Gaggle of (tin) geese

By DON LEE donlee@sanduskyregis
Don Lee
May 24, 2010

By DON LEE

donlee@sanduskyregister.com

The Ford TriMotor spending the holiday weekend in Sandusky had a long career flying for the precursor of American Airlines, but you don’t have to reach all that far back in memory to find other flying Fords whose stories are rooted deeply in the history of this area.

Island Airlines, which Sandusky airport manager Milton Hersberger started in the 1930s, was based in Port Clinton until Sandusky’s Griffing Flying Service bought it in 1992. Because of its ruggedness and utility, the “Tin Goose” was the airline’s signature plane for decades.

‘Captain Al’

The last of the Island Airlines TriMotors to take to the air was N7584, which crashed in July 1977 at Put-in-Bay when a gust of wind forced it down; three people were hurt and the plane flew again three years later, after a $350,000 rebuilding job. The plane was sold in 1985 to a Cleveland flying service and was sold again that year to pilot Al Chaney. The Hebron, Ohio, man spent the next six years barnstorming the plane around the country, selling rides for $25 a head, $40 for a ride in the copilot’s seat.

“I decided it would be a neat idea if somebody bought that plane and flew it around the country and showed young people what aviation used to be like,” Chaney told the Register at the time.

The 288th and last stop on Chaney’s six-year tour was Griffing Airport in early June 1991; he figured on staying a couple weeks and ended up staying the summer.

That Labor Day weekend, Chaney and N7584 took off from Griffing for the last time and headed west to a prestigious vintage aircraft auction in Santa Monica, Calif.

Kermit Weeks, owner of an air museum in Homestead, Fla., bought the plane for about what Chaney paid for it.

“Captain Al” Chaney died in his sleep in 2005, according to a Web site maintained by his friend and sometime copilot, Arthur Wiggins.

What a gust of wind at Put-in-Bay couldn’t do, Hurricane Andrew did; N7584 was tossed into the side of a hangar and shredded by the 1992 storm that sent jet fighters fleeing north to escape it.

But it’s apparently harder than that to kill a Tin Goose. The wreckage was bundled up and sent to Maurice Hovious, an airplane restorer who, by most accounts, is the man to talk to if you want to talk turkey about the Goose.

In a project whose progress is determined by what Kermit Weeks can afford at the time, N7584 has been sitting in the Vicksburg, Mich., shop of Hovious’ company, Hov-Aire, being put back together by a company of craftspeople.

“It’s going kinda slow,” Hovious said this week. “But it’s fine. ... We’re taking it back to the original airplane, (as) delivered from the factory.” The fuselage