It seems that every time Michael Nieman runs the large aircraft engine outside his motorcycle rental shop in St. Helena, he’s putting his life on the line.
“I’m scared. Something always happens. That thing will kill ya’,” says Nieman before firing up his Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engine that used to propel a B36 Peacemaker bomber during the Cold War.
The sound is deafening. The wind from the prop is strong enough to blow someone’s back up against a wall. He’s had to chain the engine to his business to keep it from traveling across the street. During a recent run, Nieman caught his hand on fire while trying to prime the engine with gasoline. He admits that wasn’t as bad as the time a fireball from the engine set his roof on fire. Neiman who has been collecting engines all his life found this relic of the Cold War on eBay. He spent the next two years searching Google to figure out how to refurbish this former museum piece. Retirees from nearby Travis Air Force Base taught him how to operate it.
Neiman loves the smell of a hot engine, “Smells like victory to me. That’s what kept this country free.”
His goal is to keep the Cold War history alive for the next generation. “Nothing’s perfect in this world except for the people who have built this."