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Bud the Builder

Williams has accomplished
a lot in 83 years, but
his airplanes rank near the top

By Lucy Wickersham,
Staff Writer

(June, 2002) MADISON, Ind. – For 56 years, Bud Williams of Madison, Ind., looked for his long lost friend from their Army Air Corps service together in World War II.
Finally, in April, after turning up dozens of loose ends, Williams was reunited with Howard Wilson, a California resident, at an air show in Florida.

Bud Williams

Bud Williams

Williams, who turned 83 on May 20, had been looking for Wilson since they were in flight school together in 1945. Williams found Wilson’s name in a periodical and immediately called the magazine publisher to get his address. Williams had been writing to his friend every four or five years without success. But it took their mutual love of aviation to bring them back together. The two arranged to meet at the Sun ’N Fun air show, with 700,000 attendees considered to be the world’s second largest such event in the country. Williams hasn’t missed the event since it began in 1974.
“We had a grand time in Florida together,” said Williams, a pilot and contractor for much of his life. “There were some things that I remembered and some things that Howard remembered, but we had a good time talking about all of our old stories.”
Williams has always been interested in aviation and can remember dreaming about flying as 5-year-old. He would jab three sticks into the ground and pretend that two were the rudders of an airplane and the third was the control stick. Williams recalls spending hours sitting in the dirt, dreaming of being a pilot.
Since those early days as a youth, Williams, who loves to tell stories, will tell you in a colorful fashion he has had a very full life. He and his wife, Vina, 79, just celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.
Williams started flying planes when he was 21 years old, after he had married Vina. They decided they had just enough money to get Williams into flying lessons. Although he was limited to only a half-hour of training a week, he quickly caught on. His $4 per session enabled him to learn to fly alone after only six hours of flying time.
Soon afterward, Williams bought his first airplane. His flying instructor approached him with an unusual proposition. He wanted to trade a 1929 Curtiss-Robin airplane for Williams’ 1937 Packard automobile. A handshake later, Williams was the proud owner of the classic airplane.
Vina had one concern. “I wanted to know how he was going to get to the airport without a car,” she said, laughing.
Within three days, Williams bought a 1935 Ford V8 coupe for $85. He had a way to the airport and spent 200 hours in that plane.
At a time when gas was 11 cents a gallon, Williams was pursuing flight training in the Army Air Corps Flying School. That was before the U.S. Air Force had been created. Although he had no college, which was a requirement, Williams was accepted because of his previous flying time. When he finished his flight school, he graduated as a 2nd lieutenant and earned his wings.
Although he never made it overseas, Williams was later involved in the Korean War. He even picked up an air medal for flying an unarmed plane into enemy territory.
He spent his time in Korea in a C-47 ferrying injured soldiers from Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units to the hospital. Contrary to the image on the popular television show MASH, Williams said there wasn’t anything funny about it.
“We would bring 24 patients at a time to get help.”
Although the war kept him busy, he had plenty of time to think in that year and a half in Korea. “I made up my mind that I wanted to go into construction,” Williams said.
After Williams retired a captain in the U.S. Air Force, he moved to Florida to learn about construction. He teamed up with a contractor and learned all he could, earning $1.50 an hour.
On a Christmas visit to Madison, Williams learned of a large steam turbine power plant to be built in Madison. Williams decided to move to Madison and start his construction business on the strength of the power plant. He bought land in Madison for $500. In late March 1953, the Williams moved back to Madison.
“All of the first homes I built were sold to people who worked at that power plant,” Williams said.
Before they moved into their house, Williams had already started building another house. Before long, he was up to a crew of 10 and had built nearly 100 houses in nine years. Today, the Williams live in a house they built, just up the street from their first home.
Williams also built some commercial properties, including the North Madison Post Office and Clifty Plaza Shopping Center, which he finished in 1963. Williams operated the shopping center for nine years until he retired in 1972 and sold all his properties.
For Williams, retirement meant more construction, this time of airplanes. In all, he has built 11 airplanes, two from scratch. He has also bought and sold many aircraft.
Currently, Williams owns two airplanes. He flies his homebuilt “Muscle Cub” a couple of times a week.
“I just like to look down at Mother Earth when I’m up there,” Williams said. “Sometimes, I’ll fly to see my son in Columbus.”
The Muscle Cub is a 2001 reproduction of a 1934 Cub. It has 125 horsepower and can get off the ground at less than 100 feet with 10 mph headwind, Williams says.
Williams also has rebuilt a 1929 Kreider-Reisner, whose open cockpit makes it the only one of its kind in the world. Today, it sits at the Smithsonian Institution’s museum warehouse near Washington, D.C., after Williams donated it in 1985.
As Williams reflects on his accomplishments in life as a war pilot, contractor, husband and father, he always comes back to flying.
“There’s something about flying that is hard to explain to those who haven’t tried it,” Williams said. “My wife says when I come home whistling, she knows I’ve been flying. It stays with you a while, until things start catching up to you again.”

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