We are presently heading for Vermont, driving along I-90. Ordinarily interstate drives aren’t interesting, but in Pensylvania Lake Erie sparkles on the left and rolling vineyards pass on the right, making this leg of the trip quite pleasant. We crossed the border into New York and turned away from the lakeshore, and went back to paying attention to our co-drivers. We see all manner of vehicles and contraptions on the road, but the pickup truck and trailer we parked next to in a New York rest stop caught
my attention. The truck was carrying an old engine in its bed and the trailer was piled full with some kind of—well, pieces of stuff that might be a vehicle. At first I thought it might be a scrapped amusement ride car. When I looked closer, it looked like it was an airplane built by someone who had a death wish. It had a tiny single propellor and was banged up, so I figured I had guessed right about the death wish thing. I waited for the driver to come back to find out what the heck it was. Two men approached the truck and I walked over to talk to them. The first thing I asked them was “Is this a real plane and is it really capable of flying?” That’s how I met Tom and Jim, from Guleph Ontario. They were taking this pile of metal and canvas they got in Idaho back to the Tiger Boys Aircraft Works & Museum.
The Tiger Boys Aircraft Works and Museum is billed as starting from a “hobby out of control.” Tom Dietrich and Bob Revell (who was not present) have been collecting and restoring all manner of planes together with other volunteers for 40 years. Tom was riding along with another plane restorer named Jim. They told me the pile of parts on the trailer was indeed capable of flying, and would be again. The little plane was first built in Ohio. Because of its open cockpit design it was dubbed “The Flying Bathtub.” Tom and Jim’s plane was a 1931 model, constructed with a tubular frame, with a sheet metal fuselage and fabric covered wings and body. The pilot’s seat was (and still is) a bare piece of plywood. the original engine was a two-cylinder affair. The current engine was a modified VW engine—modified in that two of the original xcfour cylinders were “whacked off.” Tom told me that they had a better engine lined up for the little plane. Ben asked if the engine we saw in the pickup bed was the replacement engine for the little plane. Tom and Jim told us it was for another restoration project they were working on. A hobby out of control indeed. According to Jim, the Flying Bathtub had been in working order but got caught in an Idaho windstorm while it was parked on ground. The tiny plane was not tied down so the wind picked it up and threw it into a building, damaging the wings and the fuselage. The present owner wasn’t interested in restoring the plane so Tom and Jim drove out to Idaho to pick it up for their museum. I was relieved to know it hadn’t gotten its dents from a crash. Ben, ever practical asked about what kind of duty fees they’d have to pay to take the plane back to Canada. Because the plane is an antique, it’s duty free and all they’ll neeed to pay for is the sales tax. “The real pain of investment comes when we start restoring it!” They laughed.
I looked for the plane online and learned that it was indeed designed at McCook field in Dayton Ohio. Accounts of the bathtub design credit two designers for different models; Aeronca and Dormoy. In my humble opinion the plane Tom and Jim had looked like an Aeronca. The plane had its first test flight in 1925. 164 of the little planes were sold between 1930 – 1931 for a whopping $1,245. That’s a hunk of change for the 30’s but more accessible than any other airplane. They were sold in an effort to get
people into aviation, and the simple design made them a tinkerer’s delight. Given that the country was in the midst of the Great Depression those sales are impressive. The Flying Bathtub holds the distinction of being the first aircraft to be refueled from a moving car. The stunt took place at a 1930 airshow in California. A car sped along under the plane with a gas can which the pilot hooked by means of a cane and pulled the can into the cockpit. There was no elaboration on whether or not the pilot actually filled the tank in flight. Looking at the cockpit design I can imagine he must have gotten a face-full in the process.
We thanked Jim and Tom for being generous with their time. Jim told us they love any opportunity to tell people about their museum and share their love for all things aircraft. We said our goodbyes and they pulled out of the rest area. As the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” There are people all around us who are collecting little bits of history and making them live again. We have a new place to visit on our ever-growing bucket list.