Indiana veteran's museum filled with military history
Some people enjoy old bottles and glassware. For others, the choice might be stamps or coins. Fred Ropkey collects tanks and armament.
At his Ropkey Armor Museum in Crawfordsville, Ind., about 75 miles east of Champaign-Urbana, the displays include rows of imposing tanks, howitzers, armored cars, Jeeps and other militaria.
This is the place for anyone interested in military history and the machinery of war.
Ropkey started the museum in 1982 in Indianapolis, his hometown, and it has grown steadily – and relocated – over the years.
"I got my first pistol when I was 8. That's when I received my great-grandfather's Civil War pistol as a present. That same year, my father gave me a sword from the War of 1812. Later that year, I bought my first sword from 1820. I still have all of those and thousands more (military items). I started at an early age," Ropkey says.
He also comes from a proud military family, with ancestors on both sides who made important contributions in their military service.
"I have great pride in my family heritage," the 80-year-old Ropkey adds.
And serving as a tank platoon leader in the U.S. Marines from 1949 to 1955, including a stint in the Korean War, further sparked his interest for collecting militaria.
He bought his first World War II surplus vehicle, an armored scout car, for $150 in 1946.
"I would sometimes drive it to school," he says. "I still have it."
Many of the tanks and military items have been restored. Most are kept inside a large climate-controlled building. The museum is located on 50 acres about 2½ miles from Crawfordsville near the intersection of Interstate 74 and Indiana 32. Ropkey found the property in 2004 and couldn't be happier with the location.
"We had a major piece of property on the northwest side of Indianapolis that my family had owned since 1937. We sold it and needed a new place to call home. We had so many friends that we're close to in Indianapolis that we drew a circle on a map in a 50-mile radius and started looking," he says.
When he found the property near Crawfordsville, "I knew it would be a magnificent site. I could see through the pig barns and pastures. It has worked out great. We are blessed to be in Crawfordsville. People are so kind and good to us," Ropkey adds.
The whole idea of the museum is to pay homage to veterans and their military service, according to Ropkey.
"Everything here has a story. We have some very rare and unique items here, like an Air Force X-14B, which was designed to take off and land both vertically and horizontally. It was the longest of all jets in service and was used to train 24 astronauts. Our jet is the only one in existence and was used to train Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon). We have all the flight logs and records," Ropkey says.
He also has a personal attachment to one of the tanks in the collection – he served in it as a tank platoon leader while in the Marines.
Ropkey used to travel the world looking for military items, from Egypt looking for Russian MIGS to Europe looking for tanks and other weapons.
"We often get the same response from visitors – 'Wow! Where did you get all this stuff?' I talk to many people throughout the world. ... People who come here believe in our country, believe in our military," Ropkey says.
"It all has to do with patriotism to your country. Forget about the politics. I'm very proud of our servicemen, and people who come here are in awe of them."
If you go
What: The Ropkey Armor Museum
Where: Near Interstate 74 and Indiana 32, east of Crawfordsville, Ind.
What you will see: Tanks, armored cars, howitzers, aircraft and more
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Closed in Janurary and February.
For more information: Visit online www.ropkeyarmormuseum.com or call 765-794-0238.