HOPEDALE (HOI) — One family in Hopedale has steadily acquired an armada of antique snowmobiles, and it’s getting the attention of that hobbyist community nationwide.
“We never realized it’d grow this big,” Russell Willis said, “but it did.”
Russell maintains the Willis Snowmobile Museum with his three sons, Danny, Darrin, and Donny. He says snowmobiles first became popular in 1976, and he remembers when a neighbor used to ride in one around the farm.
“It’s a different world out there in the winter time,” he said.
Now, he and his sons have amassed more than 150 of them at their museum at 204 NW Main St. He bought his first building in 1997, which needed a lot of work and a new roof. “It was in pretty bad shape and leaked for 16 years before we got it.”
They moved their collection to their current spot three years ago. He admits it’s a unique hobby, and not many people expected him to pull off a full museum. Even his family reacted with pause. “‘Uh, what?!’ You know. ‘Here?!’ But we had a dream I guess and we kept working at it until we finally got it.”
Willis also admits it’s not a money-maker. He says the small donations they get don’t cover their bills, but that’s not what the collection was for.
“It’s been a dream,” Willis said. “We started out slow. We’d go to swap meets or look in backyards, wherever you can find something.”
This weekend, The Antique Snowmobile Club of America is having its summer meetings at their Hopedale museum. You can stop by as well between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Admission to the museum is by appointment with Willis, who says you can call him to arrange a time at 309-241-6530. He also says feel free to knock on the door if you see his truck in the driveway.