10 Questions with Hayes Otoupalik

Talking with a hobby legend.

Hayes Otoupalik with the iconic WWI US Model 1917 37mm 1 pdr cannon displayed along side of a German Big Bertha brass shell case. This one pounder is the only known example in private hands in the USA. Hayes says it is really a joy to shoot!

We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Hayes Otoupalik Most will recognize his name as one of the leading dealers in militaria and a FELLOW in the prestigious Company of Military Historians and the American Society of Arms Collectors. Some may not know, however, he is also an author, co-founder (and current President) of the Northwest National Military Museum, co-founder of the Doughboy Historical Society, and  one of the founders and current president and member of the board of director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History. Hayes is a member of ASMIC, OMSA, AMMUC, MVPA, TGCA, in addition to dozens of other collectors organizations. For nearly 49 years, he has been chairman of the  Annual Original Missoula Gun Show. It is a great honor to have him as a guest for our “10 Questions”

Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. I tell people, “Hayes has been dealing since before I was in high school.” Tell us the truth: How long have you been involved in the militaria hobby? How did it start for you?

Hayes Otoupalik:  Waxing nostalgia—”The Early Years!” In 1954, when my twin brother Josef and I were 6 years old, father brought home an old Springfield .45-70 Trapdoor rifle with bayonet. He took it out in the back yard and put the bayonet on it, loaded the rifle, and fired it with original black powder ammunition. It was loud and smoky. My twin brother and I were most impressed! Shortly thereafter, much to my twin brother’s and my disappointment, Dad sold the rifle. We cried tears the size of water buckets, but to no avail. The rifle went down the road. Father said he had to make the house payment. He added, “When you get to be  big boys,  you can buy all of them that we wanted.”

I think, of anything in my past, that old trapdoor Springfield triggered the collecting nerve in my twin brother and myself.

This was also in the early years of watching TV, and my brother and I loved to watch Rin Tin Tin,  Rat Patrol, and Combat. Our Dad was a veteran of the Merchant Marines during WWII, and all of father’s friends were also WWII veterans.

This was  in the years right before the beginning of the Civil War Centennial. Our maternal grandfather told my brother and I many stories about his father who served as a captain in the Union Army. Father told us about our other great-grandfather on his mother’s side of the family who served in the Confederate Army.

So, during the formative years of our childhood, we had many influences of military history from many angles. Our father was a man of many business enterprises and that must have influenced us. From the first grade on, we got right to work trading all the other grade school kids out of their war relics!

In 1960, my brother and I read a magazine article in Guns Magazine about an Indian War Cavalry group located at Knotts Berry Farm, California. About the same time, we read a series of articles  in Western Horsemen Magazine on the US Cavalry on the Mexican Border 1911-1917. As we had horses, we immediately had a love affair with US mounted service items. My brother and  I located a Civil War cavalry sword for $3.00—we split the purchase price.

Dad told us about Francis Bannerman, the legendary American military surplus dealer in New York City. My brother and I purchased a catalog for $3.00 and the rest is history.

In February 1961, we convinced Dad and Mom to permit us take our funds out of our savings account and send it to Bannerman for military goods. We were 12 years old. Mom was against it. Dad was for it.

He said that we were almost teenagers, and teenagers know everything. If, a year later, there was military stuff laying all over the yard, and we were crying over how we had wasted out money, it would be a life lesson learned. If otherwise, we would have made a key decision early on in our lives. The fire for military collecting was ignited, and now 55 years later, the passion still burns. Chasing war relics is still like breathing pure oxygen!

Unfortunately, in 1962 my identical twin brother was killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver. I made a vow to my twin brother Josef that I would go on to collect his share of militaria as well. Fortunately, I still have that old Civil War cavalry saber that Josef and I bought together—it might be worse for wear and tear and not a prime collectors specimen, but it is the very first Civil War sword my brother and I  purchased together in the formative years of collecting. Sure I have mint Civil War swords, but that old sword is special—it is my link to my love of my brother and our childhood.

The items in our collections are the stepping stones through life—of the people we have known and who have passed away, the good friends we have, and the travels and trails of life. These special, old relics trigger the memories of these people and places that are most important to us.

