For The Love Of The Plane

Gander's Carl Clouter took a 65-year-old plane and made it fly

By Brian Scott, Transcontinental Community Newspapers

(from The Packet, Clarenville, NL, Monday, August 14, 2006, section A, page 15-16; transcribed, with permission, by James Butler, 2006. Website posting with permission from the editor of the Gander Beacon)

Only a fool would waste hundreds and hundreds of hours renovating a 65-year-old plane. And why would a man want to do something like that anyway?

Just ask Carl Clouter.

The world is full of cynics. But in 2004, despite the skeptics, Clouter bought a 1939 Stinson 105 - had it trucked down from Nova Scotia on a flatbed truck in three big pieces with a collection of other smaller pieces inside - and never let anyone tell him it would never get off the ground.

For the better part of two years, the colourful Clouter, never one to hold back to say what he's really thinking, worked on that plane at the hanger near Deadman's Pond.

"I would say I've got 18 consecutive months working on this airplane, every damn day, eight hours a vay, and sometimes 10 hours a day," he says.

Now, with fingernails worn down to the nub and a thinner wallet in his back pocket, the old fuselage and wings that arrived in Gander at the hanger that day has finally became (sic) a plane for the second time.

Two years ago, while flipping through the pages of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) magazine, Clouter saw a for-sale listing for a disassembled 1939 Stinson 105 located in Clementsville County, N.S.

The plane belonged to Doug Potter, an auto body mechanic, welder, bush pilot and plane enthusiast with 30 years flying experience.

"So I called him," Clouter says matter-0f-factly. "He had it sold to an older gentleman in Saskatchewan, but the gentleman didn't pick it up, so he called me back and said it was still available and I purchased the thing.

"The guy happens to be an expatriate Newfoundlander and he was coming down here to go caribou hunting, so he brought it down for an extra $500 on a trailer and delivered it to me."

Restoration project

The plane was in reasonably good shape, according to Potter. He said the fuselage and the wings were in relatively good condition. The airframe, itself, wasn't too bad. It was just the fabric that was gone and ripped off in places.

"It was a good restoration project," says Potter. "There was no doubt about that. It wasn't like you had only 10 per cent of a part and had to build the other 90 per cent.

"The plane was pretty much complete - everything except the engine."

Still, Clouter had his work cut out for him. It was no trouble to see the aircraft sat idle and inactive for years when he found a bird's nest inside one of the wings.

He recalls how when the rebuilding process began, everything had to be stripped down, rejuvenated, sandblasted, primed, repainted, replaced, rebuilt, manufactured and all put back together again.

And whatever was rusted had to be cut out and replaced.

"The only thing there now from what I bought would be the metal structure and the wood," he says.

"The tail is all new. There's not much really there from what I had. All the fabric has been changed, all the glass is changed, all the wiring is changed, it has a different motor - it never had a motor (when bought) - all these kind of things. The interior is all new.

"The frame itself is there and the wings are pretty intact, other than what I had to repaint and redo."

Not bad for a plane be bought for spare parts.

Clouter, also owns a 1948 Stinson. So if nothing else, at least the older plane could have been a scrap heap for the Stinson he already owned.

"But when I started picking it all apart and looking at the ting, I thought, 'You know, this darn fuselage, th e main core of the airplane, is too good not to rebuild and that's when I went from there.

"I had to rebuild it. I wanted to put the thing back together."


A new treasure

It's as good an example as any of the old maxim: one man's junk is another man's treasure.

"It needed a humongous amount of work," he says. "Yeah, I'd think you can call it junk."

But it wasn't exactly a piece of junk to Potter. He bought the plane in the mid-90s from an elderly man, Randall Pittman, near Stellarton, N.S., who last flew it in the 1970s.

Pittman had taken it to a repair facility for maintenance about 30 years ago, but it became damaged during a severe winter storm and hurricane-force winds. He had planned to rebuild it but it sat idle in his barn. Then one day, Potter mentioned to Pittman he'd like to buy it and rebuild it.

Some years later, he received a phone call from Pittman asking if he was still interested.

Like Clouter, Potter had full intentions of restoring the plane. But, after spending the previous five years restoring another aircraft, it was something he was sure he could do, but not sure if he could finish.

Besides, it's not that east trying to find parts to fit a poane built during the Second World War.

"It's kind of one of those things that even though I could do it and I've done it before ...  I simply hadn't gotten around to doing it," says Potter.

"I basically didn't ding a window of opportunity to start this plane because if I started it, I wanted to finish it. And oftentimes with restoration projects, whether it be the airplanes or antique cars or houses for that matter, you have to realize the work that's involved and be committed to finishing the job.

"I just didn't have the money, basically, to put into the plane at the time."

Ask Clouter, and he won't blame his new friend for not wanting to build another plane.

"It's a major, major undertaking, man. I don't know if I'd do it again, to tell you the truth ... but it'd have to be a unique airplane to tackle that again."

Second World War

To call this plane unique would be a gross understatement.

The Stinson 105 was a unique plane than and Clouter's new and improved version is arguably even more unique now.

Potter recalled how his brother looked up the history of the plane a few years back.

"Apparently, that airplane was one of 26, if I remember correctly, Stinson 105s that were onboard a ship overseas to France when France fell to the Germans in the Second World War," he explains.

"They turned the ship around, came back to Halifax and those 26 airplanes were used as trainers. And to my knowledge, there's only one other of those planes left and I think that's in a museum in Manitoba."

The plane was used in the four-hour, Second World War-based series (italics) Above and Beyond (end italics), filmed in part in Gander. What makes the aircraft even more unique are the new configurations Clouter made to it.

Clouter is a prospector. A plane would be of little use to him unless it could land on water, So, before he could make that Stinson fly, he made it float.

"That's what I do," he said. "I land on water and I prospect and things like that, and this airplane would have been no good to me otherwise. It would have been a museum piece on wheels, actually, from a functional point of view.

"The old engine was 75-horsepower. This one is 160-horsepower. The engine itself would make it much better. The addition of the float kit, itself, of course, makes it unique. I can go land on water now. That's the only major changes in what the airplane was and what it is now.

"Everything is a little stronger in it now," he adds. "When I put wood back into it, I went a little heavier to make it somewhat stronger. The fabric is much better than what it used to be. We use a polyfibre now and in the old days it had cotton on it, like a bed sheet, a linen, so we've got much better fabrics and lighter, to a degree."

And now that it's done, once all the red tape is cut, paperwork filled out and federal regulations met,. Clouter will be off to Yellowknife where, he said, it'll probably end up in a museum someday.

"I didn't build it to sell it. I don't do that. I built it to fly it."

'Flying again'

Pittman is still living in Stellarton, says Potter. In fact, the two gentlemen still keep in touch from time to time and Potter says he plans to see him soon to give him a couple tires for an old car he is refurbishing.

and he's sure to keep Pittman up-to-date on the new life of that old Stinson.

"He actually said to me when I bought it, 'I hope I live to see the day that that airplane's flying again.'

"And I know Carl well enough that Carl's a swell guy and if there's anyway that they can get together, I'm sure that he'll allow Randall to fly the plane."

The Beacon