Return to Fern Hill Home Page The Saga of N210HL

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This is the story of the refurbishment of N210HL, a 1979 Cessna T210N that I bought in October, 2006. When I flew the plane home, my wife Karen just shook her head and said "It sure is an ugly color." Well, tan and brown with orange stripes were very popular in the '70s but haven't aged well! The paint was in fair condition, but the interior, which was also factory original, featured stained and cracked orange vinyl seats, grubby tan carpet, and stained seatbelts. The plane was in wonderful shape mechanically, including a brand new factory overhauled engine and propellor, but its looks didn't match its true quality. So, we decided in December 2006 to get the plane painted.

This project turned into an eight month ordeal of lies, missed deadlines, embezzlement, and dangerous mechanical neglect of our plane by the paint shop we selected, Tri-D Aircraft Paint and Upholstery of Wetumpka, Alabama. For the full story, keep reading below or you can skip around by clicking directly on the following section headings:

Where we started: N210HL when I first brought it home

Picking Out a Paint Shop, Colors, Schemes, and Fabric

Although I have owned various airplanes for more than 30 years, this was my first time to get one repainted. I was interested in finding a place that would do a reasonable job for a reasonable amount of money. After getting several different quotes, I settled on an outfit named Tri-D Aircraft Paint and Upholstery in Wetumpka, Alabama. This shop is actually owned by a company called Flight Line LLC which is owned by a person named Richard Chaput.

At the time I contracted with Richard at Tri-D I had done searches on the Cessna Pilots Association members forum and located some negative information about his timeliness and missed dates on work completion, but also found some other comments indicating that these problems were all in the past and all was well now. As I was to find, this was not the case!

The price that Richard quoted was good — $16K for paint, interior upholstery including side panels, and all new glass. The breakdown on the invoice dated December 7, 2006 was as follows: $7,800 for paint, $6,000 for leather interior, and $2,200 for new windows and seals all around. I jumped, and wrote a check for the full amount. Yes, this was a truly stupid move, and if I ever have another plane refurbished I will not make the same mistake again!

The holidays interfered with taking the plane down to Alabama, so it wasn't until December 28 that we flew down to 08A to pick out colors and fabrics. We were a bit surprised to see around 20 planes in various states of disassembly scattered around the rather shabby pair of hangars on the west end of the field, but Richard talked very convincingly about being able to move planes through his shop very rapidly and we foolishly believed him.

On the flight down to Wetumpka that December day, the transponder in N210HL went out so while we were meeting with Richard we had another shop at 08A look a the avionics. The name of this shop was CMC Aviation Services. They got the transponder going again and even offered to give us a loaner if it didn't continue to work. They charged us nothing for this! It turned out that this transponder failure was a blessing in disguise, as it gave us another contact on the field. This was to prove invaluable in the months ahead.

After a few hours of meeting with Richard, we had picked the paint, fabric and leather colors, had our transponder serviced, and were on our way back to Tennessee. Richard explained to us that he would need a couple of weeks to get a slot set up for our job so we planned to take the plane back during the second week of January. When I called that week, he said that there was a bit of delay and could we wait to bring the plane at the end of January. As the end of January approached he mentioned that another couple of weeks would be best so that he would be able to start on the plane immediately. Of course, we didn't want to take the plane to him if it was just going to sit there so this sounded reasonable, but we had paid for the job already and wanted it to be done in time for our planned flying schedule in the spring and summer, which included a number of business trips and two vacations.

In the interim we had more problems with the transponder and also decided to replace the old Collins audio panel with a PS-Engineering PMA-8000, bought from my good friend Mark Scheuer, the founder and owner of PS. I arranged for CMC to do the avionics work while the plane was being painted. The owner of CMC is a straight shooter named Jules Moffett. I ended up spending a lot of time on the telephone with Jules over the next number of months, and never once got bad information from him.

The First Four Months at Tri-D: February through May, 2007

Finally we settled with Tri-D that February 10, 2007 would be the day to take the plane to Alabama. Karen and I left from Tennessee and flew to Montgomery, Alabama where Karen picked up a one-way rental car and drove up to 08A to pick me up. As I landed at Wetumpka Municipal Airport I was met by Jules so that I could go over the details of the avionics modifications that I wanted made. One of the first things that Jules told me was that Richard had recently painted his Baron and that it had taken 110 days for the job to be done. I was aghast, but Richard had told me that things were different now and besides, I had already paid and the check had long since cleared the bank. All I could do was hope that Tri-D really had changed their business practices and that I could have my plane back in the 4 weeks that Richard had promised. I figured that even if it took 6 to 8 weeks, that would still get it back in time to do the flying I had planned.

