Introduction by John Wright, Story & Photos by Doug Switzer, Moto/ology Publisher
Bob Revell is the last surviving partner of the original Tiger Boys group that was established in 1970 by the late Tom Dietrich and Frank Evans. After Frank’s passing, Bob partnered with Tom and they were later joined by Cam Harrod and a wider group of enthusiasts. Bob is related to the celebrated family that established the well-known model company in the U.S.
Bob Revell has been likened to an iceberg because 9/10th of him lies below the surface. He is a legend among vintage aviation aficionados not only because of his enthusiasm for all things related to aviation but also for his devotion to a humble training aircraft, the de Havilland Tiger Moth. He is not only the keeper of several examples of this elementary flying school airplane but also possesses a veritable ton of tools and parts for this legendary aircraft.
What’s more, he also owns many examples of other vintage 1930s flying machines like the Heath Parasol and the Piper and Taylor Cub light airplanes. Yeah, so what?, you say— so do lots of other aircraft enthusiasts, but do they have virtually every model of important airplanes in remote control and scale model form? And do they also possess a very large horde – because that’s the only way to describe a veritable plethora of memorabilia which any aviation museum would be glad to acquire?
Bob got his start in aviation avidness when he was a boy on Kipps Lane in London, Ontario running across the street to watch local enthusiasts fly their remote control and tethered model airplanes at the local enthusiast’s meets.
Like me, he hung out at Gurd’s Hobby shop on Dundas Street in London, Ontario lusting after the balsa wood model aircraft he saw there.
Time passed and he had to get a job and a career. He ran a trucking company for a while, but he jokes that he only worked at that to support his real passion: aviation.
When he was 18, he built his own first aircraft, a Fly Baby homebuilt. He built it from plans he had purchased through a magazine. He didn’t have a kit of any kind. It took him four years and when he completed it, he promptly sold it to an American enthusiast by the name of Bob Dart. That aircraft went through a circuitous path of ownership from Bob Dart to a man in British Columbia, then back to the USA again. Two years ago, Bob Revell saw the same aircraft for sale in Fergus, Ontario. He brought it home to the Guelph airport and then got busy examining the aircraft from one end to the other. Using his flashlight to inspect the nether-regions of the aircraft, he then got upside down in the cockpit. There he found his signature behind the dash. It was truly his aircraft. The proof being his name was still written on the back of the instrument panel where he had signed it all those years ago.
It would be inappropriate to talk about Bob and not mention his good friend and business partner, the late Tom Dietrich. Bob met Tom when he was about 13 or 14 years old in London, Ontario when he went across the street to a model airshow. However, he really didn’t get to know Tom well until 1974 when he bought the little restaurant at the Guelph airpark.
Tom and his original partner, Frank Evans along with a few other associated enthusiasts gained notoriety for their exacting work restoring old aircraft, especially the venerable de Havilland Tiger Moths and this led to them being christened “The Tiger Boys” by their peers. Bob Joined up with Tom after Frank Evans had passed away and they became close friends and business associates.
It eventually ended up that Tom and Bob shared living quarters in a rented hangar at the little airport. Bob said Tom’s sole interest in life was airplanes and that was it. When Tom passed on, he still had the first full-sized aircraft he had rebuilt, a Tiger Moth, CF-CTF. It still resides in one of the hangars Bob rents at the Airpark. Bob has had no formal instruction or training at all in restoring aircraft. He just does it.
Over the years Bob has become well-known and revered as a Tiger Moth authority and is held in high esteem by members of the EAA, (the Experimental Aircraft Association) recognised as the leading world-wide organization specializing in antique and homebuilt aircraft along with their restoration and operation. The EAA is based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and puts on a spectacular annual airshow and convention called the “EAA AirVenture”. The Tiger Boys are well known in that U.S. organization, having taken part in almost 50 of their shows and winning many awards for their aircraft over the past years and decades. —John Wright
When we went to visit with Bob Revell in his hanger-home at the Guelph Airpark in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, he sat quietly in his favourite chair and welcomed us into his veritable “Aladdin’s Cave” of aviation artifacts and eclectic treasures gleaned from a lifetime of collecting by both himself and his late partner, Tom Dietrich.
Bob is a fascinating guy, somewhat grizzled and toughened by his many years of working on old airplanes, but he also has a captivating smile and a willingness to answer questions and share his apparently endless knowledge about aviation and aircraft.
Within his hanger-home-workshop-museum, there are literally thousands of aviation and associated artifacts including press clippings, awards and trophies, souvenirs, artworks, sculptures and models. Oh, the models! They are parked on shelves and hang from the ceiling everywhere! (I thought to myself: “Hmmm… this just might be how a “hanger” got its name!) There are all sorts of airplane models from tiny Matchbox die-casts and diminutive plastic “kits” to incredibly large radio-controlled replicas that look as though you could almost climb aboard and fly away in them yourself!
Speaking of flying away on some of these aviation marvels, rising up in this sea of stuff there are actual full-sized real airplanes in various stages of restoration and assemblage. Newly restored Tiger Moth wings are leaned carefully against a wall and stacked in a corner are various parts, struts and components for some other rare aircraft in Bob’s possession. Almost in the middle of the floor there is a completed fuselage for an antique de Havilland Gypsy Moth along with a spare Gypsy Major engine that appears to be in the midst of a rebuild. All around it there are piles of parts and stacks of pieces awaiting their turn to be re-installed on the restored airframe. At the back of the space there is a rather large door that leads to another shop area that is at present dedicated to painting and refinishing and within it are wings and control surfaces being doped and refinished. Bob also shows me his cache of rare and specialized de Havilland parts and fasteners that he has amassed over the years. What a treasure-trove!
During our visit, we also take a brief guided tour of Bob’s other hanger-facilities that he rents at the Airpark. There we are treated to an amazing collection of aircraft that include homebuilts, antiques and a couple of replicas. Among the many aircraft in Bob’s possession is a very early 1937 Taylor J-2 Cub, the first one in Canada as a matter of fact! It was restored by Bob and Tom and re-registered as CF-BBY in 2010. There’s also a scaled-down Hawker Hurricane replica named “Harry Cane” and so many others that I can’t remember them all!
There are some complete airplanes, some in a disassembled state that are being restored and yet others that are simply a collection of parts and remnants awaiting restoration or perhaps being sold or traded off to facilitate someone else’s project. Guess what? There’s also some more models hanging about along with a couple of vintage trucks and lots of other engines, parts and associated vintage vehicles. Oh, and there’s also the inevitable Tiger Moths!
As I’m preparing to leave and I thank Bob for his hospitality and banter, I notice a sign next to the door to his “home/hanger”. It reads: “A nice place to visit”.
Very nice indeed. —Doug Switzer