Little Green Barn story.

Update: Below is a story I wrote four years ago today, and put on this site.  It only appeared for a day, and then I removed it at the request of my friend, the owner of the very private airport where the story took place. He understood the attachment people would have to the story, but was concerned that a people he never met would try to seek out his secluded airstrip.

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I’m returning the story to this blog briefly, because the essential element, that each of us can find our own ‘perfect airport’  and use it as a place of mental refuge from the most corrosive parts of todays consumer life, remains very important. 

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In the four years, things have changed. My friend sold the airport, the barn moved, awaiting the discovery of another perfect setting and the man who owned the Fleet 10 has passed from this life. But these elements are just attached to one previous location. The concept in the story is alive, and I hope it can motivate other aviators to find the right location for their own ‘Little Green Barn’.

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In 2018, Im planning on a large loop, flying around the country with an eye out for such places. I have an image in my mind of a dozen or two people reading this story and finding a secluded airstrip for their own Barn. If, a few years from now, we privately shared the locations, it would form a perfect archipelago, just like small islands in a large ocean. A very pleasant way to use a small airplane to travel to a very different time in aviation.

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wewjr

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Important request: A number of people reading this could identify the location of the original airport, the name of it’s owner or the owner of the Fleet 10, or one of the other people in the story. I ask that people respect the privacy of these people and not mention their names in the comments. I left them out of the original story for this reason. The meaning of the story isn’t tied to their identity, the value of the story is solely about how it makes you feel as an aviator.

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From 2013:

Builders,

A long time ago, I had this idea called “the little green barn.”  Over the years I have talked about this with a number of close aviation friends who’s understanding of aviation adventure fits more into a setting from The Great Waldo Pepper than it does into the pages a Sporties catalog. For those of you with dreams that differ from the norm, read on……

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Above; It really isn’t a ‘barn’. I originally looked at the Ortho book on shed and shop plans, but stumbled on something called a ‘Sheppard’s hut’, common in Great Britain.  I used their size and shape, but my rustic taste was closer to tool shed than captain’s stateroom. My budget was $800. 

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OK, here is the idea:  Everyone I know has a “favorite small airport.” Mine happens to be 1,154 miles from my hangar.  It is a private airport out in the middle of nowhere.  I know the owner, and 12 years ago I asked him if I could detour on my way home from Oshkosh and spend a  few days building an 8′ x 12′ ‘little Green Barn’ at his airstrip.  I explained that I might use it for a week once a year, just to fly up there and sit in a comfortable chair and read an armful of books and enjoy the silence.

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My friend liked the idea right off the bat. The kind of guy who owns a rural grass strip 120 miles from his suburban house and corporate job doesn’t have to be sold on this kind of idea. He already understood that many of us need an oasis in our lives, and it can have great value in preserving your sanity, even if you visit it a thousand times more often in your thoughts than you do in person.

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He made some basic suggestions about putting it out of direct sight near a grove of trees, facing south. He said to make it lockable, but to have windows in it so that kids could look in and see that there wasn’t anything in there worth the effort. Because there is no power at the airstrip, I altered the design so that it could be built on a standard car trailer at an equipped shop, driven to the airstrip and towed into position on it’s pressure treated runners by a tractor. Far easier than building it in place. My friend also requested that I not tell people the exact location.

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He prefers to have met all the people who use his airstrip, even if this introduction was a brief as a handshake a Oshkosh 15 years ago. He has an incredibly good memory for people, which he attributes solely to looking at them in the eye and actually listening to their name when he shakes their hand. In a busy year his airstrip sees two or three hundred take offs and landings, done by 50 or so planes.  All of this happens between May and September. Most of the visits are flyers out for the day who will sleep at home. The handful of flyers stopping by on a cross country flight stay for an hour or two, but are looking for lodging with a shower, a diner and maybe a cold beer. For these reasons, almost no one has stayed in the little barn beside the grove of trees. For most people, a few hours aloft cleanses what life in modern society soils.  The little barn is best suited to those of us that need to soak a long time to remove the stains that are absorbed in a typical life.

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As it turns out I have been back to my favorite airport exactly once in the last decade. I planned on going every year, but didn’t. This said, I still think the place was a big part of my sanity. I looked at the weather there countless times, flight planned the cross country there a dozen times, looked at the picture of the little roof on Google maps, even turned down a great deal on a plane simply because it couldn’t land at the little strip, and thus would be precluded from my many pleasant hours thinking about flying to stay a week at the little green barn. I can honestly say that in 10 years, I never went two weeks without thinking about the place. I have the key to the barn door on my key ring in my pocket.

