Restoration of vintage plane Tin Goose continuesWritten by Don Lee | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As it rumbles through Port Clinton’s skies this holiday weekend, the Kalamazoo, Mich., Air Zoo’s Ford TriMotor is giving passengers and plane spotters a taste of the Lake Erie Islands’ aeronautical history.
Meanwhile, that history is coming back to life for real in restoration shops.
In Michigan, the Goose formally known as N7584 — the first Ford TriMotor to fly for Island Airlines between Port Clinton and the Lake Erie Islands, and the last TriMotor Island Airlines ever owned — is slowly nearing the end of a two-decade-long restoration after being written off in a hurricane.
In Port Clinton itself, within sight of the runway from which the Air Zoo’s Goose will be flying, volunteers fueled by memories of the days when the Goose ruled the skies over the Lake Erie Islands are slowly but surely bringing another back to life.
Hard flying history
The Goose under restoration in Michigan had a hard-luck history that exemplifies the rough days of early passenger planes: It crashed once on the islands, was repaired, put back into service, then sold to a barnstormer, who then sold it to an air museum in Florida — where it was demolished in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.
But N7584 will fly again, vows its current owner, museum owner Kermit Weeks. That’s also the vow of restoration expert Maurice Hovious, owner of Hov-Aire in Vicksburg, Mich., which is giving N7584 new life for the second time.
Hovious said he and his restorers at Hov-Aire have the plane’s corrugated aluminum skin back on the rebuilt fuselage and wing framework, the motor mounts and landing gear are ready and all the parts need to be assembled.
The speed of the project, Hovious said, is governed by how fast owner Weeks wants to spend the money.
Part of it is that Weeks and his Florida museum, Fantasy of Flight, already own and fly another TriMotor and Weeks says on his blog, kermitweeks.com, that N7584 is a “slow burner project.”
Part of it was the extent of the damage. Hurricane Andrew’s winds blew a tractor-trailer through the doors of the concrete hangar and into the TriMotor, snapping off both wings and the tail.
And part of the project’s long gestation is that not long after the repairs started, it turned from repair into restoration — making N7584 as much like it was when it came out of the Ford plant in 1928 as possible.
The plane, Weeks blogged in March, will have a wooden toilet with a sign that says “Don’t use the toilet over populated areas.”
Such authenticity included having Hovious’s team drill out rivets of the type used to repair the plane in the 1970s and replacing them with rivets of the type used to put the plane together in 1928 — and someone had to be found to make those rivets, which haven’t been used since about World War II.
“I gave him (Weeks) a [cost] estimate and he said, ‘Do it,’” Hovious said.
That’s not the end of Hovious’s involvement with Island Airlines.
A “sister ship,” which flew for Island Airlines as N7684, spent time in the Hov-Aire shop being rebuilt after being written off in an Aug. 21, 1972, crash shortly after takeoff from Port Clinton. The pilot was injured, but the passengers escaped serious injury, according to news stories.
That plane, now registered as N9610 (the official ID of a plane once owned by daredevil pilot Harold Johnson, famous for flying aerobatics with his Goose), flew again in October 2010 and is flying in Minnesota, Hovious said.
‘This is my baby’
But the heart and soul of Tin Goose memories in Port Clinton is another of Hovious’s brainchildren — and a labor of love for Port Clinton-area volunteers.
This project is taking place right next door to Ottawa County Airport, in full view of visitors to the recently opened Liberty Aviation Museum.
There, sharing hangar space with the museum’s flying B-25 bomber “Georgie’s Gal,” volunteers from Experimental Aircraft Association “Tin Goose” Chapter 1247 (tingoose.org) are recreating another TriMotor.
That project has been going on for nine years, said Ken Benjamin, one of the volunteer workers and chairman of the foundation (trimotorheritagefoundation.org) that was created to raise money for the restoration project. That’s nine years of volunteers putting in a couple hours a night for two nights a week. Money comes from donation drives, donation boxes at the museum and sale of a specially reissued version of a once-popular plastic model kit of a Ford TriMotor in Island Airlines markings.
