Above & Beyond: Cornwell’s Folly

Above & Beyond: Cornwell’s Folly

A half-baked excuse for an airplane, cobbled together in 1948, spent its entire life eroding in a Colorado desert. (Norm Hill)
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John and I had enjoyed a few quiet moments sipping our beer and appraising the discarded vehicle, framed in buffalo grass, with the Rocky Mountains as backdrop. As I watched, the old relic seemed to come alive. In fact, John and I were there together when Ed’s big day had come around.

“Ready for another beer?” John asked.


John reached in the back seat of his Chevy convertible, and my thoughts drifted back to a September morning in 1948. This might take more than one more beer, I figured.

I happened into Ralph Lessy’s welding shop one afternoon. Ralph was designing something for a huge engine that sat on the concrete floor. Ralph, a laconic grouch to those who didn’t know him, was actually funny, clever, and somewhat acerbic. He was an expert and creative welder, and if he liked you, he would make anything for you, even if he considered it a waste of his time. He tolerated Ed Cornwell and knew that what he was putting together for Ed didn’t make much sense.

“What are you building?” I asked.

“An engine mount for Ed Cornwell’s airplane,” he said.

I looked at the six-cylinder behemoth sitting nearby on the concrete floor. “That’s a truck motor,” I said.

“I can tell you’re gonna go far, kid,” said Ralph.

“Well, Ed was an aviator in the war. He must know what he’s doing.”

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