MINDEN, Neb. — As he did with many items in his massive historical collection, Harold Warp bought one of the nation’s first jets sight unseen.
He was working at his plastics factory in Chicago when the Bell P-59 Airacomet arrived at Pioneer Village in Minden. His sister Clara, who helped acquire much of the collection, called to say it looked like the plane had been defaced with graffiti. The plane had been displayed outside, and it appeared that people had written their names on it.
Warp told her to have it repainted.
Some years later, Warp, who was a private pilot, got to meet aviation legend Chuck Yeager. The two discussed the P-59, which Yeager said he had flown as a test pilot. He also mentioned that test pilots frequently “signed” planes after completing flights.
Warp immediately regretted covering up the “graffiti” on his P-59, thinking some of the signatures might have been from test pilots, said his son, Harold G. Warp.
It’s almost impossible to say what would be the rarest, most valuable item in the collection. But manager Marshall Nelson said the 1905 Buick Model C touring car would be in the running.
When General Motors celebrated 100 years of Buicks in 2003, company officials said they were aware of no earlier operating Buick than the car at Pioneer Village.
Not far from the Buick, museum visitors can see two early designs of automaker Henry Ford.
One is a 1902 Cadillac, which Ford disliked because the company insisted it be outfitted with a one-cylinder motor. So in 1903, Ford unveiled his original Model A, which was powered by a two-cylinder engine. The almost identical designs sit side by side at the museum.
Another unique part of the collection is the series of John Rogers sculptures depicting scenes of American life from the late 19th century. The sculptures were extremely popular, but many have been lost because of their fragile construction.
Pioneer Village displays nearly all of the roughly 80 statues created by the artist, making it one of the most complete collections in the country of Rogers’work.
“They’re my favorite part of the collection,” Harold G. Warp said.