BANDON, ORE. — From the outside, Bandon Aviation appears to be a standard-looking warehouse sitting on a small airstrip, its only distinguishing characteristics the building’s blue exterior and basic block-lettered awning.
But inside are enough characters and interesting craftsmanship to land the next restoration reality television show.
The craftsmanship comes in the form of the repair and restoration of vintage airplanes of all varieties. The characters incarnate are the Crook brothers, Wayne and Brady, and their right-hand man, Guy Guernsey. Up for debate is which carries more originality — the work done there or the coverall-clad crew making the planes pretty and operable.
What’s certain is that aviation runs in their blood.
As young boys under the tutelage of their father, Frank Crook, Wayne and Brady Crook lived and breathed the world of airplanes. Their dad started and ran the airplane maintenance shop dubbed “Frank’s Flight Service” — what’s now Bandon Aviation. Crook, who died in 2007, was big on recovering old insurance wrecks and giving flying lessons to anyone who asked.
“It was a great little rural aviation maintenance shop,” said Bandon resident and businessman Larry Hardin, who has used its restoration services for years and got his instrument and multi-engine ratings from Crook. “They did then and still do everything you could imagine to airplanes.”
Fellow customer Frank Burris concurs.
“They grew up with airplanes. Their dad was around when they were built. He worked hard for them to get the best kind of understanding and training on them,” Burris recounted. “That’s what they did as kids — that’s all they’ve known is airplanes and so they know what to look for when it comes to repairs.”
As a maintenance facility, Bandon Aviation does engine re-builds, paint jobs and still offers flight training. It rents its space from the Bandon Aero Club and sits on 7 acres of the state-owned airport.
Upon entrance, paint fumes hang heavy amid the spare airplane parts, like rudders, wheel cowlings and ailerons. Catalogs line the walls of what’s Brady Crook’s office, while various gauges and airplane pieces strew the premises. Aircraft posters, vintage and otherwise, hang throughout the shop.
Currently a 1953 Cessna 180 sits center stage masked up and primed for the bright red paint Wayne Crook is readying himself to apply on its side and belly, underneath the shade of burgundy that’s adorning the top.
“My job is taking a plane that is all beat up and making it a beautiful piece of machinery again,” Crook said. “I’ve had opportunities to work in the corporate world but I’m doing something I love and making money at it — that’s pretty good.”
Crook recalled weekends growing up in Myrtle Point waxing planes with his older brothers Brady and Tom — a task his dad Frank assigned them. The family moved to Bandon in 1974.
“He lived and breathed aviation,” Crook said. “And he trained us well.
“I never knew anything else. The longer I was down here in the shop I would start doing painting and you do something you’re good at and you want to do it more.”
While Wayne specializes in re-builds and painting, Brady excels with his sheet metal work, and so does Guernsey, who also takes care of the operation’s day-to-day business affairs and keeps up on the Federal Aviation Administration standards. The eldest Crook brother, Tom, is a world-class transport pilot who flies high-end clients around the world in an executive configured Boeing 767.
“We complement each other well,” Wayne Crook said.
Visitors to the shop are frequent and run the gamut, from golfers flying in from the valley and tourists hankering for a bowl of clam chowder on the coast to members of the Bandon Aero Club and the likes of Hardin and Burris and others needing maintenance on their expensive toys. Overall, it’s a tight-knit group with the fever to fly. Upon entering, they’re always heartily greeted by the shop’s mascot, black labrador Jake.
Brady Crook — the middle of the two brothers — who as a kid, Guernsey looked up to as a mentor, is also the shop’s source of comic relief. He recalled an inadvertent visit by Rick Harrison of the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.” Harrison, who owns properties in the area, stumbled upon the shop while waiting for the arrival of family members at the airport.
“I said to him, ‘Hey, you look like Rick Harrison from that TV show,'” the charismatic Crook said, recalling Harrison shaking his head.
“He’s a great BSer,” Guernsey said. “He told Rick, ‘I know you’re famous but if you want to be really big, you want to follow me.’ Brady just has a charisma and a personality when dealing with people.”
The “adopted brother,” Guernsey grew up south of Coos Bay, learned to fly from Frank Crook in his teens and said his work is something that he just “kinda happened into and now has been doing his whole working career.” He re-entered the picture two years ago after working as a chief inspector at a large aviation repair facility in Boise, Idaho, for 12 years. Drawn back to his friends, the prospect of working in a small shop again and the place where he first learned to fly, he brought clients as far away as Reno, Las Vegas, Seattle and Sun Valley.
“My dad had always said about Guy, ‘We should have hired him when we had the chance,'” Wayne Crook recalled. “To see his sheet metal work, I get excited. It’s a piece of artwork.”
“He’s a technical expert on the airplanes,” Hardin said, who houses his Cessna 180, WWII Trainer NA50, Korean spotter plane (Bird Dog) and a BE18 twin engine plane in two adjacent hangars by the shop.
“What’s neat about all of them is that they learned most of their maintenance skills in an era that required attention on those kind of airplanes. It’s just a real delight to have these guys and know they pay so much attention to detail,” Hardin said.
Burris, a Gold Beach resident, said that he wouldn’t take his plane anywhere else.
“They are one of the only shops around that can do major modifications on landing gear,” Burris said. “That’s a pretty major thing for a tiny airport mechanic place. They’re just a wonderful group of mechanics. Their attention to detail — they see things other people wouldn’t see. They’re remarkable for the type of work they do.”
Just retired as the Bandon Aero Club’s long-time president, Bob Thrush said the shop is well-known all over the aviation community. Thrush just handed the gavel to Guernsey as the club’s new president and sees a bright future for both.
But despite the growth, Guernsey still wants to keep the shop small enough to stay full of fun, quality workmanship and a love of flying, which he says “gives a third dimension to life.”
“I’d like to say that if my kid wanted to become an airplane mechanic, this shop — this business would be around for another 50 years,” Guernsey said. “You know you’re never gonna get rich doing it but it’s a place like ‘Cheers’ — a mellow shop just like Frank’s — where everybody is friends.”