American artifacts: Collectors build museums to benefit local economies

Two Colorado collectors build museums to benefit local economies

U.S. Highway 40 was once the main route between Denver and Salt Lake City. The Wyman Living History Museum is on the highway. A big sign draws visitors. Admission is free, and staff and volunteers share their smiles and local knowledge with tourists. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

U.S. Highway 40 was once the main route between Denver and Salt Lake City. The Wyman Living History Museum is on the highway. A big sign draws visitors. Admission is free, and staff and volunteers share their smiles and local knowledge with tourists.

“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give,” Winston Churchill said. Now, two Colorado native sons are practicing that wisdom by giving back to their hometowns. Both men have started nonprofit museums to augment their local tourist economy, and both museums are worth a visit.

In 2006, on the eastern outskirts of Craig, rancher and sheepman Lou Wyman opened the Wyman Living History Museum in a 10,000-square-foot building that has everything from a sheepherder’s wagon and a rare 1873 catcher’s mask to a 1960 snub-nose, cab-over Jeep pickup with only 15,000 miles on it. Wyman, 84, says the catcher’s mask, which is big, flat and made from thin metal “looks like some Medieval mask they’d put on to torture you.” He also likes an 1893 typewriter that would have been a trial for secretaries to use because it has separate keys for capital letters.

The museum contains a complete Colorado license plate collection and chain saws that weigh from 12 pounds to 200 pounds with blades from 1 to 5 feet long. There’s a foot-powered dental drill. There’s a blacksmith shop, a barn Wyman’s father built in 1920 and the 1908 log country store from Pagoda in the Axial Basin with its original inventory from 60 years ago.

My favorite item is a homemade canvas boat on a wooden frame that went down the Yampa River in 1941 before its two boaters enlisted in World War II. The museum also has their photos and journals. Then there’s the 1915 Stevens Duryea, a rare car manufactured by the Stevens Arms & Ammunition Co. It’s undergoing restoration.

Wyman’s dedicated volunteers have also repaired an antique one-horse wooden hay baler, but I want them to tackle the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, also known as the Moffat Road, aging caboose, which sits on its special track. “We want learning experiences for people, not just a musty museum,” Wyman tells me, and he’s right. So he collects “what’s rare and unusual” such as an M-47 or a 1,000 horsepower, 110,000 pound 1947 U.S. Army tank with a 90 mm gun and two .50-caliber machine guns.

The V-12 Cadillac engine in the tank gets 3 gallons to the mile. He doesn’t drive it much, but the volunteer trucker who went and retrieved it from Texas “had a good time getting it here to Craig. Lots of people stopped and wanted photos.”

HHHWyman’s museum sits on 100 acres along U.S. Highway 40, which was the main route between Denver and Salt Lake City before the interstates went in. Bud Striegel’s Rangely Automotive Museum in downtown Rangely, boasts white marble floors, vintage and classic cars on display and a scale model of Stonehenge in the front yard.

“I’ve been a ditch digger all my life. All I’ve seen is the bottom of a ditch,” explains Striegel, 75, who welded pipelines across the country and worked in eight states with 150 employees of WC Striegel Inc. With the downturn in oil and gas revenues, Striegel opened his museum last year to aid local tourism. “I was raised here, and this is my town, my county and my state and I want to do everything I can to promote it. I hope my cars will encourage visitors to come through town, buy a burger and get a room. I want tourists to walk into the museum and catch their breath,” he told me.

I certainly did. From the fancy woodwork at the entrance to the gleaming marble floor in the showroom, I was overwhelmed by the Cadillacs, Pierce Arrows, Lincolns and other rare cars I’d only seen photos of, like his Auburn Boattail. Striegel prefers American classics, which are vintage autos built by custom chassis-makers between 1925 and 1948, but he also has a rare Ford jeep and unique motorcycles. I prefer his red El Camino pickup with its tailfins and sweeping rear window, though I’d take the 1957 Chevy station wagon in a heartbeat.

Just like his old buddy Lou Wyman, Striegel wants the public to enjoy his car collection. “You don’t see any ropes. You can open all the doors. I don’t mind little kids getting in the cars. I want them to remember the experience,” he tells me with sincerity. He’s giving back to his community because his father started the family business in 1945 when the Rangely oil field first boomed.

