Dan Starks – Wyoming Museum of Military Vehicles

Dan Starks – Wyoming Museum of Military Vehicles


– [Announcer] Your
support helps us bring you programs you love. Go to wyomingpbs.org,
click on “support,” and becoming a sustaining
member or an annual member. It’s easy and secure. Thank you! (tank rumbling) Where is the largest
private collection of United States military
vehicles, anywhere? In Dubois, and Dan Starks plans
to have them all available, on display, beginning
Memorial Day 2019. Next, on Wyoming Chronicle. (inspiring orchestral music) – [Announcer] Funding for this
program was provided in part by the Wyoming Public
Television Endowment and Viewers Like You. We’re with Dan Starks;
Dan, thank you so much for joining us on
Wyoming Chronicle. First of all, why
Dubois, Wyoming, for what it is that
you’ve planned? Well, we have several
answers to that. The main reason
that we’re putting this museum here in
Dubois, is because this a collection that
belongs to my wife and me, and we live here. And so we want this
collection to be where we can
continue to enjoy it, as well as make it
available for any member of the public who
would be interested in military history,
U.S. military history, U.S. military vehicles,
the conditions that our military have
fought in over numerous wars; anyone who’s interested
in those kinds of things, we want to do our
part to provide both education for people interested
in those kinds of things, and also we want to
preserve history. And so, why not Dubois? I think the only other
thing I would say there is, I think of the example of
the Baseball Hall of Fame. Why is that in Cooperstown? And whoever heard of Cooperstown but for the Baseball
Hall of Fame? There’s no reason that this
military vehicle museum in Dubois cannot be
similarly associated. And the name that you have
planned for this museum is? The Wyoming Museum
of Military Vehicles. And you hope to open
to the public in? We plan our grand opening
for Memorial Day 2019. Dan, our cameras right now
can maybe see a dozen or so of the military vehicles
that you have here. Let’s talk about the first
time that you purchased a tank. Yeah. How did that come about? I was a sponsor for a fundraiser to raise money for what now is the Nevada State
Veterans Memorial. And my wife and I
created a foundation to put such a memorial in place, and as part of our
fundraising efforts, we had a, we called it “The
American Heroes Challenge,” where we had a number of
veterans and first responders come and demonstrate
their skills. At our American
Heroes Challenge, I met a veteran who had
one armored vehicle; he told me that he had access to a World War II Sherman tank. And when I heard that, I had
never imagined such a thing, and I didn’t think a
private person could own a Sherman tank, but in my
discussions with this veteran, I came to acquire the
Sherman tank that he had. At the time it was a
30-ton paperweight, completely rusted out; it had
been sitting on a firing range for 30 or 40 years,
something like that. And so I undertook
to restore it, thinking it would
be a modest project, and that was my first tank. And we don’t have, or
you don’t have here, a few vehicles, or a dozen
vehicles, or 30 or 40 vehicles. How many vehicles now are
a part of your collection? Well right now we have,
my wife and I have 120 U.S. military
vehicles, including tanks from just the very
beginning of World War II and virtually every kind of tank that was used in World War
II: light tanks, medium tanks, many different kinds
of Sherman tanks. We have tanks from the Korean
War, from the Vietnam War. We have a tank prototype
from the 1980s, an Abrams prototype tank. We have a number of non-tank,
tracked armored vehicles. We have what people call
“soft skin military vehicles”: Jeeps, trucks; we
have artillery pieces. And altogether now,
120 and counting. And counting. Not only that, one of
the greatest collections, well first of all, this is
one of the largest collections of military vehicles
anywhere; is that correct? Well certainly, of
U.S. military vehicles. So our theme is to
preserve and educate on U.S. military history, and so there are other
collections that would have German vehicles,
British vehicles, French, Italian,
Japanese, Russian, and we’ve chosen
to devote ourselves exclusively to U.S.
