The Weekly Vista
Work, retire, repeat
A friend from the Bella Vista Fly Tyers Club invited Sandy Allan to volunteer at Pedal It Forward, a non profit that repairs donated bikes for anyone in need. The friend, Ray Matkowski, had heard Allan was once an air craft mechanic for the Army Air Defense Command and they needed mechanics. But when Allan arrived to volunteer, he didn’t use his skills to repair donated bicycles. Instead, he started a complete organization of the work space.
He built shelves and racks, and found ways to hang bikes and make use of every bit of space in the building. It was a complete and successful renovation of the space.
“We have quite a few bikes to deal with and we have to triage them,” he explained. Some bikes can’t be reused, but their parts can be removed and stored for use on another bike. He made sure volunteers could easily find those parts when needed.
Building shelves and racks wasn’t a problem for Allan. One of his careers was in construction where he built homes on the beaches of Long Island. Every home was custom and many were built for well known people who might only be in residence for part of the year. His company also did property management and security for those home owners.
When a customer asked about a thatched roof, Allan went to England to learn that skill. He already knew how to build a slate roof from helping his father.
His very first job was in construction because his father was a brick and stone mason. As a teenager, Allan would sort bricks and sometimes help chisel stone for replacement gargoyles.
“I thought there had to be a better life,” he said, about the labor intensive trade. After high school, he told his father he didn’t want to do construction and found a job building tactical bombers for the Air Force.
Working for the Air Force meant he could avoid the draft and miss the war in Viet Nam, but a friend pointed out that if he joined the service he could get some education. So he joined the Army and was trained in emergency medical procedures. He ended up picking up wounded soldiers for transport back to the base.
When his tour in Viet Nam ended, the army sent him school for avionics and he was posted at an Air Force base in Colorado Springs. Eventually he became a flight engineer.
He left the Army to get married and worked for Coors Beer for two years. Then he moved back to New York to work on a historical site. That was where he ended up in the custom home business.
After 15 years, he realized that he was working too hard and getting burned out, so he turned the company over to an employee and moved to Vermont.
Vermont was fine until they had 100 inches of snow on the ground. Allan and his wife moved to Arizona. He could have retired then, but, he said, his wife got sick of him reorganizing her kitchen and suggested he get a job.
In Arizona he became a VIP Park Ranger, but he also took the class to become a deputy sheriff. When he compared the two jobs, he realized that the park was a lot less stressful and a lot more fun than the sheriff’s department.
Every morning, after he opened the park, he checked the trails for snakes. After getting some training from a snake researcher, Allan started helping collect and identify the snakes including dangerous ones like rattle snakes. When he picked up a rattle snake, he measured it and marked it’s rattles with nail polish and then released it away from the trails. Some were given transponders for the research.
After four years, he retired again, but a friend in construction called with a request. He needed help with his business in Northwest Arkansas, so Allan went for a visit and saw a lot of opportunities to fish.
The Allans packed up and moved to Bella Vista. He worked for his friend for five years and then took another shot at retiring. That was when he joined the Fly Tyers.
The best part of the Fly Tyers is taking kids fishing, he said. The club brings large groups of elementary students to fish on the Lake Windsor Dam.
Retirement has given him time to read, but his choice of reading materials is unusual. He likes to read about history and science. Over the years, he’s been able to do a certain amount of design including some architecture, but in school he never did well in algebra. That’s why he excited about an algebra book he picked up.
“I found a book that breaks the reasoning behind the formulas, instead of just giving you the formulas.”
It’s exciting to learn new things, he explained.
Although he’s happy in Bella Vista, he suspects another move is coming. His son is restoring historical homes in New Bedford, Massachusetts and could use some help. He can’t find qualified employees.
Allan remembers hiring kids right out of high school when he was building homes. He thinks he can help his son find and train the workers he needs. His wife is happy about the next move because there may be a new grand child on the way.
He also has a daughter who produces television shows in California.
When he lists his hobbies, he includes fishing, tying flies, building fishing rods, and making furniture. Another career may very well be in his future along with another retirement at some point…or not.