A new heart for an old girl


As I write this, my own Lester is buzzing over my head. While I’ve always thought his throaty C-85/O-200 made a sweet sound, today I find the noise annoying but, in hearing it, I know that my place in heaven is assured.

Any woman who lets her husband borrow her airplane is kindhearted. Any woman who calmly pecks out her column on the family computer while her husband buzzes overhead, burns her gas and violates her airspace, is downright saintly.

While not often, Henry and I do fly each other’s airplanes, usually when one or the other is down for maintenance. I don’t have anything against his airplane, but flying another person’s bird is like wearing their well-worn shoes. It’s strange and most times the fit is wrong.

Henry McFarland, known affectionately as "The Old Man," and Lucy

Henry McFarland, known affectionately as "The Old Man," and Lucy

In this case, my Old Man is flying his wife’s airplane because his baby, his 1946 Luscombe 8A, Lucy, is getting a new heart. Even with the annoyance overhead, it’s an exciting time for us. Lucy has been a fixture in this family for 31 years. The last overhaul her A-65 received was soon after our honeymoon, so I think it is about time the old girl got a boost.

Deciding you need a new engine is kind of a metaphysical thing. Yeah, sometimes engines break and some modern versions have specific TBOs, but these small Continentals we fly are like the Energerizer Bunny. Fill ’em up with fuel, add some oil, maybe a little mystery stuff, and they’ll keep going and going and going.

Lucy didn’t give obvious, in-your-face indications that her powerplant needed attention. The compressions were still good. She was making power but, over the last year or so, there were stuck valves, exhaust leaks and just an overall feeling that the time had come. This may seem like voodoo, shade-tree mechanics instead of sound maintenance principles, but when an owner and an airplane have been together for 30 years, it works.

Lucy started talking, and her owner listened.

Removing the A-65 was easy, but determining a course of action required thought and research. When I wanted a new engine for Lester several years ago, I was specific in my request. I wanted a C-85/O-200 Don’s Dream Machine engine. All Henry did was remove the old C-85 and reinstall the new one. It was quick and painless.

In this instance, I supported him all the way. If he wanted an engine overhaul or exchange from a specific shop, that was fine. If he wanted to do it himself, that was okay by me as well. We both knew this rebuild would probably last until he was done flying, so it was an important decision.

He wanted to do it himself. With this decision made, Henry focused on two goals. He wanted to bring the engine up to specs as close as possible. With a 60-year-old engine, this is a lofty objective since parts can be difficult to obtain. Another was to eliminate as much vibration as possible by balancing what could be balanced and refining what could be refined.

As the IA, Henry’s job was disassembly, researching the best machine shops for checking and overhauling the case and various parts. There was Internet research, telephone calls and lots of e-mail correspondence. Shop owners were bombarded with questions, machine technicians had their brains picked and, finally, decisions were made.

While this may seem a bit overkill, I should mention that the Old Man has P.E. stamped beside his name most of the time and, if any of you know an engineer, overkill is their motto. It was my job to push the project forward and to make sure it wasn’t mired in study and reflection.

After considerable deliberation, the crankshaft, camshaft, connecting rods, rocker arms tappet bodies and all that other stuff were shipped to Aircraft Specialties Services, Inc. in Tulsa, Okla. They endured the questions but, most of all, they work on A-65s.

In the process, we became familiar faces at the local UPS store. We learned that insurance is a good thing after the camshaft was broken in transit. (How’d they do that?) We learned that doing a rebuild yourself is not quicker or cheaper, but it felt good knowing what was in the engine and how the work was done.

I learned terms like magnaflux, grind, balance, repair and bore. Yellow tag is a good term. Red tag is not. Luckily, all we needed to replace were the tappet bodies, which is remarkable since most A-65 parts, including the crankshaft, are no longer made.

Next, the crankcase was shipped to Divco, Inc., also in Tulsa, where it was inspected and repaired. It was like Christmas when UPS delivered that package. There also have been weekly orders to Aircraft Spruce and Fresno Airparts.

ShortFinal2Yesterday was exciting since the block was finally mounted back on Lucy where it belongs. The cylinders, which are in the capable hands of Harrison Engine Services in LaPorte, Ind., are due to arrive next week. We know. The Old Man has called them several times to check and double-check (They, too, have endured.)

I guess letting him fly Lester is not only charitable, but a kindness toward the folks at Harrison Engine Services. After all, if he’s flying, he’s not calling. I guess I can endure, too.

Deb McFarland is the proud owner of “Lester,” a 1948 Luscombe 8E and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@generalaviationnews.com.


  1. Johnny Smith AKA Lighting says

    Hope your doing well,Got the 150 paint job done i need to fly up and see all you guys one day and have a burger or something.If your down to 47a it is out next to the fence at S&S.It seems like it me for ever jimmy and richard helped to light a fire under me.Ill get up that way and show it off for you.

    AKA lighting

  2. says


    Another great story! BTW, I consider Tulsa, OK to be my home and published an aviation newspaper (The Oklahoma Aviator) there for a number of years. I’ve known Greg Merrell at Aircraft Specialties Services since the early 1970s when he was a young A&P and a member of the local EAA chapter–he has a great business, does excellent work, and was one of my most faithful advertisers (still is for Earl Downs, who now publishes the paper). The folks at Divco are also good people, so I think The Old Man made some good choices!


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