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Joe Polocz stands in front of one of the flight simulators he rebuilt (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Retirees keep the Museum of Flight's vintage airplanes flying high

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At the Museum of Flight Restoration Center in Everett, Al Horne is restoring seat panels.

"This is from the original 747. Number one. It's down in the museum right now."

While some retirees spend their time on the golf course, guys like Al spend several days a week volunteering, putting old planes back together at Payne Field. And while most are retired Boeing employees, a few have zero experience in the aerospace industry.

"My name is Joseph Polocz. I'll be 93 next week."

Joe is originally from Hungary and, like many veterans, he'll tell you his life story if you've got the time to listen. After surviving a prison camp and scrounging up work in France and Germany, Joe came to the United States.

"I wanted to get out of Europe because I thought it was gonna be another war. So by the grace of God I got to the United States, in Philadelphia."

Joe only had a sixth grade education, but he loved learning about the way things worked and he was good with his hands, so he learned TV and radio repair and worked at RCA for 38 years. After retiring, he moved to Everett with his wife to live close to their daughter.

"We didn't live too far from here," Joe said. "I stumbled into this air field here and I thought, maybe I can come out and hang out here," Joe laughs. "And I'm here ever since."

That was 25 years ago and through reading books and manuals, Joe became one of the best restoration guys at the hangar. His latest accomplishment, helping to get a 247 flying again.

"The 247 is from the 30's. It was Boeing's first modern airplane. Before that the planes were wood and this was metal. I did an awful lot of work and one of the Boeing managers said, 'Joe, if you weren't here, that plane wouldn't be flying.'"

It took about seven years to restore that plane, inside and out.

"When that was finished I got to ride in it and they let me fly it. I have a picture to prove it!"

Like Joe, 74 year old Gary Lollis never worked on an airplane before.

"I was in marketing and sales for some forty-plus years. But I've always been able to be good with tools and I love working on cars. The experience here, though, is about the fellas and about being able to restore these pieces of history for future generations to try to understand what really went on during that time."

Gary has a particular love for World War II era planes.

"The project I was assigned to was the FM-2 Wildcat. The FM-2 that the museum has was built in late '44 and it took part in the invasion of Okinawa, March 1945. As far as we can document, it was responsible for four enemy kamikazes being shot down."

These guys love history, and their sharp minds, memories and motor skills are being kept alive by this volunteer work.

"My wife passed away," Joe lamented. "We were married for 60 years. I'm living alone and this is a lifesaver for me. I would go nuts just living by myself. This is my life and I was always fascinated by technology. So it was fascinating and interesting and I loved it."

And Gary says he's learned a big lesson hanging around the older guys, like Joe.

"You listen. You learn to keep your mouth shut and listen."

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Saturdays at 5pm and Sundays at 3pm).
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