military history. And so we have either the
largest, or one of the largest, U.S. military vehicle
private collections in the United States certainly
and probably in the world. You want research
to happen here; you have an incredible
array of original manuals, for many of your
tanks and vehicles. We have a complete collection of every technical manual
and every operating manual for literally every single
U.S. military land vehicle used in World War II. Many thousands of
documents, so it fills up a whole railroad boxcar. And we’re in the process of
cataloging this collection; when we came across
this collection it was being poorly preserved; it was partly exposed
to the elements. We found rodents doing
damage to the collection. So we’ve now obtained
that collection; we have it here in our facility. We’re in the process
of cataloging it. And it will become the basis
of the research library that will be part of our
military vehicle museum. The military vehicles
that we are looking at, I think people will be
amazed to know, operate. They work; you can
drive this tank. When you restore, it’s not
just a coat of paint here; the detail is
absolutely fascinating. And that is what makes this
really live (motor humming). There’s so much difference
to seeing something that is, I would call an inert
piece of equipment, and you say, “So what?” And yeah it’s interesting
to some people and it has a little
bit of interest to a larger group of people, but to really see the
completely restored detail, to see the equipment,
to see the labeling that’s inside a tank, to see
all of the thoughtfulness that the military planners used to think about the
fighting circumstances and the living circumstances
of our veterans, and what could they do
to help our veterans be successful during
their time of service, seeing all of the detail is
what really makes this live, and makes it far more
meaningful in my mind. We’re sitting here in what
you affectionately called to me at one time,
your “tank garage,” and I responded, “Not many
people in the United States “say they have a
garage for tanks.” But this is not the museum. You have a very different vision
of what the museum will be when it’s finished. Yes, the footprint for
our museum building is a four-acre footprint
for the building, to give you an
idea of the scale. And we’re imagining, right now, well let me just say that
it wasn’t so long ago, I bet you 12 months ago, we had maybe 70
military vehicles. So it’s possible
to really expand in a reasonably short period
of time with intense focus, which is what we’ve
given to this. And we’re not anywhere near done with defining our collection;
there’s more to collect that’s well worthwhile. It’ll take a little bit of time, but we’re very
much focused on it. So we don’t want to
outgrow the museum; we want the museum to
have plenty of capacity not only for what we
have to offer today but for what we
will have to offer as we continue to expand,
five years from now. And you’re contemplating
a design such that, it would be maybe like someone
who was walking over a hill into a United States military
camp in World War II. That’s exactly right;
that’s exactly right. Not cement floors, literally like you would be right there. Exactly. And then even to say a
little bit more about that, what would it be like
to be right there? We want this to be, really it’s kind of like
a living tableau. And so, the setup will imagine
a night defensive position for a U.S. military unit
in the European Theater of World War II. And so, this will
give us an opportunity to show how all of these
different pieces of equipment functioned, and what had a
specialty defensive function, what had a specialty
offensive function. And how did these different
vehicles support each other? And so we are going
to lay it all out in a way that helps
anyone who’s coming to see the history and to be
educated, to really appreciate, “Ah, so that’s why this doesn’t
have a top on the turret, “and that’s why this has a
machine gun as well as a cannon, “and that’s why
this one doesn’t.” The difference in speed, the
difference in ability to, you know, all of
the capabilities. I mean it’s the
fun of it, really, is to have all of this shown
in a way that it really lives. Before we move on, and
we’re going to get a chance to kind of look around at
some of your favorite pieces, I want to just talk a little
bit about your background. You were CEO of a Fortune 500
company living in a big city, and now you’re here. Yes, well, I hope to continue
to live life to the fullest, and the idea that in different
chapters of a person’s life a person has the opportunity to taste such different
experiences, to me is just awesome,
and beyond anything that I ever could have planned. So I did enjoy the corporate
world, and Fortune 500; our business was
lifesaving medical devices. Our claim to fame and
part of what made us get out of bed
every morning was, “We help save a life
every three seconds “of every hour of
