Hutchinson man recognized for 50 years of airline maintenance
By PATRICIA BUSCHETTE
Curt Anderson of Hutchinson grew up on a farm in North Dakota. And while he speaks of memories of the livestock and garden, hogs, chickens, dogs, donkeys, and horses, it isn’t farming that he remembers most from his days on the farm.
“I was about 15 or 16 years old when I became interested in the Piper J-3 cub owned by a neighbor who did aerial spraying. He taught me about airplane engines,” Curt explained. “I learned how to fly when I was a sophomore in high school. I was 16 when I soloed. I went back to it a couple or three times – it was expensive. (Flying) didn’t do anything for me.”
When he graduated from high school in 1967, Curt went to an aviation mechanical school operated out of the Fargo airport. He obtained an Airframe and Powerplant Certificate, and worked for aerial sprayers as a mechanic. His studies continued at Moorhead State University where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in purchasing management.
Curt’s life’s experiences took a detour when he went into the Army in 1971, stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and served as a Medical Corpsman.
After being discharged, he was back in the skies again, figuratively speaking, this time doing maintenance on airmail aircraft. His employer, an air mail contractor out of Fargo used planes with the same engine used in the aerial applicator planes, and he was familiar with the Pratt & Whitney R-985-25 9-cylinder engine.
“This was a highly scheduled operation,” Curt explained as connections had to be made five nights a week. “Planes met mail trucks at nine different airports. Mail came into Fargo where it was sorted and then flown on to Minneapolis. We were flying first class mail, and the planes had to be on time.”
“The company had financial problems, and in 1974 I was recruited by a Beechcraft Cessna dealership in Fargo as a manager of their service and repair operation. We sold new airplanes like a car dealership, and we provided flight instruction, charter work, air taxi, then did aircraft maintenance overhaul, and painting.”
It doesn’t take long to realize that Curt’s interest and contributions are unlimited. While working at Cessna he transferred from the Minnesota National Guard to North Dakota National Guard and served in a fighter unit in NORAD (North Dakota Aerospace Defense Command).
In 1979, he left Beechcraft Cessna, and his interest in mechanics of air flight was directed to the development of his own company in Fargo. “I started leasing and selling aircraft tow tractors – I got into the tractor business. It has always been a hobby. In my business, I would buy military surplus aircraft tow tractors, refurbish, and sell them. In the process, I farmed out some of the work to contractors to do sandblasting, painting, work on transmissions, and I put it all together and made it work.” Curt worked on at least 35 tractors for various small operators, and small airlines.
Through some trading, he had equipment used for snow removal, that was a part-time job. “Since we had the equipment,” he explained, “we did construction in summertime. When I quit in 1984, we were running a couple of pieces of equipment on snow removal. We were diversified, so the cash flow was good. We cleaned parking lots, and had commercial accounts.”
Curt’s career in aircraft maintenance was only beginning.
“In June 1984, I went to work for Northwest Airlines,” he said. “I started as an aircraft mechanic and did that for three years. I was asked to be foreman and run my own crew for two more years.” In a restructuring process, Northwest Airlines determined that all foreman were managers. This was not always easy as Curt was soon to learn. “When you get a large group of people together, everybody has their own idea. It is like ballroom dancing; two steps forward and two back. One day my boss’s boss called and asked if I would like to take the role of tool and equipment analyst.” Curt explained that this involved aircraft structural repair.
This became complicated when the 1986 merger with Republic meant that the number of planes to be checked and repaired was nearly doubled.
Curt proved to be someone who could easily adapt to technology, and he came to appreciate the expertise that Republic brought to the merger. In a program called Scepter, industry executives and those analyzing and doing the actual repair, could track parts and their maintenance history. “The Scepter maintenance program tracked everything; components, air frame time. Work history on parts was all done electronically. It still is a great system.”
Airline maintenance was not the only skill that Curt brought to the airline industry. He was a member of the Northwest Airlines Corporation Communications Advisor Board, wrote “Tool News” for Aircraft Major Maintenance in Minneapolis, and wrote articles for AMT Magazine on tool management. He was recruited by “Ground Support Magazine” to become editor of a magazine published by Endeavor Business Media in 2009.
Curt had accumulated machinery, including a Bobcat and excavator, and maintained a job outside the airline industry. “I did lawn leveling, footings, deck footings, garage footings, retaining walls – whatever people wanted.”
“At times there was a lot of pressure with my airline industry work, but when I left the airport, I changed clothes, got on the Bobcat,” Curt said, “I forgot about the mess at the airport. That is what kept me going.”
Curt became aware of a group of flight attendants who ran a Habitat for Humanity program. One of the group told of finishing up the lawn work at one of the project houses, using a shovel. “Why are you using a shovel?” Curt asked. “Because that’s all we’ve got,” his colleague said. Soon Curt was at the house where he leveled, regraded, and set up retaining walls. He worked on four houses for NWA Habitat for Humanity, installing retaining walls, sidewalks, lawns, and anything that needed to be done.
The Habitat for Humanity effort was an important part of Northwest Airlines culture. At that time, Richard Anderson, CEO of NW Airlines, and his deputy, would make a cameo appearance on the site. The effort was fun, he said, “You were giving back when you helped. They didn’t have a lot. When we turned the keys over to them, it was a big deal.”
However, a new focus formed from his longtime appreciation for tractor power.
By now, Curt had become an antique tractor enthusiast, and the income from his jobs gave him the resources to buy antique tractors. “I bought them all over the country; from Idaho, Kansas Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and South Dakota.” The first ag tractor was delivered to Pioneer Power Show grounds in Le Sueur. “I would go out weekends and tinker. Mostly it was maintenance, I didn’t buy junk. I bought tractors in pretty decent operating condition,” he explained.
The Orange Spectacular is held at the Hutchinson fairgrounds. This show is sponsored by the Upper Midwest Allis Chalmers Club, an organization of about 500 members, and has held the show in Hutchinson for the past 30 years. Curt has been a member of the group for 20 years. He was a member of the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club from 2000-2018, and a member of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Assn. for 25 years.
The Upper Midwest Allis Chalmers Club has one building on the fairgrounds for equipment storage. Construction of a second storage building will begin this month. Curt’s current collection is 16 pieces. “My equipment is stored 3 miles northwest of the fairgrounds on a local farm.”
Curt’s experience in writing industry news for the airline industry translated into articles over the years for Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club and Old Allis News. His experience in restoration of vintage equipment provided valuable insight.
Curt was acknowledged for his expertise and 50 years in airline maintenance by Delta Airlines as they nominated him for the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award. “50 years of dedicated service in aviation safety, awarded by the Department of Transportation federal aviation administration. According to the FAA, the award is named in honor of Mr. Charles Taylor, the first aviation mechanic and powered flight, and recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior mechanics. Mr. Taylor served as the Wright brothers mechanic, and is credited with designing and building the engine for their first successful aircraft. The award, dated July 23, 2019, was celebrated in Atlanta, Georgia, as well is in Minnesota.
Curt retired in 2019, and he and his wife Sandy moved to Hutchinson. Their home is a few yards from a corn field and brings Curt back to his early days growing up on a farm, his interest in engines and equipment, and his desire to get out of the busy Metropolitan life.
From life on a farm in North Dakota, through a career in airplane maintenance, and back again to vintage farm equipment, Curt Anderson continues to experience life to the fullest.