Fordville man installs observatory in his home, continues to grow his restoration business

FORDVILLE, N.D.—Those who know Clint Potulny know there are many things that make him and his property interesting. The 47-year-old entrepreneur, custom painter and mechanic learned early on if there was a problem, he needed to solve it.

Each tidy room in his ranch-style home outside Fordville, N.D., has character all its own and reveals yet another passion—rebuilds for classic cars in the body shop, electronics repair in the basement and sweet custom-built guitars along another downstairs wall.

But what may be the most surprising of all may be Potulny’s observatory. Specifically, an observatory with two entrances, a sizable deck and a massive telescope—all atop his house.

Clint Potulny's home has an observatory for a second level near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)
Clint Potulny’s home has an observatory for a second level near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

It’s a hobby Potulny said he started as a young teenager—only then with a much smaller telescope. As he got got older, Potulny said the telescopes grew larger and larger.

“It was getting to be too much,” Potulny said of the many trips he took lugging a heavy telescope outside for a simple night of stargazing. He likes to have people over to visit and learn about the galaxies and planets, he said. It just seemed to make sense to build his own observatory.It took only two weeks to build the 12-by-12-foot room with an 8-foot rotating dome ceiling covering the giant telescope with a 14-inch-diameter lens and 120 pounds in counterweight.

“It took three people to lift this telescope in place,” Potulny said.

A planetary camera and a digital camera connect to his computer for quick viewing.

Unfortunately, the current observatory isn’t the first one he built for his house. Five years ago, a space heater in the viewing room started a fire that nearly destroyed his home.

“The fire department said they could see the flames from Fordville,” Potulny said. “All that was left standing was the outside walls (of the viewing room), and that was savable.”Not one to give up, Potulny quickly rebuilt.

Being creative and a builder comes natural to Potulny. Those who know him say was born with a wrench in one hand and a paint gun in the other.

Clint Potulny and his son Austin pose for a portrait next to the family Chevelle SS at his body shop near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)
Clint Potulny and his son Austin pose for a portrait next to the family Chevelle SS at his body shop near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

He built his business, Potulny’s Custom Shop, from scratch.

“I think I grew up kind of fast,” Potulny recalled, talking about how he’s worked on cars as long he can remember. He learned a lot from his father before he died when Potulny was just 14.

With his father gone and stuck with an engine that wouldn’t run, Potulny knew he had to find answers on his own.

Flipping through a photo album filled with 4-by-6 images, Potulny showed off some of his finest paint jobs—ranging from custom-painted guitars to classic car restorations.

Armed with a high-quality paint gun for a high school graduation present, Clint experimented with different colors and pigments.
Austin Potulny finishes up a paint job on a clients car in the body shop near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)
Austin Potulny finishes up a paint job on a clients car in the body shop near Fordville, ND on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

“Even when I was a kid, I was mixing junk together all the time,” Potulny said.

Thirty years later, he’s known for his quality restoration skills.

“I am a perfectionist, and I am my worst enemy when it comes to getting it right,” Potulny said.

Right now, he’s working on a gem—a 1949 Chevy truck with a big block-crate motor, independent rear suspension and a new modern interior.

“We’re taking this to compete at SEMA (a specialty car show) in Las Vegas,” Potulny said. The car will compete against the best of the best, and Potulny says he is pushing himself to the edge of perfection.He is also trying to instill that ambition and dedication in his son, Austin.

The pair work as a team “repairing anything with an engine.”

“This kid is better than me,” the elder Potulny said.

This story was written for and published in the Grand Forks Herald. You can find the original story here.

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