Almond Farmer Turns Water Tank into TIE Fighter
Not so long ago, on a farm far, far away, California almond farmer Erich Gemperle looked at a water storage tank on his sister’s property and saw the start of a Star Wars spacecraft known as a TIE fighter. Soon after, he set to work making his vision a reality.
As the Modesto Bee reports, Gemperle, chairman of the Knights of Columbus committee for the Turlock Downtown Christmas Parade, often thinks big for the Catholic organization’s holiday festivities, and his approach to the TIE fighter was no exception.
Transforming the Tank
The water tank spaceship made its debut during Christmas 2017, and was brought out again on May 4, which is commonly known in fan circles as Star Wars Day.
Even though many assume that Gemperle is a huge Star Wars fan given that he built the 14-foot-tall, 4,600-pound fighter, he doesn’t own much in the way of memorabilia. "I just really love the movies," he said, "and I like to make fun things that people can enjoy."
Almond farmer Erich Gemperle had inspiration, the tools and extensive #StarWars knowledge to build a daunting 14-foot steel TIE fighter.— kcranews (@kcranews) May 25, 2018
“It was just a matter of time and strength to get it done,” he said.
See the spaceship up close at https://t.co/uCTIgLlCWN pic.twitter.com/g6c17gnBsB
Gemperle learned to weld in his senior year of high school, then went on to attend Cal-Trade Welding School in Modesto.
Once the farmer realized that the water tank was only slightly smaller than the size of an actual TIE fighter capsule, he began his project.
The Force Awakens
Gemperle’s wife Brandy bought the farmer a large TIE fighter toy to guide his design; using that along with images from the movies, Gemperle created a hybrid of the TIE fighters in The Force Awakens and those seen in the original trilogy. He noted that the color was from the newer version, but the shape was more “old school.”
It took over a year and $13,000 in materials for Gemperle to finish the fighter, a project that included doing much of the fabrication and assembly on his own, while going to local businesses for when he needed to cut things more precisely.
The wing panels are made of a material often used to make signs, he said—plastic sandwiched between thin layers of aluminum. "It came delivered very shiny, so I had to dull the whole surface with sandpaper."
As for the future of the TIE fighter, the piece will likely sit on the farm, as does other equipment, or “lawn art,” he jokingly told the Bee. The farmer is also receptive to more Star Wars Day appearances, though transporting the piece is stressful.
Most importantly, Gemperle’s children love the TIE fighter, which has a seat and is illuminated by red rope lights.
Otherwise, he is already planning his next parade project. "I have a couple of ideas," he said. "I'm not really that creative, I can't come up with great original ideas, but I can duplicate them, that's for sure."