After 10 years of restoration and more money than he would like to admit, Steve Hamilton's investment in a 1947 aircraft finally paid off.
Last week the 27-year Carson City resident became the classic category grand champion at AirVenture 2001, an air show in Oshkosh, Wis. The air show - with 2,000 competing airplanes - is the largest in the world.
Hamilton spent 10 years restoring the plane and said he was stupid for ever buying the plane in the first place. It was corroded by years of landing in salt water and he spent six years fixing one damaged wing.
But he doesn't regret a minute or a penny spent on the 1947 Grumman Mallard Seaplane.
"I was in love," he said. "We all have our stories - the things we do for love."
When he first bought the plane there were 25 pigeons living inside it.
"Once we began working on the airplane there was too much noise and they didn't think it was a good place to live," Hamilton said.
Although the pigeon problem had been solved, Hamilton still had to spend a couple of months fixing the plane before he could fly it home.
Now, 10 years later, Hamilton's trophy sits in his home as a reminder of his accomplishment.
Hamilton began flying 27 years ago when he moved to Carson City and learned to fly at the Carson Airfield.
"I had romantic ideas about flying a plane and landing out in the countryside," he said.
When flying turned out to not be as romantic as he thought, he was still hooked.
Twelve years later, Hamilton started flying seaplanes, which can land on water.
"When you land on the water you can go into these beautiful, remote places," Hamilton said. Landing in an airport, in the middle of civilization, he said, is "not as exciting."
He had flown his plane all over the United States and Canada and flew himself and his wife, Marilee, to the competition last week.
Hamilton did not fly his plane in the competition. Instead the plane itself was inspected by judges and deemed worthy of the prize.
Hamilton said he was competing against people who had been in the show before and have tried for a long time to win the award. He said the interior of his plane was probably what gave him an edge over the other competitors.
"It's probably the biggest thing I'll ever do in my life - winning this award," Hamilton said.
His yellow and gray plane has a 66-foot wing spread and was one of the first corporate jets. The teak interior is decorated in an "old world style," he said.
Hamilton's plane was originally owned by a Canadian industrialist.
Hamilton will return to the Oshkosh Air Show next year as the returning grand champion but he doesn't expect to win again. He said people don't usually win two years in a row because the judges like to give other plane owners a chance at the award.