every business day.” So that was very worthwhile
and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And now I’m doing something
completely different. My wife and I just
love the outdoors; we love the Rocky Mountains. We love privacy; we
love the peacefulness; and so we’re here to stay. And we now have a working
cattle ranch that we’ve founded as well as our
ongoing initiative to establish and
maintain in perpetuity this military history museum. Well Dan, we’ve
taken our cameras to every corner of
Wyoming, and we’ve seen a lot of surprises. Nothing matches this. Thank you. And let’s go walk around
and take a tour, shall we? Yes. (military drumming) So Dan, the first tank you
would like to show us, is? And it has a great
story behind it too. This tank is an M18
Hellcat Tank Destroyer from World War II. This particular, this
actual tank itself, has been documented
that it fought in the Battle of the
Bulge in December 1944. I won’t go into the history
of the Battle of the Bulge; some people will know the name. But this was just a huge
surprise counterattack by the Germans against
the Allied Forces. They knocked our lines
back hundreds of miles. This is where the Battle
of Bastogne became famous, where the 101st
Airborne held out against the German
surprise counterattack that completely
surrounded Bastogne with the 101st
Airborne defending the
perimeter of Bastogne. And in that battle,
we have a videotape of the actual commander
of this actual tank who fought in the
Battle of the Bulge. And that’s what
makes it so special. And the function of
the tank destroyer was, you can’t see it from here, but you can see the turret and
it looks like it’s a tank; technically it’s not a tank. There’s no top on that turret. This is an open turret,
and this is stripped down so that it’s very lightweight
compared with a Sherman tank. And because it’s
lightweight, it’s faster. And so the function of
this tank destroyer was to be defenseless
except for its speed, and use its speed
to get to the side or the rear of German armor, and destroy it with
this 76-millimeter gun. And so, with a Sherman tank,
if you fired at a German tank head on with an
armor-piercing round, the armor-piercing
round, just as you saw in that movie Fury,
where the Sherman tanks would fire at that Tiger tank and they’d bounce off
the front of the armor, that literally is what happened. We did not have the power to
penetrate the frontal armor of the best German tanks. You had to get
around to the side, or get around to the rear
where the armor was thinner, and penetrate with
an armor-piercing
round that way, and the only way you would have
a chance to get around there, because they’ve got
a more powerful gun; they have more powerful armor, you try to do it
in a Sherman tank the way that you saw
in the movie Fury where Brad Pitt and
his crew did eventually get around to the rear
and take out that tank, but you had to do
it by being faster. And this is exactly the same
engine as a Sherman tank, the same chassis,
but de-armored, no top on the turret so
it won’t weigh as much, no machine gun so it
doesn’t weigh as much. Just stripped down. It’s like the little
guy on a football team where he’d better
be fast because he’s going to get
absolutely crushed unless he’s faster than
the big football players that are working to tackle him. When you learn on
what needs to happen to restore a tank like this, is it your manuals
that provide the detail on exactly how to make
it just like it was? And how is that
communicated to finding someone who can actually
do the restoration work? Well, there’s a fair
amount of literature on a number of these vehicles. And so the archive
library that we have, with complete technical
specifications for every part, for every piece of
equipment, we generally do not have to resort to. Generally there are other
sources that are available, but when we need
to get into detail and can’t find the
information elsewhere, we know that we have the
answer in our research library. But there are people that are in the business of
restoring these vehicles, and you can find people
that, they’ll specialize; you can find somebody
who only works on World War II
vehicles, and then maybe they’ve worked on a number
of World War II tanks. Other people just work
on smaller vehicles, not on tanks at all,
not on armored vehicles, they work on
soft-skinned vehicles. So you’ve got to
just work to get as many different vendors,
as many different restorers as you can establish
contact with. We’re always looking and
we’re always interested in, we have far more need
than we do capability to continue restoring
our entire collection. So there’s a different
answer every time on how do you find out, where
do you get the expertise, how do you get all the details. It’s important to know, too, although you have a lot of
World War II vehicles here, you also have some
vehicles from other wars. Yes about half of our collection
is World War II vehicles. The remainder of our collection includes Korean War vehicles. We have a number of
