and understanding. They take one look at our wilted fabric covered under-powered pipsqueak of an airplane lying ever so forlornly in the back of the truck and wave Chip on his merry way. The poor blighters can barely contain their laughter. It's a pathetic sight.

Back in the USA the agents at the border are neither accommodating nor understanding. They are distinctly un-amused. They are suspicious. They are giving Chip the Third Degree. The shattered Cub is possibly an Instrument of Terror. Heaven forbid. The agents are not pleasant.

An exasperated Chip tries a bit of polite reasoning For goodness sakes, it's a 750 pound Piper Cub. Wrecked. What damage can it possibly do?

Well, upon reflection, they are sort of right.

Behold the Terror. The Yellow Peril. The Lazarus Cub.

Our Bangor neighbor, Stephen King, would be proud.

And I own this junk heap.

The Guru

Upon arrival at our local airfield on the wholly bucolic shores of Pushaw Lake, the esteemed Master of All Things Cub helps unload the truck. After the work is done, the Master performs the function that he is most famous for--speaking his mind.

"Well, the airplane is fixable (pause for effect). You two, however, are hopeless."

Damned if he isn't right.

We commence the project in naïve earnest.

By the end of the week our hands are a collection of metal cuts from the disassembly, and I've discovered my tetanus shot must have run out. My jaw swells shut.

My beloved family doctor finds this hilarious. I get a sore arm, too, from the shot.

Morons meet the Spray Gun

We start on the wings and begin restoring parts. Soon it's my first day to paint something.

This is an exciting moment. By gum, I've got the right equipment. Every home should have a high-pressure low volume turbine powered paint spray gun. Really, honey, we need one. Talk about a nifty piece of equipment. Think of all the things you can paint! I'm very excited about this thing. I call my friends--even my sister the college professor—to extoll the virtues.

The Learning Curve, of course, takes its toll.

On the First Try I forget to hook up the air pressure to the auxiliary spray cup. Oooops. And I wonder why it blows paint like a cheap can of spray paint. On the Second Try I hook up the air and crank it up. Whoosh. $$$ of paint goes all over the lawn around the parts. Does the grass need such an expensive change of color? Bit of an overspray, don't you think James?

Yup. The kids, however, find it hilarious. On the Third Try I get it right. Then I promptly run out of paint.

Walkers and Gawkers

I live in a nice residential neighborhood outside of Bangor. I like it here. The people are nice and there are lots of children.

The big past time in the evening in our neighborhood is walking. The young couples walk young children, seeds of desperation evident in their pleading voices. Retired couples complete their evening constitutionals, talking about whatever it is that people talk about after many years of marriage. Probably isn't sex. Teenagers saunter by, keeping a look out for other teenagers. They are probably talking about sex. Clueless pre-teens prowl by. They are talking about Gameboys. Go figure.

The walkers and gawkers aren't sure what to make of the project underway in my garage. It's, ahh, unusual. There is a man who makes fine furniture for fun. A woman up the street has a small ceramics kiln. Me, I've got an airplane. In pieces. Lots of pieces.

So they walk by. And stare. And walk by again to be sure that what they are seeing is what they think they are seeing.

They think I'm crazy. I am. This just confirms it. Officially.

Occasionally someone comes up the driveway to ask what I'm doing. The question usually comes as of late when I'm knee deep in wing re-assembly.

I tell them I'm making a replica of a windmill that I plan to put on the lawn to provide power for the house. Really. It's going to be nice. I've got the permits and everything. You never know when the power is going to go out. You folks remember the ice storm, don't cha?

Children are easier to deal with. I just tell them it is a giant candy machine. They like that. Heck, I like that.

Chip thinks it would be funny if I placed the trashed floats upside down and sticking out of the trees in the small stream at the edge of my property next to the road. Surely that will get attention.

We're nuts.

Anyone can make a mistake. Sometimes I even learn from mine. Sometimes.

The Children

My kids feel ignored. Thing One and Thing Two are, like most children, easily perturbed by an upset in the daily routine of having life revolve around them. So, I am replaced.

