Only two things have lured Chris Hallstrand away from his Northern Wisconsin roots, serving as a C-130 crew chief in the US Air Force and Air National Guard and becoming the new superintendent of maintenance and operations at Wittman Regional Airport.
The manager of Price County Airport in Phillips since 2003, he’d passed on offers of positions at other airports, “but I couldn’t say no to Oshkosh. What goes on here is phenomenal and I wanted to be a part of it, so I didn’t stutter when they they offered me the position.”
Myriad challenges is what makes airport operations fun, he said, because “every day is an adventure, and that’s a good thing for a guy like me.” As the home of EAA, Wittman presents challenges “you’re not going to find anywhere else in the world.” Starting in July, he met them with his predecessor, John Dorsey, who retired in August.
Explaining that the airport staff works for Winnebago County and that they serve its taxpayers, “our primary job is to provide a safe platform for aircraft to operate,” he said. Responsible for everything inside the airport fence, including the fence, Hallstrand said he’s “on the same page” as Airport Director Peter Moll, and that “we have each other’s back.”
Hallstrand describes his five-man crew with a single word, “phenomenal.” As a team they possess the skills necessary to maintain almost every aspect of the airport. Instead of hiring a contractor, “having an electrician come out for $90 an hour, we do the work ourselves.”
That would be John Peterson, who maintains all the airport gates and lights, including several hundred illuminated airport signs, rewiring their underground conduits as necessary. Chris Karoses can fabricate almost anything out of metal, and then paint it.
Pete Rauch is the mechanic who keeps Wittman’s rolling stock in top shape, including the Oshkosh P-series truck that is just two years younger than the 36-year-old Hallstrand. “Our guys know how to take good care of equipment.”
Jeff Leichtfuss is responsible for Wittman’s grounds, all 1,400 acres, and three part-timers assist him during the summer. Dan Konrad works the night shift, Hallstrand said, maintaining the terminal and its surrounding grounds. And when the snow falls, the full-timers are driving the plows, broom, and blowers.
Hallstrand is now comfortable finding his way around Wittman’s four runways and miles of taxiways and roads, and coordinating his travels with the control tower. “Price County has two runways and no tower,” he said, so as its manager, “I was free to move about the airport.”
One remaining challenge is deciding on his future with the Air National Guard, a C-130 squadron at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “I put 115 percent into everything I do,” he said, and the five-hour drive is just one part of the equation. Reflecting quietly on his half-dozen deployments to hot spots from Kosovo to Afghanistan, “I’ve done enough war now and I don’t want to spend any more time away from the wife and kids, so I’ll probably hang it up at the end of my term,” he said.
With his wife of 14 years and his son and daughter, both in middle school, Hallstrand now resides in Omro. Finding his way home has been a challenge not yet fully resolved. Construction of US 41 is a contributing factor, but “I come from a county in Northern Wisconsin with one stop light, and I lived 30 miles from it.”