Many of you will be familiar with this story. It’s the story of how my dad discovered a new hobby, the results of which amazed us for years!  

One June, while we were at the beach house, I was shopping for a Father’s Day gift for him. I went into the kite store to browse for a bit, and while there I saw biplanes made from Coke cans hanging from the ceiling. I had never seen anything like that and thought he would enjoy “flying” a plane of his own. 

I purchased the plane and headed to my car. Knowing my dad, I figured he would want to see how the plane was made and might even want to make one himself. So back into the store I went and bought a second one so he could tear it apart. He absolutely loved the plane and, just as I had thought, disassembled the second one before the sun went down.  

From that time on, he had friends saving cans for him. The next time he went over to the beach, he had a box full of little planes. He would hang them from his beach umbrella, and they danced in the wind as little propellers would twirl. People started coming up to admire his handiwork and would ask to purchase them. He sold the entire box he had assembled in just a day or two. And he was on fire! The dinette table at home became an assembly line, and he immersed himself into his craft with gusto! The next time they went to the beach, he had several larger boxes full of planes! Advertising was not a problem. People would purchase a plane, walk down the beach dangling it so the propellers would twirl, and other folks would inquire about them. He could barely keep up!  

It didn’t take long before people started making special request, like, “Do you have Bud Light?” or other beers. Since my parents didn’t drink beer, he would tell them no. They would ask if they brought him the cans, if he could make them. So, he set up a little mini-workshop right there on the beach. He would work on them back at the house and finish them up down on the beach. So that he could build up his stock of beer planes, he started looking through the trash bins at the end of the day. I teased him that people were going to take up a love offering for the poor airplane man, who was seen going through the garbage cans for food!  

He sold his little planes for $5 each. People from all over the country would buy them, and one fellow from Sweden took one home with him. Often, people would stop by to say hello and say they bought one in the past and would come back to purchase more. Seems like when they would get home, someone would see it and want one. They would spend weeks, sometimes months, over there, so people knew to look for them. He and mom had this horrific giant beach umbrella that they used for many years. I gave him a hard time about that umbrella and would always carry my own bright, colorful, girly one to sit under. His ugly one finally stopped working, and he got a prettier one. One day we were on the beach, and someone stopped by. They were so happy to find him. They said they always looked for him when they were over, but they “didn’t recognize the umbrella!” Hysterical! 

Once a cute little boy, whose family was sunbathing near us, kept watching the little planes “flying” in the ocean breeze. Finally, when he could stand it no more, he came over to take a closer look. He was so fascinated and wanted one so badly. He asked how much, and Dad told him $5. With the cutest little lisp, he said, “I don’t have any money. Can I buy it with invisthible money?” First, Dad told him no, he needed to buy it with real money. But he kept insisting to Dad that he only had “invisthible” money. Finally, dad told him he would accept his invisthible money. I think he was hoping the little kid wouldn’t tell everyone else on the beach that the Airplane Man was selling his planes for invisthible money and ruin his business. 

Though it has been several years since my dad made soda can airplanes, the shop is now officially closed. This past Saturday, I cleaned out the shed where he kept his supplies. I must have crushed 3,000 cans! There were tools, slivers of cans waiting to be assembled, and planes and whirlygigs in varying stages of completion. It hurt my heart to squish those pieces, but we just can't keep everything. The cans are gone, the wheels, the coffee stirrers, and the pop tops as well. Everywhere I looked in the shed was a bittersweet reminder of his ingenuity and creative talents. Thankfully, we still have some planes and whirlygigs to keep. 

The memories of him bent over the table while measuring, cutting and assembling his little planes will stay with me forever. Watching him interact with people on the beach and listening to him tell his tales of his adventures was such a joy for me. He would tell the story of how I bought him one plane, then went back and got another one so he could figure out how to build them himself. 

It was the best $12…no, wait… $24 I ever spent. 

Love you, Dad! Miss you so much! I hope you knew how much everyone loved you and your little soda pop airplanes! 

The shed may be empty, but our hearts will always be full when we think of you!

Cathy Watkins Bennett is a Barrow County native and a graduate of Winder-Barrow High School. Send comments about this column to

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