Mulberry Gardens Resident’s 20-year Project Preserves WWII History

December 11, 2017

Many people have hobbies: knitting, reading, painting, tinkering with cars, and more. However, Russell Magnuson spent more than 20 years and 24,000 hours pursuing his hobby: restoring a World War II-era blimp control car at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks.

The 42-foot long, 13-foot high car, which used to hang below the actual blimp, is now on exhibit there. Mulberry Gardens’ residents, including Magnuson, traveled to the museum in April to see it and have lunch.

Magnuson, who moved to Mulberry Gardens in 2016, has had a passion for planes since he was a child. Born in New Britain in 1928, he and his sisters, Gladys and Helen, grew up living with their parents in a small home. They were hard working, a value that they passed on to their children. They valued a loving family more than anything. The family faced challenges throughout the Great Depression and he recalls how the community came together. Great lessons including always be thankful came from the experience, he said.

When Magnuson was a teenager, he began visiting a now-defunct airport that was near Lake Compounce. There he earned his pilot’s license. One day he asked a group of young women if they would like to go for a ride. Only one, Carol, accepted. It was high flying from there: they dated and eventually married in 1950.

Only two weeks after settling in as newlyweds, Magnuson enlisted in the Army and after training, worked in Greenland where he spent a year working at a radio teletype station. His objective was to send messages to Washington, D.C. whenever he saw enemy planes approaching.

Upon returning stateside, he studied mechanical engineering at E.C. Goodwin Tech in New Britain. One day a guest speaker from New Britain Machines came to talk to the class where he came upon Magnuson who was sketching a design for a machine company that made fishing poles. The speaker gave him a job right on the spot. He worked at New Britain Machines for 35 years.

Through the years, he and his wife raised two daughters and a son in Southington. He decided to retire at age 62. While on a visit to the New England Air Museum, he was talking with other visitors about the exhibits. A worker saw how passionate he was about planes and offered him a position as a tour guide, which he did for 15 years. During that time, the museum received a donation of two blimp cars from Goodyear, which built the ships for the U.S. Navy for use during World War II. His boss challenged him to restore one and began a committee to fix the ZNPK-28 blimp control car, which had been totally stripped.

Two days each week, Magnuson would go to the museum to develop plans for the restoration. He drew up blueprints and with a crew of volunteers worked on either fabricating the reproduction parts or obtaining pieces such as the landing wheels from a company in Alaska. An original pilot of the K-28 was located at his home in Georgia, where he had saved the pilot’s seat. He was very pleased to find that the blimp he drove was getting restored after all these years, so he donated the last remaining piece that would complete the control car. The fully restored blimp car was put on display at the New England Air Museum last summer.

Magnuson enjoys sharing his passion and love for flight with his many Mulberry Gardens friends and is often congratulated of his great success. A very humble man, he did the unthinkable by restoring a gem of the past.

Mulberry Gardens