June 28, 2006

Amazing Collection

In the good old USA we see a variety of aircraft collections displayed in various settings. Big or small these collections may be in spotless hangars with painted floors in big cities or grass airfields with dirt floored hangars out in the middle of the country. One well known collection, but not highly published, is Walter Soplata's collection in Ohio. A recent forum thread about his collection was posted on the WIX forum. Reprinted here is an article from my friend Randy who visited the collection. Enjoy this unique story about the quiet and private collector from Ohio.

Walter Soplata Collection Visit Report
Randall Haskin - July 2002

I had a chance to visit the Walt Soplata farm this past week...a very interesting experience.
For those who don't know about the Soplata Farm, Mr. Soplata is a junk collector who also happens to share an affinity for airplanes. The results of his 50-years of saving airplanes from the scrap heap and smelter are resting next to his house in Newbury, Ohio, along with all the other junk he collects like cars, books and magazines, trucks, old computer and electronics, and other scrap. It is not a museum -- the airplanes are not there for display, but are the personal collection of Mr. Soplata. The airplanes are all in derelict condition -- wrecked, in pieces, and rotting away exposed to the midwest US weather. He purchased these airplanes over the years as his own hobby, and in many cases, has saved some one-of-a-kind airplanes from destruction when nobody else (especially the US military) cared about them.
First of all, I was glad that someone had posted directions on how to find his place here on USEnet, otherwise I "never" would have found it. It is buried away from sight off a dirt road. When I got there, I was amazed by the sight from the dirt road in front of his house...what a junkpile! I'd seen photos of the Soplata farm on other webpages (
http://www.aircraftresourcecenter.com/Fea1/101-200/Fea182_Walters-Farm_Williams/part1/Fea182.htm), so I had a general idea of what to expect when I got there. What I didn't know, however, was what would actually be there, since I'd heard of at least two airplanes from there being sold off and restored (http://www.airrace.com/corsair74.htm). In addition, I'd read here on r.a.m. that Mr. Soplata was possibly dead.
Anyhow, I walked up to his house and knocked, but nobody answered. I heard of others visiting Walt's farm and just walking through things without asking, so I thought I'd go see what I could without being too intrusive.
Even right there at the house, and I was amazed with what was there. On his front lawn was a wingless T-6...in front of his door, a T-33 fuselage and the cockpit to a Victor...in the driveway the cockpit to a DC-7. I started strolling up the path through the junkpile, passing on the right side a B-52 fuselage on it's side, a Howard DG-A fuselage, a BT-13 fuselage, and a complete F-86F. On the left side of the path were a T-28 fuselage, what looked to be an AT-11 (I could just see the bombardier nose) and a Boeing commercial airliner cockpit. I spotted what I initially believed was a P-51H, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be the left fuselage of the XP-82 (44-83887). I snapped a few photos, then left the main path to the right and waded through the tall grass toward a complete FG-1Corsair with the wings folded. Next to the Corsair was one of the Skyraider prototypes (XBT2D-1, BuNo 09103). Also scattered around were a complete B-25J, a F7U Cutlass jet, and a P-47N fuselage. Further to the west was a C-82 fuselage and a Sikorsky helo of some kind stuffed amongst the trees.
It was at this point that Mr. Soplata walked out to find me...he is still alive and well and "working" on his collection. Initially he was not happy that I was out looking at his junk, and was "really" not happy that I was taking pictures! Apparently Mr. Soplata has had some problems with people visiting his farm and the IRS thinking he "runs a museum". So, he asked me to stop taking pictures, and to not publish the photos in any publications, which might encourage more people to come visit his airplanes. He asked me to leave, so I apologized to him and I followed him back out to my car on the dirt driveway. On the way, however, he asked me who I was and why I was there. During the course of our conversation, he must have realized I was an airplane enthusiast just like him because soon he was leading me on a guided tour of his collection and talking away about every single airplane!
Anyone who meets Mr. Soplata may get the impression that he's a doddering old man. It's true that he doesn't come across as the brightest individual, but after spending an afternoon talking with him about his hobby and his airplanes, I realize that he's really just old and eccentric. He has an amazing memory when it comes to aviation, and especially recalling specifics about his airplanes. Every airplane we'd walk up to, he'd give me a detailed history of where he got it, how much he paid for it, and even specific service histories of the airframes he had. It's very evident that he cares about his airplanes -- he does what he can to protect them from the weather by covering up cockpits and canopies, and building small shelters over some. He even talked quite a bit about how he was going to "put them all back together", which is obviously an overly ambitious project for an elderly man given the condition of some of the airplanes.
We talked about people buying airplanes from him -- I tried to talk him into selling me his T-6 or his BT-13 -- and he indicated that he didn't like to sell off his airplanes. "It's my hobby," he said, "and I paid for these with my own money." He said that people have come to him many times and offered to buy individual items or even the whole collection. "There's a guy in Texas who wanted to buy everything, and he even offered to build me a house down there just so I could still live next to my airplanes!" Another collector offered him $3 million for everything "and maybe I should have taken him up on it, I dunno." Recently he has sold off a P-82 Twin Mustang and an F2G Corsair, "so I could pay off the IRS," he said. He's especially against having any of his airplanes fly again -- he mentioned several times how angry he was that rare warbirds that have been restored to flying condition and are flown on the airshow circuit get destroyed in crashes. Apparently there was a stipulation with the sale of the F2G Corsair racer that it never be flown again. Other than that, he has no intentions of selling much of anything as long as he's alive.
When he dies, however, he says "everything will be for sale in Trade-a-Plane" with the money going to support his children. He mentioned who he planned to be the executor of his will and who will arrange the sale, but I don't remember who it was.
So, Mr. Soplata spent the rest of the afternoon showing me the rest of his collection, including his famous YB-36 which is sitting there cut up into many pieces. I also saw a complete TBM Avenger, F-86E, F-84, T-50, and Fleetwing (which he says is the only one still in existence). There were also fuselages for a Canberra, an F-105, a few T-28s, another TBM....there are just too many to list from memory.
All in all it was a very interesting visit. I sincerely hope that these aircraft find their way to a museum or into better care before they're gone.

1 comment:

Dennis Vanwey said...

sadly, I just viewed Mr. Soplata's obituary online. He passed away in November of 2010 at the age of 87. May he rest in peace.

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