BELVIDERE — Welding torches blazed today so workers could free historic bowstring trusses from the former Manley Motors service bays and hoist them in the air to land delicately on a truck bed.
The steel trusses, weighing up to 4,000 pounds each, supported the roof of Manley Motors beginning in the 1930s, and they will be reused at Poplar Grove Airport.
Airport owner Steve Thomas intends to spend the summer repurposing the trusses into four 60-foot-deep hangars that will house up to 20 planes and remind visitors of an era when Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart flew the skies.
“We’ll stand them up, sandblast them, paint them and then build the hangars,” Thomas said. “We’ll see how it goes. They’re getting off to a rocky start.”
The crew realized they needed more gas for the torches soon after the work began at 621 S. State St., where the Manley family once sold Piper aircraft.
Thomas rushed to Rockford for more gas. The fuel allowed workers to cut through old rivets and free the trusses — six are 60 feet long, six are 75 feet long, and each stands about 10 feet tall — from columns and supports.
The City Council bought the Manley property in October 2014 for $375,000. Mayor Mike Chamberlain has said the city plans to tear down the buildings and turn the lot into green space with extra parking for popular events. The Community Building complex is nearby.
But it wasn’t until about a month ago that Thomas realized that the property harbored bowstring trusses, igniting his interest in reusing them.
Thomas contacted Recyclean Inc. of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the deconstruction company charged with clearing the property. President Mike Goffman had found purchasers for the bricks and lumber.
“Trusses are more difficult to sell,” Goffman said, noting that the steel structures have to fit specific dimensions unless, of course, the buyer wants to repurpose them.
Thomas said he paid Recyclean about $2,000 for each truss and started working with his friend and fellow aviator Paul Ollmann of Ollmann Ernest Martin Architects of Belvidere. Ollmann contacted the Manley family, which gave him the original Feb. 19, 1931, blueprint drawings of their dealership. There were specific details about the trusses, such as angles and how much weight they could bear. Ollmann will use the blueprints in his designs for Thomas’ new hangars.
Without them “it would have been much harder,” he said. “We’d have to back-engineer it. Here, all we have to do is verify some sizes and know that it was built correctly.”
Scott Taylor of Belvidere has been keeping a close eye on the property. His father worked for the Manley family for nearly 60 years, doing jobs that ranged from stoking the coal furnace to helping customers.
“He’s doing an awesome job out at the Poplar Grove Airport with building up a lot of heritage and a lot of history around Boone County and surrounding areas,” said Taylor, an aviator who considers himself a friend of Thomas. “Who knows? I might be part of putting up the beams some day.”
Thomas delivered the 75-foot-long trusses to the airport this afternoon. The goal is to deliver the others Tuesday.