TROY — World War II veteran Glenn Thomas’ face lit up as he recalled spending hours high up in the air inside the cockpit of the 1934 Waco UMF-3 he helped restore in the late 1950s.
Alongside Waco enthusiasts John Schilling and Pete Heins, Thomas, 90, of Dayton, shared his side of the restoration story when he stopped in to visit the airplane at the museum on Jan. 9.
“Who polished it all up?” he quipped, as he looked over the plane’s red wings and shiny metal propeller.
Thomas shared how he and the late Harold Johnson spent more than four years restoring the shiny red 1934 Waco UMF-3 in an old barn at the south Dayton airport. Thomas said he believed the pair got the plane licensed for flight around 1960.
“It was a fun project. We had more sightseers in that barn. One Sunday, we were trying to work on it and we had 75 visitors,” he said.
Part of Thomas’ role of the restoration process included forging the wheel bearings by hand and lots of trips up north to Troy for parts.
“The nice part of it (was) that Waco still had a parts department. Waco had a janitor up here who knew everything about the airplanes — he was the biggest help to us,” Thomas said. “He worked there for years, so if we wanted to know something about them, we just talked to him. He knew what he was talking about.”
The duo was searching for an older airplane to work on and learn to fly in the mid to late 1950s. In the beginning, they were looking for another type of plane, a Laird, but instead found an old Waco for sale down south.
“A guy had this one in Tennessee and we called him. He had been in jail for bootlegging with airplanes,” Thomas shared. “The only reason he had this one was because it was wrecked and they couldn’t connect it to the bootlegging. So when he got out of jail, that’s the only thing he had left.”
A total of 18 Waco UMF-3 plans were produced from 1934-35 and sold new for $6,530. Thomas and Johnson bought the 1934 Waco plane from the bootlegger for $300 to $400 and brought it back to the barn.
“It had been sitting outside for quite awhile — I think he was in jail for five to six years,” Thomas said.
Today, the aircraft is safely stored inside the Waco Historical Society’s museum along with several artifacts and vintage aircraft memorabilia on loan from the late Harold Johnson’s family.
“You don’t do these overnight,” joked Thomas. “The nice thing was when it was done, it was a good flying airplane.”
Thomas said when the plane was restored to its former glory, it didn’t stay parked for very long between Thomas and Johnson. In a testament to their restoration skills, the plane logged more than 14,000 hours of flight time — more than any Waco plane in existence. The plane was most notably was flown over Kings Island Amusement Park for seven years. Johnson, who also served as the city of Moraine’s mayor for 14 years, played the part of Snoopy during the park’s “Snoopy and the Red Baron” flight show.
“It’s an easy airplane to fly — a real good airplane to fly,” he shared. “I think I could still fly it.”
When Thomas wasn’t flying, he was busy co-owning the Treasure Island Supper Club in Moraine. The restaurant houses Thomas’ handiwork, which can be found on the tables, bar tops and woodwork throughout the building.
For more information about the Waco Historical Society and its programs, visit www.wacoairmuseum.org.
Reach Melanie Yingst at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Troydailiynews