With his row of Confederate cavalry carbines behind him, Hayes is holding his favorite Civil War revolver—an extremely rare Confederate Cofer Revolver, one of only about a dozen known to still exist.

Military Trader: Many don’t have an idea of the scope of your collection. Tell us about how much material you estimate you currently have, and how you store all of it.

Hayes Otoupalik: I have had the good fortune to assemble a very wide and extensive collection of militaria from the United States, its enemies, and its allies from the birth of our nation through the Vietnam War. I’ve collect everything of the US Armed forces.

While I started out as a Civil War and US Cavalry collector, I quickly expanded into other areas. We moved from a very  small rural village  in Idaho  to Missoula, Montana in the mid 1960s. This lead to many  new horizons: Here in Missoula at an old trading post were two Civil War cannons; there were second hand stores, gun shops, and magazine and book stores, a  public library and the University of Montana library with government document center.

Through the encouragement of my father, I placed an ad in Civil War Times Illustrated and sold  one cannon for the price of the two cannons. I now had my first Civil War cannon for my collection.

Soon thereafter, I discovered The Gun Report Magazine, and with it, the opportunity to expand my hobby. My collection was growing. My parents turned over the entire basement of our home for my collection and the inventory I was buying for trading stock and resale. 50 years later, I have two warehouses: One is 60 x 120 two- story and the other is 40 x 115 feet.

Taking care of everything is a job. Fortunately, I am a person with a lot of energy that I convert into a devotion for saving the materiel cultural of American heritage.

Military Trader: You have also been deeply involved in the military vehicle hobby. Tell us a bit about that aspect of your collecting.

Hayes Otoupalik:  In 1973, I was finishing up my career at the University of Montana where in I got a BA Degree in History,  BA in Education, and a teaching certificate. While I had collected  US cavalry materiel of the 1911 to 1918 period since 1960, my new friend, Paul J. Schulz, mentioned that while no one threw  away Civil War to Spanish American War materiel, the veterans of WWI were retiring left and right and throwing their old WWI materiel out the door before moving away to Sun City, USA. This inspired me to branch into all areas of WWI collecting.

Almost immediately I saw a WWI tank for sale in the pages of Shotgun News. While I knew I could not afford to purchase it, I called to see what they were asking, how they found the tank, etc. I learned it had been sold to the West Point Museum and had been used as a movie prop in Hollywood. The fact that a WWI tank could be found on the market inspired me to start looking for one.

WWI Collecting rapidly expanded, and by 1977, in partnership with Paul Schulz and Dennis Gordon, we published the WWI Collectors Handbook, Volumes 1 and 2. We set up displays with several local museums on the 60th Anniversaries of The Great War.

If all this could happen in a few short years, why not start collecting WWII  at the same time and get prepared for the coming 50th Anniversary, then 15 years in the future. This lead to the purchase of a WWII half-track, an M3A1 Scout Car, and a WWII Jeep. Soon thereafter,  Jim Osborne in Vincennes, Indiana, convinced me to purchase an M5A1 light tank from Southern Eastern Equipment. Next, I had to have an M20 Armored Car, an M8 Armored Car,  and a WWII Studebaker Weasel to represent the First Special Service Force that trained at Fort Harrison, Montana.

There seemed to be no end in sight. Along came a Harley Davidson WLA 45 with side car, a WWII Dodge WC 56 Command Car, etc. We needed WWII artillery, so along came a US towed 37mm and towed 57mm Cannons.

As one vehicle led to another, I  had imported a couple dozen scout cars and a number of container loads of M45 Quad mounts, etc. from overseas to resell.

My wife Lia and I even obtained a Vietnam UH-1H Huey Helicopter gun ship used by the 17th US Air  Cavalry in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. We later donated this to the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History in Fort Missoula, Montana. We have had the pleasure of having  three veterans of the Vietnam War return to see and reminisce over the very same Huey they flew in during the War. It is amazing that it survives.

And yet, we had not found a WWI tank. We turning over all the stones looking for one, running want  ads, tracing down every known WWI tank to see if it could be purchased. As they say, “luck comes to those who work hard!”

