Bernard Pietenpol’s shop light.


Pictured below is the most treasured single item in my hangar:  The light which hung over BHP’s work bench, in his shop in Cherry Grove Minnesota. Yes, it’s really the one, you can see it in the old black and white photos on the family website.


It was given to me about 10 years ago by Will Minsink, who has made an exact replica of BHP’s workshop in his hangar in Preston Minnesota. You can see pictures in this story: Cherry Grove story, “The long way home” Will knows I consider BHP to the the “Patron Saint of Homebuilding” and he gave me the light, a very gracious act.



Every homebuilder does it: Before turning in for the night, you pause to take one last look at what you have accomplished with the evening, and then turn off the lights. It’s very easy to imagine Bernard doing this countless times over the decades, with this very light. He lived from 1901-84. Although he turned the light out one last time three and a half decades ago, his reputation as the champion of flight for the working man, his belief that aviation is not a spectator sport, remains undimmed. 


Today is my 57th birthday.  I share the date with my neighbor Wayne. I was born exactly 30 years after him.  I have lived directly across our grass strip from him for nearly 15 years.  We have shared many great moments, and he is a first class human being, particularly on matters where it really counts. He has accomplished a lot in aviation, and he still flies his RV-7A actively. It’s not really logical, but due to our shared birthday and passion for planes, I have long had him as my personal yard stick of what I could or should accomplish in flying before I turn out my own shop light one last time.


This birthday, we are planning on marking the occasion with a little more thought a good time. This is brought on by a very hard cancer diagnosis Wayne got a few weeks ago. He is a tough man with a stoic outlook, and he will go down fighting, but the tone and tense of our conversations are different, as we acknowledge that the number of times he will turn out the lights in his hangar is suddenly finite.


It’s 4 am and I can’t sleep. Too many questions. Will Wayne and I share open beer on our 58th/88th birthday next year? Why do I childishly believe I will get as many days as he has? For all the good things we did in the last 365 days, why did I settle for that little? In 15 years will anyone at the airport feel the way I did about Wayne when I moved here? There are no good answers at this time of night.


I won’t think about those questions in daylight tomorrow, I’m always optimistic in sunshine. But late at night in the coming year, they will come back. On quiet nights I sit on the front porch, sip beer and look out at the grass runway. The questions all return then, familiar, but unwelcome visitors, tolerated company, because I long ago learned that it is the treasured people who can’t stay, and the questions about what you should have done that never leave.





23 Replies to “Bernard Pietenpol’s shop light.”

      1. I’ll carry that mantle. It’s actually pretty easy as you, believe it or not, give far more than you take.

  1. Happy Williamday! I’ll be 77 in 7 days (actually 1/4, but I like those 7’s). Even with a strong conviction of faith, it is too easy to slipeslide into some depression from time to time, especially around Christmas, which should be one big Birthday Party. But those ‘unwelcome visitors’ show up. I found myself seeing ‘half filled glasses’ everywhere this year for various ‘reasons’. Watching Shindler’s List the last 2 days certainly cured my little first world problems., Gratitude and thankfulness for Grace was reborn almost instantly. I don’t share this to ‘showboat’ myself, but just in case it might give anyone else who has/had some regrets dog them this Season. Fair skies. {;^)

  2. Happy Birthday William. Not currently active in Corvairs or my CH650 build (own a Cherokee now) but still enjoy reading all of your blog posts. Sharing your knowledge on the Corvair engine and your philosophies on all matters is very educational. Thanks for all of your contributions to the home-building community. I wish you may more solar orbits.

  3. Happy birthday, William! I turned 79 on December 23rd. Depression can be a most serious condition, but sometimes a small amount of it can make a person think on the three great questions that have driven humankind through the ages: where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going…..? The Big C is a tough thing, and some of us are luckier than others. I have prostate cancer, a rather aggressive one. Surgery failed (surgeon cut a blood vessel and nearly killed me), radiation failed (and you literally haven’t lived until you’ve had a fatalistic Finnish oncologist give you the odds), but hormone therapy has put it into remission. I tell people I am not fighting my cancer, I am tiptoeing past its house trying not to wake it up….. I am now a spectator for aviation due to a pacemaker and a case of vertigo – someone is sending me a message. But I am rooting for the home-building team because you are right – it belongs to the man in the arena…..

  4. Another thought provoking commentary, William. Happy birthday and best wishes for the new year.

    And give Wayne my best too. I knew Wayne when he was with the Fire Department. He gave me some Pitts parts years ago. Had an Aeronca K back in the days. When he first got the K he hit the wing with his hand and could hear all the cardboard gussets rattle against the bottom fabric. Lol
    Wayne had a many different Aeroplanes over the years, PA-20, Cessna 175 that I knew of. Probably more.
    Hope you have a great Birthday William👍

    Dennis McGuire

  6. Happy Birthday William. This past year has been a challenging one for sure but….”the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse”.

  7. Happy birthday William! As a fellow “4am thinker”, it is posts like these that make me appreciate so greatly the contributions you have made to both my aviation life and philosophy of life. I’m grateful to be part of the Corvair movement.

  8. William you may find this hard to believe but I am a praying man and your friend Wayne will defiantly be in my prayers.

  9. Happy Birthday William. Your writing does resonate. Thank you for that. And everything else.

  10. Happy birthday William as you start your 58th orbit of the sun. Wayne starts his 88th orbit and you are there for the journey with him.
    Guess that what makes “star voyagers”.

  11. Happy birthday William. I always enjoy your posts. Occasionally, I can feel a little nostalgic. When I do it is always over the people that I have known and still miss. I wish I could still have more time with them. If it is sunny and over 40 degrees I am outside. As I get older, I become more solar powered. I enjoy the beauty I find in simple elegant things, learning something new or building something. Any of these makes it a good day. Also, just being there for family time.

  12. Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, and Happy New Year William. Please don’t hesitate to post your thoughts. I am inspired and motivated by them.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: