Bits and Pieces
The Oshkosh Irregulars: A Quirky Group
By Ian Brown, Editor - Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159
So once again, we were called like lemmings to the greatest aviation event in the world. Having been transported to Green Bay by very good friends, Michel and Judy Thibaudeau, in their A36 Bonanza and dropped off in Camp Scholler, all that remained was to find ourselves a camping spot.
Being a bit naive about the high value of real estate at the Paul's Park section of Camp Scholler, my friend J. Davis and I had been lugging our camping gear around, looking for a few square feet to pitch our tents. Eventually we came across what looked like a likely spot and exhaustedly dropped our stuff.
A friendly chap came over and let us know that just where we had planned to camp was in fact the parking space for three vehicles. We subsequently learned that each paid-for site has the right to 20 feet by 30 feet, and we were about to take someone's spot.
There has been a rich history of ad hoc social groups forming at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Many of these groups have been meeting for years, and the annual migration includes folks getting there early, staking out and paying for their sites, and delivering barbecues and such.
A "big bear of a man" as others have apparently called him, held a beer as he came over and said, "Just pitch your tents here, right up against my trailer. There's enough room." This was our introduction to Rick Marquardt, founder and sometime King of the Oshkosh Irregulars, a witty, jovial, and unlikely bunch of reprobates from all corners of the globe. Rick was a B-52 pilot and has been coming to Oshkosh for 43 years.
Rick Marquardt and his coat of many patches
The Oshkosh Irregulars have been in existence for 29 years, started by Rick and two of his friends. Some of them arrive early and set up a large awning to form a large communal dining/supping area. They consist of Americans, Brits, Canadians, and people from Australia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sweden, Germany, and all corners of the globe, and they come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Rick has been welcoming strays like us ever since. Their site is identified with flags from the UK, United States, and England (there is a difference), and a "tribal icon" indicating their love of spaghetti and flying.
Flying spaghetti pot
The communal area is equipped with an electrical system driven by a generator and battery charger, and they string 110-volt lights which they run through an inverter so that it's quiet in the evening but bright enough that the inmates can work hard at doing nothing much more than having fun.
Membership of this august crew (well, it runs into August) costs a rib, produced in the woodworking forum. The annual dues are a whopping $0 although that has been increasing yearly, sometimes having massive percentage increases voted at the Thursday night dinner and annual general meeting.
Impending changes in the weather caused us to leave before their meeting, but we were promised to be inducted in absentia, having provided the requisite rib. Mine was spotted with blood. I was trying to remove the staples and stuck myself in the finger with a borrowed pocketknife. Hopefully the blood was worth an extra few points. As I told them, "I bled for you."
Rick told us that his favourite winter pastime is salvaging badly finished ribs in his wet-bar-equipped basement while watching TV. Apparently he gets quite a few in that category, including mine.
Although the Irregulars started out as a group of three males, members of all ages and genders are welcome as long as they chip in to the endless supply of refreshing beverages.
Several delightful children were there along with their moms and dads. There were four long-standing members from England including Robert Lees, owner of the UK-based Taylorcraft Air Force (he owns three of them), who liked "an beer" now and again. He joined the group over 20 years ago, having been picked up near Chicago hitchhiking with a sign that just said one word - "Oshkosh."
Without commenting on where he was going, the driver, a chap called Henry who hailed from New York, just kept on going until he arrived at the base camp of the Irregulars. Robert has been coming ever since. As he says, "I do have to go home once a year."
One of the other Englishmen is an aircraft maintenance engineer. Your author begs forgiveness for not remembering all of their names. The refreshing beverages probably had something to do with that.
What is the plan for all of those ribs? Well, this wacky bunch of fliers plans to build a "swing wing, supersonic ultralight biplane" although they haven't yet found a willing test pilot, hence the delays in completing the project.
There was another excellently written article by Mark Sletten in 2006 regarding the Oshkosh Irregulars. If you get a chance to drop in on this quirky bunch of aviators next year, just look for the people next to the Flying Spaghetti Bowl sign, sitting underneath flags of several nations and always with a refreshing beverage nearby. It won't cost you an arm and a leg to stop and say hello, but it could cost you a rib.