Karen and I drove the rental car back to Tennessee as the plane went into the CMC hangar for its avionics rework.

A few weeks later I talked to Jules who told me the avionics work was done but Richard was doing nothing on the paint. By the middle of March the report was that the interior had been stripped out but that there was still no change in the paint. Karen's emails during the period February through March sum up our growing frustration:

Sunday, February 11, 2007
Yesterday we got up early and flew the plane to Wetumpka, AL for its makeover. I am so excited about this -- will have to send before and after pictures when we get it back, which won't be for about a month. Jim dropped me off at the Montgomery airport, I picked up a rental car and drove over to the Wetumpka airport, then we talked with the avionics shop and the paint and interior guys again, then drove home. It took about 5 hours, so it was about 6:30 when we got home.

Saturday, February 17, 2007
We took our plane down to Wetumpka, Alabama last weekend for its makeover. All very exciting! In addition to the completely new interior and repainted exterior, we are having a classy intercom system installed so we don't have to have extra boxes and cords straggling all over everywhere, and we're putting in a new transponder -- that's not a luxury, the current one is very intermittent which is not acceptable for an IFR airplane. We won't get it back for about a month, but I will send you guys pictures when we do! We've never had a plane before that looked particularly sharp -- many had decent paint and interiors but nothing all that special. This one is probably the ugliest we've had -- but not any more!

Friday, March 9, 2007
The airplane is still in Wetumpka. nothing much has happened to it yet. Jim wanted some avionics work done so they parked it in front of the avionics shop and did nothing. He's got it back down the paint shop now and they're supposed to start today. We shall see!

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Our plane is still in Wetumpka getting gussied up. the 4 weeks has stretched to 5.5 so far, and they haven't even started on the exterior paint job yet. We'll be lucky to get it back before the end of April at this rate. Jim is distraught! We'll have to delay any planning our trip to see you till we get closer to finished on the plane. Richard (paint shop owner) keeps giving us dates and then missing them by a mile.

Thursday, March 22, 2007
The plane is still in little pieces. Little unpainted pieces. The avionics panel is torn up and partially finished, the seats are out and being worked on, and the airplane is torn down for painting but the work hasn't really started yet. Was supposed to take 4 weeks and it's been 6 and counting. Jim is frantic.

Thursday, March 29, 2007
No news on the plane. Jim will try to call again tomorrow. They are working on it now, apparently, supposedly they were stripping the old paint off this week. That was supposed to happen about 5 weeks ago, but better now than 5 weeks farther in the future.

A call to Richard at the end of March revealed that the paint hadn't been stripped yet after all. Richard had a lengthy tear-jerker story about personnel problems, and how airplane painters all think that they are Leonardo Da Vinci. By Mid-April we were starting to have difficulty ever being able to talk to Richard on the phone. Our calls were answered by one of the upholstery sewers who professed to know nothing about the plane, just the upholstery. We asked that she relay a message that we had a critical trip lined up for the end of June and that we were expecting the plane to be ready well before then.

Friday, April 13, 2007
The plane is still in Wetumpka. They told Jim they are planning to strip the paint off next week. He thinks that means the interior is finished and the new windows installed, and maybe it will be done in 2-3 weeks. I can't believe how long this has taken. I'm still not holding my breath!

Sometime in May the plane had its paint stripped. We learned this from Jules since I could not get anyone at Tri-D to tell me what was happening to my plane. I hired CMC to do some additional avionics and engine work so that I would have an excuse to call Jules to get progress reports on the painting.

Sunday, May 27, 2007
We are still hoping for our trip to Vermont. Our plane, which has been in Wetumpka, AL since February 10 for painting, is STILL not finished and we are beginning to worry about having it in time to come. This has gone on way too long and we are extremely frustrated.

Lies, Lies, and More Lies: June and July, 2007

By the time June rolled around I was so stressed by the calls to Tri-D that I turned that task over to Karen. She is much more patient with making calls and is more probing in her questions when she actually does get someone on the other end of the line.

My brother Robby and I drove down to Wetumpka on June 9 in an attempt to speed up completion of the job. The trip from Tennessee takes about 5 hours each way so this was not undertaken lightly. We found the plane stripped of paint, as advertised, but with areas of very rough dried paint residue. Despite getting word from Richard that the plane was going into the paint booth "any day now" it was obvious that it would not be ready for our end-of-June trip. There were several people there in the hangar that Saturday working on planes but Richard was nowhere to be found. The word was that he was just out 'for a while.' My suspicion was that he high-tailed it away from there when he found out that we were coming. I wrote a note asking him to be sure to meet his previous commitment to have the plane done by the third week in June and taped it to his office door.

We never did receive an acknowledgement of that note.