Vietnam War vehicles. We have some post-Vietnam
War vehicles. The post-Vietnam War part of
our collection is the weakest, and that’s where we’ll expand
the most here as time goes by. On the Vietnam War side,
we’ve got some great pieces. We’ve got pieces
that really resonate with veterans of the Vietnam War as they see pieces of equipment that they lived and fought in. But we have more to expand
to the Vietnam War part of our collection as well. There weren’t so many specialty
vehicles for the Korean War; there’s World War II carryovers and there are pieces from
right there at 1950, 1951; we’ve got some of those. But our focus is
not World War II; our focus is the U.S.,
American military experience as reflected in the
vehicles that veterans used. It’s also important for
you to make veterans part of this vision. Well I’m working closely
with several veterans. The people that I consider to
be my colleagues are veterans, and are very involved
and helpful in this. Neither my wife nor I
served in the military. We both have a very
deep appreciation for the benefits that we enjoy as a result of generations
of military veterans and military service. And so we’re very interested in providing job
opportunities for veterans. We have a particular
veteran-managed business in a different state. And we work to reach
out to veterans and offer as much return
to people as we can. And this whole museum
is one of the ways that we can offer something
back to the veteran community to really celebrate
their experience and their sacrifice
and their service. Again, this is all
in Dubois, Wyoming. And we have more to see;
let’s continue our tour. Okay. (bugle and drum music) Dan this is a tank that served both in World War
II and in Korea. Yes. And it has quite a story. Yes, this is an M7 Priest. The M7 Priest is a
self-propelled artillery piece. So, as you think about a cannon, and think about 105-millimeter
cannon for example, that could be transported
one of two ways. It could be towed behind
some vehicle that pulls it, or it could be self-propelled. This is self-propelled, so
it’s got its own tracks. It looks like a tank; again,
technically it’s not a tank, it’s a self-propelled
artillery piece, but it has the same
bottom as a Sherman tank. And this was part of our
mass-production strategy in World War II and part of how we were able to be so successful with our supply of
military equipment, with common parts and
using the same platform to do a lot of different things. So this Sherman tank
platform included our ability to put a
105-millimeter howitzer on it. If you climbed up on
this, you’d see that there’s no top to this Priest. And it has a 50-caliber
machine gun there, and that’s the
basis for the name; it looks like a
pulpit in a church so this was called the
“Priest” as a nickname. And the function of this was
to go along with our tanks; the Sherman tank would fire generally between about
1,000 and 2,000 yards; most of the tank
battles would take place about at that distance. The Priest would fire a larger
round up to seven miles. – [Craig] Wow. And so this was
part of our strategy to deal effectively
with the enemy armor, if we could start
to assault them before they were within
range to shoot us, particularly if they
had more powerful guns than our Sherman tanks. We’d either get them
with our artillery or we’d get them with airplanes, and a lot of times the aircraft
wouldn’t have the conditions to be able to participate in
the fight with bad weather, but the artillery always could. And if you could
have that artillery capable of traveling
everywhere the tank traveled, and then fire in advance,
that was the function of this M7 Priest. One of the things
that I like the most about this particular piece,
is that it came with a story from a World War II veteran
who served in an M7 Priest. I have a picture of
this veteran here, and this veteran was kind
enough to give us copies of all of his military records. This veteran earned
five Bronze Stars. This veteran wrote a narrative, we’ve got pictures
of him in theater, and he wrote a narrative
of his experience beginning in 1942, he was
drafted into the Army in 1942. And so he’s written for us
his military career story, and we have it all right here. So as again, you
look at this and say, “Oh well that’s kind
of interesting,” well it’s a lot more
than just interesting when you see this person lost– This American veteran;
this is what happened. This American veteran’s
history and what happened. He lost friends; he
sacrificed tremendously. And here he’s lived to a ripe
old age; he’s in his 90s now, and he’s happy to share
his story with us. Before we move on, one of
the things that you’ve noted is that these tanks and
these artillery units, they weren’t
designed for comfort, and that’s something that
can really be noticed here. When you get inside a, the first time I climbed
inside a Sherman tank, I immediately got
claustrophobic. And there were five soldiers
