Bob Gwinn jokes that being at work makes his neck hurt.
That's perfectly reasonable, given that his Allstate Insurance office faces the Lake in the Hills Airport, where he spends a good part of each day straining to watch the planes cruise by his office windows.
As of this year, one of those eye-catching planes parked at the airport is his own, a 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer that he found on a farm.
Gwinn and his restored Tri-Pacer, painted an aesthetic aquamarine shade called Bahama Blue, are the first in a series of pilots and planes based at Lake in the Hills Airport that Lake in the Hills Patch will highlight.
Read on to learn more about Gwinn's search for the plane, its treacherous trip to Lake in the Hills and its restoration, where a team discovered the Tri-Pacer housed not only an eye-catching gyroscope but also a half dozen mice.
The Plane: A four-seater, 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer
The Owner and Pilot: Bob Gwinn, 51, Lake Zurich
Plane name: "Barrie Alice" -- Gwinn named the plane after his wife, Barrie, and his mother, Mary Alice.
Plane colors: White and Bahama Blue.
How Gwinn found the plane: Craigslist. Gwinn found the plane on a Craigslist post for Southern Illinois. He paid $10,000 for the Piper.
Why he wanted the plane: Aside from wanting to own a plane for business reasons, as his Allstate Insurance franchise is starting to sell aviation insurance, Gwinn tells this story: "When I was 2 to 11, I flew with my dad in Southern California in planes just like this. I lost my dad when I was 11, and my mom, too; My dad by cancer and my mom had a heart attack. I flew all the time with my dad, and I have such fond memories. For me, this plane is part of living my dream."
The plane's treacherous first trip to Lake in the Hills: The Tri-Pacer had been flown from a family farm to the nearest airport in Shelbyville in Southern Illinois. Gwinn flew down with a team of aviation experts from the Lake in the Hills Airport. It was early January and about four degrees. Contrary to what they were told, the hangar had no heat, so friend and fellow pilot Ted Steffens used a hair dryer to defrost the plane.
"I had to do it carefully because I didn't want to burn the plane," Steffens said.
Gwinn also had with him an independent contractor, Jason Kalemba, who would fly the plane back to Lake in the Hills Airport. But in Shelbyville, he and the others discovered the plane had no brakes.
"It was scary," Kalemba said of the flight. "I turned it toward the runway and kept going."
The plane had no heat, and Kalemba had no gloves, but he had worn thermal underwear and a snowsuit and made it through the ride without frostbite. That ride would normally take about 40 minutes in a modern plane. For Kalemba, it took two hours.
"Everybody was so quiet," said Gwinn, of waiting for Kalemba and the plane to arrive in Lake in the Hills. "We didn't know if he had crashed or what. Then, when we saw the plane, we just started high-fiving."
The restoration: A team of mechanics and avionics experts based at Lake in the Hills Airport worked on Gwinn's Piper for several months after its arrival in the village. The team included Jim Finefield, of Finefield Aviation, who inspected every part of the plane to make sure it was up to safety standards. Normally, Finefield said, planes must be inspected every year. Finefield discovered the plane, which was sitting on a family farm, hadn't been inspected for a decade.
While inspecting the plane and giving many of its parts a makeover, Finefield found six mice, including two in the left belly, as well as a mouse nest. In addition to Finefield, Mike Voltl of Mobile Avionics and Matt Saban of Custom Mechanical Services were also integral to the restoration, which Gwinn said was his favorite part of purchasing the aircraft because he could run over to the hangar from his offices and see the plane's progress.
The plane now has new tires and brakes, a Garmin for GPS and is up to federal safety standards.
Most unique part of the plane: The gyroscope, which indicates the level of the plane, features a tiny white miniature inside that will tilt from side to side.
What Gwinn loves about flying: "The thought of being able to look up infinitely and look down and see things you would never be able to see on the ground."