Model of Lindbergh’s airplane debuts in Walla Walla

An area model maker built a quarter-scale replica of the famous ‘Spirit of St. Louis.’

Jim Edwards holds the left wing section of the “Spirit of St. Louis” model he completed in the basement workshop in his home in Dayton.

Jim Edwards holds the left wing section of the “Spirit of St. Louis” model he completed in the basement workshop in his home in Dayton. Photo by Andy Porter.

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DAYTON — A model of one of history’s most famous aircraft is now on display at Fort Walla Walla Museum.

But while the detailed rendition of the Spirit of St. Louis is remarkable, the story behind it is equally noteworthy.

The man originally behind the plan to create the one-quarter scale model was Winston Okerlund. A member of the Walla Walla Valley Prop Twisters, he is remembered on the group’s website as “a superb model builder known for taking on projects that many of us would consider too challenging.”

Creation of “The Spirit of St. Louis,” the single-engine airplane flown by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 from New York to Paris in the first nonstop trans-Atlantic solo flight, was one of those projects.

“It was his dream to build that airplane,” said Karen Sinclair-Okerlund, Winston’s wife.

She said her husband’s model-building started in high school and wentthrough his years working for the Bonneville Power Administration. When they met in 1996 after the death of Winston’s first wife, Okerlund already had the scale-model radial engine for the Spirit of St. Louis replica.

Prior to starting construction of the model, Okerlund spent countless hours delving into the details of the design and history of the airplane built for Lindbergh by the Ryan Airlines Corporation of San Diego. His research included compiling blueprints, photos, drawings and books devoted to the subject.

Starting in 2007, Okerlund began the painstaking task of building the model from scratch. By 2011 he had fabricated the metal frame and had crafted the wooden ribs for the wings. Then, unexpectedly, he died on June 13, 2011, because of health issues.

The Spirit of St. Louis project might have also died had it not been for fellow Prop Twister member Jim Edwards, who finished construction of the model.

Working in the basement of his Dayton home, Edwards helped make Okerlund’s vision a reality. Their joint efforts will be at Fort Walla Walla Museum at least through Wednesday and possibly until April 14. Future plans call for the model to be taken to McMinnville, Ore., where it will be donated to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Although Okerlund had first planned to make the Spirit of St. Louis a flying model, the replica will be non-flying, with one side left open to allow people to see the interior of the craft. The details on the model, right down to the gauges on the instrument panel, are faithful renditions of the original, which is housed in the Smithsonian Museum.

“This has been a fun project,” Edwards said. However, he added, “I would have rather seen Winston finish it and flying it.”

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