Saturday, June 9, 207
Jim and Rob went to Wetumpka today to check up on progress of the airplane. Rob came over for dinner out last night and spent the night. They left at 6:15 this morning and got home around 5:30. Basically, I think I told you that Jim threatened the guy with a lawsuit, so now things are actually happening. Slowly. The paint is stripped off, but the interior is still not done, the new paint isn't done, the new windows aren't installed.... He has promised Jim it will be ready by 6/18 but frankly I think it will take a miracle for that to happen. We are supposed to go to Vermont on the 23rd. May well not happen.

N210HL stripped N210HL stripped

N210HL stripped N210HL stripped
Status of the plane when I visited June 9, 2007. You can see the rough spots on the tail where it's not really ready yet for painting. The other two banks of seats were started but not as far along as these.

Monday, June 11, 207
No, no word from Richard and of course he doesn't answer his phone.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
We still don't have our plane back. The newest promise date is next Monday. I'm not holding my breath. Jim drove down there last Saturday with his brother Rob, and they do finally have the paint stripped off. The interior is completely disassembled, and the seats are in the final stages of being releathered. They look great. The new windows aren't in yet, ..... so, it's been 4.5 months instead of 1. Jim finally threatened him with a lawyer which is why it is now having something done to it. We are supposed to fly to Vermont next weekend, 6/23, but haven't done the first thing about it since it seems so very unlikely to happen. Richard is not returning phone calls or answering the phone personally.

We continued to make multiple calls daily since most of them were either answered by a FAX machine or by an answering machine. I even sent a fax a few times since that would let Richard know that I was serious about needing the plane to be finished.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I think we're not going to Vermont. I looked up flying commercial, and it's doable, but expensive. McKenzie wants to drive -- but it takes 22 hours and Jim would be so tired after that, that it would be better if he just stays at work. I'm thinking maybe we wait till the plane comes back later this summer and then do other, shorter trips. I'm very depressed about all this. Jim has turned over to me the task of talking with the airplane shop, and getting info out of them is like pulling teeth. I got all excited yesterday when the ladies told me he had put the plane in the paint bay, but today Richard told me they had pulled it back out again because it wasn't prepped well enough. So now, it's due to go back in by Friday. Maybe.

Thursday, June 28, 2007
Some encouraging news on the plane, maybe. When I last talked to Richard, which was Monday afternoon, he told me it was being spray-painted as we spoke. This is the first, white coat. I think there are two coats of white, with one day between, and then the stripes and numbers get painted. He said the interior is done and ready to install. I don't know how long it takes to get the stripes done, whether they do one color and then wait a day, then another color and wait another day, then do the numbers. I also don't know if they do the smaller paint stuff in the only paint room, or if they do that by hand. I called about 6 times on Tuesday and Wednesday, but only got the answering machine or the fax machine, so don't have an update since then.

The end of June came and went. On July 4 a friend happened to be driving from Mobile up to Tennessee so I asked him to drop by 08A to take pictures of N210HL. The pictures that he brought to me that day showed a plane that seemed to have not been moved since June 9 when Robby and I were there. It was not painted, still silver, interior gutted, same parking spot.

N210HL stripped N210HL stripped
These are the pictures our client took at Wetumpka on July 4. See any visible changes from our visit on June 9?

Friday, July 6, 2007
No good news on the plane. One of our clients was driving through Wetumpka and Jim asked him to stop and take pictures. The plane hasn't moved and still isn't painted, despite what Richard told me last week. Richard continues to not answer his phone or return our calls.

Sunday, July 8, 2007
The summer is flying, but we're not. We still don't have our plane back from the paint job. It's now been 5 months for a 4-week job. We understand from one of our on-field spies that the plane was nowhere to be found Friday night, which hopefully means they have moved it into the paint shop. Guess our client taking pictures may have spurred Richard into some action! It's been stripped for about 6 weeks now. I am calling Tri-D 4-6 times a day (they hardly ever answer their phone or return phone messages) which actually gets me in contact with someone about once every two weeks. Not sure it matters, as Richard lies when I do get in touch with him and the upholstery ladies always deny any knowledge of anything. I do leave messages, at least one a day, to try to keep them spurred on, plus we have two people who are based on that field that will go out and check on things for us about once or twice a week. Plus, one of our clients was driving through Wetumpka and stopped at the field. He took pictures, and Richard came out to see what he was doing. "Jim's plane, right?" our client said in his heavy German accent. So, we know that Richard knows we have people checking on it, but it doesn't seem to be having much effect.

