Harold Roy Collins, 83, of Mount Laurel, a Burlington County farmer and aircraft mechanic who built an airstrip on his family farm, died of prostate cancer on Sunday, Dec. 12, at his daughter's home in Wenonah.
After learning to be a mechanic in the military and developing a love of airplanes, Mr. Collins returned to his family's 300-acre farm in Moorestown in 1946 and planned an airstrip and hangar for the middle of the property.
By the late 1940s, Mr. Collins had built his runway and hangar, and set up a business where small private aircraft could be flown in. He would do engine work, inspections, and other repairs.
Mr. Collins kept his Funk two-seater airplane in the hangar and often took it out to explore the country.
The runway was initially 2,600 feet long, but eminent domain cut it down to about 1,800 feet in 1965 when I-295 was built. Construction of Route 38 had cut the farm in half, and then I-295 cut it into quarters.
Ultimately I-295 did away with barns, sheds, and a big farmhouse, Mr. Collins' daughter, JoAnn, said. It also forced the family to close the Collins Florist shop that Mr. Collins' mother operated on property.
Mr. Collins remained loyal to his parents' farm and did some farm work almost daily, his daughter said. The Collinses grew potatoes and tomatoes, which they sold to Campbell Soup Co., and corn and soy beans for horse feed.
"He always kept up with farming," his daughter said.
The farm was sold in the 1970s, but Mr. Collins lived on the property until the mid-1980s.
Mr. Collins took on various air-mechanic jobs outside of his airstrip and hangar.
In the late 1960s, he worked as a mechanic for Flying W Airport and Ranch in Medford. He then worked at Northeast Philadelphia Airport until 1989, when Presidential Airways, an executive air taxi service for which he worked as chief mechanic, shut down.
Mr. Collins never fully retired. Up until a few weeks ago, he would put his wheelchair in his car, drive himself to his hangar, and fix an aircraft while sitting in his wheelchair, his daughter said.
"He was all about airplanes," she said.
Mr. Collins was born in Mount Laurel and raised in Moorestown. He graduated in 1945 from Moorestown High School and joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps, where he served as a mechanic for just over a year.
In 1951, he married Victoria Anne Collins. The couple later divorced. She died earlier this year.
Mr. Collins married Elizabeth Sturdevant in 1977. She died in 1998.
Mr. Collins was a longtime member of the International Flying Farmers and served as president for the New Jersey chapter.
He was also a member of the Moorestown Friends Meeting, where he served on the overseers committee for several years.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Collins is survived by a son, Phillip; two grandchildren; one great-grandchild; a brother; and a sister.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, at Moorestown Friends Meeting, 118 E. Main St.