Ralph Carlson and Conversion Manual #1

 Builders,

I got a note from Tim Shupert, saying that he and several guys from his EAA chapter are putting together a plan to finish Ralph Carlson’s Corvair powered Pietenpol. I assured him that I would be glad to help, as I have a special connection to Ralph. He bought the first conversion manual I ever sold.

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Above, From Brodhead, 2005, the Pietenpol gathering. Tom Porter on the left shows his land based Corvair to June and Ralph Carlson on the right.

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Below is a letter I wrote to the Pietenpol list last year, speaking of the value of sharing flights with those still building, encouraging those now flying to share the experience.  It contains the story of how Ralph Carlson bought the first conversion manual I ever sold.  In an industry dominated by companies with 36 month lifespans and little respect for traditional homebuilders, I still care about assuring that we keep a place where the dreams of common men matter, and are not subjugated to ‘industry trends.’ 23 years later, I am still here working for this.

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” I wrote my first Corvair conversion manual when I was 28. When it was done, with some hesitation, I put a little ad in the back of EAA’s “light plane world”. I didn’t expect anyone to want one. Ancient engine brought to you by long haired college student. I was somewhat stunned to find the first letter in the mail box, from some guy named Ralph in Wisconsin, building a Pietenpol.

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I spent a long evening sipping a beer and looking at the short note from ‘Ralph’ and manual #1 on my desk. I started to write an apology letter to ‘Ralph’ several times, explaining that I was just an Embry-Riddle student, and he had obviously mistaken me for some real person in aviation. Really, he was going to get manual #1, not very confidence inspiring. After several hours I decided that this was mostly my issues, not ‘Ralphs’. I did cave in and write 10 in front of the #1 to make #101 and at least look like he wasn’t the only guy on earth read my advice on building an engine. Not much of a crime, but in the years that followed, I often wondered what kind of a guy he was to blindly get a book from another person he never heard of.

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Fast forward to Brodhead 2000. We had a very long day of giving rides there, something of a small payback for years of feeling that Pietenpols were my home in Homebuilding. We went from sun up to sunset, maybe 25 flights, easier with a ground crew of friends and an electric start plane.

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Having flown up from Florida the day before, we were zapped by the time the sun was sinking. I very nice quiet woman walked over to me while Arnold was flying the last person and asked that her husband might have a flight. She understood that we were tired, but her husband would never ask, so she was doing this for him, he had been building for many years, but had never flown in a Piet. I was just about to apologize and say maybe next year, when she added the sentence “My husband Ralph and I drove over from Eau Claire.” I politely said “Mrs. Carlson, it would be a pleasure.” She was some what mystified on how I knew her last name……..

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After the flight I was compelled to confess to Ralph Carlson that he had the first conversion manual I ever sent out. Several times he insisted he didn’t, saying “it’s number 110 or 111” I told him there was a very good reason why I knew it was #101, and yes, it was really #1. I try to explain that in the intervening years I have worked hard to try to be the person he thought he was sending the letter to. He is a super nice guy and he doesn’t really get this. He just had a great moment in flying, and was totally motivated to go home and build for another year. He said he thought about asking someone for a flight over the years, but didn’t think he had ‘earned’ one, that he was ‘just another builder.’ I told him contrary to what anyone might guess, I completely understood that feeling.

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Over the years Grace and I got to know the Carlsons, both Ralph and June, much better. We were part of the regulars at the Sutherland’s B&B in Brodhead. They were the absolute genuine article, salt of the earth Americans. They sent Christmas cards and notes, and June used to call sometimes. Over many years her health failed slowly, and we got to see that Ralph understood that when you say “in sickness or in health” in front of God, good people live up to it. He did, with great patience and care.

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June past several years ago, and we don’t see Ralph at Brodhead every year anymore, but in the quiet late hours in the shop, I still think about them from time to time, and how their lives crossed with ours. At Corvair Colleges I take the pilots aside and encourage them to share flights with those still building. I give them good reasons like how it gives builders a seat of the pants understanding of correct operation and running, teaches procedures and methods. Logical reasons, sure, but they are just a rationalization, what I really want to say is that many of the best parts of life are small chance encounters and what you do with them. I want to say that my life is richer for having known June Carlson, and it all happened because one small flight at Brodhead. Think it over, you have the rest of your life to live with the answer. -ww.”

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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

3 Responses to Ralph Carlson and Conversion Manual #1

  1. Terry Hand says:

    William,
    If aviation’s value was purely based upon the aircraft we fly it would be worth it. But its greatest value is based upon the people we meet along the way. It sounds like Ralph and June were some of those people.

    Thanks for sharing again their story.

  2. Jim Tomaszewski says:

    Very touching story William. Unfortunately, there aren’t many salt of the earth people out there like Ralph & June anymore in everyday life. It seems that they are primarily found, at least for me, in experimental aviation (the hardcore homebuilders). The Corvair movement is especially chock full of them, which really attracted me to the Corvair, in addition to being a perfect aircraft engine, of course 🙂

    Jim

  3. Charles Dunn says:

    What a wonderful experience and thanks for sharing the experience with us. Charles Dunn2412 Toledo Rd. Emporia KS 66801

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