As the classic American achiever, Dick Stoebel’s wife, Brenda, jokes that “Being an engineer is a curse.”
Dick tells a story that showcases his life.
“My neighbor threw out a gas-powered lawnmower. Left it on the curb with a sign: ‘Needs a tune up.’” Dick wheeled the machine home, took it apart, gave the motor a tune up, fixed the stuck choke, changed the oil and balanced the blades. Then he sold the revived lawn mower to another neighbor.
“I’m not looking to make my fortune,” he says. “I just believe that if you have the ability to fix things, you should do it.”
“Growing up in Clinton, Mass., in the fifties was a nice time to be alive,” Dick recalls. “It was as good a place as any, I suppose, for a kid just to be a kid.” When he was 12, his parents gave him a .22-caliber rifle for Christmas.
“On occasion I would take the rifle and walk to the armory in downtown Clinton,” where the officer in charge would let the boys shoot in the basement range. He laughs ruefully when he imagines someone walking down a city street with a rifle now.
“You’d be surrounded by SWAT teams, FBI, CIA, state police, local police, helicopters – you name it,” Dick said, adding that he still teaches weapons safety at local gun ranges.
Dick’s first mechanical builds were model airplanes. That led to rebuilding a motorcycle, then an airplane – and that led to houses, hot rods and now radio-controlled model planes that he flies with The Villages E-fliers Club.
After high school Dick studied aircraft maintenance, which led to a job as a mechanic at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Little did he know that he would spend the next 45 years with the company in various roles in the firm’s engineering division.
Of course, studying and working on aircraft every day led Dick to take flying lessons and he soloed on April 20, 1967. His first real engineering project with Pratt & Whitney was on the team developing the engine for the then-new Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
While he was a skillful engineer, his romantic approach left a lot to be desired. Shortly after starting his engineering job at Pratt, he spied a very attractive young woman working as a secretary.
“I have to get to know her,” he thought.
After striking out on several occasions, he left her an envelope on her desk that read “Rattlesnake tails from Texas.” Inside was a paper clip and rubber band contraption (“Only an engineer would dream it up”). When the envelope was opened the device made a noise like a rattlesnake about to strike.
“I was out of the office when the envelope was opened, but I think I could hear her scream from the adjacent building,” he says.
After that, he got the hang of the romance thing. This month Brenda and Dick will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary.
From just flying, Dick soon moved into rebuilding aircraft. He bought a 1946 J3 Cub that needed to be rebuilt and recovered the fabric exterior. Then, he and Brenda bought a house in Coventry, Conn., and with a baby on the way and a near accident with the Cub, Dick reluctantly sold the aircraft for $1,500.
After finishing several more homes, raising a daughter and a son (both of whom became BMX champions) and increasingly challenging jobs at Pratt, Dick and Brenda retired and moved to The Villages. One of his first tasks was writing a memoir describing his life as part of the “American Dream Family.” Published in 2020 by Hallard Press, it chronicles a life full of challenges to be overcome. “I’m Almost History” is a memoir filled with joys, hard work, family challenges and a few sorrows.
A depressing time at work caused him to start rebuilding old cars to take his mind off the problems – first a 1937 Ford and swearing never to do anything like that again, and a 1932 Ford hot rod that took eight years to complete. At one point he used the telephone pole in front of his house as a jig to bend the sheet metal.
After many years and a few trophies, Dick is finally parting with the ’37 Ford. It’s going to auction in Orlando this month but the flame-job hot rod is staying. Dick talks more about the joys and agony of shaping sheet metal at https://hallardpress.com/the-joys-of-shaping-sheet-metal/
Today, the Stoebels are famously active. Both Brenda and Dick are pickleball enthusiasts, sometimes playing two sessions a day. Golf, lap swimming and other activities keep them as busy as if they were still working full time.
Dick continues to live the American Dream. He was asked once how he stays motivated and on top every day.
“Thought about for a long time,” he says. “But it’s simple. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”
Now, with the first book published, Dick is about ready to start his next, another memoir.
“I’m thinking of expanding on my first 25 years,” he says. “It was one of the best times in America and I was very lucky. I enjoyed every minute of it.”