Thursday, July 12, 2007
We have passed along to one of our Wetumpka contacts, who operates the avionics shop on the field, that we wanted the name of a good local lawyer, and he passed that along to Richard. Also, Richard does know we have several people checking up on the plane. It may have gotten painted -- one of the 'spies' reported that they were working on final pre-paint prep for two days late last week, and then Friday evening he walked all over and couldn't find it anywhere -- which we hope means that it was moved in to the paint shed which they keep locked. So, maybe this week it has been painted. Nice thought, anyway. I have been calling and leaving multiple messages every day, always very polite, but asking for an update so we are keeping the pressure up. The interior is finished -- we had all the seats recovered with leather, and they were replacing all the liners, the side panels, the seat belts, the rugs, etc. It's apparently all ready to reinstall but they won't, of course, till the outside is done.

During the rest of July, we continued to call multiple times a day. Mostly these calls were either answered by a fax machine or by an answering machine that had a particularly unpleasant synthesized voice. If we actually managed to get through to a human it was one of the upholstery ladies who were unfailingly polite but professed ignorance of anything but their own work. Only once during the month did I manage to get Richard on the line. He said that the glass was done and the upholstery was complete and 210HL would be the next plane in the paint booth. Of course, he had already told us once or twice that the plane was already painted, so it was hard to get too excited about this statement. By this time, I very much felt like Charlie Brown, expecting that surely THIS TIME Lucy would hold that ball in place when I came up for the kickoff.

I had been planning on attending Airventure 2007 in my refurbished plane, so we were pushing hard to see if there was any chance that the plane would be done by then. The event dates for Airventure were July 23 - 29. We never could get any target completion date. On the 21st of July, Karen had a productive talk with Barbara, the leather sewer. Barbara said that she was fed up with Richard working on other people's planes that had been there less time than ours had been and that she told him she would quit if he didn't get our plane done. She said that she knew that she could get another job easily but that Richard would not be able to find another leather worker of her caliber for anywhere near what he was paying her. Of course, it was already apparent by this time that the plane would not be ready for Oshkosh, so my brother and I ended up driving, a 12-hour drive each way.

Saturday, July 21, 2007
I finally got a real status report on the plane, and it's not good news. I talked with the lady who heads up the interior shop again, and she gave me the full lowdown. She said our plane has been slated to be "next" into the paint shop for the last 3 weeks and Richard keeps sliding in other planes in front of it. She told him Wednesday that if he didn't paint it next (Monday-Wednesday of next week) she was quitting. She said that our plane has been on the field longest, she is too stressed out (by my daily phone messages asking for status), and she can get another job very easily where the owner is more businesslike. She says she had to threaten to quit last January in a similar situation and it worked, because Richard really, really doesn't want her to quit. Of course the big problem is that we paid up front and he's running these other planes in before us because they only paid half up front and he gets the rest on completion.

If he actually does paint it Monday - Wednesday, it will take about 2-3 days to reassemble (according to Barbara the leather lady), so we could have it by the end of the month. I'm not holding my breath. However, since we finally did get a real status, I am rewarding them (and me!) by not calling again until Monday. I'll try to find out then if it actually did make it into the paint shop. We'll also have our spy check that out too in case they lie to us again and say it's been painted. They've done that before.

"It'll be Ready in Four Days" -- August and September, 2007

August arrived and we were sure that this would be the month that the plane would make it out of Tri-D. Karen continued her daily calls and managed to talk to the ladies in the upholstery shop occasionally. The plane finally did get painted during the month, but then all work stopped again as our frustration continued to grow.

Thursday, August 2, 2007
We still don't have the plane. It's now been 6 months, and it's been stripped for 2. the interior is done and just waiting reassembly if he ever gets around to painting it. According to the info we have, it is supposed to be the next one into the paint shop -- we've been hearing that for weeks. The latest excuse is that the paint guy is off at his mother's funeral and may be back tomorrow. It's one excuse after another -- when we can get hold of anyone. The ladies in the upholstery shop have been answering the phone more regularly recently as they know I will not yell at them, but I also won't stop calling if they don't answer. We can't get anything but excuses, lies, and prevarications from Tri-D on a schedule for finishing the plane. We've missed all 6 of our planned business trips or had to fly commercial, and both vacations we had planned got scrubbed, but of course we still have to make the aircraft payments and hangar fees. Jim is really frantic and stressed about this entire experience.

Friday, August 3, 2007
We had some good news today. It seems our plane, which has been down in Wetumpka AL for a 4-week paint and interior refurbishment since Feb 6 is finally getting its primer coat on it today. Oh yeah, it has taken a bit longer than 4 weeks. Jim is beside himself. If true (and we will have one of our on-field spies go check it out later today or tomorrow), it should be ready in about another week. The ladies say they do all the painting bang-bang-bang once they finally get around to it, and then turn it over to the installers to put it back together again. Hopefully it will be gorgeous when it's all done. Finally.

