This story was sent in by Andy Heins and Susan Theodorelos, in Dayton, Ohio. Andy runs the National Waco Club.
In late May of 2006, I received a call from Mr. Bob Cardin, caretaker of the famous P-38 "Glacier Girl", owned by the late Roy Shoffner. Bob expalined that the Shoffner family had a 1931 Waco RNF that they wanted to sell and could I help them in selling the aircraft.
Once the Waco was in Dayton, we proceeded to go through it since it had sat for many years on display. A few minor issues but nothing serious. We took the RNF to the NWC Reunion and actually had it all summer taking it to gatherings with a huge "For Sale" sign on it. During the course of the summer we were then informed a second RNF existed and was partially restored. I asked Bob for the details about the condition of the airplane, engine, etc. He advised that the airplane was in Florida at Jim Kimball's shop, had been there about 10-12 years, and that he would have to get me details.
About a week passed and I received a call. The wings and tail surfaces were covered with Stits and finished. The engine was a "0" time overhaul of a 145 Warner. Most of the sheetmetal was made, new flying wires, new prop. Basically all it needed was the fuselage finished. I then asked what the registration number was on this project and was told NC863V. Not thinking anything about this, I then casually mentioned to my wife Susan (who owns and flies RNF NC663Y) that Bob had called back with the information. As I relayed it to her I mentioned the NC number.
"Oh my gosh" she exclaimed!
"What" I asked?
"That is the RNF in the photos with mine given to us by the original owners family!"
I quickly found the photos the family of H. Leslie Jones had provided us when we were researching history on Susan's RNF. Sure enough, there was NC863V in the photos with NC663Y. Both had been based in Ft. McCavitt, Texas from the early 1930's until just prior to WWII. This small town in Texas is truly in the middle of nowhere and H. Leslie Jones lived on a 1000+ acre ranch, was a bachelor his entire life, and was known for his Waco bi-plane and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. NC863V was owned by a friend of his and the two frequently flew around together terrorizing the sagebrush and mesquite. How cool would it be to have them both flying together again 75+ years later?
At this point, I figured my life was about to change. "How much do they want for it" she asked quickly?
"No idea" I responded as they wanted me to price it for them. About all I could say was it would be cheaper than the airplane we already were trying to sell for them. I called Bob back and explained the scenario followed by an offer to pass on to the family.
Several months went by without much happening when I received a call from Bob. "I just spoke to Jay Shoffner, Executor of the estate and he said they would accept the offer!" I couldn't hang up the phone quick enough. I called Susan and said "Do you still want the other RNF? They have accepted the offer!"
With absolutely no hesitation I heard a resounding "YES"! Arrangements were made with the family and with Jim Kimball for us to fly down commercially, rent a truck, and haul it home.
All went well with the loading of the RNF and Jim was nothing but helpful and cordial during the whole process of the invasion by the Yankees. We arrived in Dayton in good shape with no damage and unloaded the airplane at our house as I thought I would get more work done there in the detached garage versus a cold hangar (this was December 2006). Needless to say, the winter was an exceptionally cold one and little was accomplished so by late spring, we decided to move it all to our airport. We had already decided to rework some of the work that had already been done on the fuselage as we wanted to go back to the original style mechanical throttle brakes that Susan's RNF has versus the hydraulic heel brakes that had been partially installed. This necessitated all new floorboards, manufacturing the throttle brake levers and cabling system, reworking of the rudder pedals, plus a host of other things.
As any restorer knows, life has a way of getting in the way of projects. We had issues with the engine on Susan's flying RNF so we removed her engine and installed the "0" time engine from NC863V. We then found that during May to October we were too busy flying and attending fly-ins while trying to keep her RNF and my 1935 Waco YKC-S Cabin flyable, consequently nothing was getting accomplished on the project. We then had a setback about a year ago when fitting the center section to the fuselage we found that we did not follow procedure correctly (cabanes attach to center section first, then to fuselage) and while removing it, the entire center section fell backwards into the rear cockpit and damaged the trailing edge as well as the rear cockpit fairing. That smart move took the wind out of my sails for a year.
Finally, last July Susan said lets either finish it or sell it....and that her vote was to finish it. We began in earnest and started with the damaged center section. Nothing was broken, just bent. We were able to cut an inspection hole in the bottom and make a series of wooden dowels cut to specific shape in order to pound out the dent. We also were able to remove the finish down to bare fabric and then to iron all the wrinkles out. Good as new!
The assembly process went well with a lot of help from friends and then we found a huge issue. Once assembled, the right hand flying wires fit and the left hand flying wires were way too loose. A whole bunch more measuring and we found that the left upper wing was 3" aft of the right upper wing. In otherwords the upper wing was twisted. Not good. More measuring followed as well as pouring over the Waco drawings for the cabane struts and calling other RNF/INF owners about their cabane struts. The facts were revealed.....the cabane struts were incorrect in how they were welded together (an obvious repair at some point).
Needless to say, the airplane had to be disassembled again, cabane struts cut apart and re-welded, then the whole thing reassembled for another trial fit. This time the whole process went twice as fast. Everything fell into place as it should and it rigged quite nicely, actually better than Susan's which flies hands-off. The airplane is now disassembled again, everything marked and labled, and is ready for the interior panels to be installed and then covered. We hope to get to that in the next month or so. The engine we removed from Susan's is currently out for a teardown inspection and a NOS exhaust system has just been purchased. We hope to have it flying within a year.
Andy Heins/Susan Theodorelos