Caul calls it a career after 34 years at airport

Duane Hicks

After 34 years of working for the Town of Fort Frances, airport and parks superintendent Bill Caul retired today.
Starting at a wage of $3.10/hour, Caul first worked for the town from April, 1973 until April, 1975. Then he came back in the fall of 1978 to continue working until the present.
Caul, now 57, started out as an airport attendant, taking care of the planes and fueling them up.
“When I first started, I was more into the maintenance end of it, so I enjoyed working on the equipment,” he recalled.
Caul said when he started, the airport consisted of a terminal and one hangar.
“There were no other hangars, no maintenance garage,” he remarked, noting nine new structures have been built over the past three decades.
“When I first started here, the main runway was 4,000 feet long and it was surface treated, and on the real hot days in the summer, the airplanes would land and the surface treatment would peel up on the tires,” Caul chuckled, noting the town got a $2.2 million grant in 1984-85 to extend the runway 500 feet, blacktop it, build the cross runway, and build taxiway “Bravo.”
The main runway was renovated again in 2001 while the secondary cross runway was closed in 2009.
Airport manager Don Melville saw potential in Caul, who eventually became assistant airport manager and then airport manager on Jan. 1, 1989 when Melvin retired.
Eventually, he became airport superintendent.
Caul has seen some changes over the years—most notably that airport traffic has declined.
“Traffic has dropped off; in general, aviation has dropped off,” he noted.
“Back in the early ’80s, we were so busy in the summertime that basically two of us would sit at the fuel pumps all day long.
“In fact, some days we ate our lunch sitting on the fuel cabinet.”
Caul said the bad economy of late has affected air traffic “because the majority of our traffic was from the States,” referring to commercial and private flights.
The increasing cost of airplanes, fuel, and insurance also has not helped matters.
The Fort Frances Airport still has regularly-scheduled Bearskin Airlines flights, as well as quite a few medical flights, but a look at the numbers show the airport saw a total of 5,271 landings in 2010 carrying only 10,244 passengers (4,565 of which were on Bearskin).
Another big change during Caul’s career was the building of the new airport terminal building, which opened in February, 2000.
“This is a beautiful little facility for a town this size,” said Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown.
“Well-maintained, too.”
Caul became superintendent of airport and parks in August, 2004 when the town restructured management and shifted the responsibility of parks from the superintendent of works (facilities) portfolio.
“We had a weakness in water and sewer, and Bill had a background in cutting grass, being a farmer, so it was a good fit,” chuckled Brown.
“I enjoyed it,” Caul said. “I was leery at the start, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it, enjoyed the crew.”
“I’ve really enjoyed Bill being in parks,” added Brown.
The most recent issue at the airport has been the presence of deer on runways. While a cull was implemented in late fall, the town still is looking for a long-term solution and has applied to the federal government for money to build a deer fence.
They hope to hear back regarding the funding this spring.
As for what he’ll be doing in his retirement, Caul said he has a few projects in mind. But for the first while, he’ll be helping out at International Falls-based business “Lu’s,” which he owns with wife, Luanne.
But having spent so many years at the airport, doing everything from fuelling aircraft, answering the radio, and operating equipment to paperwork and budgeting, Caul said he’ll miss it.
“[The highlight was] just getting to know the different staff over the years, working with the different people,” he remarked.
“That’s probably what I am going to miss the most—fellow workers.”
“If there’s anything I could say about Bill is he is a hard-working guy,” said Brown, noting Caul’s “even-keeled nature” always was welcome at management meetings.
He added the fact the town never hears complaints about the airport is a testament to how well Caul ran the facility.
Looking down the road, Brown said the town will not be hiring a new airport superintendent, but instead has promoted current airport attendant Glen Wood to airport supervisor, which will see him take on new administrative responsibilities strictly related to the airport.
In the meantime, Brown will take over overseeing the parks department.