Sunday, August 12, 2007
The airplane is finally white, as verified by our on-field reporters -- but Tri-D was supposed to do the striping and numbering last week also and it isn't even taped for that yet. The word we have is that re-assembly will take 3-5 days, so next weekend (the most recent promise) is looking less likely all the time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
News on the plane from one of our Wetumpka contacts: it is back in the paint booth today getting stripes and numbers.

Sunday, August 19, 2007
The plane is no further along. Still all white, but is taped up for the striping. Guess it got taped and then pulled back out of the paint booth again. The helpful interior/installer lady was off all last week with open heart surgery for her 2-month grandbaby. Apparently the interior installation can't begin without her. If she comes back today they may begin to get started this week with the installation. Every step is like pulling teeth.

On August 20 we received a call from Richard saying that the paint was done and that the plane just needed to be put back together, which should only take 3-5 days. We slightly decreased the frequency of our phone calls during the next week, since things seemed to be going the right way. As Labor Day weekend approached, we asked for a pickup date over the long weekend. Richard assured us the plane was "almost ready" but that it wouldn't be ready till midway through the week after Labor Day. There was still 4 days work left to do.

Monday evening, August 20, 2007
Oh miracles. the plane is painted finally. Richard promised to send us pictures today but of course he didn't. It still has to have the windows and interior installed. Supposedly that will start happening tomorrow. Richard told us the windows were installed months ago.... wonder what gives with that? But, installation should take 3 days to finish up if they actually get to it. I'm sure somebody will have a family crisis or fall deathly ill or something and it will get delayed a week. But, it could actually be ready for pickup this weekend.

Friday, August 24, 2007
The plane will be ready by the end of next week, is the newest estimate. Seems they didn't order enough carpet (at least that's the current excuse) and it was supposed to come in this afternoon. it's not like this is the first 210 they've done, so you'd think they'd know how much carpet they need. I don't believe any of their excuses anyway, by now. The painting is allegedly completed although they still haven't sent any pictures.

Sunday, August 26, 2007
Here's a picture of our repainted plane, or parts of it. It looks good! Maybe by this weekend?

N210HL painted
Richard finally sent this picture on August 26 showing the status of the paint job

Friday, August 31, 2007
We were supposed to be picking up the plane this weekend, but it's STILL not ready. The reassembly of the interior and control surfaces was supposed to take 3-4 days, but so far it's been two weeks since the paint was done and it's still in pieces. One excuse after another!

The weeks of September peeled off of the calendar without the plane being finished. It got harder to get any information again, as the ladies rarely answered the phone during this period and were very dodgy and cautious about answering questions when they did answer. By this time, Karen had taken to calling from a variety of different phones, as they obviously had our usual phone numbers memorized and would just let it ring over to the answering machine. As a result, I called Jules again to enlist his aid in finding out what was going on. He reported back that the plane was painted but was now sitting outside with its cowl off, and no visible activity taking place. He said that he raised Cain with Richard about this. On September 13, out of desperation, I asked Jules to give me a quote on putting the plane back together at CMC. By this time, I was almost ready to do anything to get the plane away from Richard and back in my hands. Jules went down to Tri-D to scope out the job, and reported back that Richard got very huffy about him being there. He told Jules that we were stressing him out over this! By then the plane had been at Tri-D for seven months and the stress meter for me had long since been off the scale. At any rate, this got Richard moving again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Plane's been in Wetumpka now almost 7 months. Supposedly it will be ready this coming weekend, but we've heard that story so many times we don't even breathe hard when we hear it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007
The plane is still in Wetumpka. It's painted, but now we can't get them to put it back together and get the interior in. It's had '3 days of work' remaining for about 4 weeks now. Very frustrating.

Thursday, September 13, 2007
Jim has contacted the other shop on the field, which is primarily avionics but COULD put the plane back together, and has asked Jules to give him a quote. Jules went over there this morning and told Richard that Jim had asked him about taking over and finishing up. Richard got all huffy and said he was going to start on it today. He said we were really stressing him out about this. Jules said, "Well after all, Richard, it has been 7 months and that's really beyond the pale." So, maybe this will light a fire under Richard. I have been calling all week and telling him -- or his answering machine, or one of the girls who says she knows nothing -- that we were planning to come get it this Friday if we didn't hear from him otherwise that it wasn't done. We wrote him an email saying that we were told 4 weeks ago that it only had 3-4 days left to go ... No response, of course. Finally yesterday I talked with one of the upholstery ladies who did admit, after close questioning, that the interior was still sitting in the interior shop, not in the plane.

