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SAC Museum Restoration volunteers preserving military history one aircraft at a time

Posted at 7:04 PM, May 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-03 09:15:33-04

ASHLAND, Neb. (KMTV) — Thursday wasn’t your typical day at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland.

“We have to make this fast because we gotta be back here by 10 o’clock,” Walt Meier laughed.

Meier, a restoration volunteer at the museum, didn’t want to be late to his own party.

The team was celebrating his 92nd birthday. Though it was far from his first birthday celebration at the museum.

He has spent the last 25 years restoring military aircraft there — alongside 95-year-old Jim Fink.

“One month apart,” Meier said. “He was there a month ahead of me.”

The pair of veterans carpool to the museum from Lincoln every Thursday. They ride around the restoration hangar on their scooters. They even admitted to racing each other on them.

“We are best friends,” the two said in unison.

“92 and 95 years old, and they’re not just here to be here. They are both important cogs in the machine,” SAC Museum Restoration Manager Andy Beemer said.

Meier worked with sheet metal for 40 years. The team raves about his ability to build.

“Walt is a mechanical genius,” Beemer said. “I really mean that. Walt is incredible.”

“I built a replica of a radar imaging camera,” Meier said. “Took me a year and a half to build it. It’s in the nose of the B-36 out there.”

He showed me the pictures and I couldn’t spot the difference.

Meier has also built a car from the ground up. Heck, he even made the knife that was used to cut his own birthday cake.

While Fink isn’t the master builder that Meier is, he is the one who keeps everything in order. Making work much easier for the rest of the team.

“This shop is organized because of Jim,” Beemer said.

Anything they may need — Fink knows where to find it.

Beemer has also been a part of the team for the last 25 years. He says 98% of the restoration work is done by volunteers.

“Over the course of the last 25 years we’ve had about 222,000 volunteer hours put in by about 138 total individuals,” Beemer said. “It’s millions of dollars worth of work they’ve put in.”

Since 1998 the team has restored 23 airplanes.

“Just about every aircraft out here I’ve had something to do with,” Meier said with pride.

Along with space capsules, missiles, engines — you name it.

“All the people who were in the Air Force during the whole SAC period, and thereafter, deserve to be remembered and the airplanes they flew preserved,” Beemer said.

“It’s very important, and it’s important to us to make them as authentic as possible,” Meier added.

The three said they love the work that they do, but it’s much more than the satisfaction of the work that has kept this trio at the SAC Museum for a quarter of a century.

“Lots of memories,” Fink said with a smile. “I’ve got 12 photo albums at home full of pictures — thousands of pictures.”

“The people here — it’s just like a family,” Meier followed.

There are no signs that the two will be slowing down anytime soon.

To learn more about the SAC Museum and the work the restoration team has done, click here.

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