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A Case for Helping a Former Builder

By Scott Knowlton, EAA 413379, EAA Canada Council

September 2021 – Having just sold my house and donated many of my aircraft building tools to a friend who is repairing a damaged wing, this story really hit home. Hope you enjoy it. – Ian Brown, Editor, Bits and Pieces.

I saw the ad in an online marketplace site — “Aircraft Tools and Parts for Sale.” The ad posted pictures of boxes overflowing with tools, instruments, rolled sheet stock, and engines. Intrigued as an active homebuilder always looking to save a little off the retail price of things, I contacted the seller and arranged a time to take a look. The seller turned out to be the neighbour of the fellow who owned this vast collection. She was a pleasant woman who informed me, “He was like a father to me and often invited me and my sons in to his workshop. His wife passed away years ago and he passed on a few weeks ago. His daughter who lives three provinces away asked me to clear out all of his tools and ‘junk’ so she can sell the house.” As I looked over the multiple tool boxes of calipers, clecos, drills, dies, and wrenches, I couldn’t help but reflect on this builder’s years of collecting each one of these very mission specific items and his care and attention in keeping everything in good order and condition. I slowly began to see a little bit of me in him and marvelled at how our building hobby can grow around us and fill our lives. All of his keepsakes were for building airplanes, purchased with hard-earned money and probably at a time where his disposable income left few dollars in his wallet to support his hobby. And here I was in his estate wondering who would come along and snap up this hoard for five cents on the dollar. A sense of foreboding filled me with the desire to talk a little sense into his neighbour about the task she was assigned to do.

My own workshop

“I feel I need to tell you the things in here are not junk. They’re all worth quite a bit of money and someone who knows a little about them should really sort through them and assign a fair value prior to them being sold.” She was receptive and we spoke further on how we could arrange a visit from someone from this deceased fellow’s former EAA chapter. After making some calls, I left the home feeling a little better about the situation, but while driving home it struck me that this very situation probably repeats itself time and time again. Taking my thoughts even closer to home, I reflected on my own growing collection of tools, turnbuckles, instruments, and parts acquired over years of fly-marts, want ads, and the more frequent online sites like Craig’s List and Kijjiji. I expect like many others, the decision to sell any of these treasures may not be mine to make. As we age, we tend to be fond of the many things that made us happy in younger years and like the man whose estate I visited, many of us will not be around to ensure a proper price is paid for our collection. In a world where offspring live in other provinces, states, or countries, the frequent decision is to “dispose” of the estate or more appropriately “liquidate.” This action has some very negative consequences. The family members get little remuneration for the collection their parent saw value in and paid handsomely for. There ends up being little tribute paid to the hobbyist and their tools but furthermore, the former social connections of the builder tend to be forgotten in the liquidation process.

This is not a comfortable subject to contemplate but it doesn’t need to be that way. As EAA chapters, we are an extended family and one of the many things family does is help one another. The honesty and integrity of EAA members is the very culture that is required when dealing with a former member’s “building estate.” The building community is best informed on the value of a rivet squeezer, nicopress, flaring tool, or torch set. They are also infamous “scroungers” and only do so because they know the retail value of just about everything that goes into building an airplane. What a tribute to a former builder it would be to convert their building estate into a fair exchange of funds for their surviving spouse or family. If a chapter is working on a tool library they could offer the family fair payment for a tool or two from the building estate along the way. A chapter may also know of young builders whose funds are scarce. This young audience is the future of EAA and ensuring that they have knowledge of a former member’s tools and parts becoming available would be a great strategy to help them build their shop as we all did when we started — one tool at a time.

I feel a little selfish as I write this because I truly hope this thought has some traction with chapters in my local area over the next 25 years. One day it will be my trove of treasures that someone is sorting through. I hope that my chapter and my local community of builders formalizes a process where they can help my family convert my many years of spending into a valuable return. Furthermore, I hope my tools go to someone who uses them for the same hobby I enjoyed for so many years.

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