Sunday, September 16, 2007
STILL no plane! It's now passed 7 months down there for a 4-week job, despite all our best efforts at calling, reminding, asking, leaving messages, etc. We're looking at getting someone else to put it back together. We would lose money this way, having to pay for it twice, but we might at least get our plane back before it disintegrates from old age. At the least, this ploy has apparently gotten some action going. Jules checked again at noon Friday and Richard was still working to clear a place in the hangar for it. So, I will call again tomorrow and see if I can get anyone to talk to me about it. Supposedly putting it all back together only takes 3 or 4 days. Guess he just can't bring himself to work on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Nothing new with the plane. It's still in pieces. More excuses, when I can get hold of the ladies. Richard won't answer the phone or talk with us. I leave threats on the answering machine periodically -- not really, I don't think at this point it pays to be other than polite and sound frustrated but functioning. The plane is inside the hangar now and ostensibly being worked on -- until he takes it back out and starts working on someone else's instead, which he has done repeatedly in the past. This man is a disaster. It's amazing to me that he is still in business.

Final Throes ... Oh, About Those Windows — Late September - October, 2007

On September 20, we got a completion date of October 4 from Richard, via Barbara, the leather lady. She said this was a 'for sure' date, set this far ahead to make sure they could actually finish it by this time. This phone call marked the start of the final stage in getting the plane back. Of course, finding out if they were on track to meet that date continued to be a Herculean task all by itself.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
Our plane is still not ready. I got a new completion date out of them today -- October 4. Don't understand how it can take two more weeks, added to the 4 weeks since they started, to do 3 days of reassembly work. Jim is really down in the dumps. Seems that have just now ordered the seatbelt webbing, which we asked about 6 months ago and they assured us it was "on the truck" and would arrive that day or the next. Liars!

Friday, September 28, 2007: Email to Tri-D
I called today several times to try to get an update on our plane, and whether it is ready for us to pick up this weekend. Your answering machine no longer takes messages.

Is it ready? Based on my earlier conversation with Barbara, the last info I got was that it would be ready by Oct 4 or earlier. We plan to show up down there on the 4th if we haven't heard from you to the contrary. If the plane isn't ready by then, we are discussing what actions we will take. It will have been there 8 months by then.

Saturday, September 29, 2007
Jules, the guy that runs the avionics shop on the same field, did go down on Wednesday and saw that they were actually working on our plane and that it was in the hangar. All the control surfaces have been re-installed (flaps, ailerons, cowl, etc.). He didn't look inside to see the status of the interior. Jim kinda wanted to fly down there this morning (he's rented a 172 and is now out poking holes in the sky just for fun) but I think I convinced him that was pointless and would only make him mad. The place has stopped taking messages on their answering machine. Now it just says, "Please call again later." Getting information out of that place is worse than pulling teeth.

It almost goes without saying that October 4 came and went without the plane being ready. We did get the word on October 3 from one of the upholstery ladies that the plane wasn't finished, which saved us a trip down, but she declined to guess on a new completion date. Jules checked on it for us on October 5, and reported that the plane was still in the hangar but still had no interior at all. That afternoon we sent email to Richard saying that we would seek legal action if the plane was not ready on the following Thursday, October, 11, eight months from when we took the plane there.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007: Email to Tri-D
Richard, I have been unable to get a new pickup date for our plane. When will it be ready? It has now been down there for 8 months. Please let us know.

Friday, October 5, 2007: Email to Tri-D
Richard, our plane has now been down in your shop for 8 months. You told us last December when we were discussing arrangements with you that the job would only take 4 weeks. I have been unable to get any answer for several weeks from you or any of your staff on the status of our plane. We have several people located on the Wetumpka field who have provided us information on status, and we know that as of this afternoon the interior is still not completed and that apparently no one is now working on the plane. You told us in August it would be completed by the Tuesday after Labor Day. In mid-September, Barbara relayed your promise that it would be ready for pickup by October 4. This date, like all the others, has now passed without the work being completed.

We are at the end of our rope. You don't return our calls, you don't answer our emails. You have shown complete disregard for even the most basic aspects of customer service. We are now in the process of contacting an attorney in the Montgomery area. If you don't have our airplane completed in a quality manner by Thursday, October 11, 2007 so that we can pick it up on Friday, October 12, 2007, we will have no choice but to begin legal proceedings.

I regret that it has come to this point. I will expect a call or email from you on or before Monday, 10/8/07, confirming that you have received this message. I will expect another call not later than Thursday morning confirming that the plane is ready for pickup.

