“Juniata County Man's Hobby Honors Veterans”
For 78 year old Cliff Houck, it began three years ago as a hobby to keep him busy.
“Start of a good thing,” said Houck, pulling an empty Mountain Dew can from a bag at the floor of his work desk.
His hobby consists of converting unwanted soda and beer cans into novelty model airplanes. Just about any day of the week, you can find the retired railroader in his cramped, but cozy side room, snipping, clipping, pressing and painting discarded beverage cans into unique keepsakes.
“It takes 20 cans to make one of these,” said Houck, pressing a curved section flat with a 12-inch ruler. That section will go on to serve as one of the plane's wings.
About a year ago, Houck's hobby took on a new dimension when he surprised a U.S. Marine veteran with one of his planes, decorated with his friend's name, time of service and numerous Marine-related stickers.
It was a big hit. Soon, additional requests came in for more veteran planes.
“My real purpose was to thank them all,” said Houck. “That's what this is. A “Thank You” plane.”
Each plane can take up to three days to complete, including painting, lettering and applying military decals.
“It's a joy really when they get it and you see how much they like it,” he said. “And the thanks I get for it. That means a lot.”
Houck says Coke cans work best for most planes because the bottoms align better when making the wheels, which he says is the most difficult part of the plane.
Houck still makes and sells special request novelty planes, but much of his time now is spent making and donating planes honoring all branches of service.
“I thought it was time to thank the vets for giving me my freedom,” Houck said, adjusting a freshly cut can top to match an adjoining piece. “That's why I started making these. And to honor my brother who was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps in Korea.”
“When you think about what veterans have done for you, this really isn't much,” he said. “It's just a little something to say thank you.”
Yours truly was humbled and honored when Houck surprised me with my very own “thank you” plane, marking my long ago days as a signalman in the U.S. Navy.
“It looks good, but we've got to give it that last test before it leaves the hangar,” joked Houck, turning a desk fan toward the delicate propellers.
With the blades spinning smoothly, Houck proudly declared: “I think you can take this home, Chuck.”
You can contact Cliff Houck, Sr. at firstname.lastname@example.org