Just plane fun
BELLECHESTER — When young, Don Benrud had big dreams of flying the world or becoming an aeronautical engineer to design planes.
Except for time in the military in World War II, however, he has lived his life within a mile of where he was born, in rural Bellechester. He's moved twice, a half mile each time.
His dreams remained big, and he's continuing to add to the list of things he's done, all the time living within that one mile.
He's now 84, a retired farmer who served in the Pacific in World War II when he wasn't allowed to fly because of poor eyesight. He farmed on his family's land for more than a half century, had a remodeling business, designed additions to a church, bought and/or restored 314 old radios, owned two Model T-Fords as well as some horse-drawn buggies, partially restored five old airplanes and is building pews for a small rural Goodhue County church.
Benrud is not much for new things.
"It's more fun to restore the old," he said. "There's the joy of doing it."
The center of his passion, however, is flying.
When he was 4 or 5, a barnstorming airplane flew low between his barn and house and he thought of becoming an aeronautical engineer or flying an airplane.
"Flying, it's a bug that bit me," he said.
Because of poor eyes, he would only fly at small airports around the area when he returned from the service.
Something else happened to him when he was young — he saw an ad in the back of a magazine telling about five airplanes — a Stinson, Pietenpol, Aeronca, Rearwin and Taylorcraft.
"I said someday I'm going to own all of those airplanes," he said.
Some dreams take time.
He was able to locate the first four airplanes and restore them, but he lacked the Taylorcraft and thought he would never have that one.
Fate flew in to help. Three years ago, he was flying near Potsdam with his granddaughter, Paige Flaherty, when he saw the frame of a Taylorcraft on the ground. That's all it was, the frame. He bought it and went to work sanding down and repainting the frame, buying a new propeller, engine, instruments and landing gear, making new wooden doors and putting in a new floor.
Now, Benrud is happy. He has his fifth airplane. He's ready to sell it, though it's not complete (if he completes it and sells it, he's legally liable if something goes wrong). The plane is being stored in an old shed.
He has no idea how many hours he's put into the planes, nor does he care.
"Hours? You don't keep track of hours," he said. "It's just the fun of it."
That dream has come true and he's happy.
But he's not ready to quit dreaming.
He heard of an effort to restore a small, wooden church in the area and volunteered to make the pews and other wooden items for it. Most of them are done.
Like his other work and hobbies, Benrud, the man who has moved a whole mile in his lifetime, said he does it because he has keep active.
"Just moving on," he said.