With $1.2 million donated and spent, and maybe another $2 million to go, Benjamin said the project is finally at a point where it looks like it’ll be an airplane someday and not a “bridge” — a reference to the Goose’s boxy frame. Materials and parts have been turned into recognizable components and the group is ready to start assembling.
With space at a premium in the museum’s hangar — where the project shares space with a B-25 and a former Canadian training plane as well as a motor pool of American and German World War II vehicles — another hangar will be built to accommodate the assembly, Benjamin said. The goal: Have the Ford flying by April 2015.
Online aircraft-registry databases and an information sheet available at the museum reveal a story behind that plane typical of many a plane in that era.
Built in 1929 and delivered to a Mexican airline, this Goose flew for the then-fledgling Pan American Airways before being sold to a Cuban airline, flew air tours in the Lake Erie Island region in beginning in 1948. It was sold twice more before being written off in 1982 after a crash in Montana, where it lay until Hovious got his hands on the wreck.
After Hovious gave a talk to the Port Clinton EAA group — a local chapter of a nationwide organization dedicated to building, restoring and flying airplanes, some of them unique — he made the offer that got the project started: He’d supply the fixtures, expertise and much of the raw materials if the chapter would supply volunteer labor.
No convincing was required. Soon, trucks from Michigan arrived in Port Clinton.
“Maurice has been generous to a fault with us,” Benjamin said.
And it’s not unusual to find Hovious at the museum — where the Tin Goose Diner has his favorite sandwich (grilled German bologna with sauteed onions and American cheese) on the menu, named after him — checking on his favorite Tin Goose project.
“This is my baby,” Hovious said.
Port Clinton’s plane
The personal attachment many people in the Port Clinton area feel toward the Tin Goose led him to make his offer.
“This was their school bus,” he said, and indeed, TriMotors hauled anybody and anything between the mainland and islands on their famous five-minute flights. Island Airlines, started in the 1930s by Milton Hershberger, was based in Put-In-Bay until Sandusky’s Griffing Flying Service bought it in 1992. (Griffing will be moving its island-hopping operations to Ottawa County with the planned closing of its privately owned airport in Sandusky.)
Hershberger traveled all over to buy TriMotors in any condition; they became available as more well-heeled operations replaced their Geese with better planes coming out of the factories. The Tin Goose became the signature plane of Island Airlines.
So closely are the TriMotors associated with the area and the islands that a British publisher of coffee-table books, looking for a photo of the Goose in one of its picture books about airplanes, settled on a photo of an Island Airlines Tin Goose, in its red, white, and blue markings, loading passengers and freight at Put-in-Bay.
In fact, as the aviation website aero-news.net put it: “If a city can associate itself with an airplane type, Port Clinton, Ohio, certainly identifies with the Ford TriMotor.”
Facts about the flying Ford:
Here’s a look at Kalamazoo Air Zoo’s Ford TriMotor, which is selling rides July 4-10 at Ottawa County Airport (Carl Keller Field) in Port Clinton:
- Ford TriMotor model 5-AT built 1929, registry number N4819 (58th TriMotor built out of a total of 199).
- One of five TriMotors sold to what would become Northwest Airlines; later flew scenic flights in Grand Canyon and carried “smokejumper” firefighters in the northwestern U.S.
- Owned since 1991 by Kalamazoo (Mich.) Air Zoo (airzoo.org).
- Plane holds up to 9 passengers in the aft cabin; rides are also offered in the co-pilot’s seat.
- Tickets $70 in advance through flytheford.com; $75 walk-up. Fly in the co-pilot’s seat for $125 for walk-ups only.
Tags: Air Zoo, airplane, Fantasy of Flight, Ford TriMotor, Goose, Griffing Flying Service, Harold Johnson, Island Airlines, Ken Benjamin, Kermit Weeks, Liberty Aviation Museum, Maurice Hovious, Milton Hershberger, N7584, N7684, N9610, Port Clinton, Put-in-Bay, vintage