Thursday, December 04, 2014

Jasper, Oregon: It’s plane to see ... Tim Talen is devoted to restoring vintage aircraft

Tim Talen was inducted into the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s banquet in Wisconsin. Talen is an aircraft restoration master who has been restoring aircraft for most of his life. 
(Brian Davies/The Register-Guard) 

JASPER — “Restore” is a verb meaning to “bring back.”

Tim Talen is a talented man who has been bringing vintage airplanes back to life for almost four decades.

He is also singular: Name one other Oregonian who is a member of the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame.

You can’t, because he’s the only one.

Talen, 69, spends most of his days here at his home, a relocated airport hangar, five miles east of Springfield, on a ridge overlooking the Willamette River.

This is where, with paint fumes lingering in the air, beauties of a bygone era are brought back to their former glory by a man who would rather do nothing else.

“Tim introduced me to a new world — the world of antique aviation,” says Hal Skinner of Springfield, for whom Talen restored a World War II-era Interstate Cadet in the mid-1980s.

“He is very good at what he does. Everything he builds is an award-winner. The guy changes lives, besides building airplanes, by opening up a world to people who never knew that it was there before.”

That’s why, earlier this year, Skinner nominated Talen for one of the five halls of fame overseen by the Oshkosh, Wis.-based Experimental Aircraft Association.

On Nov. 13, Talen was inducted, making him the 30th person nationwide inducted into the Vintage Aircraft Association’s Hall of Fame since its inception in 1993.

“I was very, very surprised,” says Talen, who lives with his wife, Marian, in the second-floor apartment that was crafted inside the airplane hangar he bought in 1981 for $2,000 at the old Springfield airport. It cost more than that ($2,500) to move it here, says Talen, founder of the Oregon Antique & Classic Aircraft Club and founding director of the Oregon Aviation Historical Society, both based in Cottage Grove.

An air traffic controller in Vietnam during the war, Talen later earned a master’s degree in history and taught grade school for awhile. His expertise in vintage airplane restoration officially began in Chico, Calif., in 1976. That’s when he gave up a job at Chico Aviation, where he made about $4 an hour, doing fabric and wood work on old planes.

“I’ll start my own business and charge $8 an hour,” he thought.

And the Ragwood Refactory, the name he still calls his enterprise, was born.

In 1977, he moved it to Cottage Grove, and then he and Marian, a master gardener as well as a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield and a pilot herself, bought the property here in 1981 and got everything up and running three years later.

But to decipher where this all began, you have to go back further — to 1927.

That was the year Charles Lindbergh — and his single-engine, single-seat monoplane called The Spirit of St. Louis — became the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.

That feat so impressed fellow Minnesotan Herb Talen, an 11-year-old farm boy, that he and his friends decided to build their own airplane. If only they’d had an engine, it might have worked.

After his parents moved to Washington in the 1930s, Herb Talen learned to fly a floatplane on Seattle’s Lake Union before joining the Navy during World War II. He was stationed in Pasco, Wash., where he trained Navy pilots.

Tim Talen was born on Sept. 12, 1945, 10 days after Gen. Douglas MacArthur stood on the U.S.S. Missouri in Toyko Bay and accepted Japan’s surrender.

He took his first airplane ride in a Piper J-3 Cub at age 3 or 4 over the Tri-Cities area.

Later, when they moved to Tacoma, Herb Talen bought a four-seat Stinson plane that the family flew cross-country more than once; Tim’s mother, Hope, still alive today at 94 in a Seattle area nursing home, and older siblings John and Gretchen, often rode along.

On Tim Talen’s 16th birthday, instead of getting a driver’s license, he got an hour of instruction in an Aeronca Champ, paid for by his father. Talen had begun flying himself, with his father, at age 15. After 35 minutes with an instructor in Auburn, Wash., he was allowed to make his first solo flight.

In 1966, father and son built a plane together, a 1966 Corben Baby Ace that still sits in Tim Talen’s hangar, along with many other planes and plane parts.

Talen’s daughter, Ariel Talen-Keller of Anchorage, was also bitten by the flying bug. A graduate of the University of Oregon, she is the founder of Aero Femme, a nonprofit organization that encourages women to become involved in aviation.

After a tour of his workshop — where the spruce wings of a 1947 Aeronca Champ are being covered in Dacron by assistant Kyle Bushman, and Talen’s beloved 1928 Stearman C3B fuselage awaits more work — Talen opens the door into a vast storage area. The cold air hits your face in the darkened, warehouse-like space where decades-old, rusted bicycles hang from the rafters.

“And through here is where we collect it all,” Talen says. “It’s like walking into a museum or something. Wings and structures and more airplanes and just stuff everywhere.”

There are nine of those Interstate Cadets in here, including the 1941 blue-and-gold one that is one of his most prized possessions, an award-winner at West Coast air shows.

“This is the world’s largest collection of Interstate planes,” Talen says.

About 320 of the planes were produced in 1941 and 1942 by the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Corp. in El Segundo, Calif.

Talen has restored 14 Cadets, most recently refurbishing one for Matt Northway, a retired Eugene Water & Electric Board manager.

Northway’s plane was originally blue and yellow, like the one in Talen’s hangar, but is now cream and orange. He keeps it at the Creswell airport with his other plane, a 1946 Commonwealth Skyranger.

Talen found the fuselage in Wyoming years ago, Northway says.

This past summer at the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, it won a Bronze Age (1937-41) runner-up award in the “closed cockpit monoplane” division, Northway says.

“It speaks to the quality of craftsmanship that Tim and his crew put out,” Northway says. “Tim is good at recapturing and reproducing that golden age of air flight.”

Talen charges $40 an hour, and it takes about 1,000 hours to restore an Interstate Cadet, he says. That equals $40,000 for the labor, and the parts boost the cost beyond that, Talen says.

For lovers of vintage aircraft, it’s worth it.

One of Talen’s long-term projects is the covered fuselage in his workshop of a 1928 Stearman C3B, a plane used to deliver U.S. mail between Great Falls, Mont., and Salt Lake City.

Talen lifts the cover to reveal the meticulous stenciling of the words “National Parks U.S. Mail” on the gray metal.

The project began like many do for Talen, with old plane parts he bought years ago at an estate sale in Montana — in this case, the tail surfaces that he would later discover were from a ‘28 Stearman. “I didn’t even know what I had,” Talen says. Through research he found the fuselage and other parts.

When finished (he’s been working on it for 14 years), this gem could be worth $100,000-$150,000, Talen says.

He plans to sell it as a “package deal” with property he owns in Boulder, Mont., where he has another airplane hangar.

Will he ever retire?

“Well, one of the great things about finding a passion in life is you don’t have to retire,” Talen says. “You never get your fill of passion. The cup is never full. I’ll keep restoring old airplanes as long as I can.”

Story and photo:

Tim Talen’s hangar, which doubles as his home, was purchased, dismantled and hauled to his rural property after its life at an airfield in Springfield.
 (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard)

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