EAA Chapter 25

A Community of Aviation Enthusiasts in the Twin Cities

Member Profile: Norm Tesmar

Filed under: Member Profiles — admin at 2:28 am on Thursday, March 9, 2006

from On Final March 2006

Member Profile: Norm TesmarWe are very fortunate that Norm agreed to be the subject of our interview for this issue. Our chapter was formed 50 years ago this month, and even though Norm was a only a boy then, he brings a wealth of memories (and photos) from those early days of the chapter.

What sparked your interest in flying?
That was my father’s fault. He said I was flying in a Cub before I was born, and from the time I was two months old. He had become involved with flying long before. I have a great photo of him and his little brother standing in front of a Curtis Robin (see below). My dad built a primary glider before WWII. Before he got to fly it, the government confiscated it somehow with the broad powers they were given during the war. I have no idea what use they would have had for a primary glider. My dad also built a beautiful 1/12 scale model of the Ford Tri-Motor, all from scratch. It has a 72� wingspan, and we still have it. But flying was the main thing. As far back as I can remember we were always flying somewhere. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap in the J-3 Cub one winter. We were one of four or five planes flying together up to my grandfather’s farm. I remember that it was so cold in the Cub that when it came time to go back, I refused to get in the plane. My mother and I took the train back instead. Later on, my little brother Larry and I would fly with my dad and Mom would stay home. Larry never got his license, but he still flies with me every year and has become somewhat of an expert on WWI airplanes.

When did you start learning to fly?
Norm Tesmar's father and uncle by a Curtis Robin From the time I was about seven I was allowed to take the controls on different flights. Of course I was too short to reach the rudder pedals, but I handled the stick. When I was older my Dad pointed out a Cessna 150 at the airport. I thought, what is that? I had flown in nothing but tailwheels up until then. So I started flying 150’s at sixteen, when I began formal flight training. My first solo was in a 150 and very uneventful.

Did you go on for more ratings or training? Aerobatics?
No, I loved flying tailwheels for a hobby, but I wasn’t looking to fly as a profession, so I really had no use for the extra ratings. I’ve flown some basic aerobatics such as loops and spins, but never taken formal aerobatic training. I suppose the only job I’ve had connected with professional aviation was restoring aircraft for a while at Aero Restoration. We popped a few award winners out of there. One project I’ll never forget was the Grumman Albatross. We had finished restoring the control surfaces and took it out for a flight over the St. Croix. The owner let me take the controls for about 20 minutes and insisted that I keep the wings below the height of the bluffs. So there I was, banking and turning this thing to follow the curves of the St. Croix River. It was like trying to drive a church.

1/12 scale Ford Tri-Motor by Norm’s dadWhat other types of aircraft have you flown?
Boy. I think I’ve flown just about every tailwheel with an engine between 50 and 108 hp, including Pipers, Cessnas, Taylorcraft, Stinsons, Aeroncas and Luscombes. I’m still looking for a chance to fly a Porterfield, a tandem TCraft, or an Interstate Cadet. I once owned a share in a couple of nosewheels – a Tri-Pacer, then a Cherokee 180. But I saw the light and came back to tailwheels. I bought a Cessna 120 from Jim Ladwig. Later on my cousin Tom Tesmar bought in, and we then took on another partner, Steve Dietz. I would have kept it, but I couldn’t afford to buy out the others at the time they wanted to sell. It is now owned by Roger Bestland at Webster. And of course I’ve been a member of Wally’s Flyers since it was first formed 20 years ago. I’ve always preferred the high-wings, but lowwings are OK too.

How about homebuilts?
Not as many of those. I’ve flown a few Pietenpols, a Davis DA2, and Bert Sisler’s Cygnet. Also a Tailwind, a Hatz, and a homebuilt Waco. Maybe others. I’ve got a project in my garage now waiting for funds. It’s called a Wilderness – high wing taildragger, side by side, tube and fabric with aluminum wings. It has float mounts and lots of room for baggage.

Let’s turn the clock back. What can you tell us about the early days of the EAA?
Bert and George’s Stits Playboy, taken at the Rockford fly-in I believe Kenny Munson had been to the first fly-in in Milwaukee in 1953. He came back and told my dad about it, and he and my mother and Kenny took the train to Milwaukee in 1954. In 1955 my dad bought a new car and we drove down. We went every year after that – I’ve been to 47 in all, so I’ve only missed as few. I believe the fly-in moved to Rockford in 1959. We always had a great time camping down at Rockford. We had a group of families that camped together – my family, Bert Sisler’s, Fritz Davis’s, Jim Ladwig’s, and Stan Grapp’s. With camping, it was so much easier with all the people and gear just to drive down. I only flew into Rockford once, with Fritz Davis’s son Freddie and a friend named Roger in a rented C172.