Their new parent is a stray cat who adopts them. She moves in. I am not consulted. Nor does it seem to matter. Not content to use doors, the cat simply pushes through the screens. Several, in fact.

While contemplating the various holes, I notice an odd occurence. The avenues of egress are growing larger by the day. Ergo, so isn't the damn cat. My suspicion grows along with the cat's size. Shortly after I start reconstruction on the wing the cat presents us with five tiny cats, thereby confirming its parenthood to all concerned.

The children are delighted.

Here I am, working on a wing, going broke, with five hungry kittens underfoot.

My Love Life

My girlfriend feels ignored, too. I adore her but I also adore this project. That is not a recipe for success in a relationship.

One night she walks into the garage and gives me a kiss--and a handwritten letter. I open the envelope and read the letter. I'm not paying enough attention to her as of late, it suggests. Perhaps we should See Other People. She would like to have six children. Etc.

She's right. I'm not paying enough attention to her.

Another summer romance dies a dignified death in my driveway.

We kiss and she leaves. I go back to work on my wing. I've forgotten all about the romance matter in a few minutes, absorbed back into the project.

Say, is that an AN5-17 bolt that goes in the wing compression member? Or is it a dash 16A. Hmmmm.

What a typical male. Insensitive boob. God, we men are insufferable. What people see in us is beyond my comprehension.

The Family Pooch

The family Black Lab, a hulking 100-pound beast, feels ignored, too. As a result of the project I'm cooking less meals, which means the children are dropping less things on the floor. This is not a good situation as far as the Lab is concerned.

Feeling slighted, she moves down the street to my parent's house. Shortly thereafter she accompanies them to the family cottage at the lake, where she spends the rest of the summer lying on the shore and swimming when necessary.

So there.

She returns once, rubbing against a freshly epoxy painted wing spar end.

Now she looks like a skunk.

My Brother

My brother is an editor at a Major Maine Newspaper. A noted newspaper. Before becoming an editor he was an investigative reporter.

In short, he's no dummy. He wants to know why we didn't complete the trip. I tell him we had a little problem and decided the airplane wasn't airworthy to fly home.

Fifteen minutes later my brother e mails me an article from some obscure newspaper in Northern Wisconsin.

Chip and I are the cover story. There is a huge picture of a sad looking airplane, accompanied by a lot of "there I was" quotes from casino onlookers. We're famous. We disrupted high stakes beano night with our unscheduled arrival in the swamp.


Swearing Is Not Allowed

We have a rule in our house--No Swearing. The rule is a product of my efforts to be the proper widowed single parent with two rowdy children.

Not that I always follow my own rules, of course, which spawns another rule. If Dad says a dirty word, you get to say it, too.

My daughter loves this. She’s seven and already achieving status as the Designated Family Princess. Ariel reminds me a good deal of her mother, who was also a pilot. My daughter's nickname is "Replica"? Secretly, I'm always delighted when Replica takes an interest in the project and flying in general. Aviation needs far more women than it has and it has been conclusively proved that--despite popular belief--that it doesn't take a penis to fly a plane. Not that Replica understands this concept yet.

Replica likes to work with Daddy on the project.


She gets to say the word "****" a lot.

You gotta love a seven-year old.


Projects like rebuilding an airplane teach new tricks every day. For example, guess what paint stripper does. There is a reason for warnings on the back of the can. The hair will indeed fall out of your legs in clumps if you miss with the handy little spray bottle when stripping paint.

This amuses my son, Thing One, to no end.

My son is an expert on wildlife. Lately he has been collecting snakes and birds. The snakes are alive, but the darn birds aren't. The birds have been shot by his dear friend from down the street. Thing One places the poor BB dispatched avians in his drawer--don't even ask how I discovered this --and ordered their immediate relocation to the cellar freezer.

He's obviously been studying them. He takes one look at me and applies his new knowledge. Tim points at my legs and he informs me that I am molting. Not only has Dad the bird crashed, he's molting. Hilarious.

