Southern Nevada Model T Club

Spotlight: Richard Aggen

Richard Aggen, November 6, 2010, Model A and Model T Picnic, Sunset Park.  Photograph by G.A. Villa.  Copyright G.A. Villa and SNMTC.


Spotlight on Richard Aggen:
Southern Nevada Model T Club Treasurer and Raconteur Extraordinaire

            Richard Aggen is perhaps the only Southern Nevada Model T Club member who carries the designation of nonagenarian, and he certainly carries 90 years with intelligence, character, and a profound personal and professional history. After many years as Club Treasurer, Dick retired in 2016. We were reluctant to see him go, but we celebrate his many, many years of very active participation and his jokes, which were a very important part of each and every meeting.

            Richard was born in Milford, Nebraska, in 1920, and only 18 years later he was attending the University of Nebraska on a two-year scholarship in the aeronautical engineering school (1938-1940).  The scholarship was in recognition for his unusual maturity, his notable ability to conceptualize sensibly, and his talents in mathematics and science.  But as helpful as that scholarship money was, during the Great Depression Richard still had to work three jobs to keep himself current with his university expenses:  he worked in a macaroni factory, he screened dinosaur and fossil bones at the Museum of Natural History, and he peeled about 100 pounds of potatoes a day for the hungry folks who ate at the Greyhound Bus Depot Restaurant.

        Having completed the University of Nebraska two-year engineering program, Richard drove west to California to join his folks who had moved there and for the opportunity to advance his studies.  Before he left the University of Nebraska, however, his teacher-mentor admonished him not to attend the University of Southern California (USC) because the aircraft engineering program was considered inferior.  Richard never had to weigh in on that opinion because USC did not offer a program beyond the two years he had already completed, and later in his distinguished career, he would nonetheless find USC a worthwhile school.  Richard was surprised at that time, too, to find that the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) was a two-year institution that did not offer an advanced aeronautical engineering program either.  The University of California at Berkeley offered the only advanced degree path in aircraft engineering in the early 1940's, but it was neither near enough nor economically feasible enough for him to attend there.

            Richard did find an aircraft school at Pasadena Junior College which emphasized the mechanical work that went into making a plane (e.g., aircraft riveting techniques).  He did more than well, and he was asked to help with the school program by teaching descriptive geometry and trigonometry.  His work at the college landed him a job for 50 cents an hour at Northrop Aircraft Company, and he by his own admission was thrilled to have it (remember it was 1940).  Northrop, as it turns out, was also thrilled to have Richard as he worked there for the next 41 years.  His subsequent studies found him at California State University at Long Beach where he earned a B.A. in Business Administration and at USC where he earned a Master's Degree in Business Management (perhaps, he says, his early University of Nebraska professor would be chagrined to know of his eventual work at USC, but he notes that it was a worthwhile and progressive program).  Richard worked in engineering and became a manager at the age of 23, a job at which he continued until he retired.

            Mr. Aggen coordinated the work on and contributed to the engineering of parts of the B-17 during World War II, the P-35 four-engine Flying Wing bombers, the eight-jet B-49, the F-18 (largely for the U.S. Navy, the project covered seven to eight years of work in cooperation with the McDonnell Aircraft Company), the modification of the Air Force KC-135 refueling tanker to produce the Boeing 707 jet passenger liner, the P-61 (one of the last pursuit planes built which was specifically designed to accompany bombers at night), the F-89 (for service in Alaska and the Arctic Circle during the Cold War), and the Navy workhorse F-4H fighter, among other notable aircraft.

            In 1944 Richard married the oldest of a California neighbor's daughters who would be his wife of 35 years, Margie.  Richard and Margie had two sons, Richard W. and James; and two daughters, Darcie and Kerry.  In 1953 Margie and Richard adopted son Robert, a child of Margie's sister Patricia who had died and left the child orphaned.  Sadly, Margie died of a heart attack in Richard's arms at the age of 53.  Richard was left with three children ages 12, 14, and 16, and Margie's youngest sister, Sally, traveled back and forth from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to help during the difficult time.  Later Richard and Sally married, and put the family happily back together again.  Richard then became the stepfather of Sally's daughter Ginger.  Richard and Sally later settled in Las Vegas, and they were together for 30 years until Sally's death this year.  Richard says with pride that he helped to raise children from each of the sisters, and he is proud of all six children.

            After moving to Las Vegas in 1989, Richard and Sally purchased their first Model T at an auto auction at Cashman Field, a 1926 Roadster Pickup.  They also purchased a 1930 Model A roadster.   As is true for so many of the Southern Nevda Model T Club members, happenstance would have it that when they were at Sunset Park about that time, the seemingly ubiquitous Gary Cooper and Ralph Cordell, who was the first President of the Model T Club, drove into the park in their Model T's.  Richard and Sally gave chase, enlisted the help of Gary for their Model T, and became members of the Southern Nevada Model T Club.

            Richard is something of a Civil War expert who traveled by motor home with Sally to Gettysburg, Bull Run, Appomattox, and many other sites.  He remembers most vividly, however, motor home trips to Alaska along the Alaskan highway in 1992, 1996, and 2000 with their Model T in tow.  Without question, says Richard, the Model T was every bit as interesting to other tourists as the extraordinarily beautiful scenery of Alaska.

            Richard has served as the Southern Nevada Model T Club treasurer since the year 2000, and he keeps careful records and maintains the modest but healthy balance sheet.  A highlight of every meeting is Richard's telling jokes as only a gifted storyteller can.  We listen, we anticipate, and more often than not, we are surprised by an ending that Richard delivers in a wonderful deadpan.

            A regular bicycle rider and walker, Richard says he looks forward to at least another ten years of happy living and storytelling.  The Southern Nevada Model T Club is ever so fortunate to have such a member and friend and raconteur among us.
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