By RICK A. RICHARDS, For General Aviation News
Most boys have a model airplane or two. So does Jim Read, but his collection fills an entire hangar at Porter County Municipal Airport (VPZ) in Valparaiso, Ind., and every one of them is airworthy. Now, after a decade of sharing his collection with the public as the Indiana Aviation Museum, Read is selling most of them off and shutting down his museum.
His love of flying hasn’t diminished a bit, but the time required to look after and maintain a collection of more than a dozen vintage planes and its accompanying museum is becoming too much for the retired bank executive to handle.
When the museum closes at the end of October, it won’t be for the season as it has in past years. This time it will be for good.
Even though Read has known this day was coming for several months, the finality of it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. “Everybody is sad about the closing,” said Read. “But we have a boat in the Michigan City Marina and we’ve had it out just once this year. We’re retired so we can go anytime, but we want to go with our family and they can only come on the weekend. That’s when we’re at the museum.”
As much as Read and his wife, Cathy, love the vintage planes, they say it’s time to put their children and grandchildren first.
Read’s love of aviation goes back to when he was 16 and began taking flying lesson at Urschel Field in Valparaiso. Now gone, the old airport is the site of a K-Mart shopping plaza on the city’s north side. In 1953, after two years at Indiana University, he enlisted in the Navy. “I saw a poster in the Post Office of a Cutlass landing on an aircraft carrier and I thought that was one of the neatest things,” he recalled. “I wanted to do that.”
He enlisted in the Naval Cadet Program and a few years later was commissioned a pilot in the Marines, where he was stationed in South Korea and Japan.
After his discharge, Read used the GI Bill to become a flight instructor. At that time, he was flying out of Phillips Airport in Michigan City, Ind., which today is Michigan City Municipal Airport.
But as much as Read loved flying, he wasn’t making much of a living from it, so he went into the family’s banking business at Chesterton State Bank, from which he retired as president. By working at the bank, Read was able to financially support his love of flying, first with a 1958 Arrow that he and his brother leased. Later, the opportunity came to buy a twin Comanche Piper, so they sold the Arrow and bought the Piper, which they completely refurbished.
In 1992, Read bought a T34 Beechcraft trainer, a plane that’s part of the museum today. “That was a four-year rebuild project,” he said.
Later, Read found one of the jewels of his collection, a 1945 F4U-5N Corsair, but the problem was the plane was in England. “We dickered around for awhile and finally made a deal,” said Read, who had the plane shipped to Jacksonville, Fla.
But as much as Read loved that plane, he recently sold it to another collector. While he hated to see it go, the plane went to a collector who will make sure it is well maintained, he said.
Also gone is his 1945 P-51D Mustang fighter, which Read lovingly restored, and an A-34 Dragonfly attack jet. Read also has received a deposit on a T28 Naval trainer. “Once we advertised the planes, they sold so fast that we hardly have any left in the museum,” said Read, noting that while the sale of GA planes is stagnant, the market for warbirds is thriving.
“Warbirds are for rich guys,” said Read. “It doesn’t seem to matter what rich guys want, when they want a toy they have money to spend.”
Read said he has a near pristine Beechcraft Baron that’s for sale, but with the market right now, he can’t give it away.
Cathy Read, one of a half a dozen volunteer pilots at the museum, said it was emotional for her when the planes began to sell. When the museum’s Corsair sold, she said tears were streaming down her face. It was her favorite plane to fly. “There are plenty of good memories in those planes,” she said.
Read admits he’s gotten a bit choked up, too. “I have a very fond attachment to them. Owning a warbird is more like being a caretaker. You take the best care you can, but then you pass it along to someone else and let them take care of it.”
Before he began selling his planes, Read’s collection also included: A 1941 PT-17 Stearman; a 1952 AT-6G Texan; a 1955 T28B Trojan; a 1957 T-34B Mentor; a 1953 DHC Chipmunk; and a 1943 L-2 Grasshopper. When the museum closes at the end of October, Read said he plans on retaining the T34 and the Chipmunk.
While Read has a lifestyle that would allow him to continue with the museum, he said part of the reason he’s selling his collection is its cost. When he was flying the Mustang, for instance, it cost about $2,600 an hour to operate. It required 65 gallons of fuel an hour (at $4.65 a gallon), and that’s not counting the required maintenance.
“It seems like every time we turned around, we were writing big checks,” said Read. “At first I didn’t mind it so much, but it’s starting to wear on me a bit. Now I can support my church better.”
For more information: In-AM.org