FROM CLOUDS TO CARS
At age 80, Francis N. "Bud" Stangel hasn't slowed down.
"He's happiest when he's busy. He never stops," says friend Mick Courtney.
Stangel is the well-known local bush pilot with a remarkable 39,000 flying hours in the mountains and canyons of Northeast Oregon.
"Bud can do everything with that Super Cub that you can with a helicopter, except fly it backwards, and I'm not sure he can't do that," Courtney claims the late sheriff Guy Davis often said.
Stangel was a farmer in Condon when he came to Enterprise to buy farm land. "We wanted something we could kick a window out of and do as we please," he said.
The year 1958 matched the population number on the sign at the edge of town when he, his wife, Margaret, and three children moved here.
"He showed up here after we came here," Bud says about their fourth child, Dick. Now Bud has 13 grandchildren.
In 1958, if anyone had told him that he would be flying his own airplane and have an airport, he would have told them they were crazy, he said.
Initially he farmed by day, raising wheat, barley and cattle, and in the off season and at night he repaired his equipment. Then to help make ends meet he began repairing other people's equipment.
His son, Joe, recalls being in bed at night and seeing through the bedroom window the reflection from his dad welding machinery in the shop.
Stangel never had any training in mechanics. He learned by working on his own vehicle and equipment. "Bud would tell his children, Â‘If somebody else built it, you can figure out how to make it work,'" Joe said.
People agree with Courtney that "he can do about anything there is to do. He'll figure out a way to do it."
"If I were ever stranded on a deserted island, he would be the one person I would would want with me. He would figure out how to get us out," Courtney said.
Farmer turned flyer
Along the way Stangel acquired a couple of airplanes in "a sort of a bad debt situation."
"Everything he does he's real good at," said his flying mentor, Ted Grote.
"He wanted to learn. He paid attention. You didn't have to tell him twice. He was probably the best student I ever had," Grote said.
When local pilot Bill Bailey died in a crop-dusting crash on Alder Slope, people encouraged Stangel to take over the flying business.
So in 1962 Stangel got his commercial license.
"There was no runway," Stangel said. "We just flew across a hay field Â— roller-coaster."
Later the field was leveled and made into a gravel strip. "Most of it was donation. Everybody chipped in," Stangel said. Trucks and equipment were borrowed from the county, businesses like Rahn's and ranchers like the Johnsons and Klageses.
"A lot of people who helped did not even fly," Stangel said.
With ex-students that are still active flyers, he figures that he's taught about half the pilots in the Wallowa Valley to fly.
He also monitored forest fires for the Forest Service, flew wild game counts for the game commission, and flew into the ranches in the Snake River Canyon weekly to deliver mail, groceries and parts. Often he'd work on their equipment.
He's flown sheep, sheepherders and sheep dogs in his planes.
Canyon and mountain flying is different. There are updrafts and downdrafts.
"They're not airports here," Grote said. "There are no wind socks. You have to fly across the ground and check the grass, the trees or the water surface for the wind direction," Stangel said.
"You always have to keep your mind on your flying. Let the observer look at the elk. Don't you look. That's what Bud can do," Grote said.
Along the way Stangel bought the Enterprise airstrip with its one hanger.
Then he set out to improve it. Over the years he moved the fuel tanks above ground and under a shed, and built several hangars.
"Bud's done a lot for this community," Grote said about Stangel virtually giving the airstrip to the city so that it could be paved and maintained as a municipal airport.
A modest Stangel gives credit to others, saying that once again everybody chipped in to make it a community project.
Grote, though, ticks off some of Stangel's other contributions, such as air search and rescue flights and mercy flights Â— most donated Â— before air ambulances were available.
The family is involved in other local businesses. Bud's daughter, Kathy, raised on a farm, continued that tradition when she married a local rancher.
In the mid '80s, Bud sold his cattle and replaced them with buffalo, and joined the partnership of his sons Â— Joe, Bob and Dick Â— the current owners of Stangel's Buffalo Ranch and Stangel's Machine Shop .
In 1987 Bud sold his flying business to
Penchant for restoration
Bud kept two planes and continued to fly for pleasure. After he "got tired," Bud finally had the time to begin to restore the rare and different.
For years he'd had the remains of a 1931 Perth-Amboy Bird, an open-cockpit biplane Model CK sitting in a garage in bits and pieces.
By 1994, he'd restored his Bird and began flying it.
Stangel's next project was the hopeless-looking carcass of a 1933 Chrysler convertible coupe.
Before the Chrysler was finished, Bud lost his wife of 48 years, Margaret, to cancer in 1996. He threw himself into restoring his antiques.
A 1937 Cord convertible was his next project. He worked on it steadily for two years, finishing in 1999.
In 2000 he finished rebuilding a 1959 Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop that was caved in.
This past summer, he finished rebuilding a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino that had no insides and no brakes, which he had to rebuild.
Stangel is working on a 1967 Mercury Cougar that he hopes to have completed this winter.
When told that he must have remarkable patience, he responded, with a twinkle in his eye, "Ya just keep dingin' at it."