Military Trader: You are a collecting legend to the hobby—and to me personally. I am going to take this opportunity to ask you about a topic you described to me years ago–one I regret not having written down!  As I recall, you described a collection of WWI trucks you had acquired. May I ask you to tell that story again for our entire audience?

Hayes Otoupalik:  In mid-1980s, a lead came to us that a substantial WWI vehicle collection existed in Arizona. This collection had been assembled by John and Mary Furrer of Picacho Peak, Arizona. Unfortunately, their museum had been closed and placed into outside storage in Maranna, Arizona.

After attending one of the old Great Western Gun Shows in Pomona, California, I drove to Arizona to check on the collection. I located Mr. and Mrs. Furrer and gained permission to visit the collection.

I just about had a heart attack when I first saw it: two WWI US Model 1917 tanks, 9 WWI Liberty Trucks, 2 WWI FWD Trucks, 2 French 75 Guns, 23 Army Escort Wagons, 2 rolling field kitchens, 2 WWI search lights, numerous limbers, caissons, battery wagons, machine gun carts, ammo carts, etc. Only one big problem: Nothing was for sale. However, within a couple years, John Furrer died, and his wife was willing to sell the entire collection.

I immediately purchased the entire collection, and sold one of the WWI tanks to Karen Gasser of the American Armored Foundation as a surprise Christmas present for her husband. All the other materiel was moved in 17 semi-loads to Missoula, Montana.

About that time, we were fortunate to also purchase the WWI French FT-17  tank, WWI ambulance, and a WWI German cannon from the Imperial Car Palace in Las Vegas . These items came from the old WWI collection at  the M.H. DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, California.

It had been 14 years since I had seen the WWI fank for sale in Shotgun News. After a lot of hard work and continuous searching, I  now had two WWI tanks for the collection! We disposed of the excess vehicles and equipment from the Furrer Collection and restored everything else for the collection.

In the mid-1990s, we were fortunate to get one of the early M3A1 US light tanks the US  had provided to Mexico in 1944. My wife and I flew to Mexico City where in we had it loaded on a semi to make the 5,000-mile trip to Missoula, Montana   

We have had added some VN equipment to the collection as we are now in the 50th Anniversary years of that war. It is important to impress upon this generation of veterans, children, and grandchildren the importance of saving the artifacts and history of the American Vietnam War.

About 10 years ago, we sold the WWI French FT-17 tank to the National WWI Museum in Kansas City, Missouri as they did not have a WWI tank. My wife and I were very, very pleased with this arrangement, as it filled an important gap in their collection , and we still our running/shooting  WWI tank here  to play with in the years ahead.

The military vehicle hobby has been an extremely fun and interesting. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I encourage every military collector to join the Military Vehicle Preservation Society. www.mvpa.com.

If you like military vehicles and are not a member, it is like living in a black cave. Join the floodlights that the MVPA shines onto the military vehicle hobby you will light up your life. The military vehicle hobby is challenging and fun, and treasures are waiting for those who search and look.

Military Trader: You were one of the early proponents of US WWI collecting. Have you seen that field of collecting grow significantly? Will it pique with the 100th Anniversary of the US entering the war? 

Hayes Otoupalik: When  our Grandfather Otoupalik died in 1956, we found a couple WWI US  helmets and the large WWI history and world atlas autographed by the famous Canadian Ace, Billy Bishop, among his belongings. My brother Josef and I  loved to sit with that book and look at all the photos and colored illustrations of the battles of the Great War.

In the early 1960s, we found five American and German bayonets, three German steel helmets and a German spiked helmet in a second hand store. The store’s owner, Cecil Hines, was well-known for his hunting of bears and mountain lions with blue tick hound dogs. All of that militaria in Mr. Hines’ store carried the price of 75 cents per item. My brother and I picked up everything in our arms and were carrying the stuff around as we looked  over his store for other items when he said, “If we wanted it all, we could have the stuff for 50 cents per item!” Finding no other pieces of militaria, we settled up for the bargain price of $4.50 for everything.

