There is no mistaking that it is old. Yet even the five year olds who can barely put their popsicle stained chins on our display table know instantly what it is for. The 'W' shape of the hollow metal, the remaining patches of zinc chromate paint and the still shiny, but now cracked black grips are clearly designed for adventurers to wrap their hands and imaginations around, no matter how young and sticky their fingers may be.

It's the top of a control stick and like many things of yore it comes with a back story. It's over seventy years old now and once, back when you could still smell the zinc chromate and the grips were not yet cracked, man-boys of the British Commonwealth air forces wrapped their patriotic hands around it as they worked to master the intricacies and subtleties of multi-engine flight. Though the control wheel was attached to a training airplane based in Swift Current, Saskatchewan during World War II, many of those young men dreamed of the twin Merlin powered 'Wooden Wonder' that, if they did well, could be flown by wrapping their hands around an identical part numbered control wheel: the two wheels are indistinguishable from each other.

From the mid-1980s through to his death in 1995, prairie airplane hunter Jon Spinks spent his winters dreaming and planning and his summers touring the western provinces for war surplused aircraft bought by farmers after the war. I had the joy and privilege to be his partner on many treasure hunting expeditions. I've got more stories of glory from those years than most have time to listen to. One such trip brought us to a farm south east of Swift Current where a tipster had told us that there may be bounty. As was usual, the farmer thought we were nuts. He was right. This was not a summer airplane hunt, but one executed between Christmas and New Years. In six days, the temperature never got above -30C. We figured we lost a couple of degrees of body heat each day we were out hunting for old airplanes and that we were rapidly reaching the point of no return by the time we got to this farm.

The snow filled the gully down from the barn, covering anything that could be recognized as an airplane; almost anything. The highest part of what remained of the all wood Airspeed Oxford training aircraft after fifty years outside in Saskatchewan summers and winters, was the pilot's stick and control wheel; the top of which looked like a big metal 'W'. Just a minute! Though it was the first Oxford I had ever seen in the wild, I recognized that shape instantly. It was a Mosquito bomber control stick! Later research would confirm that it was the same part number, and just as aircraft instruments were often standard to several aircraft types, so too were the sticks in this case. I had to have it and I had to have it now! I wiggled and I wrenched and I cursed and I hove on it. The bottom end was stuck firmly in frozen Saskatchewan. Despite my partner Jon's unbounded enthusiasm for this sort of fun, his face sprouted a worried look as saw what may have been a glint of madness in my eye. Madness or no, it wouldn't budge. Saskatchewan wouldn't let go of its prize. It was six months before we made it back to the farm. For all of those months I fretted that someone else may see the value and beauty in this barnyard find before I could get back to reclaim it. I needn't have worried. She was waiting patiently for me when we returned.

Jon died of leukemia the following winter. My father, now gone as well, built a trophy style wooden base for it. Since we began, it has adorned our display table at every event where the Mosquito Society was represented and it has welcomed the hands of hundreds, young or old, to wiggle it just a little.

Between 1939 and 1947 the RCAF had 1,425 Airspeed Oxfords on strength, making it the fifth more numerous aircraft type in RCAF service. Although Canada only used Oxfords as trainers, the Air Force designated them as bombers, meaning they weren't available for resale on the civil market (like the Bristol/Fairchild Bolingbroke, but unlike the Avro Anson and Cessna Crane). As a result, most Oxfords were simply cut up and scrapped. (RCAF)

For decades, the English aviation magazine "Flight" has been producing amazing renderings of aircraft. As their wartime drawing of an Oxford cockpit shows, as a multi-engine trainer each Oxford came equipped with not one, but two yokes - a collector's dream. (Flight International)

It might be turned full over for a starboard turn, but as this interior shot of a Mosquito bomber shows its the same yoke. (unknown)

During another wreck hunting trip, Richard and Jon discovered another Oxford control column - complete with yoke. Airplane hulks continue to dot the Canadian landscape. Fuel tanks, like the ones behind Richard found new uses all over the farm. (R. de Boer)

The final prize - Richard's very own Mosquito/Oxford control yoke. See and feel it at the next appearance of the CMS display booth. Airplane noises are encouraged. (T. McTavish)

How could we leave without one more picture showing what its all about? (P. Cromer)