The Flying Man From Pin Hook
By JJ Rafferty for The Arliss Star Advocate
Pin Hook – Wallace Gimley has carried the same dream with him since the age of five: he wants to fly. He says he was inspired by comic books and old film clips of inventors trying to test flying contraptions.
“Hawk Man was always my favorite,” Gimley told me as we sat together in his barn that he turned into a make shift study, design, and building space. “I read the comics first. Superman could fly, of course, but that was different. He flew because he was Superman. But Hawk Man, he had wings. Actual wings.”
It's not difficult to see that Gimley takes his passion seriously. The proof hangs from the rafters and are set around on tables; drawings and scraps of paper with scribbles and calculations and sketches cover nearly ever inch of the barn that once held animals back when he was growing up on the farm set far back on Pemblebrook Road. The only thing left of the tractor and the cows, horses, and pigs is that lingering odor of straw, old manure, and rust. Since inheriting the farm after the death of his mother after a long battle with cancer five year ago, Wallace Gimley has turned it from a working farm with 50 acres of good crop land to a design and manufacturing facility focused on the production of a single product – a contraption that will enable him to fly. Not an airplane, which he says puts too much between him and the air, and not even a glider, which he calls “cheating.” No. Wallace Gimley intends to build something that, in conjunction with his own body, will enable him to fly on his own power.
“I call it my own private Menlo Park,” he joked, showing me around. The allusion is intentional. Gimley says that Thomas Edition is one of his heroes and his primary inspiration. “Everyone thought he was nuts, too,” says the self-proclaimed inventor. “He went around talking about this thing called electricity and how people didn't need to light candles all the time just to see. He envisioned entire towns lit up in the night with these strange filaments. And look what happened! And just think,” he paused to light a home-made corn-cob pipe. “Just think about what the world would be like if Edison had listened to all those yahoos and forgot about electric lights.”
He points out several designs to me – all of them, failures. But he says with each failure he learned something new, something that he was able to fix in the next design. His early designs took him less than 6 months to design and build, starting from the age of 10. Now however, he says he takes more time to plan things out. He may spend as much as a year on design, and that much time on small scale testing. He throws out terms like lift, aerodynamic, wing span, center of gravity. That's the secret of his next design, he says. Center of gravity. He wouldn't go into details but said, “That's the mistake they all made. Even the Wright Brothers. “They all understood what Newton said about gravity. But they didn't move beyond the apple falling from the tree.”
And if you're thinking that Wallace Gimley went to school and studied aerodynamics, wing design, or physics, you're wrong. In fact, Wallace Gimley dropped out when he was 14 years old. “I wasn't learning anything.” But he points out that there's a difference between schooled and educated. His parents, hoping to encourage him to put himself back in school, made him work everyday on the farm; and he says that even though they were trying to manipulate him into giving up on his dreams, he's thankful for every day of hard work. Without it, his body might've gone soft... which would have ultimately made his dream impossible. “It's as much about the man as it is the contraption,” he said, smiling.
Gimley educated himself by reading. He read everything he could get his hands on, even when he was exhausted from work. He read history and science and math. He inhaled books about inventors and about flying. When his grandparents died, he inherited their collection of National Geographic Magazine, going back nearly 40 years, a complete collection fo Encyclopedia Britannia, and a four volume American Heritage Dictionary, including a Thesaurus. He claims to have read them all several times over, except for the Thesaurus, which he says is only useful “when a person wants to sound smart instead of be smart.”
So how does a man with an 8th grade education support himself enough to be able to focus on his dream of flying? He sold all the animals except for a milk cow, and he leases out the crop land to one of his neighbors. He grows a garden and hunts when it's in-season. He also sometimes builds things or repairs things for his neighbors; he's as handy at fixing a tractor as he is sewing a stitch. Most of the money he makes goes into building his contraptions, and what's left is enough for him to get by on.
“I don't need all kinds of nice stuff,” he says. “But I do need to fly.”
He's made six attempts over the years; the contraptions – or the remains of them – hang high from the rafters of his barn. Gimley says he's broken his collar bone twice, his left arm once, sprained both knees and gotten five concussions. But he has no intention of quitting, even if his neighbors, who have tolerated his … eccentricities … for years would prefer that he live quietly and farm his land much in the way his father and mother did. Gimley says it's not the contraptions that bother them so much, but the occasional explosions and “evidence of experimentation.” But he insists he's a good neighbor in spite of his oddities. He also insists that each and every one of them will change their tune after he tests his seventh contraption. That one, he claims, is the one that will fly. And when it does, they'll all brag about being his neighbor rather than commiserate about it.
Gimley leads me to a the back corner stall in the barn; there's a large object there, covered with a sheet. He won't show me what's under the sheet. “That's the contraption,” he says with a smile. “That's the one that'll fly.” He plans to test it as soon as the weather is warmer, maybe as around early summer. Until then, he tinkers and tests and makes his calculation and prepares to fly.