Restoring old presidential jet a ‘passion’ for Ephrata man

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Courtesy photoBill 'the Buffman' Quinn does preservation work on a plane.

SEATTLE — Once this 707 carried presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy around the country and the world.

Now SAM970 (SAM is short for “Special Air Mission”) sits at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, a permanent memorial to another age, one of several dozen different kinds of military and civilian aircraft and even a few space vehicles on display here.

Even if they are only museum pieces and don’t fly anymore, these machines still need to be cared for, to be preserved against the elements.

“It’s truly remarkable what they do to preserve these planes,” said Bill “The Buffman” Quinn.

Quinn, an auto and airplane detailer based in Ephrata, has spent a week or two each summer for the last 10 year volunteering at the Museum of Flight to help keep its display aircraft looking presentable and protecting them from the rain and damp.

The plane itself, with the military designation of VC-135B, was replaced by a more advanced “C” model in 1962, but continued in the presidential fleet until the early 1990s, when it was retired.

According to Kimberley Ballard, a spokesperson for the International Detailing Association in Saint Paul, Minnesota, SAM 970 was in terrible condition when noted car and aircraft restorer Renny Doyle was contacted in 2003.

“That beautiful jet was in such a distressed state when I first saw it,” Doyle said. “(We) decided anything we did would help and nothing we did could make it worse.”

Quinn said he decided to transform his part-time auto detailing hobby into a full-time business in 2009, after being laid of by Genie.

“I’ve been detailing cars since I was 13,” he said. “We do simple washes to custom show cars, whatever the customer requests.”

At the Museum of Flight, Quinn spends most of his time atop a Genie lift, “up in the air working” as he said, applying a protective coating to SAM970’s fuselage and tail. He’s one of only a few dozen workers personally picked by Doyle to work on the Museum of Flight’s aircraft.

“I was training with Renny and I got into this about 10 year ago,” Quinn said. “I joined a team of 13 to restore this plane for the Museum of Flight.”

In order to be part of this work, Quinn said you can’t just have detailing on your resume. You have to be at the top of your game, have a successful business and proof that you can do the work.

“It’s a passion, a heartfelt passion, and to have the opportunity to do this amazing work,” he said.

In addition to SAM970, Quinn said they are detailing a Vietnam-era B-52G bomber, Boeing’s first complete 747 jumbo jet, a British Airways Concorde jetliner, and an old 1970s vintage 727 passenger jet.

And they’ve got until Sunday to get it all done.

“Right now, we’re about halfway through,” Quinn said. “It’s a lot of work to get done in a week.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at

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