Just Another Day in Airplane Heaven

FLYING contributor Sam Weigel gets settled into his new home, complete with a private grass airstrip, nestled near the Olympic Mountains.

The first time my wife and I set foot on the 2.3-acre property that would become our home, we immediately knew it was exactly what we were looking for, but it required a little imagination. There was a small, flattish clearing fronting a grassy taxiway, but the rest was overgrown in a dark, brooding bramble. It took some bushwhacking to get the lay of the land. Once we did, I saw the clearing could easily be expanded to accommodate a decent-sized hangar. Up the hill and through the trees was a nice building spot that, with clearing and earthmoving, would accommodate a modest house with a nice overview of the adjacent 2,400-foot private grass strip. I noticed a fine strand of cedars on the southern edge of the wood, and imagined them as viewed from our front door someday. But it was the well-tended strip itself—surrounded by giant firs and gently sloping to a gorgeous view of the Olympic Mountains—that really sold us on the place.

It looked like airplane heaven.


Dawn and I had been living and cruising the Caribbean aboard our 42-foot sailboat, Windbird, for the previous three years. On long passages, we curled up in the cockpit at night, watching phosphorescence stream into the starlit combers sweeping under our stern and listening to the gurgle of water past the hull, and dreamed up our post-sailing life together. It would be centered around general aviation, we determined, but would also include terrestrial adventures like motorcycling, camping, and travel. It would involve a return to the Pacific Northwest, where we lived a decade previously and still missed. We’d get a quiet place in the country, with lots of room for our dog, Piper, to run and roam. We’d take an active role in forging our homestead, getting dirt under our nails and calluses on our hands while building upon some of the more practical skills we had gained in our years at sea.

This morning, almost exactly four years after I first laid eyes on our future home, I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through our bedroom window. It’s another beautiful summer day, with a light breeze just rustling the windsock past the handsome strand of cedars. I get up and put coffee on the stove then step out to the hangar. It’s a bit of a mess, with boxes and detritus from the move still scattered about, but I’m steadily building workbenches and custom shelving and getting things organized. I open the 44-foot hydraulic hangar door and sunshine flows over the Stinson, sitting rather incongruously gift wrapped in painter’s plastic. Last week, I noticed the finishing tape over the left wing spar was lifting and peeling back in two spots, requiring I take those areas down to bare fabric, iron the tape flat, reapply adhesive (Poly-Brush, as my airplane is covered with the Poly-Fiber system), and build the finish back up. Today, I’m spraying Poly-Spray, the silvery UV coating that likes to get everywhere (thus the gift-wrapped Stinson and tarps over everything nearby).

Just another day in airplane heaven.

Our 50-by-60-foot hangar is basically as I envisioned when I first saw the clearing it occupies, except it has an attached 15-by-60-foot, two-bedroom apartment that wasn’t in the original plan. The wooded building site up the hill is still undisturbed. We actually went so far as having an architect draft house plans based on a rustic design I’ve had in my head for years before COVID-19 and runaway construction costs made us choose what we wanted more: a house or hangar. But the apartment has turned out really well—better than I imagined, actually—and I think we’ll be happy to live here for some time. Both my life and career have tended to go in half-decade cycles, and I suspect that in five years or so I’ll start to get the construction itch again. For the moment, it is very well scratched.

The last time I wrote about our progress, in the April 2023/Issue 936 column, we still had bare studs in the apartment and a gaping hole in the front of our hangar. Over the following months, I assembled the hydraulic door with our contractor’s help, hired a drywall company to do Sheetrock and texturing, and painted the place myself. We ordered custom cabinets and quartz countertops, which contractors had installed along with the plank flooring. I installed the tub surround, toilet, and vanity, and did all the electrical and plumbing finish work, including installing the tankless propane hot water heater.

Outside, I trenched in the gas line conduit from the propane tank and drain hoses from the downspouts and catch basins to the county-mandated stormwater dispersion trenches, which were multiday projects in their own right. I used our immensely useful Kubota BX-23S tractor/backhoe (my first brand-new vehicle) to get everything filled and graded nicely, and our concrete contractor poured the apron, stoops, and side patio. I brought in three dump trucks of gravel to build up the driveway and four of topsoil for the yard. Seeding, covering, and watering the new lawn was a major project that is ongoing given the sunny, dry weather. We did all this, by the way, while I flew a full schedule at the airline and Dawn was busy baking and selling her popular dog treats at farmers’ markets around the area.

For three weeks in June and July, we received a huge help in the form of Dawn’s parents, Tom and Marg Schmitz, visiting from South Dakota. Like my own father, Tom is a retired contractor, and Marg is quite handy as well. While I was installing appliances, working outside, finishing odd jobs, and attending to various county inspections, Tom and Marg hung all the interior doors and undertook the herculean job of painting, installing, and caulking trim. I wasn’t even planning on having much trim done before we moved in, but Tom and Marg just about finished it. And then, when I learned that the county required all 4,000 square feet of siding to be stained before final inspection, our friends Brad and Amber Phillips showed up from across the country to help us knock it out in two days.

We moved in at the start of July—initially just for the Fourth of July weekend, to get Piper away from the crazy fireworks in town. We loved being up here so much—and our productivity went up so much—that we stayed for good, occupancy permit be damned. We moved all the furniture from our previous apartment one week later. There was a delay waiting on backed-up state electrical inspectors, but on July 25 we finally had our last county inspection and passed with flying colors. Dawn and I celebrated with an outrageously good glass of Balvenie PortWood 21-year-old Scotch, which I had kept on the shelf unopened for the previous nine months as a little extra motivation. The celebratory Stinson flight is waiting on my fabric repair.

So ended phase one of the project that we dreamed up on those magical starlit passages aboard Windbird and put into motion when we bought an overgrown, brambly piece of airplane heaven. Phase two—next summer’s project—will involve improved landscaping, insulating the hangar, installing a boiler for in-floor heat, and incorporating a standby generator.

A little further down the road we’ll likely install solar panels and incorporate other off-grid improvements. And, yes, at some point we’ll probably want a bit more space to accommodate our far-flung friends from around the country and globe, and we’ll build our little three-bedroom cabin in the woods. When that happens, perhaps we’ll turn the hangar apartment into a fly-in bed-and-breakfast.

For now, we’re simply enjoying living on the strip, taking a breather from our labors, and embarking on some fun adventures while we plan our next moves.

This column first appeared in the October 2023/Issue 942 of FLYING’s print edition.


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