Wyoming’s next great museum is under construction and will open next May.
The National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.
The $100 million self-funded project has been a dream of Dan Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square foot facility, which is designed to hold 150 military vehicles.
But it is much more than a display of vehicles.
Starks, 65, who is not a veteran, has such a high degree of respect for those who served, he sees this project as his life work. And what a life it has been.
He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis and was CEO before retiring in 2017. The company was doing $6 billion in revenue per year. He had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices for the human body, with a specialty on heart catheters and other devices. “At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.
His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.
Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life dream was to settle in Dubois and do some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans.
And boy, is this ever some project.
Using Richardson Construction of Cheyenne as a general contractor, the project has hummed along on schedule. And although the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small. They own more than 400 of the most pristine historical vehicles from World War II and other conflicts. He thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls. It is assumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.
The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.
Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” he says.
Dan sees the facility having three components:
First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans.
Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars.
Third, provide an educational experience.
The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers. It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.
Starks likes to discuss how the Red Ball Express helped secure the victories. This was the supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.
He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and a half years.
The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy.
“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did. It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized,” he said.
Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people. They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free! My dad insists on that,” she said.
Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault, unlike anything west of the Smithsonian. It will hold his $10 million collection of historical weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection includes 270 Winchester rifles. The vault has a safe door that would look just right at the national mint.
The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming legislature are convening there in October.
It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004, in Iraq. The movie Taking Chance was about that soldier.
There will be large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.
There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. His other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches, and stored in Salt Lake City. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable.
Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and to be a shop to keep them running.
Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. More recently they have purchased a 250-head cattle ranch. Recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.
“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks concluded.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.