It seemed to me that the Rockford years really cemented the EAA and propagated the Chapters. Along with that was the camping camaraderie which helped and created many memories, mostly fun and heartwarming, but sometimes tragic. One of the good ones is of a 4:00 AM wake-up by Bert Sisler to deal with an impending storm. The tribes started securing their campsites. I rode with Bert to the other side of the field to find cover for the Stits Playboy. I was probably around 16 (fuzzy math). He had me taxi up and down between the hanger rows while he checked for any hangers open with space. On the last row he found one with enough space for a couple planes. A few more planes showed up, and without owners around, we stood a couple taildraggers on their noses on pails. We got them all in with one plane’s wing sticking partially out of the door.

The Gray Ghost. Fritz Davis, known for his craftsmanship, spent many years on this beautiful PietenpolWhat can you tell us about the early days of Chap. 25?
My dad was a charter member, so we were involved from the very beginning. But I keep going back to Fritz Davis. Our families were close long before then. Fritz flew out of Southport, and we flew out of Crystal. Fritz had an Ercoupe and was building a Piet, and my Dad had a Cub, then a PA12. So the community was already there when people came back from those early EAA fly-ins. Bert Sisler, George Jensen and others starting thinking about forming a chapter, and my dad and Fritz joined with them.

The earliest meetings were at Bert’s home, and my dad would always drag me along. I would have been about 11 at the time. They always passed around a box and collected 25 cents from each member. I always thought that was funny – we wanted to build an airplane, and what could you do with 25 cents? I remember one time I thought I would throw in a little extra, so I put in 40 cents. I saw Fritz counting the money, and scratching his head, and counting it again. I finally told him that I had put in 40 cents and he laughed. He had been checking to make sure everyone gave 25 cents, and it wasn’t coming out even. Five members decided to pool their cash and build an airplane. This was the Stits Playboy. Others eventually lost interest, but Bert and George Jensen pushed on and finished it. I remember working with my dad to fabricate the gas tank for the Stits. Fritz was also a great resource, he knew so much, and people respected him. He worked on that Piet for years, a little at a time, and it was finally finished. Fritz also spent time building up a Tailwind fuselage. I think someone else took it over, but I don’t know who ended up with it.

Wally Carlberg’s first Tailwind won 1st place in the very first AC Spark Plug RallyThe meetings then moved to Wally Hanson’s plumbing shop for a number of years. I remember walking down those rickety old steps into his basement. He had Piet wings hanging from the ceiling, and tailfeathers stashed here and there. Props hanging on the wall. We would sit on buckets turned upside down, maybe with a 2×6 across the top. There were a few chairs. We would get films on homebuilding instruction and show them. We hardly ever missed a meeting. Wally had built a Pietenpol much earlier – there is a picture of it from 1935 in Minnesota Aviation History.

When I was seventeen we started up the first junior chapter in the country. We got a couple of mid-stream projects to build, first a Flutterbug, then a Piet. But everyone soon graduated from high school and went on to other things, so we never completed the projects. I guess that is why the junior chapter idea never really took hold.

Do you remember others involved in the chapter at that time?
Wally, or Pat Carlberg came in a little later. Half of us called him Wally, and half of us called him Pat. Anyway, he was a very nice person and well respected. You felt good just being around him. I remember we visited his home when he was building the first Tailwind. That was a very pretty airplane, and Wally entered it in the very first AC Spark Plug Rally. He won 1st place.

Bill Hansen’s nosewheel TailwindA couple of others were building Tailwinds at the same time. Ralph Moore was building one. Another was a man named Shermerhorn I think, I don’t remember his first name. He built the first 150 hp Tailwind, and would that thing go! His buzz jobs were something else – over 200 mph. There was a group building a number of Tailwinds at the same time – this group included Bill Hansen, Irv Winer and others. This was in the mid sixties.

Dick Gleason was another early member. He was also an early chapter president. He was an A&E down at Southport. I believe he built a Gear Sport, a neat little biplane.

Forrest Lovely with Wally Hanson’s PietForrest Lovely was another one involved in the chapter in those days. He got to know Wally Hanson. There is a great story about his flying Wally’s Pietenpol back East to visit relatives when he was still in high school. You should talk to Forrest to get the details, but I believe he lost a water pump over Ohio and had a forced landing near this little town. The engine on the Piet was from a Ford Model A. The story is that he walked into town, and after asking around, was directed to this factory where they built the parts he needed. He found this guy sweeping up, and asked if someone could help him. The fellow said he could, and knew just where the part was. Turned out this guy was the owner of the factory.

Jim Ladwig also finished a Pietenpol. I got to fly it once. I believe he picked up the project from Ed Sampson, or had him build up the fuselage. Anyway, it is a beautiful Piet – Vi Kapler owns it now. He runs the Piet forums at Oshkosh, and I believe he is building a Model A Piet now.