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When I did visit, the place was the simple refuge I wanted. It’s military surplus cots served well, and were the only furniture other than a card table, an Adirondack chair and a desk chair.  The Colman lantern I left years before was the only light, and a camp stove cooked the coffee and the little I ate.   My friend had installed a tiny wood burning stove, but didn’t need it. There was an old Schwinn single speed bike and directions to a convenience store 7 miles away, but I never went there.

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I got up in the morning at first light and watched the sun rise sitting on the barn’s front steps. I realized that unless I willed otherwise, the whole day would pass without me speaking to, or even seeing another human. No computer, no cell phone, no TV, no land line, not even a radio. Watching the sun set after the first day, I realized that I could string together a number of these days without interruption, and this would be a rare opportunity not to be squandered. Theoretically someone could do something similar in their house in suburbia, but they would essentially be hiding, where I was out, alive, in the full of things.  I had been alone at sea in a small boat out of sight of land, with the opportunity to do this same thing, but that setting requires a high degree of vigilance which keeps the mind occupied. Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.

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I spent a lot of the time reading.  Several years before I had walked around the book cases in the house and filled a milk crate with a mixture of favorites I wanted to read again and classics I had never made the time to. For all my talk about the spirit of being an American, I had never actually read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I tossed it in, and brought the crate to Oshkosh. I met my friend in the booth, and gave him the collection to take out to the airstrip. On my visit, I read the book and concluded that some things were meant to be read in a timeless setting, far from your normal distractions.

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My friend had installed a ‘logbook’ for the barn. It was on a rack on the inside of the door. It looked like a motel guestbook from a black and white movie. In it were about 100 entries from the first seven years of the Barn. Only 5 different people had used the place, and only three entries mentioned a ‘guest’. All of the entries in the log had the plane, the date, the pilot and a section for ‘remarks.’ Most of the entries had a note, often taking about the weather or flight in. This is probably a habit from aircraft logs, but also a reflection that most pilots don’t like to write personal things in public places, even logs that few others will ever see. They may love reading Gann’s words on flight, but the rarely add their own.

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What caught my eye was the 20 or so entries that followed the sign in “Fleet model 10F.” My friend had completely restored this plane for a very wealthy guy he knew, same guy who had stayed at the Barn. ‘Mr Fleet’ was the last guy I would picture retuning many times to a little wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. I had het him before at Oshkosh and was not impressed. Something moving he wrote in the remarks section about his late wife made me feel like a jackass for what I had previously thought about him.

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 One of the entries that included the words ‘ and guest’ after the pilots name had a long, beautiful paragraph written in a woman’s handwriting. It spoke about how quiet it was, and the color of the sky at sunset, and smell of the grass when you laid down in it to stare at the clouds blow by, and how unimportant time seemed on that day.  Although I don’t know her name and will likely never meet her, I have this very strong sense that if she walked past me on the street, I would somehow know it was her.

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…………………….

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If you tell people outside of aviation that “a plane can take you a lot of places”, they most often think of it as some sort of alternative form of a car. What is far harder to explain to them is how a plane is the ideal vehicle to travel to a different state, not a different geographical one, but a different mental state.

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I have tried telling people how you can go flying for the last 30 minutes of the day, stare at the sky in awe, and feel the distinct division between you and the plane fading. As the sun sinks, you can quietly come down the sliding board and roll out on the grass and come to a halt.  I can do this fluidly and gently roll into my front yard. This always gives me the very powerful feeling I have just been somewhere else.

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The timer on the dash may record the exact number of minutes aloft, but it seems untrustworthy. The correct answer seems to be that I have been gone months not minutes, that I have been to a place thousands of miles away not thousands of feet away.  It is just not possible to explain to people that a plane is the only vehicle that can transport you like that.

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I have tried to explain that it is much like looking up from the last page of an incredibly good book, and finding that you are sitting in a chair with a book in your hands, not in the world described by the author’s words. Good writing, really good writing, can give you the impression you have been to and seen things you have not. It can unstick you from your immediate setting and transport you to a different place, or even a different year.

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Planes and flying are the only things I have found in the physical world that have the power to do the same thing with an hour of your life.  Aloft, alone, just you the plane and the sky, and you become detached from the ground. With no radios, there is no connection. Half of your brain is keeping track of the minutes and the navigation, and that half will run the whole experience if you let it. But the other side of your brain, the side that absorbs the entire experience, the part that drinks in everything that the senses provide, is also there. It is this second half of the brain that takes you to places beyond the physical sense.

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If you can get to settings and planes without excess instrumentation and radios, you will relive the first half of your brain from being on full alert. It is exactly the same thing as I thought sitting alone on the steps of the barn:

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 “Sitting alone at the airstrip required no such attention, and thus with the mind off guard duty, the spirit was free to come out and look around, unfettered.”

