CENTERVILLE, Ind. – The airplane parts strewn beside the Warm Glow factory don't look like much to some.
But Alan Carberry sees beauty. The beauty of the DC-3 as a shining whole. The beauty of the DC-3's history as an aviation staple. And the beauty of the DC-3 as it fits his dream.
That's why he struggles to understand why someone would break into the factory property and take metal parts for the airplane. But that's exactly what happened between 11:30 p.m. March 18 and 5 a.m. March 19, when a tank and pieces of the wings and tail were stolen.
"I never would have thought somebody would come and steal some parts," said Carberry, who's had the disassembled DC-3 for about five years. "It's just sad they would want parts just for scrap."
Ironically, Carberry bought the DC-3 that was built in 1939 and flown in World War II to save it from the scrap yard. And to fulfill a vision for the aviation buff, who was smitten with planes as a child.
Carberry's father, Walter, flew with the Army Air Corps during World War II, and he continued to receive aviation magazines when Carberry was a young boy in the 1950s.
"I enjoyed looking at the pictures," said Carberry, who also fondly remembers the family eating ice cream and watching planes land and take off at the local airport. "I've always loved airplanes. I think my dad leads me toward it because he always had magazines."
A young Carberry learned about Art Lacey and his Bomber gas station in Milwaukie, Oregon. In 1947, Lacey bought a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and put it above his gas pumps.
"That always stuck with me," Carberry said. "I thought that would be so cool to do."
The dream took root in Carberry's imagination. Until recently, the plane above the pumps always was a B-17 bomber for Carberry, who years ago flew in a B-17 that was touring the Midwest.
Now, though, it's the DC-3 his friend pointed him toward five years ago on eBay; the one Carberry bought for $15,000, tore apart and hauled home from Allentown, Pa., in pieces over five weekends.
"It's not a B-17, but it's still World War II," said Carberry, who now has volumes of books about DC-3s. "I can't afford a B-17, but I thought I could do something with a DC-3."
Carberry has created his airport-inspired gas station in his mind. He sees airport runway lights leading vehicles along the driveways, which are painted with numbers like runways. He sees a convenience store looking like a hangar and filled with parts from airplanes. He sees a slanted canopy painted like a runway above his gas pumps, making the DC-3 look like it's coming in for a landing. He even sees a glider above the convenience store, with a tow rope connecting the glider to the DC-3.
The station would occupy the same Interstate 70 exit as Warm Glow and offer travelers one more reason to exit the interstate. However, "the dream may be shaboomed," Carberry said.
While the Carberrys — Alan and his wife, Jackie — commissioned a survey and report to see if the business could be profitable, the couple concentrated on Warm Glow's expansion first. Now, start-up costs exceeding $1 million and competition could keep the gas station from becoming a reality.
Carberry said land has been purchased for another gas station at the exit, meaning his would be the third in the area.
"I'm not 100 percent sure the idea of a gas station is killed," he said. "We have a dilemma: What exactly we're going to do with this thing."
He did explore donating the DC-3 to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The museum, though, already has 11 DC-3s and declined his offer.
Turning the DC-3 into a museum piece still could happen. If he finds a museum that could use the DC-3 as a static display — returning it to flying condition would be cost prohibitive — he would donate it.
Carberry, though, just might display the plane off I-70, yet. It could be put back together and set out as an attraction. There's also a photo in one of his books that shows a DC-3 functioning as a very large weather vane at Whitehorse International Airport in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.
"That would be a possibility," he said.
Carberrys offer reward
Jackie and Alan Carberry are offering a reward for the return of DC-3 airplane parts stolen from the Warm Glow factory between 11:30 p.m. March 18 and 5 a.m. March 19. Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call (765) 855-5483.
In an advertisement of the reward, the Carberrys write, "Jackie and Alan Carberry own a WWII DC-3 plane that was used as a cargo plane during the war. In hopes to keep and restore this great piece of history, the plane has resided at the Warm Glow factory. It is with great disappointment that they have learned that someone has stolen pieces of this irreplaceable history."
The DC-3, nicknamed the Gooney Bird, is a fixed-wing, propeller-driven airplane that was produced by the Douglas Air Company from 1935 until 1942. Military C-47 derivatives were built until the end of World War II in 1945.
The DC-3 revolutionized passenger air travel, said Alan Carberry, because its range and air speed made carrying passengers profitable.
During the war, C-47s served as troop and cargo transport planes, according to a fact sheet from National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The planes also could tow gliders, drop paratroopers into enemy territory and evacuate sick or wounded personnel.
After the war, C-47s could be converted into DC-3s for use in carrying passengers. Some DC-3s continue in service, Carberry said.
Carberry said his DC-3 was manufactured in 1939 and served in World War II.
He found it for sale on eBay about five years ago. It was located in Allentown, Pa., after it was acquired to be restored and put into a museum. When backing for the museum fell through, the plane was offered on eBay. If it hadn't been sold, it would have been scrapped.
"I drove by it to see it, and it was beautiful," Carberry said. "I hated to see it go to a scrap yard."
Carberry bought it for $15,000 but was given just 30 days to transport the plane back to Centerville. On five weekends, he and friends dismantled the plane and hauled the pieces. To transport the fuselage, Carberry had to add 15 feet to his trailer and take the cap off the back of his pickup.
Bomber gas station
In 1947, Art Lacey created the inspiration for Alan Carberry's dream. That's when Lacey bought a surplus B-17 bomber and put it above the gas pumps at his gas station on South East McLoughlin Boulevard in Milwaukie, Ore.
Of course, it wasn't quite that easy.
According to a Feb. 18 article in the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., Lacey, spurred by a $5 bet he couldn't use a bomber as a canopy, bought a B-17 from a scrap yard. He took it for a test flight by himself although flying a B-17 was a two-person job. When he couldn't make the landing gear work, he crash-landed the plane, wrecking it and another B-17 on the runway.
The wrecked planes were written off as wind damage and Lacey chose another. This time he enlisted friends to help him fly it home.
Lacey's gas station eventually grew to 48 pumps, a restaurant and a small hotel. The gas pumps of the independent station closed in 1991.
The B-17 recently was taken from its post and is being restored to flying condition by the B-17 Alliance Group. The article says fewer than 15 B-17s remain able to fly.
Carberry said a B-17 in flying condition recently sold for more than $3 million.
Story, video and photo gallery: http://www.pal-item.com