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Building bikes, making memories

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, works on a bicycle at his home in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, works on a bicycle at his home in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018. Lewis began his love for bicycles by fixing up his father’s 1948 Shelby bicycle and has since worked on hundreds of bicycles. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, works on a bicycle with his son Evann at his home in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, works on a bicycle with his son Evann at his home in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018. Lewis collects and restores antique bicycles in his spare time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, shows off his collection of bicycles in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, shows off his collection of bicycles in Sumter, S.C., Sept. 10, 2018. Lewis uses his fabrication and restoration skills in both his job and his hobby. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- An old run-down, rusty bicycle sits abandoned. The neglected piece of metal may have once been a source of cherished memories, perhaps a childhood milestone, a vehicle for adventure or a tool for self-improvement.

With a little elbow grease and a lot of love for the art, Staff Sgt. Patrick Lewis restores aging bikes as a pastime, giving people back their nostalgia, bonding with his family, and honing his craft.

“Because of how bad some of these bikes have been rusted, I was able to be one step ahead of the process and I’ve already used my knowledge of taking these old rusty nuts out to pull them off the aircraft and putting them back into serviceable condition,” said Lewis. “Also fabricating parts for the fenders on the bikes, it’s the same process as taking dents out of aircraft parts, really it goes hand in hand.”

Here at Shaw, Lewis gets plenty of practice creating and shaping metal parts as a 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance mechanic, restoring structural integrity to Shaw’s F-16 Fighting Falcons, fabricating, replacing and restoring parts using a variety of methods and tools.

“While (pilots) are flying they’re putting a lot of stresses on the aircraft, and when the stresses become too much they break and that’s what we come in and fix,” said Lewis.

While Lewis helps manage stress on aircraft parts at work, the battle at home is often with the aging materials of the antique vehicles he collects.

Lewis said his love began with his dad’s old Shelby bicycle he found in his barn. His father, Kurt Lewis, originally bought the 1948 antique as a way to get to work.

“He saw me fixing up this bicycle and riding it back and forth to work,” said. Kurt. “He was very mechanically inclined and so one day he started working on my bicycle and I guess he got interested that way.”

Even today, Kurt still encourages his son’s pastime by helping him collect bikes and sharing his mechanical knowledge, strengthening their bond. Meanwhile, Lewis plans to pass down his skills to his son.

“My dad’s getting older, and these memories are what I can pass down to my son as well,” said Lewis. “As a matter of fact, I have a couple of bikes he’s restored with me that he rides now.”

With a garage filled to the brim with restorations and works in progress, Lewis estimates he’s fixed hundreds of bicycles, some dating back to the early 1930s.

After taking an old, beaten-down, rusty bicycle and restoring it to its former glory, Lewis shows it to the owner, who smiles, deep in the nostalgia of their childhood. From the happiness he brought to another, Lewis is further motivated in his craft and gets back to work.