Life on Whidbey: Building a PBY Catalina the hard way

  • Wednesday, April 25, 2007 5:00am
  • Life

As one PBY Memorial Foundation member wryly put it, “Now all we need is a PBY body, a wing, a tail and another engine and we’ll have about 75 percent of a PBY!”

Perhaps its beauty can best be appreciated by true fans of naval aviation history. ALAN HODGKINS of Sound Aircraft and Restoration found the engine in a cycle shop in Alabama and had it shipped to the West Coast. The PBY Memorial Foundation purchased the engine from an education grant fund. It has been waiting at the Oak Harbor Fire Department until a display area was available.

Foundation Board member RON HANCOCK and Fire Chief MARK SOPTICH of the Oak Harbor Fire Department took care of its delivery on a flatbed truck and when on site, fire service personnel gently lifted the engine with a giant forklift and carefully maneuvered it into place.

The engine has “cutaway” sections revealing the internal parts. It is a 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830, the type of engine that powered the venerable PBY Catalina through all major theaters of WWII. It was one of the most reliable engines of that era, bringing PBYs and crews home from heavy battle and severe ocean rescue conditions.

In 1942, the first PBY-5A landed at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Seaplane Base on Crescent Harbor, thus beginning a long career of one of the Navy’s most versatile aircraft.

The engine will be refurbished and used as an education aid along with a PBY propeller, hub assembly and blades.

To see the engine and other one-of-a-kind items, from log books to aviation aids and even a working Wurlitzer jukebox, stop in at the PBY Memorial Foundation office at 1081 East Pioneer Way. The public is welcome to visit from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Admission is free.

According to Bruce Sproull, office manager and volunteer coordinator, people who sign up to help receive a brief indoctrination so they can guide visitors and answer most of their questions. Those they cannot answer will be researched and a call made to the inquirer. To volunteer, call Sproull at 360-941-4788.

Teens rule on Tuesdays …

Demographics reveal that a very large percentage of people living on North Whidbey are between 14 and 24. The WAIF Thrift Shop on East Pioneer Way has targeted this age group by introducing COOL CATS TEEN TUESDAYS from 3 to 5 p.m.

SCARLETT CASEY, sponsor of the leadership group at Oak Harbor High School, put together a Teen Corner in the store featuring recycled clothing with big name labels such as Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, Baby Phat, Banana Republic and Dr. Martens.

There one can also find knickknacks to brighten a bedroom or corner of the dorm. The shelves are stocked with dozens of photo frames, CDs, books and a one-of-a-kind leopard print pillow.

“We have over 100 teen volunteers who come from various programs or who just walk in and want to help,” said MARY ANNA CUMMINGS, thrift shop manager. “Teens may be from military families and miss their pets so they gravitate toward the cat adoption center. They do everything from carrying in heavy boxes to changing a light bulb and even assembling 30 new cat cages. They are a huge group that does so much for WAIF and our adult volunteers love these kids. I am impressed.”

Cummings said teen shoppers get to pump up the volume on their favorite music for two hours on Tuesdays, and ask teen advisors for their advice on sizes and merchandise. Starting in May, some Teen Tuesdays will feature fashion shows.

“These teens are seriously environmentally conscious,” Cummings noted. “My generation might not think about shopping resale (thrift shops) but it helps WAIF and the island.”

If your name starts with “C,” the retro pink pearlized handbag bearing your initial was meant for you.

One more WAIF note …

WAIF shelter manager SHARI BIBICH called with the good news that ringworm has been wiped out and all cats are now up for adoption. However, since the fungal infection hit, no cats went out the door, so it will take a few weeks to find them good homes before they can take in surrendered cats.

Please call 678-5816.

Let’s start something …

Remember the photo in a recent column of car that rolled into the front window of Maylor’s Store back in the 1950s? The woman in the photo turned out to be DEAN DICKSON’S mother. If you have a photo of a person or event you cannot identify, kindly send it to me at Whidbey News-Times, 800 SE Barrington Drive, Oak Harbor, WA 98277 or bring it to the front desk.

Most readers love a good whodunit and will be able to ID the photo or give a few clues. We’ll all learn about those who have gone on before us who helped make this a special place to live.

See you on May 2! Call me at 675-6611 or write to lifeon

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