Home science class prevails again. Kraft's Creatures has met its match. I am now a specimen. I should be on PBS, too.

The Coal Pit Pays a Visit

The airplane project affords an excellent opportunity for my children to discover a new look I cultivate when Dad takes up the not-so-gentle art of sandblasting.

Sandblasting also has a Learning Curve. This is demonstrated by the fact that the first time I attempt the endeavor I manage to turn myself almost completely black. I look like a coal- miner from the Rocket Boys movie. Only worse.

The children are in hysterics. The person who just appeared at the house extolling the virtues of something called a sandblaster is really nothing more than their Beloved Daddy, magically transformed into the coal miner in one of their favorite movies. They inquire as to where the train is that will be taking me underground.

And it is not even Halloween yet.

The Bank

Behind every good project is a bank. Since my own greed with regard to low home equity interest rates has gotten me into this mess, I try and use the bank as much as possible. I manage to walk with a 50k line of credit and a date with the astonishingly beautiful head bank teller (see section entitled Girlfriend)

To keep my Scottish ancestors happy I have an affiliate card that awards credits for purchases at a big outdoor retailer located in the Other Maine. Naturally, I flow all of my purchases necessary in the rebuilding project over the card, paying off the card promptly via my handy line of equity credit.

Now, the nice people at the bank gave me a little checkbook for this process. How convenient.

Clever adherent to the information age that I am, I soon figure out a way to pay off the credit card bill by simply setting up an automatic payment straight out of the equity account by using the account numbers

Sure enough, the bank transfers the money. Then untransfers it. You see, the check book for the equity account is not really a checking account. Not that the bank tells anybody, mind you. Needless to say, when the bank bounces its own check fees get assessed against me by the credit card company.

Begging with the card issuer really works to get those fees undone. That and being nice. Really.

Girlfriend thinks it is funny. Of course you can't write an electronic check on an equity account!

I love that woman.

So be careful banking.

Adult Beverages

Critical to rebuilding an antique airplane is beer. Cases of beverages. Seriously. It really helps the project progress. I'm not sure it helps the morale of the Walkers and Gawkers brave enough to walk up the driveway to "see how things are going" on the plane, however.

Sometimes we toss empty bottles on the lawn for effect.

Not that Chip and I care. Another good lesson from the Cub Master. The less time you spend worrying about what other people think about you the happier you will be.

Lots of good advice in that fellow.

What’s Up with the Wings

By early August things are going just fine, thank you very much. After I complete the right wing, I immediately set to work building a left wing. I use the right wing as a model.

It's a pretty good model. Too good. A half an hour or so into the reconstruction I have a flash of recognition and set down my bottle in horror. Why, this won't do at all! There is something really, really wrong.

I've been building another right wing. Dumbass.


Projects are an excellent excuse to buy the tools you have always wanted. Tools, you see, are really toys in disguise. Really.

I like the air compressor the best of all. It has lots of uses. You can fill up soccer balls and scooter tires in a flash. You can also really hose down the kids with that sucker. They hate it more than the garden hose, probably because you can?t see the air. A little blast of air causes annoying questions or whining to cease and the offending minion to promptly leave.

Works well on that damn cat, too. Almost as good as the garden hose.

What a handy device. Another beverage, please. It's time to get back to work.
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What a great story! Thanks for sharing.

I love the way you?ve kept your high sprits despite all you?ve gone through. What?s her name calls herself a hangar widow. I?m starting to think she actually enjoys the time I spend down there?Hummm :roll: ?oh well, it works for me.

I?ve read your story several times and I?m still LMAO!
Thanks again.
Thanks JP.
Not only is this a wonderful story, but you really know how to tell it.

A most excellent story. Thank-you for the entertainment and please keep us posted as to the continuing progress.
And Northern Pilot mag. couldn't make it !! Where were you when they were looking for articles?
Excellent writting JP, keep it up, and the best of luck getting the PA11 airborne again. Just keep thinking about how good it will feel to fly it again. Sometimes the journey is it's own reward, and it always seems that those who sacrifice the most for their flying get the most out of it.