Around the same time, we found a coffee can full of WWI patches for $2.00 in the local Salvation Army store. The lot included a WWI aviator’s bullion wing.

My brother and I were always looking for WWI items that we had seen in the pictures of that big war atlas. After Josef’s death, I continued to seek WWI materiel.

And, as I explained earlier, after I met my friend Paul J. Schulz,  the fuse was ignited to pour time and effort to the WWI field. We published volumes 1 and 2 of the WWI Collectors Handbooks (now sold as a combined book), we founded the National Doughboy Historical Society, and published The Doughboy Journal, etc.

We traveled and interviewed WWI Veterans all over the country: Pilots, Marines, Medal of Honor and DSC winners, Siberian and North Russian veterans, Lost Battalion members, nurses, cooks, infantry, cavalry troopers, wagon men and truck drivers, mortar men, machine gun troops, First Gas and Flame veterans, etc. I remember when WWI materiel was relegated to the junk stores. When first brought to shows, people left it in boxes under the edges of their tables.

I recall in 1977, I purchased a M1903 Mark 1 Pedersen Device for $500. Some time ago, I saw one go through an auction house for more than $50,000!

WWI helmets that were $2, $3, or $5  now may bring $200, $300, or $500—or even more. The WWI field is well-established with thousands of dedicated collectors and dealers who specialize in World War One materiel.

I feel that their will be a definite increase in interest in World War One materiel with the 100th  Anniversary of the Great War. Foreign military rifles and handguns (the old military clunkers  that use to lay around gun shows begging for homes) have completely dried up.

In 1973, you  could buy a WWI Trench Knife for $5.95—now they are approaching anywhere from $500 to $1,000 with special versions bringing $1,500.

When I started collecting Civil War materiel, it was already 100 years old, and now it is more than 150 years old! I know young men today who are starting to collect WWI . They will be celebrating the 150th Anniversary with their collections. It is all about saving and preserving our history while having fun, fun, fun.

Military Trader: While it is widely understood that we are all just temporary caretakers of the relics and history we collect, let me ask, “Are collectors doing enough to preserve what we are collecting?” What recommendations do you have for general preservation?

Hayes Otoupalik: Yes, I feel that modern day collectors are doing a very good job of saving and preserving our history. Today, we have many collectors’ organizations and online websites dedicated to enhancing peoples’ knowledge. Look at the huge military vehicle shows that have come about over the past 30 years. And, whereas people used to collect patches, brass, and DIs, a new era of collectors have emerged over the years that are interested in saving the entire soldier grouping—keeping his trunk group together (uniform, headgear, photo albums, documents, medals, etc, etc). instead of dicing it up like a slab of beef. Continued research has put names, places, and pictures of people with the relics. Wonderful.

We each need to work hard  to save our American history and American military cultural artifacts. And don’t forget the old tanks and cannons in the parks. They need to go inside and out of the weather to be preserved as well. We need to make sure that old military monuments receive the adequate upkeep  they deserve as well.

As collectors, we need to make sure that our private collections and historical information is tagged and kept with each item, that we protect the stuff from insects and vermin, and insure that the materiel is protected from heat, mildew, etc. and improper lighting.

Overall, I feel the private collecting fraternity—which holds the largest share of our American heritage—is doing a great job. Collectors spend their hard earn dollars purchasing and taking care of this materiel. They deserve a big “Thank You!” for a job well done.

Military Trader: Every year, there are new dealers appearing in the military hobby. What advice would you give someone who is just beginning in the buy-sell market?  What would you say to veteran dealers who are looking to reinvigorate their business?

Hayes Otoupalik:  I feel that the most successful dealers are those that “love” this materiel. In the end, none of us will take a penny off this planet earth. It is all about receiving this materiel from those who don’t want it, don’t have family members to pass it on to, museums that do not have the funds to take care of the excess materiel that has been given them, or however it comes on the market through estate sales, death of owners, financial problems, divorces, etc,  It is all about finding the materiel good homes with museums and collectors who will appreciate its history. That is what is important.

