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Joel Timblin hopes to promote access to Boyceville via “exit ramp from the sky” at municipal airport

By Cara L. Dempski

BOYCEVILLE — Highways 170 and 79 are not the only roads offering access to the Village of Boyceville.

Paved roadways are not the only way to get to the village. In fact, there are many people finding their way to the small, Western Wisconsin town through only minimal contact with pavement.

As in, their wheels are only touching the ground at take-off and landing.

Joel Timblin and wife Becky are slowly getting the word out that Boyceville has an excellent little “exit ramp” for people from all over Wisconsin, the Midwest and the United State at the village’s Municipal Airport.

 Timblin is the airport’s manager, though he often shares the duties with his wife. The Plum City couple moved their aviation businesses to the airport in November 2016, but actually started using the airfield approximately five years ago.

However, Timblin has more than five years’ experience with Boyceville’s aviation community.

“One of my first airplane rides was from here when it had a grass runway, in an airplane my dad built,” he recalled. “Open cockpit, high-wing, goggles, leather helmet, you know, the whole deal. I was about four years old, and had a cushion my mom made to sit on so I could see out.”

The Village of Boyceville owns two hangars at the airport – one the Timblins lease for their businesses, and another used by businessman Mike Blechinger for his airplane painting and detailing service – but the others are privately owned.

While the village has oversight of the facilities and provides fuel for the tank, it is Joel and Becky who make sure pilots get the gas they need and keep the facilities looking good and running smoothly.

Most of Joel and Becky’s duties pertain to education, publicity, welcoming pilots and providing transportation and information about the area, and running the fuel system. The duo have welcomed everyone from non-pilots seeking to learn more, high school aviation enthusiasts, members of the local Civil Air Patrol, and pilots in need of fuel, food, and a listening ear.

“It was a very quiet airport when we first came here,” Becky said of Boyceville. “It’s gotten much busier now.”

Joel and Becky

The Timblins met in an aviation setting. Joel worked in EMS for 31 years, 17 of which were spent as a crew member on LifeLink helicopter flights, and Becky was a flight nurse when he first started working in the helicopters.

“We have a long life in the air,” Becky, who is now a nurse at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, said laughing.

Joel retired from LifeLink on September 1, but not before running on one last mission.

“I was supposed to come off flight status around noon, and then we were having some snacks and beverages for an open house,” he explained. “My last mission was an hour before I was done, and Becky was there, so they asked her “do you want to come on his last mission?’ She said yes, so they did a quick safety brief and put her on the manifest.”

It may have been a helicopter that brought the two together, but it is their shared passion for planes and flying that keeps them going on a daily basis.

If they are not hosting an education session, working on one of their own repair projects, or assisting other pilots, the duo can usually be found doing work for the Boyceville Municipal Airport Booster Club.

Joel is the president, and Becky is the secretary treasurer, but he said she is the reason most of the club’s work gets done. The organization is open to everyone, and meets the first Wednesday of the month during warmer weather, and every other month in the winter. More information can be found on the club’s Facebook page.

They are avid fans of flying, and do so often for their Flyer411 information service. The business features panel screens at several regional airports where pilots can look up weather conditions at their destinations and then learn about what the communities offer in terms of food, lodging, activities and entertainment.

The information screens also generate revenue for both the state and county, since digital advertising is taxed in Wisconsin and Dunn County. That means any services, pilots or businesses advertising with Flyer411 are plugging the money right back into the state and county.

It is not all work, though. Joel and Becky Timblin are also involved with the organization Pilots and Paws, which flies shelter animals scheduled to be destroyed from shelters elsewhere in the country to rescue organizations in the Midwest.

The duo spend many days helping pilots fuel up, getting mechanics set up to work on planes, and just offering a helping hand or a moment’s respite for people passing through.

Joel recalled one instance where a pilot from Nebraska landed to get some gas before heading to his final destination at Chetek.

“You could tell he was having a rough day,” Joel said. “He put in some fuel, and we motioned him to come down (to the office), so he taxied down here.”

The couple learned the pilot was on his way from Nebraska to Chetek for his mother’s funeral, and had lost his fuel cap at a previous airport after the fuel person did not put it on tightly. Timblin went out into the hangar, grabbed a fuel cap from a plan he and Becky were working on, and put it on the man’s plane before he left.

About five days later, the Timblins got a small box in the mail. They opened it to discover their fuel cap with a note reading ‘you guys were right there when I needed it.’

The manager

Joel Timblin said he kind of fell into being the airport manager. He and Becky moved their businesses of repairing/restoring and selling aircraft, transporting aircraft for others, and providing online airport information services through Flyer411 in November 2016.

He got into the habit of attending village board meetings to ask questions and learn what he needed to do in order to remodel the hangar he leases from the village for a conference room, kitchen, bathroom and upstairs office.

Each meeting, he built more of a relationship with the board members, and they started asking him questions and seeking his advice on how to handle things at the airport.

“We (Joel and Becky) realized there was a kind of disconnect, not just of knowledge, but of what was happening here,” Joel explained. “They had no idea there were Pilots and Paws flights coming in and out of here.”

Both Joel and Becky have found the board, and the community at large, to be very supportive of the airport.

“We just love for people to come use the airport,” Becky said. “It’s their airport.”

Part of their promotion of the facilities available in Boyceville featured the 2017 fly-in/drive in pancake breakfast held during Cucumber Festival weekend August 19 and 20. Becky solicited donations from local businesses to not only sponsor the meal, but to provide scholarship money for residents of Boyceville, Menomonie, Elk Mound, Colfax, Wheeler, and Glenwood City interested in seeking licensure as pilots, or learning how to repair airframes.

In past years, the boosters have only been able to fund one or two scholarships. This year, the club is offering four full scholarships, and has partial funding for a fifth.

Joel Timblin said it is a good thing they have the money to help people learn more about aviation, because it truly is a field where someone can apply any passion they have and find a position.

Do you like to cook? Become a private chef. Are you interested in ministry work? Work as a chaplain. Do you have experience as a journalist? Fly behind politicians and dignitaries as part of their traveling press corps.

There is even a substantial need for new pilots, since the Timblins estimate 66 percent of the current pilots flying in the United States will retire in the next 10 years.

Joel and Becky Timblin plan to continue working with the existing population of pilots and planes at the airport, and are hoping to draw in new businesses in the next few years. One such prospect is a young man trained in upholstering automobiles, motorcycles, boats, and planes. Joel said he hopes the man decides to work at the Boyceville airport, because that will bring in more traffic.

Given his ties to the area (he lived on a farm north of town, and attended Boyceville schools through fifth grade), Joel Timblin is trying to get the word out about Boyceville.

Given that two planes came in during the 45-minute interview, and the village has already sold more fuel this year than it has in the previous three, it is a fair bet more pilots will be setting down on the small runway just south of Highway 170.