Last coat of paint still drying as aviation museum set to open

HOWLAND – When ground was broken on the Ernie Hall Aviation Museum in February, Bill Griffin said it would be completed in time for the second annual Wings-n-Wheels fundraiser this weekend at SLOAS Airfield.

Less than 72 hours before the event this weekend, George Whitacre of Warren still was painting a mural that covers the back wall of the museum, and volunteers were scrambling to bring over memorabilia and set up displays.

Griffin, president of the board of directors for the new museum, wasn’t having any second thoughts about picking the date more than five months ago.

“If you don’t give yourself some kind of deadline, you never do it,” Griffin said.

Besides, Griffin is counting on the attention – and the money – the event will bring to the non-profit museum.

The first Wings-n-Wheels, a combination car show and airplane fly-in, was a huge success. Griffin said he was prepared for about 500 people; crowd estimates were closer to several thousand.

“Last year people couldn’t say enough good things about it,” Griffin said. “I had people say they enjoyed it more than the Cleveland Air Show.”

This year they are expanding the event to two days – Saturday will feature tractors and motorcycles, while Sunday will showcase classic cars and airplanes – and Griffin promises they will be better prepared with more food vendors and more portable toilets.

Proceeds will benefit the museum and the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County.

“It’s the biggest fundraiser we’re going to have so we can pay for this place,” Griffin said.

Griffin estimated the cost of the project at “north of $200,000” and about $100,000 more than anticipated. Having to run water and sewerlines to the North River Road location and “staggering insurance costs” are some of the reasons he cited for the cost overruns.

“I have good friends and business partners who have donated a lot,” Griffin said.

And one reason the insurance costs are so high is that Griffin has amassed an impressive collection of memorabilia to celebrate aviation in general and Hall in particular.

Hall (1897-1972) was an aviation pioneer who built his first plane in 1911, served as a civilian flight instructor for the U.S. Army during World War I and operated his own flight school for decades on state Route 46 in Howland. He also trained two future Air Force generals.

Griffin grew up near that flight school, which helped fuel his obsession with flight.

Griffin has photos, log books, flight boards and other artifacts from Hall’s flight school. A model of Hall’s first glider, built by the Ohio Historical Society and displayed in Columbus, has been donated to the new museum. The Trumbull County Historical Society also donated its Hall memorabilia to the museum.

Airplanes, engines, propellers and artifacts from local military aviation veterans will be displayed, as well as such rarities as a piece of the tail fabric from the Sopwith Camel flown by “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen.

Other touches include the control panel from a Springduster Too mounted over the urinal in the men’s room, and mannequins that will display the uniforms of fighter pilots as well as commercial pilots and flight attendants. Detailed airplane models built by Griffin’s father, Art, also will be shown throughout the 50-by-70-foot building.

“I have enough to fill it a few times,” Griffin said.

Griffin said the museum will be open Saturday and Sunday for Wings-n-Wheels, but it will close after the weekend to complete some finishing touches. He expects the museum to open full time by mid-September and they will announce hours of operation and other details closer to that date.