2 years ago

Alabama vintage airplane restorer enjoys taking it to new heights

Like many children growing up, Conrad Reed liked to tinker with model cars and airplanes.

But while most have given up the childhood hobby, at age 68, Reed has yet to quit. He just works on the real things now.

“I don’t fish, and I don’t play golf,” says Reed, a senior real estate specialist for Alabama Power Company at Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama. “This is my hobby.”

“This,” right now, means a red 2000 Corvette and a 1975 Gentleman Jack GMC pickup. But those are just the vehicles with four wheels. The real centerpieces in Reed’s backyard hangars are three airplanes, just the latest in a line of planes that Reed has bought, refurbished and flown.

It all started in earnest a little more than 40 years ago, when a 26-year-old Reed was working for a crop-dusting business at the Centre Municipal Airport.

“I didn’t fly at that time,” Reed says. “I was taking in the jobs, mixing the chemicals and stuff like that. But when I was working with the flying service, one of the gentlemen had a Cessna 150, which is a pretty good trainer, and he knew how bad I wanted to fly. He told me if I would buy the gas, I could fly his airplane. I did that, and I got my license.”

In 1978, Reed bought his first airplane, a 1946 Cessna 140, a single engine two-seater.

What followed was several decades of a high-flying hobby. While owning an auto parts store, retiring and then starting a second career with Alabama Power, Reed was buying and restoring vintage planes, often flying them at “fly-ins” – gatherings for airplane aficionados – in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

All told, there have been eight of them, including several models used in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

A Stearman biplane, which Reed bought in 1983, was his first military airplane. It was used to train pilots in World War II.

“This was a PT-17, meaning primary trainer,” he says. “This was the first plane these guys got to fly. After World War II, crop-dusters started putting big engines on these biplanes. This one had the 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine on it, which was more than twice the horsepower these airplanes originally came with.”

Reed bought the plane from an insurance company after a Mississippi pilot wrecked it on the runway. “It took me nine years to restore this plane,” he says. “It didn’t take that long to do the work; it just took me that long to do it without borrowing money to work on it. When I got it done, it was paid for.”

Early on, Reed bought a Cessna L-19 Birddog, a Korean War-era plane (Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was shuttled from site to site in one).

“It was a wreck when I got it,” Reed says. “It had wing damage, tail-surface damage and the fuselage had nearly been cut in two in an accident. I bought it as a project and worked on it for about a year to get it going.”

He kept the Stearman, though, and its power caught the eye of another Stearman owner at one of the fly-ins.

“With the big engine it was really impressive, and I showed out a little at the air show,” Reed recalls. That caught the attention of a man who also had a Stearman, but with the original engine and not the souped-up Pratt & Whitney.

“The Pratt & Whitney was burning about 25 gallons of fuel per hour, so it was really getting in my pocketbook pretty good,” Reed says. “His plane had the original stock engine on it, and it burned about 12-13 gallons an hour. It was the same plane, just a different engine, and he didn’t know how bad I wanted his. I really wanted that airplane, because it was such an original plane and a great one to maintain and keep. The guy I bought it from, all he saw was that big engine, and I came out real well. This was a 100 percent original.”

Reed kept that second Stearman until about a year ago, when he sold it and bought another Cessna L-19, which had been used as a forward air command plane in Korea and Vietnam. “I restored the original Air Force colors and markings,” he says.

So now, Reed has the second L-19, a Citabria he bought in 2011 and another project, a four-passenger Cessna 172. They are housed (along with the Corvette, a 1969 GTO and the 1975 GMC Gentleman Jim) in two hangars in his backyard, where he keeps a roomful of airplane and car parts, fabric and paint. It’s all next to the small landing strip Reed uses when he flies.

He and his wife, Ruth, have lived on 60 acres of land in Centre since 1989. They have three grown sons who didn’t totally inherit their dad’s love of airplanes but did help him with his restorations through the years.

“I’m very proud of him for what he does,” Ruth Reed says of her husband. “I used to fly with him a good bit, but I kind of lost interest. He just does his thing now.”

The landing strip is just outside the house, so when Reed flies, his wife knows. She says the Stearman with the big engine used to rattle the dishes in their cabinets.

“I sure can’t sneak off,” he says with a laugh.

How often does he fly?

“Not near enough,” Reed says. “Maybe two or three times a month. I mow my runway more than I fly.”

When he does fly, they’re short flights, usually around nearby Weiss Lake or over the state line to visit fellow enthusiasts in Georgia. He’ll give rides to people from time to time, but insurance is too expensive to do that with any frequency.

Reed is a careful flier, so he hasn’t had any close calls while in the cockpit.

“I watch the weather closely, and I can see a thunderstorm and be back home before it ever catches me,” he says. “I don’t travel that far, so I don’t have problems.”

Reed uses just the basic instruments when he pilots a plane. “I’m more of a seat-of-the-pants-type flier than an electronics flier,” he says. “Some of these planes, you can get up and press a button and take a nap. I’m not one of those pilots. I like to see where I’m going. If my engine quits, which it won’t, I like to know where I can land nearby.”

Reed continues to go to car shows, air shows and fly-ins and enjoys the pilots he’s met, some through his membership in the Experimental Aircraft Association. “It’s a great community,” he says. “I’ll fly into their airstrips, and they’ll come visit me, too.”

The plan now is to sell his Citabria and Cessna 172, keeping the L-19 to continue flying.

The pilot is quick to say he hasn’t gotten rich off his airplanes – parts are expensive, and it can take years to restore one.

“I don’t do it for the money,” Reed says. “When you spend that much time on something, you don’t make any money if you value your time at all.”

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95