Friday, October 5, 2007
The plane is still not ready. Yet another lie. We are contacting a lawyer for all the good it will do. I have emailed and called Richard, leaving a message to this effect, and gave him an ultimatum date of next Thursday completion and Friday pickup or else we sue. Maybe this will hurry him along, although nothing seems to. We will have to follow through if he doesn't. I hate to get in this position, I hate supporting lawyers, but at this point we either have given him a plane or we do something desperate.

I made plans to drive down on Monday, October 8 to see if anything was happening. I arrived after quitting time that afternoon and found the plane just as Jules had described it - completely bare of interior. Richard was still there and I had a brief meeting with him where he blamed the problems getting this plane done on a whole cornucopia of reasons, mostly staff problems - all out of his control, of course. Nothing was ever Richard's fault.

Saturday, October 6, 2007
Still no plane. They lied again, saying it would be ready on 10/4. Our on-field independent contact peered in the windows and said there is no interior at all yet. We wrote Richard an email saying that if he hadn't finished it by this coming Thursday, we are taking legal action. Then I called up his answering machine and read off the email. Don't know if this will have any impact or not. Jim is thinking that he will drive down there Monday afternoon and get the plane transferred over to the other repair shop on the field, and try to get them to at least get it to the point where it's flyable. What a disaster this has been!

Monday, October 8, 2007
In other news, Jim is heading down to Alabama this afternoon to do battle over our plane. After 8 months, and multiple promise dates for completion, it's still not done. It's painted, but the interior is not done. The guy does not return our phone calls or emails. We wrote him an ultimatum last week, and threatened legal action. I talked to him just now -- he actually answered the phone himself for the first time since just before Labor day -- and he said they were putting the final touches on it -- but then he lies all the time. So, maybe our email is actually having some effect. He said he would send up pics right away to save Jim the drive... but Jim is going anyway. His thinking is that if it's NOT finished he wants to move it to the other mechanic on the field and have him put it together to the point we can fly it home, and then figure out what to do from there.

Monday night, October 8, 2007
These are pics that Richard sent this morning to try to convince Jim not to come. They weren't too compelling -- the seats have been done for at least 3 months. Jim went anyway. Nothing had happened between the time the pics were taken and when Jim got there. Richard gave him a long song and dance about his wife, who does the binding on the carpet and how she's having knee problems, and Barbara who does the interior installation and has a desperately ill grandchild. Same-o, same-o. Some of it may be true, and if so it's very unfortunate, but it still doesn't explain away 7 extra months to do one single plane. Jim will stay down there tomorrow trying to stir up more action but it's not likely.

The drive only took 4.5 hours, he must have flown (but it was in the car). Richard didn't make any promises today about when the plane will be ready.

N210HL interior N210HL exterior
N210HL seat N210HL seats
These are the pictures that Richard sent on October 8, 2007

I stayed in Alabama overnight and showed up at the airport early the next morning. I had a longer meeting with Richard. One of the first things he told me was that he had not put the glass that we had paid for into the plane - he had put it into another plane! At this point I thought that I would be lucky to just get an airworthy plane back so instead of calling the police at that point I just said that it would be fine if he just refunded the $2200 that was the line item for glass.

I stayed there for several hours to see that things were actually happening on the plane and left with the promise that it would be ready to fly home by Wednesday of the next week, October 17, 2007.

N210HL exterior N210HL exterior
N210HL tail N210HL showing some interior
Jim took these pictures in Wetumpka October 8, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007
We're almost afraid to make plans for getting the plane on Wednesday, but if it actually is ready, we need to start thinking about what to do. It's hard to make plans when you have absolutely no confidence that any of them will be needed. I guess if it's not ready, Jim will want us to go down anyway and meet with the lawyer.

Richard called on Tuesday, October 16, to say that the plane would be ready as promised on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible and the prediction was worse, so Karen had to call them on Wednesday and say we weren't coming. Thursday was also bad, so it was Friday, October 19 that my brother and sister-in-law, Robby and Ronda, Karen and I drove down to Wetumpka to get the plane.

At my request, Jules had moved it to his hangar to check out its operation and to get it ready for its flight home. It took a while, and a couple of hammer taps on a stuck solenoid, to get the engine cranked as it had sat for so long, but it finally started and after a few minutes smoothed out into a nice throaty roar. Jules did a high-power run-up and carefully looked over the engine afterwards. Watching the proceedings was Jim Dunn, an independent AP/IA who would sign off the work that Richard had done. Dunn asked me if I was satisfied with the job that had been done. I was happy with the quality of the work and told him that but that eight months for a 4-week job was not OK in my book. Dunn allowed as how most people that had work done by Richard felt the same way - happy with the quality but very pissed about the experience. He said he had rarely had any problems with the quality in his own inspections, and confirmed that Richard used all the appropriate materials and preparation procedures.

