By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
1Not only does Jim Hinkhouse still dabble in artwork at his home in Prairie Acres in Hays, he also keeps alive his lifelong passion for tinkering with and flying model gas engine airplanes.
"Airplanes keep me young," the 79-year-old Hinkhouse said.
Then, pausing, he added, "I like to think so."
The former sculpture professor in the art department at Fort Hays State University owns eight "good" planes, with two or three of those always ready to take to an area in the country where he meets a couple of his flying buddies armed with their planes and remote controls.
He thinks it's fun to try his luck with a plane in the air, even when he wrecks one.
"That little one out there, I'll wreck it and fix it up, and it still goes," he said about one of his planes.
In all, Hinkhouse owns approximately 20 planes with wingspans ranging from 20 to 80 inches, as well as parts of several others.
He seeks out planes at hobby shops and goes to swap meets to browse the wares. He trades with friends and has been known to find a plane or two at a garage sale.
One time, a friend even found one of Hinkhouse's own planes he sold years before.
"I shouldn't have sold that," he said. "It had a good motor in it."
Hinkhouse knows to expect the unexpected when taking on a used plane.
"Usually, you have to rebuild it, but that's part of the fun," he said. "They take a lot of tinkering. You're never totally done. There's always one to do something to."
Hinkhouse could buy ready-made planes.
"A lot of them you can buy ready to fly now," he said.
But that's not for Hinkhouse, who would rather rebuild a plane than pull a prebuilt ready-to-fly plane out of a package.
"You learn a lot more this way," he said.
In fact, he added, "I wish more kids would get interested in this. I learned a lot over the years."
Hinkhouse grew up in Palco and always liked flying kites but got started with the plane hobby when he became enamored by some neighbors building a model airplane.
He carried on the hobby during his 33 years working at Fort Hays and picked up the pace after retiring from the university approximately 13 years ago.
"The planes helped me in art, and art helped me with the airplanes," he said.
Hinkhouse owned a real plane, a Piper Warrior, several years ago and found stark differences between flying the two.
"Flying a plane, you're inside of it," he said. "Here, you're outside making it fly. Both are pretty fascinating."
Hinkhouse's wife, Susan, has her own hobbies, he said.
"She's not much interested (in planes)," he admitted. "But she's tolerant."
On a recent morning when the weather was "near perfect" for flying, Hinkhouse had to stop to tighten the motor on one of his balsa wood planes.
"The oil gets the wood soaked," he explained, "and it loosens the screws."
No problem, though.
"You just have to tighten them before you fly," he said.
On this particular outing, he didn't have such good luck at first. One plane crashed, and another wouldn't start. So he dug in the back of his van for a third.
"I should quit while I'm ahead, you know?" he said.
A smile crossed his face, shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat, as he answered his own question.
"But I won't."