Love of one’s profession, the spread of good of knowledge with the materiel, of educating collectors to the value of good books, and having excellent libraries enhances the interest in one’s collection.

Take care of your customer, and the customers will take care of you.

We need to help the younger collectors with giving them a membership in a collector’s organization that would interest them, buy them a good book for a birthday present or Christmas, etc.

The collecting of history and the preservation of our historical artifacts is best driven by those who have a passion and vivid imagination to excite the minds of other like-minded people in this honorable profession that we call “collecting.”

Military Trader: Tell us about your involvement in the Missoula Gun Show. Why are shows so important to the hobby?

Hayes Otoupalik: The Annual Original Missoula Gun and Antique show was started in 1955 by a local gun trader by the name of Jess Roberts who also owned the 44 Bar in St. Ignatius, Montana His humorous first ad in The Missoulian Newspaper in 1955 read, “16th  Annual Missoula Gun Show—15 to follow. Six packs for six guns and headaches for heirlooms!”

I learned about gun shows through my subscription to Gun Report Magazine.  In 1963, when we moved to Missoula, Montana, I discovered we had a gun show in our town. I attended my first show in September 1964.

In the summer of 1968, I learned from the current chairman of the show, that he was not going continue the show because he was afraid of the ramifications of the new 1968 Gun Control Act. I was devastated. I loved the gun show! Where else could a person go and see, first hand, the relics of history and talk to fellow collectors and traders?

There was such a large variety of materiel to learn from at the show! The gun show had to go on. So, at 19 years of age, I contacted a friend who I had met three years earlier at the show, Jerry Kurzenbaum. We decided to take over and continue the show. This year will be our 62nd Annual Original Missoula Gun and Antique Show.

We hold the show only once a year. It is a collectors’ show and all the old timers attend the show from all the surrounding states. We had people from 23 different states in attendance last year.

And talking about the 1968 Gun Control act which outlawed the import of military surplus arms, The 1986 Federal Legislation allowed us to import all military firearms on the Curio and Relic List as published by the ATF. Under the Clinton Administration of the 1990s, they amended the legislation by making voluntary trade restraint agreements with China. In essence, it said, “Stop the export of C&R guns and we will export computer technology.” The same sort of deals were made with Russia and other nations.

Then, beginning in 1993/1994, the Executive branch of government moved the approval forms for Import Form 6 from the ATF to the Department  of States Bureau of Political and Military Affairs. They stated that all US military  small arms  ( no matter if they were Curio and Relic 1899 -1954) that were provided to foreign countries for the mutual security of the US, were banned from import because they were covered under the US Munitions list. The executive branch then banned US gun parts, cannons, mortars, and bazookas which had all previously been allowed if the breech rings were destroyed, etc.

By 1998, all US military armored vehicles, amphibious vehicles, half-tracks, scout cars, B17s, old US fighter planes or parts thereof, were banned. We are now 19 years into that ban, and these historical items are being torched and scrapped in foreign countries, all in the name of the anti-gun policies. Please write letters to your congressmen and senators, get your local museums involved, etc. We need to reverse this foolish policy that is destroying the history of WWI, WWII Korean War and Vietnam War weapons and materiel.

Gun shows give us, American citizens, the platform to exercise our lst Amendment rights  of freedom of speech, our right to free assembly, and our 2nd Amendment rights. The weapons of today will one day be antiques as well. We need to make sure that future generations of Americans have the same rights that current Americans have.

Get involved in your local gun and military shows. They are a world of fun and a continuous source of finding new sources and leads of items for the collection, and again they are fun, fun, fun.

It took many years of searching, but Hayes finally found his WWI tank. Here, the fully restored US M1917 rolls out to the range—yes, the 37mm is a live-firing weapon! Hayes commented, “Believe me, my heart purrs everyday when I walk by it and around it. It is the pride and joy of my WWI collection—Truly, a dream that came true! Luck comes to those who work hard,are persistent, and never loose faith in their dreams and ambitions.”

Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Can you tell us about what you consider one of your favorite militaria finds?

