Fixing America is going to cost each of us $1.69

My Fellow Americans:

We have all been subjected to a zillion partisan stories over what is wrong with our country. I am here to tell you the truth: Yes America has issues, but I know what the cure is, and it is going to cost every American $1.69, and the sooner we face this and get on with it, the better off we will be.

My epiphany came this afternoon.  Greg, our local Post Office desk officer, had given me the assignment to be the guest speaker at Cub Scout Pack 422, of which he is the scout master. I didn’t dare refuse; Greg has 19 years in at the Post Office and previously was in the 82nd Airborne Division. He seems pretty laid back, but if you combine the mottos of his two services you come up with something like “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night prevents death from above.” Besides, I thought it would be fun, and I knew that the centerpiece of the presentation would have to be that all-American youth classic, the Guillow’s Balsa plane.


Above, my personal Guillow’s Skystreak, with some fresh damage from enthusiastic Cub Scouts of Pack 422. Retiring this baby is going to set me back a hefty $2.99, but no one ever said educating youth was going to be cheap.


Here is where I found out two disturbing things at once: They don’t sell Balsa planes in normal stores any more, and I am so old that people who have 10-year-old kids of their own have never heard of the toys of my youth.

I went from store to store in our town asking for them in a mad search to find little planes before I faced the wrath of Greg at 7 p.m. for disappointing his Scouts. I went to Fred’s, Walgreens, Ace Hardware, CVS, the convenience store run by the Cambodian family, Wal-Mart, Target, the Dollar General, the Dollar Tree, and the Dollar Mart. Not one single plane was to be found.

Midway through the trip I realized that people were being really polite to me, because that is a safe strategy when you are asked an odd question by a mentally ill person who is on some quest for an imaginary object. Not only didn’t they have them, only two people I encountered had ever heard of one. Just the old African American man who manages the Dollar Tree and the Cambodian grandmother knew what I was babbling about. To everyone else, I looked just like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life when he goes around his home town and not a single person understands what he is talking about. I had found myself in a kind of Potterville, a horrible place where no kid had ever played with a Balsa plane.

Good news was that I found a fleet of styrofoam gliders at target. Compared to Balsa, foam planes are priced for sale to the Pentagon. I thought about the expenditure for a nanosecond, but whipped out the credit card after I had an image of a flight I take in the future where things look very bad, and I whisper “Dear God, I need some assistance now…” and a loud clear voice says “HELP YOU? A JACKASS WHO DIDN’T BUY PLANES FOR CUB SCOUTS? ARE YOU WEARING NOMEX TODAY JACKASS?”

The presentation went well, everyone had a good time, and I taught them all the basics: Wrights invented it, Lindbergh used it, Armstrong goes to the moon, time for you to do your part. Only one kid thought the Wrights were from Europe. They all liked the fact that Buzz Lightyear was named after Buzz Aldrin. Not a single one of them had flown in an airplane before, including an airliner. I told them that there were many reasons to use planes, but the best one of them all is just to have fun. When one of the kids asked if this was OK, I told him it was not just ok, I did it for a job. There was a lightbulb that went off in his mind, this was the first time he had heard you could evade becoming a grown up.

OK, I am just going to say that it is time we put the train back on the track, and I know exactly where it went off. It is time to buy Guillow’s planes, not just for kids, but for ourselves, to get back to where things were right. I could have a tirade pointing out that the checkout counters of every single one of these stores had candy bars that cost more than a basic Balsa plane. I could point out that Wal-Mart’s special was a game called “Angry Birds Death Star” and it was for kids 8 and up, same age as the Cub Scouts. In the next aisle kids no older than 12 were pointing to video games they played regularly, all with the sick designation “first person shooter.” We all know it is time to get away from poisons like that. Defending people who develop and market that stuff by saying people buy it is the same as defending the people who run meth labs because that product sells also. Let us all take a step back to something good and pure, little Balsa planes. You can study the factory’s offerings at: . They have been around since 1926, and you will never find a kit plane that can be built faster. I am going to order a crate and trade them to kids for the junk food they are eating.

Phase Two of this crusade is to bring back the flathead, horizontal shaft lawnmower engine. In my view, all normal childhoods have three vital elements: The little Balsa plane, the tree house, and the go-cart with the horizontal shaft lawnmower engine. If you understand the importance of the movie October Sky, you will probably agree that this country churned out legions of top-notch engineers who were all pre-schooled in flight, structures and mechanics by the above vital trio of experiences.


Above, two of our personal collection of Flatheads. On the left is a 2hp Briggs and Stratton with an ultra-rare wind up starter. This belonged to Grace’s Grandfather. It is early 1960s vintage. The color is original. On the right is a 1.5hp iron block, rope start, Clinton. This is probably 1950s vintage. It belonged to our neighbor. Please take a moment to read a story about him by clicking on this link:  Dick Phillips – Bravo Zulu

Never look down on these engines. Briggs and Stratton perfected the Nicasil all-aluminum cylinder and produced tens of millions of them before Porsche ever dreamed of making one that worked. The 5hp Briggs is one of the most mass-produced internal combustion engines ever. Look up the term “Blockzilla” on their site for the last word in mower engines.

From the Clinton engine historical website : “After its arrival in Iowa in 1950 Clinton Engines was producing 2000 to 3000 high quality gasoline engines per day using so-called untrained farm labor. ˜Untrained” proved inaccurate. The employees of the plant came mainly from the farms and small towns of the area where tinkering and fixing things with nothing was a way of life. These resourceful people quickly rammed the company to world leader, eclipsing Briggs & Stratton. More than 18 million engines were produced by the company and more than $550,000,000 pumped through the East Central Iowa economy and the economies of outlying areas in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.” These were the jobs America threw away in search for the cheapest labor on ther planet, to replace the best labor.


Flatheads are the greatest mechanical self-instruction tools of all time. If you didn’t have one in your childhood, you have my condolences. These engines are great because a 10-year-old can take the head off with a 1/2″ wrench and all the parts stay in place. He can then turn it and see the sequence of operation in a 4-stroke engine. He can then put the head back on, no torque wrench nor pattern, and it will run again. There is nothing in the world of electronics that will ever be like that. Before anyone scoffs at this, keep in mind that I have taught hundreds of people how to build engines, and I will tell you that the people with the balsa plane/tree house/flathead childhoods have an advantage in aircraft building that is very hard to overstate.

Although I have had some good times in California, lived there and love many things about the place, here is something that the people there have to answer for: Flatheads are being phased out of production because they are actually illegal to sell in California for emissions reasons. Yes, I said that correctly, illegal. This happened at the same time that California decided that it was a good idea that anyone with an ailment from low self-esteem to a hangnail should have a prescription for smoking pot. Beyond the point about smoky emissions that are not good for you, I hold that if you take away all the mechanical toys of youth and leave only the video games, you will automatically have a generation that thinks sitting around the house and getting stoned is not only normal, it is therapeutic.

If you read all of the things I write about detesting the layers of electronics that people apply to homebuilts (often while having substandard mechanical builds) and wonder where it comes from it is because I was born in 1962, and I am on the fault line between the Stand by Me childhoods and video game kids. Over time, I have always moved back to the simplicity of the pure mechanical world. To me, video games are nothing more than junk food for your mind. I remember when they thought it was just going to harm kids; today when I see someone obviously compulsively looking at their smart phone they are just as likely to be a baby boomer. Addiction in any form, at any age, isn’t attractive. It isn’t about being in control of your life either, which is my main focus in building and flying. -ww

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