A Special East Coast Journey

EAA Aviation Museum curator Ben Page and I were gathering our thoughts in my office after a long trip to Montana to collect some items for the museum. Ron Connolly, EAA museum and education director, came in to congratulate us and discuss the details. Then he said, “I have another one for you.” As tired as I was, as he started talking about the airplane in question I felt somewhat recharged.

Ron gave me the name and number for the woman donating an airplane that needed to be picked up in Rhode Island. The moment I called and connected with Joan and Ted, I was immediately energized. I felt like I could go right then to get it. Of course that wasn’t the case. We needed to coordinate, plan, and then start driving. I knew I was going to need some specialized help on this, so I reached out to Tracy Noack. Tracy owns a Fly Baby and has a great deal of knowledge on the type.

After making some rental reservations, Tracy and I were off. It would be a multiday drive from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Jamestown, Rhode Island. The first day we made it as far as Port Clinton, Ohio. Early the next morning with fog still hanging low we woke and departed the hotel to grab breakfast at the Tin Goose Diner. Attached to the Liberty Aviation Museum, this airport dinner serves up some great food and reminded us of the 1940s and ’50s with its art deco decor.

As we departed Port Clinton we needed to make a fuel stop and saw a beautiful grass airstrip nearby. We took a lap through and discovered our good friend Ed working there in his hangar. Day two would see us make it all the way to the eastern side of Pennsylvania. Close enough to make this Pittsburgh native homesick. Day three would take us to New York and place us right in the heart of New York City, but we ended the day in New Jersey. Early the next morning we made it to Joan’s beautiful home in Rhode Island.

We were met by Joan Morrison and Hedley Davidson or, as we call him, “Ted”. As soon as we met them, I just felt a special bond. The aircraft we were picking up was a Bowers Fly Baby that Howard Morrison and Ted built. Howard had died a few months prior to our trip to get the plane, but the EAA Aviation Museum is where he had wanted it to go. We talked as we walked down to the garage where the plane was, and the moment I saw it I was blown away. The craftsmanship was second to none. Sitting there sporting its yellow, orange, and black paint, it reminded me of a vintage Ferrari more than an airplane.

As Ted and Tracy began to plan for the move, Joan and I went over paperwork. Then we started to hear stories of Howard. The travels that he and Joan had been on. The adventures he and Ted had building the plane. I felt a little bit like Howard was there overseeing all of us. After much planning, careful work, and some creativity, the plane was loaded. It was now time to make the long drive home. Except I found it tough to say goodbye to Joan and Ted. In just a short time they felt like long-lost friends. Funny how airplanes can bring people together.

As we walked up the driveway we had an emotional goodbye. Ted and I exchanged a smile, and I knew that this trip was well worth it. It was special to know that we were preserving this story for our museum and for Howard, Joan, and Ted. Tracy jumped in the truck, and for the next two days we made careful use of time, stopping to check cargo and re-secure the straps. As Rhode Island got smaller in the rearview mirror, my heart grew warmer thinking of my friends in Jamestown. And how excited they would be when we re-assembled this beautiful piece of work in our museum. This past week we did just that, and once again we connected with our friends.

I encourage anyone visiting the museum to swing by our special Fly Baby. Did this airplane cross the Atlantic or fly secret missions? No, but it is special nonetheless. It is Howard’s. And the aircraft brought many people together to share in joyous adventures, and it will continue to honor his memory, and keep it preserved, along with his airplane, in our museum. That makes it one special airplane in my eyes, and I hope it does in yours as well.

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