Hayes Otoupalik:  As I have said previously, “Luck comes to those who work hard.” The more books you buy and read, the more chances you have of discovering a great treasure for your collection. The more you cross-educate yourself in different fields—be it guns, bayonets, patches, brass, DIs, uniforms, helmets, American, allies, or the enemy, the better. Take a chance and buy books outside of your normal area of collecting like dive helmets, ammunition, cowboy items, Indian items, old gambling items, hunting memorabilia, Winchesters, Colts, Remingtons, German, British, French, etc.

Special Forces and Navy Seals are cross-trained and educated. The same works for collectors. Join different collectors organizations and gun clubs. Believe me it will pay big dividends. Join The Company of Military Historians, the Japanese collectors’ organization BANZAI, etc.

Get the back issues of the journals and study and read them. Look through the Reports of the Secretary of War to Congress. Everything made has been studied and written up.

I have so many favorite items that I have discovered over the years, I cannot even begin to do it just with a list: My first cannon,  my first Confederate revolver, a WWI pilot’s uniform, or a Lost Battalion soldier’s Distinguished Service Cross and uniform.

When I was in ROTC in 1968,  I put on a display of US military guns for my fellow ROTC students. The University of Montana Kaimin newspaper did a feature article entitled, “Cadet Brings the Civil War to UofM Campus.” That display lead to a call from Professor in the Forestry Department who told me his wife had a pair of old pistols and could I stop by and identify them? He gave me their address. I went and was stunned—before my eye’s laid a match pair of US Model 1806 Harpers Ferry flintlock pistols that belong to a fellow in the War of 1812, and with them was an associated grouping of  material that belong to this fellow’s uncle who had served in the American Revolution.! The stuff was not available. After careful follow-up over the years, finally, in June 2011, the materiel transferred to my collection.

The acquisition and restoration of my WWI tank and the pleasure of being nominated to the prestigious Fellowship in The Company of Military Historians over this accomplishment makes it one of my favorites. But then, a 13-tube Civil War Blakeslee Cartridge Box—one of four known and a hunt that took nearly 50 years to get one could be a favorite, too. How could I forget the the joy of finally finding a rare 1872 Cavalry Brace System/Carbine Sling after a half-century’s search?

Remember: The best “antiques” are our old friends. Without them to share our collection, research, dinners, stories, jokes, and the fun of life, we would be in pretty tough condition. Take care of your friends!

Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as you, “How will militaria collecting change over the next ten years?”

Hayes Otoupalik: Today, we are approaching the 225th Anniversary of the foundation of our great  nation, The 150th+  anniversary years of the Civil War,  the 100th anniversary years of WWI, the 75th anniversary of WWII, and the 50th anniversary years of Vietnam. All areas have interest, but in the  last 50 years I have, seen  areas go up and down in both interest and values.

I seen the area of early American martial flintlocks decline in value due to the passing of one generation, only to be picked up by another generation because they were undervalued and historic,  and then they came back in value. I suspect with the aging of the Centennial-era Civil War collectors who were 10 to 20 years old in 1961 and today are 65 to 75 years old, the values of Civil War material will lessen to a certain extend. With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, it could be that WWII stuff will lessen in value in the years ahead, but will return with a very strong interest with the 100th Anniversary.

WWI has sort of been overshadowed by the wide interest in WWII, but I predict that WWI will make a steady climb upwards in the years ahead. Vietnam materiel will make a major increase in interest and value over the next 10 years.

One thing I find as a constant in all collecting organizations—and I a member of many organization—is the alarm at the amount of older, silver-haired members we have. We all need to work to increase and spearhead interest by younger collectors and bring them into our fold. We need to be less critical of their purchase of lesser items—let them get started and get there foot through the door. Work with them so they can make time payments on items. Get them interested, and they will be with us for a life time. Buy books for the grandchildren to inspire their interest.

Everyone likes having FUN. The more fun we have, the more people that will want to come and join the FUN.

We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about Hayes Otoupalik’s business, or more importantly, to view his current offerings, log onto www.hayesotoupalik.com or contact by writing, Hayes Otoupalik, Military Collectibles and Historical Americana, P.O. Box 8423, Missoula, MT 59807, phone 406.549.4817

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