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In a really simple plane, alone in the sky, when you trust your work and basic flying skills enough to let go of your analytical side, they you can think, see and feel with the other half of your brain in a way that isn’t possible on the ground. You can squint your eyes, and it doesn’t matter what year it is anymore, or where you thought you needed to be.

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Don’t mistake this for being dreamy or not alert; to the contrary, it is the analytical part of you brain that gets absorbed in minutia and misses the situational awareness of the moment. Consider that most great fighter pilots report having no sense of time in dogfights, proof they flew the whole event on the second half of their brain. You can exercise the same effect in a peaceful setting also.

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Writing, planes, simple flight and the second half of your mind can take you many places, locations that are just not accessible by other means.  They can take to both places you need to go, and places you should have been, and maybe even places that should have been.  If you have watched the great Waldo Pepper 50 times, go watch it once more and think about that last sentence.  “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation.*” and Waldo Pepper was not a movie about barnstormers.

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* When confronted by people who dismissed a film by its surface subject, Critic Gene Shalit blurted out “A Streetcar Named Desire was not a film about public transportation”

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.

11 Responses to Little Green Barn story.

  1. Terry Hand says:

    William,

    On a similar note, my wife used to ask me why I would have any desire to get up at 4:30 in the morning and go to my hangar to work on my Pietenpol? I simply told her that when I am in the hangar, I like to refer to it as “my time.” Nothing else matters for those few hours – all that matters is the relationship between me and the airplane I am building.

    A great story. Thanks for resurrecting it.

  2. Thank you. There is a similar place near us. Named one thing on the chart, but we just call it “John’s” (name has been changed to protect the innocent) .

  3. Bob Lester says:

    It’s good to have you back Bill. Your friend Bob Lester

  4. Byron engle says:

    Well put, William.
    Byron

  5. Ken Mercer says:

    Thanks again, William.

    Ken

  6. Linda Pietenpol Kelley says:

    I return to my grandpa Pietenpols little airport nearly every day in my mind, and even though the last time I was there physically was over 30 years ago, even small details remain fresh in my mind. Since I retired, 10 plus years ago, I have had a little studio in my home where I write books, sew, paint and dream up other projects that are often inspired by that original place I felt free to dream.

  7. Dan Branstrom says:

    I really enjoyed the story when you first posted it. It reminded me of all the friendly little airports that I’ve been privileged to stop at.

    The obverse to your story happened to an acquaintance of mine flying low and slow across Texas. His engine started to run rough, and he was pretty sure he knew what the problem was, and he wanted to land as soon as possible and not push his luck if he was wrong. He spotted a beautiful runway, far longer than he needed in the country below him, so he landed after trying to contact anyone by radio. Nobody answered.

    He taxied up to the large, beautiful, hangar and knocked on it to let them know he was going to work on his plane and leave as soon as possible.

    There were two pilots in the hangar, along with a business jet, and they were definitely unfriendly, but let him work on his plane without offering any help. He had the tools and parts with him, fixed the minor problem, and flew away, puzzled at the unfriendly reception.

    My friend later discovered the reason for the unfriendliness. The plane, airport, and hangar were owned by a televangelist who didn’t want his flock to know that he owned a business jet.

  8. Don says:

    Wow. I’m glad I’m not the only one to think like this. I’m truly happy that you are capable of putting it onto paper.

  9. jaksno says:

    Of course, I own the movie, seen many times, too. Been a flight fantasizer since age 7 when my mom and I made a Strombecker solid model of a Cub on floats some 65+ years ago. Only a couple hours of ‘training’ in the ‘actual’ flight world beyond models. I have no problem if anyone stops reading this right now….I get it. But a couple things really stand out to me in this re print and in the replies: 1) The ability to express strongest opinions but retain that right to get smarter, brings with it, for the fortunate, the ability to see and call oneself a ‘jackass’…we just need to laugh and get over it asap in order to grow. 2) Poor, rather than wealthy, televangelist. Anyone who reads the ‘POM’ the same as you would a real estate contract should know perfectly well that comprehensive prosperity, which includes plenty of money just like your house includes plenty of electricity, is promised throughout. Some folks never ‘peel the fruit’, but swallow the rind…they, unfortunately, and those that follow them, are all over the ‘Sporty’s Catalog’….Thanks, William!

  10. dan-o says:

    it is a magic carpet, able to wisk me away from everyday life and into a different dimension. I have always thought it impossible to explain but you have done it.

  11. Marshall Lowry says:

    One of the best things ive read about aviation in a long time… it’s nice to know that some people still get it.

    – Thank you.

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