A Pony, a Mustang, and a basement…three words that don’t seem to belong in the same title, but appearences can often be deceiving and things are not always as they appear. This is the case with the home belonging to a man named E.R. “Pony” Maples. From the road it looks just as you would expect any other home in the neighborhood to look, but it is not what’s on the outside that makes a home special.
Pony Maples has a colorful history to say the least and if you have the time to stop by and entertain an old man’s stories he will be glad to share it with you. Pony may tell you about the time he shot down his own aircraft…not one of his wingmen, but actually his own aircraft. Without giving away the story, suffice it to say that after an extended target shoot with the .50 cal from the top turret of a TBM, Pony returned the turret to the aft position facing the tail just seconds before the .50 cal cooked off one last round into the rudder attach point. While he is talking about his fumbles with guns be sure to ask him why his ankle gives him fits…that is a funny story in its own right. While talking about his military career, Pony may share some of his stories as an F-86 pilot, as well as his involvement in the CIA run Corona Project which up until 1992 was still officially Top Secret. The discussion of the Corona Project will surely lead into Pony’s stories about his stint as the Launch Commander for the Apollo program and his involvement with the Apollo 204 Review Board that investigated the Apollo 1 disaster. For many this would be a lifetime of adventures, but Pony did not stop there. Pony and his late wife Kathryn founded Ramo Defense Systems which eventually evolved into ERMCO and finally into the current Military Systems Group, Inc. Through these companies Pony reintroduced the .50 Caliber machine gun into production for the US military along with multiple armed vehicle upgrades & modifications.
With each new story Pony shares one cannot help but think “there is no way, surely he is making it up”, but then as if he knows what you are thinking Pony will pull out a photo or point to an artifact on the living room shelf that ties the story together with the teller. After about a half hour of stories, Pony will rise and invite you to follow him downstairs to the basement and his private collection of WWII artifacts. When most people invite you to visit their “collection” in the basement we assume (usually correctly) that it will be some dusty junk that one can find at most military surplus shops, but this is no ordinary basement collection, this is Pony Maples’ collection.
The first thing you will notice when you get to the bottom of the stairs is the fully restored tail of a P-51 Mustang sitting against the wall and just to its left will be a fully functional, tripod mounted Ma Deuce. Yes, this is going to be different from any other basement collection you have ever seen. In this room are many rare artifacts from WWII including an authentic photo album taken from Hitler’s Eagles Nest. In an adjacent room lies an original .50 cal machine gun recovered from the now famous “Glacier Girl” P-38 and a fully functional Gibson Girl Emergency Radio.
The third room of the basement holds the crown jewels of the Pony Maples collection. In this room sits a fully restored P-51 fuselage complete with a Packard engine straight out of the crate and the propeller leaning against the wall straddling the main landing gear tire of a B-24.
If this were not enough, Pony also has the fully restored B-24 cockpit in one corner of the room accompanied by the fully functional Norden Bombsight mounted in the chin bubble and the waste gun section complete with .50 cal and spent casings.
Every piece in Pony’s basement collection has a story and every story holds a piece of history. He is among the last of a dying generation, a generation that has been dubbed “the greatest”. Fortunately for me, I was able to spend an afternoon with Pony and relive some history through his memories. Things are not always as they appear on the outside and it is not until we take the time to dig a little deeper that we find out what is truly inside. In this day and age of quick judgment and instant gratification it is easy to miss these hidden treasures. Take some time to slow down and see what’s underneath. You may be surprised at what you may find just down the street.