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His World War II videos fill a "niche"

May 29, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Anybody who has a B-17 Flying Fortress, a Sherman tank, an M-1 rifle, a Huey Cobra helicopter, a bazooka or even an old Army horse needs John Seburn's address.

Seburn, 38, makes his living selling videos of training films produced during the war for use by the military. He finds his subjects in the bowels of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The films are in the public domain and are free to look at. He selects the ones he wants and pays to have them transferred onto a master video, which he transfers onto videos on the banks of VCRs in his basement.

His inventory contains more than 1,000 different titles on the military hardware of the Second World War, a spattering of Civil War stuff, even something for railroad buffs and old car enthusiasts.

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Every year, he puts out a catalog that he sends to potential customers around the globe. This year it has more than 40 pages.

Seburn runs his business from the basement of his ranch home in rural Greencastle. His market is worldwide. Sales are by mail order. Two full-time employees help with the business.

"Mine is a special interest, niche market," Seburn said. "My buyers are World War II re-enactors who need technical knowledge, collectors and enthusiasts."

Historians, educators, museums, researchers, and television documentary and news producers buy his videos.

Many of the training films that Seburn copies to sell were produced in Hollywood as part of the war effort and feature popular actors of the day.

"The research is challenging, like a treasure hunt. You never know what gems you'll find," he said.

The average price of Seburn's videos is $20 each.

Seburn started in business in 1988, offshoots of his hobbies of collecting military vehicles and interest in historic films. Shelves in his basement headquarters hold a hundred or so plastic models of military planes that Seburn built as a kid.

At age 16 he got his first car, a 1944 Army Jeep. He owns a similar vehicle today that he uses in re-enactments and drives in parades.

His first video was transferred from an old training film put out by Fairchild Aircraft when the company built planes in Hagerstown. It was a manual on how to fly and maintain Fairchild's World War II PT-19 trainer. He met a man at an air show who owned one and asked if he wanted a copy of his film. Vintage Video was born on that day, Seburn said.

He ran a small ad in a trade magazine offering copies of the film. "I think I sold a video to everybody who owned a PT-19 in the country," he said. "That's how I got into the mail order business."

A lot of Seburn's videos end up on national television. A&E, The Discovery Channel and The History Channel have bought videos from Seburn to use in their productions. He has also produced his own video shows on major World War II events, including interviews with veterans.

Seburn films Civil War re-enactments, including last year's 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which is now part of his inventory.

He produces his own documentaries as well as videos of weddings and special events. He also does promotional videos for businesses.

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