Long-time Airport Manager Reflects on 30 Years on the Job

Bob Shaffer-DuBois Regional Airport ManagerWASHINGTON TWP., Pa. (EYT) — Bob Shaffer has seen it all and then some. As the airport manager at DuBois Regional Airport since April 1, 1987, and an employee there since November 14, 1978, Shaffer has seen both the good and the difficult times.

On Friday morning at the Airport Authority’s monthly meeting, Jefferson County officially recognized Shaffer for his decades of service.

For Shaffer, it all began when he ran into Marilyn Scherer, the wife of Francis “Bud” Scherer, and she told him her husband was looking for a good guy out at the airport. Shaffer went out and talked to Bud and was hired soon after giving his two weeks notice to V.T. Smith, a milk and beverage distributor in DuBois. Shaffer started out plowing snow, cutting grass, doing janitorial work and general maintenance.

In February 1985, Scherer died in a plane crash in Cameron County and an interim manager was hired. Two years later, Shaffer was named the manager under the direction of Ed Brubaker, the chairman of the Airport Authority then.

Shaffer has seen many things change while working at and running the airport. Technology is certainly one of those changes.

“Back in the winter of 1978, when the snow started to fly, one of the guys went out and plowed the runway, and he came back in and told me to put on my rain gear and goggles because we were going to go out and sand the runway.”

“And I said, ‘Well, why do we need rain gear and goggles, and I quickly learned that the old truck we used to plow with had a little space in the corner in the back and a little dolly that was used to pull the spreader, and you had to shovel the sand into the spreader to treat the runway. So, it all blew back up in your face because you are going 20 miles an hour, and you needed to rain gear and glasses to keep the sand out of your eyes,” and Shaffer chuckled at the memory.

“Now, we have a computer-operated spreader that can wet the sand, and you have radio communication, and it’s a modern version.”

Shaffer has become very accustomed to dealing with challenging circumstances at the airport.

“We’ve always scraped to make ends meet, always tight on dollars, and even when we did have a few extra dollars, we were using to fix something that was broke,” Shaffer explained.

He also talked about buying 80 acres of land and deciding what to do with it.

“We were buying it for future development to have an air commerce park, and today we have Orion Drilling and Cactus Wellheads there.”

Working with the Federal Aviation Administration also requires a great deal of training and education.

“It’s a vast training scenario that everyone has to have to work at the airport and service those aircraft,” Shaffer said. “I’ve been through all that training and done some it myself. You have to learn quite a bit about it.”

Shaffer never became a pilot, and he said it was one of the advantages back then when he was hired because of what had happened to Scherer.

“I love to fly, and I really enjoy flying in helicopters, but I never had that desire to become a pilot. My brother Randy became a pilot, and my nephew, Sinjin, is also studying right now to become a pilot.”

Some of Shaffer’s more memorable moments include visits by celebrities and former President, George H. Bush, who flew in for campaign rallies in 1986 when he was running for the office.

“I got to work with the Secret Service and go through everything that was necessary for his visit.”

Some of the celebrities flew in to perform at the Clearfield County Fair and included the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, and former baseball star Pete Rose.

In 1987, Shaffer watched as a Baltimore Air National Guard A-10 Warthog that was attempting to make an emergency landing, crashed. Fortunately, the pilot ejected before the crash.

“To hear and see that crash and the mushroom cloud, those are moments you just don’t forget,” Shaffer said.

Another memorable moment was when the airport hosted an air show and a Stealth Bomber flew over.

Shaffer and Airport Authority Chairman Paul Sekula worked to expand the “Flight Deck” restaurant.

“We added more seating and expanded it to make it more of an attraction for people to come to the airport,” Shaffer said.

The airport had 28,000 enplanements and was doing nine trips a day to Pittsburgh, according to Shaffer.

That was the height of it here, and then things started to change when Owens-Illinois bought Brockway Glass and Penn Traffic changed the way it did business.

“We absolutely saw a change, certainly,” Shaffer said. “Brockway Glass kept planes here that they flew back and forth to Pittsburgh and with O-I, that ended.”

Despite the challenges of different airlines coming and going over the years, Shaffer said he still enjoys his work.

“You may have a day where you are talking to your county commissioners or senators or representatives and another where you are negotiating with an airline,” Shaffer said.

“I’ve done a lot of different things over the years, I still plow snow from time to time and every morning, I’m up early to see if it needs done. But, I still enjoy coming to work and I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked a day in my life.”

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