Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Patching together a piece of history

ZEPHYRHILLS — Pieces of a World War II relic rolled into Zephyrhills Municipal Airport just after noon Wednesday on a flatbed trailer. Once affixed to a C-47 transport plane, the massive wings are now in pieces, peppered with dings and missing the war paint from their glory days.

All of that can be fixed. John Bolender sees the wings as the first parts of a rebuilt military plane that will put the city's World War II Barracks Museum on the map.

"We need a kind of a landmark out there," Bolender said of the museum, a former barracks from the Zephyrhills airport's days as a U.S. Army airfield.

The C-47 plane was manufactured in 1942 and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 8, 1943, according to records. It will be restored to represent a cargo plane of that period and prominently displayed in the parking lot of the museum. It will not be equipped to take flight again.

Bolender, a museum volunteer, waited nearly a year for the C-47 wings to arrive. The hope is that the fuselage will shortly follow.

The total cost of the project is expected to be about $10,000, Bolender said. The monetary donations aren't exactly pouring in, he said. So far, volunteers have collected about $2,000.

The aircraft was donated to Bolender, who donated it to the city, by Ron Hargrove, a fellow WWII re-enactor who owns the WWII Military Vehicle Federation Museum in Florala, Ala. Hargrove acquired the derelict plane, one of four donated to him, from the Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby, Miss. He personally delivered the wings to Zephyrhills on Wednesday.

A commercial forklift unloaded the wings, which will span a combined 95 feet once they're reassembled.

"They're war birds, and there are not many left in the U.S.," said Hargrove. He said he has been restoring another plane for two years to house at his museum.

One of the biggest challenges: finding parts.

The C-47 whose wings are now in Zephyrhills has several missing major components: doors, propellers, engines and flaps.

"People come from all over the United States to scavenge these planes to keep their own running," Hargrove told Bolender.

The main reason these men have taken on restoring the planes, they said, is to maintain history and keep the parts from becoming scrap.

Bolender plans to pound out the dings. Maybe he'll add a faux engine. And once the plane is reassembled, he plans to paint it in WWII-era colors.

"It's going to be gray on the bottom and olive drab on top," he said.

Then it will have "D-Day stripes," a series of alternating black and white stripes 18 inches wide, painted on part of the main wings.

"They painted them because they knew D-Day was going to be hectic and so we didn't shoot down our own planes," Bolender said.

The exact military history of this craft, aside from its delivery date, isn't yet known because military records are scarce. But volunteers are still researching it.

The aircraft belonged to the Army Air Forces for less than two years before American Airlines purchased it in 1945, and then it was sold to Ozark Airlines in 1953.

Bolender said he hopes to have the plane at least partially assembled in time for the museum's Pearl Harbor Day remembrance event in early December. He would like to have it rolled out in front of the museum for the day so that visitors can touch a piece of history.

>>fast facts

Want to help?

The World War II Barracks Museum is at 39450 South Ave. in Zephyrhills. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Anyone interested in supporting the C-47 restoration project may call John Bolender at (813) 355-7277.

Patching together a piece of history 09/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 8:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa man crashes into parked cars, gate at the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque


    A Tampa man intentionally drove his pick-up truck into two parked vehicles before smashing through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Shaun H. Urwiler, 42, was arrested July 16 for intentionally driving his pick-up truck into two parked vehicles before smashing through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  2. USF hoops to play at Indiana in November


    The USF men's basketball team is set to get an early test from a Big Ten powerhouse in non-conference play next season.

  3. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum


    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  4. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system


    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  5. Tampa Bay woman, 11-year-old boy had sex up to 20 times the year their baby was born, detectives say.


    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, 25, first said the boy raped her, then changed her story, detectives say.