After we finished the run-up we went down to Tri-D to have the settling-up meeting with Richard. We told him that we understood that we still owed for the webbing on the seatbelts but that he owed us for the glass that he did not install. He did not dispute any of this but said that he didn't have any money to pay us with. We told him that we would accept interest-free payments and he signed a document to that effect. However, to the date of this writing he has not sent us one cent!

We finished up there, gassed the plane, and took off for the trip back to Tennessee.

N210HL exterior N210HL exterior
N210HL exterior N210HL exterior
Final checkout and flying home 10/19/07

Aftermath: Just a Few Minor Problems

Finally we had our plane back but there were still seismic waves vibrating from the experience.

The next weekend Karen and I decided to use the plane to fly to Nashville for a family get-together even though it would be faster to drive. The trip over was fine and the party was fun but the run-up on the ramp for the return trip showed that there was a dead right magneto. Being a weekend, there was nothing to do but leave it there and drive home in a rental car.

The good people at Nashville Jet Center troubleshot it first thing Monday morning and found that the mag was full of water that had corroded the leaf spring on the points to the point that it simply disintegrated. This water was almost certainly a result of the plane sitting outside for several months at Tri-D with its cowl off (the plane had been hangared or covered while we had it). These were new mags, by the way - the engine had been replaced just before I bought the plane in October 2006, and these mags had less than 30 hours on them. I ordered a rebuilt mag from a Quality Aircraft Accessories ($595 plus overnight shipping). On Tuesday I drove the rental car back to Nashville and watched as they installed the new mag (and unfortunately put a ding in the new paint on the cowl).

N210HL ruined magneto
The interior of the magneto after sitting out in the rain for months

Since the annual for 210HL was due by the end of October (the next day), I took off from BNA and flew directly to Seymour Airpark where the annual was to be done.

I asked the mechanic to check the other mag, figuring if one had water in it, the other one probably did too. Yes, it did, and had to be replaced as well. Another discrepancy that the mechanic discovered during the annual was that the vernier throttle control, which I had installed just a month before I took the plane down to Tri-D, had been bent during the work on the interior, and the center push button no longer worked. Cost for the original purchase and installation of the throttle control had been around $1,000, so there was more money down the drain.

Also, the propellor wasn't acting right. During the runup, when I would pull out the prop it would spin down just fine but when I pushed it back in, it spun up way too slowly. I worried about this for a number of months, trying to decide if it was just my imagination or if there were a real problem. The propellor had been overhauled along with the engine, and had less than 100 hours on it. I thought it might be the tach not working right, so I bought an external tach and set it on the dashboard. When it showed the same issues, I decided I needed to have the prop looked at. I was scheduled to fly to Atlanta for a business meeting in August, so decided to take the opportunity to take the plane to Sensenich Propellors for a check on the prop governor. They assured me they could test out the governor and do minor work on the propellor while I was at my meeting and it would be ready by the end of the day. Unfortunately, it turned out to need another major overhaul, because of major corrosion, so I had to leave the plane there and rent a car to drive home, then do the whole process in reverse a week later when the plane was ready. The only thing we could figure out was that the power washing at Tri-D must have broken the seals and sitting out in the rain for the next several months finished the job -- remember the plane had been inside a hangar since I got the plane back from Tri-D.

I attribute both magnetos, the throttle control, and the propellor failures directly to Richard and Tri-D, adding another $8,200 to the actual costs of the experience. We hope fervently that this is the end of it, and there won't be any further problems. In September 2008 we flew the plane all the way out to California and back, and it performed perfectly.

Conclusions and Recommendations

So looking back, I am satisfied with the quality of the paint and interior job that Tri-D did. The plane looks great and I get lots of compliments on it. However, I am furious with Richard Chaput for defrauding me of the money for glass, for the loss of use of the airplane for 2/3 of a year, and for being so careless with the care of the aircraft while it was in his possession that it resulted in the ruin of two new mags, an overhauled propellor, and a new throttle control. Magneto failure is very serious; we were extremely lucky that only one failed during our flight to Nashville, even though both were in seriously bad condition.

If I had it to do all over again I would gladly pay twice what I paid to Tri-D to get the plane done on a reasonable schedule with no life threatening mechanical damage done during the process.

I cannot recommend Tri-D to anyone who wants to get their plane refurbished. Richard has some good people working for him, but his business practices are so far beyond acceptable that it is a wonder to me that he is still in business. I believe he is so close to bankruptcy now that putting an airplane in his care would be putting it in very serious danger of being tied up in liens and legal actions. If the company were to fold while an airplane were in pieces, getting it back into airworthy condition could take months and innumerable headaches that would make our saga look like a walk in the park.

Jim Pearce, N210HL


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