“Oil’s off now,” he says with a sigh. “So I opened a little jewel for this run-down oil field town.” He wants to snag car collectors cruising across the American West and get them to come off the interstates and drive through Rangely.

HHHIt’s not easy. There’s the expense of finding and restoring cars. “I don’t have a favorite car. I like all of them. I usually pick them up and haul ’em around myself. I’ve been to Detroit, Seattle, everywhere,” Striegel says.

Before he started, he called his friend, Lou Wyman. “Lou, I’m gonna open me a museum. What’s it gonna cost me?” he remembers with a laugh. Both men began their museums with free admission, but that may not last. There are plenty of ongoing bills to pay, yet this is their way of giving back, helping out. About the Rangely Automotive Museum, the residents in town “all like it,” Striegel says.

In Craig, locals have supported the Wyman Living History Museum so much that, “We’re out of room. We’ve got a lot of farm equipment and military stuff. We’ve got something for everybody,” Wyman says with satisfaction. Now, he’s switched to frogs.

His property includes an oxbow of the Yampa River created when the Moffat Railroad built tracks across a wetland in 1912 and left a unique ecosystem. Biologists from the University of Colorado-Boulder found more leopard frogs there than anywhere else in Colorado. “We’ve got a jillion frogs,” Wyman smiles. Children can see and hear the amphibians when they visit the museum.

HHHWhat’s the future? Enticing tourists. Bud Striegel seeks to restore more automobiles and constantly changes out his auto exhibit. He doesn’t want to crowd the cars. He wants visitors to walk through his museum and get up close and personal with vehicles they may never see again.

Wyman plans to have more events and summer activities and to move one of the last Moffat County one-room schoolhouses on to the property. He’s left an endowment for the museum, but interest rates aren’t what they used to be so there’s more financial planning ahead.

I can’t wait to go back. I love sharing the passion of collectors interested in the great age of American industrialism when our nation’s workshops and factories produced autos and tools that made us the envy of the world.

Once Lou Wyman rebuilds the Cadillac engine in his M-47 tank, he may ask me to ride in it, and I might. But if Bud Striegel gives me the keys to his ’57 Chevy, I’ll definitely take it for a spin.

Andrew Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College. Email him at gulliford_a@fortlewis.edu.

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford This red Chevrolet El Camino pickup, missing one taillight, was the

The Wyman Living History Museum includes the old log country store from Pagoda and an unrestored caboose from David Moffat’s Denver & Salt Lake Railroad. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

The Wyman Living History Museum includes the old log country store from Pagoda and an unrestored caboose from David Moffat’s Denver & Salt Lake Railroad.

Sheepman Lou Wyman sold his flocks and decided to build a living history museum just east of Craig. Wyman is there every day, working with a dedicated team of volunteers to repair, repaint and spruce up the hundreds of items in the museum’s collections. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Wyman Living History Museum

Sheepman Lou Wyman sold his flocks and decided to build a living history museum just east of Craig. Wyman is there every day, working with a dedicated team of volunteers to repair, repaint and spruce up the hundreds of items in the museum’s collections.

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A red 1928 Sport Phaeton Dual Cowl Cadillac at the Rangely Automotiv

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A 1929 black touring car epitomizes the Bud Striegel’s collection

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford One of Lou Wyman’s most interesting museum artifacts is his very o

In the 21st century, most automobiles and SUVs look the same, but a glance back at vintage cars produced by American manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s shows a reliance on steel, chrome and unique grills and radiators, which made each car stand out. Enlargephoto

Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

In the 21st century, most automobiles and SUVs look the same, but a glance back at vintage cars produced by American manufacturers in the 1920s and 1930s shows a reliance on steel, chrome and unique grills and radiators, which made each car stand out.

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford Among the unique vehicles in Bud Striegel’s collection is this 19

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford The interior of the Wyman Living History Museum boasts a staggering

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A rare Pierce motorcycle greets visitors to the Rangely Automotive

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A rare convertible American-made Auburn Boattail coupe with a stunn

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A sparkling blue and white Mercer is on display with a 1932 Ford Cu

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Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford A 1929, five-passenger powder blue La Salle, manufactured by Cadill