in gear inside a Sherman tank. And when you get inside, and
then you put the hatch down, you can hardly move around. I mean even if I’m in a tank
by myself, in street clothes, working, maneuvering
inside, and it’s difficult. And I just imagine having four
more people in there with me in combat gear, with the
ability to look outside only through a little
slit periscope, a viewing lens,
just a little slit, and every time you fire
the gun you go deaf. Every time you fire the gun the interior fills
up with smoke. You can’t open the hatch
to clear the smoke, I mean just, you get
inside one of these and start to think about
what the real world was like for a soldier fighting
in these conditions, and it’s absolutely heroic. These soldiers that you
have talked to me about, they weren’t in there
for an hour necessarily, or 10 hours, or 15 hours, or– They could be inside
that enclosed area with the hatch
down, for 72 hours. I’ve read the history of
a tank crew, for example, that was inside with the
hatches closed for 72 hours in winter fighting conditions. Everything that they had
to do for that 72 hours had to happen without
the hatch opening; you can just imagine
all of the challenges. And in one instance, when
the crew finally came out, a couple of crew members
had such severe frostbite that they suffered
amputations of their feet, and that was what they were
doing to serve our country. And no special thanks to
them; it’s just to me again, the fact that those kinds of
stories could have occurred and not be fully appreciated
by everybody is horrible, and that’s part of what we’re
working to help address here with this museum and
the education of it. We can’t emphasize
enough the detail of the restoration that
you’re working with, and it’s just so spectacular. Let’s move on; we’ve
got more to see. Great. Dan, this piece of hardware
is from a different era than what we’ve been
looking at before. Yes, this is a
Vietnam War vehicle. It’s an M274 Mechanical Mule. And what I like about
this Mechanical Mule is, the meaning it has for so
many Vietnam War veterans. People will see this
and so many veterans actually worked with
a Mechanical Mule or it was really a
part of their life. What this is, is, this
particular version is armed. We have a 106-millimeter
recoilless rifle on it. So set up like this,
the Mechanical Mule
was able to carry a bunker-busting,
armor-destroying but in the Vietnam War era
it’d be more bunker-busting, powerful weapon: it shoots
the shells you can see here toward the back of
the Mechanical Mule. So this was a fighting machine
in its current configuration. But what it’s known for even
more with Vietnam War veterans, is it was a cargo carrier. So you could carry ammunition;
you could carry food. This Mechanical Mule was able
to transport heavier weight than a World War II
Jeep, for example. It had something like,
I forget the details, but something like twice
the carrying capacity of the classic
World War II Jeep. So in Vietnam, you didn’t want to carry any more on your
back than you had to, and the Mechanical Mule
was just a real tool for so many veterans. Dan you said earlier that you hoped to
expand your collection with more modern day
military hardware. But is there something
from World War II, or maybe even World
War I or Korean Era, that you would really like
to add to your collection, that you really
have your sights on? Well yeah, there was a tank
at the end of World War II called the M26 Pershing Tank. It was a heavy tank in
contrast to the Sherman tank that was classified
as a medium tank. So the Pershing Heavy Tank
was one that I’m looking for to add to the collection,
and it will really complete, then, I think with
that Pershing M26, I don’t think we’ll be missing any tank from World
War II in the U.S.; I think we’ve got at
least one of everything. Dan let’s circle back:
Memorial Day of 2019 is when you hope to open
this wonderful museum somewhere near Dubois. That will be our grand opening. It will be fascinating
for all of us to see, Dan. I can’t thank you enough
for sharing this with us on Wyoming Chronicle. It’s my pleasure, Craig. Thank you for your
interest in this.

8 Replies to “Dan Starks – Wyoming Museum of Military Vehicles”

  1. I can't wait for Dan to open up. I live in Cody and I was a Marine Corps AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle also called an amtrac which is short for amphibious tractor) maintenance man. I've always had a love of armor and to be able to go down and check out his collection will be an absolute joy. I wonder if Dan has any amtracs, there are 7 variants from WWII to present. M113s are another very common personnel carrier used by the Army through Vietnam and post Vietnam.

  2. Thank-you Dan for preserving the equipment that we used, and my father used in the conflicts that occurred thru our history. Looking forward to coming out to see this museum this year.

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