If I would have known, I could have helped carry parts out of the swamp. But the Natives are friendly, and it sounds like you got out OK. When it's done, make sure you come back for a little more relaxed visit to the lake country.
What you women see in us is beyond my comprehension.

You're entertaining. And generally a lot of fun.

Great story - I enjoyed every minute, and now I understand why you didn't stop by Ann Arbor this summer on your way home. Bummer.

When I was a kid, someone was building a plane in his garage. I wasn't quite brave enough to walk up and see what he was doing, but I always thought that was so cool. Keep us posted on your progress.


Thanks to one and all for commenting on my missive--you are a super bunch of folk! I couldn't think of a better audience to write for.

The wings just passed inspection and I start covering tonight. The fuselage is out of the jig and will be ready to retrieve in a week, so I've got to get the wings up to the tapes and move them out....

And yes, I will write another installment when inspiration strikes. :lol:

Thanks again!
I had to reply to this to get it back on the list years later. This is a great read.

Thanks, Jeff!

Wow--what a trip down memory lane. Thanks to the good folk at SC.org the story had a good ending when Forty Seven Eleven flew again in the winter of 05.

Chip went on to watch an airline fold underneath him before arriving at NetJets, where is happily plying his trade. He owns a Cub, too.

Things One and Two are now a 'tween and teen. If I don't know something I just ask them--they know everything. Thing One would like to go to the Naval Academy and fly the F-18 Super Hornet. Thing Two would like to be a Navy Seal.

The floats are almost done--really. I'm serious about this. Stop laughing.

Ex-Girlfriend quit the bank and is very happily married to a nice fellow and has three children and is pregnant with number four.

The damn cats are still in the house. We had to buy a bigger house but they still rule.

Aspen, the hulking Family Black Lab left us two autumns ago. She currently resides in a small box on the mantel.

The bank will be happy when I pay off the last of the rebuild debt this week.

Not only did SJ print my story, I eventually got to meet him and he's even flown Forty Seven Eleven. In fact, he's the only one other than me who has flown her solo since the rebuild. It was an awesome moment.

Forty Seven Eleven is waiting patiently for ski flying season to arrive. She sits in her hangar at Miller's Field (ME74) wondering, like me, where time and summer went and looks forward to more adventures in the future. Safe adventures, mind you.

Thanks Jeff! I had no idea I was the first one to fly it solo other than you since the rebuild. I hope the rope burns from where I tied you to the tree and took your plane eventually faded.

A lot can happen in five years - a whole lot.

Great documentary, thanks for bringing it out of the archives for us newbies to enjoy!!

Here is SJ flying Forty Seven Eleven whilst I was tied to the tree with a gag mercifully shoved in my mouth:


This was taken at Phil Pzinck's 2007 summer fly in.
This is a great post (Story).

When Nesincg posted that he bought the “Flight Of Passage” Cub Special and Tooltime Tim lent a hand loading it up in the back of a Penski truck, soon to be sitting in his garage for a complete restoration. It brought back memories of reading this thread a few years ago.

Thanks for revisiting this post SJ.

How about an update? Where are things one and two now? Girlfriends, cars, floats, Chip still with Netjets?, Bank teller now divorced?, and what is the new project? Great read, Thanks JP.

That is one entertaining story! I also know first hand about the ground that grabs thee then the engine eats a baffle.. That was 11 yrs ago and its still waiting to be rebuilt!
How about an update? Where are things one and two now? Girlfriends, cars, floats, Chip still with Netjets?, Bank teller now divorced?, and what is the new project? Great read, Thanks JP.


Bill, and all of you, you way are too kind.....I am, indeed, working on an update of sorts. Stay tuned. Should be done by January. Chip was here yesterday and brought a big, white whiny tube shaped thing that had no propellors whasoever. He did, however, fly it down the Penobscot River to redeem his reputation. And, for the record, his landing in the wind was about 89 yards......

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