Tribute to “Tinman” Kent White

Source: 2024 Q2 Beartracks, Mark Moyle
Sad News from California: “Tinman” Kent White Died on 5/19/2024
Kent was an early member of the Bearhawk community and was active in the Yahoo-based discussion groups that predate our present forum. Many of us purchased metal-shaping and welding tools, instructional videos, and supplies from Kent over the years. Bearhawk Builder Mark Moyle offers this tribute:
I hope I can even come close to relaying my reverence for Kent. From the second day I had met the man I started addressing him as Kent Master. Nearly 15 years ago I met Kent and 4 other Bearhawk builders at an aviation sheet metal class in Anchorage. Del Rawlins, Paul Minelga, Dan Schillings and Matthew Schumacher. There were other folks in this class, I don’t recall any of them. To me they were metal mashers, chimps I didn’t have any association with. I’m sure they were nice guys, but the Bearhawk guys. We were different. We obviously were not hammered mechanics like the other guys... my story relates to that.
Kent was there to teach us the basics. Taught us how to take a round disc of 5052H32 and turn it into a bowl by thickening the metal around the circumference of the circle. Now imagine 12 people all hammering on aluminum at the same time being taught by this huge man. Kent was like 7 foot if he was an inch! Here’s this huge guy using the same tool as the rest of us, but in his hands, that hammer, it looked tiny. That same hammer looked like a sledge hammer in the hands of a few of the small guys. Believe me when I say guys follow the example set for us by the teacher. Almost everyone was whaling on that sheet metal. Here’s this huge guy tapping on a thin piece of aluminum… he’s so damn big he must be putting allot of force into the metal. I’m like where are the ear plugs? I stood back and just watched for a bit before I started. Thing is I listened. Kent was one of these guys who gave you pearls of wisdom to make you think. He was an artist at it, and I think he enjoyed watching befuddlement. He enjoyed seeing the perplexing expressions on people’s faces. I could see it, it was like a twinkle in his eye. He wasn’t going to tell you how to do something one bean at a time. He’d tell a short story. Really short, maybe 5 words. You had to listen and think. I remember Paul catching on real quick. I think he was the first or second person to get the bowl done and done nicely. Turned out to make that bowl, this great big man was gentle on metal as he was as a person. I learned buckets from the guy. Even tooled up with the equipment he sold. English wheel, Planishing hammer and a bunch of his hand tools. Bought all of his videos. I have every one of his prototype planishing hammer dies.
Kent became a master European classic car restoration at Harrah’s auto museum. Kent was one of the few guys who could duplicate replacement parts with all the correct tool marks to make his part indistinguishable from OEM. He was considered royalty amongst the classic European classic car owners. It’s like Kent was many people: the teacher who didn’t lead you by the nose. The expert on European classic cars. The aviation expert on airframe repair and prototype work. To the guy who nobody really knew. Kent lived way off the beaten path. He moved to the Grass Valley, Nevada City area in the foothills of the Serria Nevada mountains in 1979. The year I moved away from Grass Valley. Kent lived in North San Juan. About as far out in the mountainous country and still be in Nevada county.
Kent was such a master craftsman. For years he build the prototype inlet nacelles for hawker beech jet engines. He was approved by Boeing to teach mechanics how to shape and replace skins on Boeing aircraft at facilities around the world. Kent was also the guy that Hollywood called upon when they wrecked damaging the tail on a Howard Hughes mono-wing replica aircraft in the movie Aviator. I have pictures he sent me of him repairing one of two aircraft in existence totaled by the insurance carrier, but had to be repaired because they performed a very specific task. A couple mechanics lifted this twin engine turbo prop with wing jacks and didn’t support the fuselage causing it to buckle badly in the middle.
About ten years ago, maybe longer. Kent began making a yearly trek to Platinum for a few weeks in late August for Silver salmon fishing. He liked that I took him on adventures and always brought him back alive. These adventures involved boats and four-wheelers to places and at speeds that would make a sissy cry out in fear. I didn’t put airplanes on that list. We did fly in some nasty conditions together, but always safely. Last summer Kent flew into Soldotna. We fished the Kenai and stayed with my daughter and her family waiting on a weather window to fly my airplane to Platinum. By the way, in Alaska, seaplane doors that are nothing but window, down low. Yeah.. do it.
We spoke on the phone often. Ask about each other lives, things real friends talk about. The emotional stuff. When it came to me tying to mine that brain of his for some nerdy odd ball thing, it was always on the phone. I avoided taking advantage of him on his vacation. Made me feel guilty. It’s like being a doctor and everyone around you is asking you things medical. Or a car mechanic whose friends want you to fix something for them. Maybe that’s why I have all of his prototype dies for the planishing hammer. We’d use them together in my shop.
Kent was a true independent thinker. He made his life his way and by his rules. I don’t think I ever heard him say or do anything that told me this guy was any thing but a genuinely nice caring person who was nice and respectful to absolutely everyone.
Kent was truly a great friend, loved that guy. We were going to a sandbar hopping fishing and camping adventure this summer. From Platinum, through the Dillingham area, up through lake Clark. I’m going to miss him. Now I’ll have to train up someone for my adventures. Didn’t have to train Kent. He was game for anything. Great great man!

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