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The man behind the real ‘Propwash Junction’

August 15, 2013 by Sarah Brown

Billed as coming “from above the world of Cars,” Disney’s Planes gives an imaginative glimpse into the world of general aviation. And while the animated film, which hit theaters Aug. 9, takes a few liberties with the story of a cropduster turned international air racer (it is, after all, an animated children’s film), it’s grounded in the real world of small airplanes.

I wrote an article for the August issue of AOPA Pilot about the research that went into the film and the airport, Leaders Clear Lake in Minnesota, that inspired Dusty’s hometown of Propwash Junction. Bob Leaders, the owner of the airport, hadn’t known that the airport he carved out of a farm would help shape filmmakers’ portrayal of small airport communities. Recently, Craig M. Lieberg wrote to me after reading the article to tell me more about the man behind the real-world Propwash Junction.

“We had just walked home down one of the two driveways of the airport, which has been our home for the last 35 years,” he wrote. “We looked at the picture of the old gas truck, which was the inspiration for ‘Chug’, we are very familiar with that sight.”

Lieberg shared the impact that Leaders has had on pilots in the local community:

The human interest side of your article, is a story of a man who selflessly has dedicated his life to his love of aviation, and helping his fellow man find pleasure in their love of flying. In my opinion, Bob Leader has done more for GA than anyone else I know of in this area. He has spent his life helping the common man find a way to pursue their passion of flight. Bob is now over 80 years of age and is on the job 7 days a week, living just west of the runway, on the property, with his wife. Having bought the original farm property around 1968, he carved out this little airport, which is privately owned, but publicly used, averaging about 60 aircraft on the ground year around. Currently operating the business with the help of two of his sons, and a hired A&P, they maintain aircraft from J-3 Cubs to [Beechcraft] Queenairs, float planes, ski planes, spray planes, all matter of anything that flies. At one time years ago, a DC-3 and a C-47 sat under the windsock. Many a poor man has come, swept floors, stripped paint, plowed runway and taxi-ways, repaired equipment, and got his pilot’s license. Only to go on and help the next guy do the same. I wouldn’t be flying today if it weren’t for Bob Leader.

Planes may help get the next generation excited about aviation; translating that excitement to a new generation of pilots will likely involve the pay-it-forward attitude of pilots like Bob Leaders. Disney’s Planes tells the story of a small-town airplane with a dream. How fitting that an inspiration for it offered many future pilots a chance to follow their own dream.

53 Responses to “The man behind the real ‘Propwash Junction’”

  1. jason jensen Says:

    Bob Leaders taught my uncle to fly in the 60′s. For payment, my uncle gave Bob a snowmobile. I stopped in a couple years ago to see Bob and he still had the snowmobile in his buildings! Bob is known all around Minnesota for aviation. I fly in to see him when I can.

  2. Doug Beck Says:

    While going to college at a nearby university, my roommate and I would always sneak down to Leaders to rent his airplanes (sometimes in the middle of the night), which were much more affordable than the program’s airplanes. Everything was on the honor system … just leave a check on the back workbench when you leave for what you flew … nobody even wrote down the Hobbs meter or fuel pumped (the old truck is now a character in the movie) !

    So many of the truly memorable early aviation adventures I lived were in Bob’s airplanes and at his airport. One time we rented a C172 for a week, flew it all over the midwest (including OSH) and when we brought it back and handed him a check he had no idea (nor concern) where the airplane had been for a week!

    That was just the type of guy Bob was. Who knows how many pilots are flying around today who otherwise would not have had the opportunity without Bob’s love of aviation and his generous willingness to share it.

    Now I fly for the airlines and have my own airplane …. it’s still wonderful to drop into Leaders and see very little has changed. Of course, we have all expected to see it plowed up into another corn field by now because magical places like this never seem to last in our modern age – but I am glad to say it’s just as we left it 20 years ago… with his son now carrying on the tradition of offering aviation to the everyman.

    Every pilot should learn to first fly in a place like this. I highly recommend you stop by on your next flight through central MN.

  3. Brad Kramer Says:

    My Leaders experience was awful. About 14 years ago I stopped there in a Hatz, along with a friend in a T-Craft, homeward bound from OSH. We fueled up and both taxied about 300′ before our engines quit… thanks to getting tankful’s of dirty watery fuel from Leader’s old truck. Really, we should have known better, just based on the look of that truck.

    Mr. Leader’s solution was to point to his toolbox so we could then proceed on our own to disassemble and drain our fuel systems, resulting in an extended stay and having to get a hotel room. At our expense, of course. About the only good part is that our engines quit before we took off or else Leader’s airport might have made the news in a much less positive way.

    Safe to say I never flew back there again. I’m glad others apparently had a much better experience than we did. Not everybody was so lucky.

  4. Greg beyer Says:

    I guess Brad Kramer doesn’t sump his tanks after getting fuel out of old rusty fuel trucks.
    Maybe not to smart.

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