There were a lot of others I remember flying with in those days. I don’t know how many times we flew up in groups of maybe twelve planes to Balsam Lake, Wisconsin. Those trips were in the winter, and we would land on the lake. My dad owned shares of several planes with Kenny Munson and others. There was the J-3, the PA12, and a Cessna 120. Dick Hardin had a C140 he bought from Kenny Munson – a beautiful airplane. Somebody had a Champ I got some time in. People would switch around and fly each others’ airplanes. You would fly out in one and back in another. Flying on skis is a very special experience. Landing on lakes is fine, but the idea is you are supposed to have some snow. I remember a couple of times trying to fly off of ice, and that is a challenge. It can work if you are direct into the wind, but you don’t have doors like a seaplane to help steer. I remember once just trying to get to the other side of a lake to take off , and it was quite a trick. I was all over the place. Another problem is working around the paved runways. With the skis installed, we would lift up each side and slide a wheel onto the spindle of each ski. As you taxied out, the wheels would tend to walk off the spindle, so you had to keep sliding them back on. Once you got to the snow, you would remove the wheels and leave them right there. That meant that when you returned you had to land at the same place to put the wheels back on.

Earl Wisner was another member. He was an instructor in shoemaking and repair at the Minneapolis vo-tech school. He built a Little Toot, and Bert Sisler test flew it for him. In the interview with Bert, I think you had my dad building the Little Toot, but that was Earl. He also owned a number of other airplanes, including a Swift.

Ray Brown is another one people might forget to mention. He was the fuel manager for Charles Lindberg when he made the flight from New York to Paris. After he moved to Minnesota, he built a variation on the Tailwind with V-struts and a 65 hp engine. It was very economical – I believe it was a plans-built Daphne.

Lee Hurry’s “Hurry Sport�Lee Hurry is a current member who was very active in those days as well. Of course he did that beautiful restoration of the Fairchild with the souped up Ranger engine. I remember all the grief he took from the FAA getting that plane certified with all the special mods. I remember the Fairchild at Rockford one year when Lee flew it down.

When Lee was building the Hurry Sport, he would come up to my dad’s for chromoly steel for fittings. Lee was also very involved with the restoration of the Cub that Wally Carlberg started. Wally suffered from Leukemia those last years, and Lee made sure the Cub was completed and that Wally got a chance to fly it while he was still able. Lee was instrumental in arranging the Cub Club, getting everything set up. People were debating what to call the club, should it be Pat’s Flyers? We finally decided to go with Wally’s Flyers, because we thought Whiskey Fox would sound better than Papa Fox when calling out the tail number. I’ve served as president of Wally’s Flyers for eleven of the twenty years.

Jim Mayer is another current member who was also active in those days. He later built a PL4, and flew it to Oshkosh in 1983.

Ron Zimmerman is another name from those years. He built a T18. Another was Jerry Shallbetter, a very good friend of my father’s. He built a PJ-260, an open cockpit biplane. He also had a Beech Travel Air and an antique sailplane.Do you have a favorite aircraft?
I love them all – its hard to pick a favorite. One memorable ship I’ve flown recently is Dale Johnson & Greg Cardinal’s Pietenpol. Chris Bobka called me up and asked if I wanted some time on it. He wanted help flying off the required 40 hours so he could take it to Brodhead. So I flew a couple of 1½ hour stints. It flys great, and with those big wheels and that skid, it is easier to land than a Cub. I had to do a couple figure eights to get use to the skid, but it works great. Another memorable one is Dick Bylands 1939 J-3 Cub which almost squeaks of too perfect. It’s front seat entry is rough because of the wheel pants.

Least favorite?
No, not really. Although I always kid Peter Denny about the Tomahawk.

Have you flown Young Eagles?
Yes, I’m up to around 120 now. Most all of them have been in the J-3 Cub, with a few in a Cessna 120 and a few in a Luscombe. It is always rewarding to see the excitement on the kids’ faces when they get their first flight.

Happiness is—A great day flying! It was Ch 25’s 40th anniversaryMost memorable flights?
I really wouldn’t know where to start. I love the grass strip fly-ins most of all. I have dozens of great memories. One of my favorite fly-ins is a private airport four miles east of Mondovi Wisconsin – Log Cabin airport owned by Doug Ward. We’ve had some great times there. Another is Jewel Ness’s Cherry Grove airpark, south of Wanamingo, Minnesota. His fly-ins always have a unique kind of carnival atmosphere. Lots of fun. I’ll never forget the time a Cessna 172 failed to clear the corn at the end of the strip. He was trying to take off, and kept full power in when he hit the corn. His prop created a trail of silage halfway across the field before he finally gave up. Another favorite is Brown’s Farm, southwest of Starbuck, Minnesota. It has kind of a golf course quality, well groomed and very serene.

Any future plans?
Well, I would like to do some work on the Wilderness when I can work out the funds. And of course I’ll continue flying the J-3. This summer, I’m also hoping to get some time in a Stearman!

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