Ricky Harpole 11/20/12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2012

‘Barn Rootin’’ turns up 14-foot prop — good for what?

About six months ago one of my old Arkansas buddies called me.

“I done found a treasure while I was “Barn Rootin’ (rural version of dumpster diving), and you need to take a gander at it.”

All kinds of weird stuff might turn up in a barn in Arkansas. (We once found a wagon with the skeleton of a mule harnessed to it.) He would give me no specifics, so when it was convenient I moseyed on over to make an appraisal.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Knowing the ol’ boy like I did, the artifact could have been anything from shrunken head collection to a steam-powered popcorn machine (or a still). It turned out to be what could have been the airplane that those two old geezers in the 2003 movie “Secondhand Lions” flew into a barn. And the barn looked about the same way the one in the movie did, but that was just because it had been falling down on the already-wrecked plane for about the last 30 or 40 years.

“What did you offer for it” I queried.

“Hell, I already bought it,” he responded.

“For what, and for how much?” I questioned.

“Well, I swapped a half-acre pumpkin patch for it just before Halloween last fall. I was thinking we might free this old motor up and crank it.”

Now, I’ve brought a few old rusty things to life but this prospect was akin to the Second Coming.
The only wiring the rats hadn’t eaten was in metal conduit and the rust had been working on that.

“We can probably free it up,” I said pessimistically.

“And if we do and are lucky enough to find Waco Magneto parts, it would cost a small fortune to get in the shape it would take to get an airworthy certificate on it, and you sure ain’t going to find anything like the plane it came off of to put it on so why bother?” I asked.

“Well, I’d just like to hear it run and go from there,” he stated. “I might just get her cranked every so often just to shut up the coyotes and neighbors and run the ‘skeeters off.”

We wired and sanded and used up a horse trough full of kerosene to soak it in and cussed Wright Engines in general for two or three days and nights, burned up the ‘net for Mag parts and fired her up.

A 650-horsepower Wright Whirlwind engine with a 14-foot fan on it will definitely discourage mosquitoes. What effect it had on neighbors and coyotes I didn’t stick around for.

I fired up ol’ Red and headed to Moccasin Bend to inspect the bullfrog crop.

Last week he called me back.

“What do you know about boats?”

“Well, I engineered a few, why? Did you find a sunk boat in a barn somewhere?”

“Naw, but I want to build me one of them airboats like they use to hunt gators down in Louisiana and put that Whirlwind on it.”

I thought about the answer to that statement.
“How did it work on the ‘skeeters?”

“Just fine,” he replied, “but it was about as thirsty for gasoline as they were for blood so it turned out to be sort of a draw. I gotta get some use out of the damn motor, and all I can think of is a ‘gator boat.”

“You’re breaking up,” I said through the sleeve of my shirt while crackling the wrapper off an old cigarette pack. “Let me get back to you,” I said, and turned off the phone.

I’ve tried to think of alternative plans.

After all, it was once one of my hobbies to round up old VW Beetles and convert them to mud buggies and three-wheel motorcycles.

But those Beetles are hard to find and the prop wash would cause a windshield hazard for anybody fool enough to get close to it. Beware of old barns and what’s in ‘em

Ricky Harpole
(Contact Harpole at www.facebook.com/harpolive or www.colespointrecords.com)