Ozarks Life: Alaina Lewis takes family business to new heights

Culver Propellers ships wooden props across the world
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 8:37 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Near the town of Doolittle, there’s a young woman who is doing a lot.

Inside of a garage, Alaina Lewis is keeping the legacy her grandfather alive. Culver Propellers is a small shop that’s known across the world.

“These are pictures of grandpa when KY3 came out to do an interview on him,” Alaina said showing off some photos from 1994. “That’s a highlight of our family, ‘grandpa was on tv!”

We met Gene Smith in ’94 when the fearless farmer showed off his yellow homemade, two-seat plane. Watch below for that story.

“Low and slow flying is my kind of flying,” Gene told Steve Grant then. “Breaking loose, you’re free of the ground, and you’re up there like a bird.”

Eventually, word got out about Gene’s contraption and people from all around wanted one. So he built them until one day when when he hit a snag.

“They called to order a propeller,” Alaina says of her grandpa and dad, “and they said, ‘we went out of business.’ So grandpa asked, ‘can I buy the company?’ And they said, ‘sure.”

So trucks brought all of the machines and tools from Pennsylvania to Phelps County. A new, family business was born.

Through the years, when Alaina wasn’t at school she spent time in grandpa’s shop.

“My grandpa had carpal tunnel surgery, so he couldn’t use his wrists anymore, so I did it for him,” Alaina said.

And year after year the responsibilities grew. Her path was meticulously formed just like one of grandpa’s propellers.

“When he passed away in 2016, it was go time,” Alaina said. “There’s no place more that I wanted to be than in his workshop.”

Now this isn’t a one size fits all deal. Alaina has to calculate what each plane needs. And if one of her 300 templates doesn’t work, she has to make her own design from scratch. And it should be noted, while Gene had an engineering degree from Missouri S&T, Alaina has a Bachelor’s in Business.

“I love it,” Alaina said. “I don’t know how I got here; it makes no sense to me.”

But it makes perfect sense to grandpa, who’s no doubt, looking down with a smile.

“There are crying moments,” Alaina says while working on a propeller, “I can’t imagine how I got here, but I cant image doing anything else.”

Culver Props is one of seven shops in the United States that still makes wooden propellers.

Alaina’s reputation has orders coming in from all over the world and for all types of crafts. From homemade planes to World War I beauties, Alaina has a propeller. She even makes decorative props for people to hang in their homes.

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