Nov 2023 Member Spotlight!
Marine, Mentor, Teacher, Humble
...and still kicking strong at 90 this month!
Jim is a long time, active member of the chapter having served in many positions and currently serving as our Technical Advisor. If you have a question, see Jim. He readily gives of his knowledge and time.
A little about him...as related to us by his son Frank...
Burl "Jim" Nunnelee was raised in Longview, WA where his father, Burl Sr., ran a lumberyard during the Great Depression. As pre-teens, Jim and his brother Gary would often pack a can of chicken noodle soup and hitchhike to the woods where they would spend the night catching frogs and hitchhike home the following day. Jim's family moved to Los Angeles where his father ran a small sidewalk restaurant. There, Jim developed a love of machines and mechanics, building what we would now call rat-rods. He raced around the city and subsequently made the acquaintance of Los Angeles police officers who less than gently administered corrective counseling. Coincidentally, members of an elite LAPD detective unit in the 1940s and 50s, the famous (or infamous) "Hat Squad," frequented his father's restaurant.
Jim met his wife, Jean, in high school; the finest woman to walk the earth according to Jim. They married weeks before the U.S. Marine Corps gave him an all-expense paid voyage to Japan by way of a Navy troop ship. Jim swears that the Navy cooks served liver every day, three times a day, even for dessert. He holds a grudge against the Navy and liver to this day. Who could disagree?...but he did volunteer...
After honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, Jim obtained his engineering degree and worked for several aerospace companies, Boeing, Rockwell, etc. During this time, he also earned his pilot license. Tired of layoffs and involuntary travel, he earned his teaching certificate and moved on to teach airframe and powerplant mechanics at Glendale College. For many years, Jim had a cadre of devoted students. Teaching comes natural to Jim. Once, his son, Frank, asked him a question regarding the absolute speed limit of propeller driven aircraft. Jim's answer involved physics and a few scientific terms which young Frank couldn't even pronounce yet alone understand.
Jim's garage was always filled with an airplane or two in various stages of construction or repair. His hands and clothes were often stained with oil and gasoline. One plane he restored, a fabric covered, retractable gear Bellanca was his pride and joy. One day, with his sons and their friend aboard, Jim took them on a flight from Agua Dulce, CA. On the return flight, just feet above the runway, Jim applied full power for a go-around. As the plane gained altitude, the engine inexplicably quit. Jim tried to start the engine while maintaining his airspeed and aiming for an empty field. The landing collapsed the gear and resulted in extensive damage to his pride and joy. However, due to his flying skills, the four of them walked away relatively unscathed; Jim cut his lip on the dash.
Jim enjoyed the outdoors and took his family and their friends on many camping adventures in their tent trailer. Jim's son Frank still claims Yosemite as his own...
When Jim retired, he and Jean moved to Nevada where he restored a 1929 Ford Model A truck. In 1977, he restored a 1929 Ford Model A, five window coup, for his son Frank; Frank's first car. Frank notes that his first journey after the restoration was to a gas station several miles down the road. As he filled the tank, the horrified attendant ran to the pump and hit the emergency stop button. Frank noticed a huge puddle of gas surrounding his car and was at a loss for what to do. He called his dad (Jim) and explained to the attendant that his dad was a mechanical genius who worked on all sorts of aircraft. Jim was the "Machine Whisperer." Jim and Jean soon arrived with Jim's huge rollaway tool chest in the back of his Chevy El-Camino. In Frank's mind, this perfectly illustrated Jim's knowledge and skill. Jim opened the hood, made a quick assessment, then smacked the carburetor with a huge hammer. The attendant gave Frank a look that suggested Jim might not be the mechanical genius he described. The blow fixed the problem; a stuck float. They followed Frank home for what Frank assumed would be an uneventful trip. WRONG! The right, rear wheel detached from the axel, rolled across the road and over a chainlink fence. The shower of sparks and the car's list rather excited Jean.
When they moved to Nevada, Jim found time to build several airplanes in his garage. One flipped over in the Nevada wind which required Jim to rebuild it. Jim even wheeled one plane project onto the driveway (without wings) and fired it up; attracting the attention of many neighbors.
Jim's wife, Jean, passed away and many years later, Jim met Maggie. They've been together since.