Pietenpols Relive Family History at Hangar

By Barbara A. Schmitz

For Larry Pietenpol, it was like stepping back in history.

As he, his wife Lisa, and their friends walked through the Pietenpol Field hangar on EAA’s Pioneer Airport on Tuesday, they saw images, basically untouched, from Larry’s childhood decades ago.

Larry climbed up a ladder to see an RCA box in the attic, likely left over from the time his grandfather, Bernard, an early EAA member, fixed radios and televisions. He opened drawers to find a variety of work tools and even a mouse that had made itself at home.

He walked up and peered into the cockpit of the 1966 Pietenpol Air Camper. “I was the second passenger in that plane, after my grandmother,” he said. “She wasn’t much for the airport; that was my grandfather’s thing.”

Larry recalled going out to the airport as a child, always hoping for a calm day. “I knew if it was windy or raining, he wouldn’t take me flying,” he said. “It was a lot of fun flying around, looking at the cornfields and the lakes around southern Minnesota.”

Larry and Lisa Pietenpol stand by the 1966 Pietenpol Air Camper. Larry was his grandfather’s second passenger in the airplane he designed and built.

Near the hangar had been a junk yard filled with old Corvairs. “I first learned to drive at the airport,” Larry said. His grandfather would point out a car that was still running, and Larry would take it out for a spin.

Larry recalled Bernard added a 1956 Chevy onto the front of a Corvair, and he asked him why he did it. Bernard answered, “Because I could.” It was a common answer for him, as he loved to tinker, Lisa said.

Larry pointed to the windows in the back of the hangar. “Often times people would bust through a window because they wanted to see the airplanes,” he said. “They’d leave a note and usually money to replace the glass.”

The couple, who live in McKinney, Texas, said they were surprised to see how little had changed in the hangar, despite the passing of time. Even the mouse looked authentic, Larry said.

 “My grandfather was always battling mice here,” he said. “He would put mothballs around planes to keep the mice away with the smell. He put mousetraps with peanut butter on the benches to catch them.”

The Pietenpol hangar was moved to Oshkosh in the early 1980s from its home in Cherry Grove, Minnesota.

 “In 1982, after my grandfather had passed away, the local EAA chapter called my father, Kermit, and uncle, Don, and said they’d like to move the hangar to Oshkosh,” Larry said. One of the first airplanes EAA founder Paul Poberezny flew in was a Pietenpol.

So in one day, a crew of workers dismantled the building, said Larry, who was there with the family. “We had a big bonfire outside … and some of the arches, which were hand-laminated, were cut into pieces and sold as souvenirs to EAA members.”

Lisa recalled that the workers took photos of everything in the hangar, but she was still surprised how everything ended up back in its original place when the hangar was rebuilt in Oshkosh. The couple, along with other family members, last visited the EAA grounds about 30 years ago, just six or seven years after the building was relocated.

Lisa said they had goosebumps when they first saw the hangar this week.

“A motor was hanging on the wall, right where it always was,” Larry said. So was an engine stand that Bernard used to test engines.

Lisa said Bernard was always very humble about what he did, and often did things because people told him it couldn’t be done.

“He never retired, and he was always building something,” Larry said. “He was definitely one of my heroes. Not a lot of people get a chance to go back in history and look at things that were the same as they were 50 years ago. I’m thankful for that; it’s been fun being here.”

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