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Posted on Jan 27, 2014 in Stuff We Like

Free to a Good Home – A Tank Museum

Free to a Good Home – A Tank Museum

By Neal Creighton

Who wants to take a donation of $16 million?

William Gasser, a semi-retired businessman who often call himself “a former millionaire,” is seriously searching for an individual or organization that would be  interested in receiving a tax free donation of his huge Tank Museum located currently in south central Virginia in the town of Danville. This museum is situated on an 89 acre site that includes a 330,000 square foot building which houses 118 armored and artillery vehicles, 160 mid-size weapons (Bazookas, Flame Throwers, Recoilless Rifles), 60 rifles (some rare, others current), an International Hall of 340 Generals in uniform, and a unique 1/16 scale 6000 square foot indoor battlefield for radio controlled tanks. The collection also includes International Tank & Cavalry artifacts from many time periods, plus support facilities that serve as a gift shop, classrooms, research library, cafeteria, and workshops to maintain the artifacts. Gasser tells visitors who ask where the bathrooms are that there are no bathrooms. Then he explains that the building does have rooms called “latrines” that serve the same purpose!

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Gasser himself is now in his sixties and serves as the museum Director and Curator. The museum is essentially a family-operated business with his wife, Karen, serving as Museum Director, and his two sons and one daughter-in-law also being employees. He first founded the Tank Museum back in 1981 when he was a partner in the Gasser family business known as Gasser & Sons, Inc. That company is still a computerized manufacturing company in New York State that, after 90 years, owned and operated by the family’s third generation. The museum in Danville is officially known as The American Armoured Foundation Tank Museum and is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit. Its revenues come principally from entrance fees, sales of gift shop items, special events including the radio controlled battlefield, and donations from numerous supporters. However, the largest of the annual donations come from William Gasser and from his family’s business organization, Gasser & Sons, Inc. Neither William nor his wife draw a salary from the museum operations.

william-gasser-tbnl

William Gasser on the tricycle he uses to get around his 330,000 sq. ft. Tank Museum. Click to enlarge.

Gasser’s desire is to donate the museum to someone or some organization that would carry on the operation, preferably in Danville, but he would not be against moving it to another location if that would allow the new owner to keep the collection together. When asked how much money he had invested in the museum over the years, William did not give a definitive number but estimated “many more millions than I can count.” His wife, who also serves as the museum treasurer, put the value today at $16 million. She explained that the actual value of the items transferred to the new owner would come to over $30 million, but that would include the over 40 vehicles in the collection that have been provided as “on loan” by the Department of Defense. These cannot be sold but would be retained by the new owners of the museum operation.

In explaining why he now wants to step back from the main challenge of his later life, Gasser cites his age and his strong desire to make the museum and its large collection of valuable artifacts his lasting legacy. One thing he does not want to do is dispose of the museum to someone or organization that will break up the collection by selling off acquisitions acquired over the years. However, he does recognize that the new owner may want to move the operation to another site where it might draw more visitors than it does now. In the late 1990s, he himself moved the museum from its original location on Long Island in New York State to its current Virginia home. Danville is not close to any of the major highways that carry potential visitors to and from vacation sites in the Southern States like Florida and the Northern States of New York, New Jersey, and New England. In the last few years, the museum has attracted approximately just over 7,000 visitors a year. On the other hand, those who do visit do visit tend to spend between two and three hours and write very laudable comments about the museum. Despite the disappointing number of visitors, William and his wife have found ways to achieve a positive revenue stream in recent years. This is due, in part, because William uses his own private resources to purchase the major acquisitions to add to the collection.

For those interested in William’s offer to donate the museum, the best way to begin is to go to the web site at: www.aaftankmuseum.com . This web site provides concise info on mission, operations, and holdings of the organization as it now exists. William has designated his daughter-in-law, Natasha Petersen, as the point-of-contact for dealing with those who call or email seeking details of the offer to donate the Tank Museum. Her phone number is: 434-836-5323. Her email is: tankmuseum@gamewood.net .

Gasser is not seeking any profit from this donation. He is a philanthropist who views the offer as the culmination of his many years of striving to create something lasting for future generations of Americans to understand the service and sacrifices made by those by the men and women who served in the armed services.

About the Author
Major General (Ret) Neal Creighton, whose distinguished military career included command of the US 1st “Big Red One” Infantry Division, is the author of A Different Path: The Story of an Army Family (Xlibris, 2008). His previous articles for Armchair General include “Journey to Obsolescence: The Army Air Corps Lighter-Than-Air Branch.”

4 Comments

  1. Someone needs to talk to Paul Allen about this. He has the cash and vision.

  2. The museum has talked to him, not interested.

  3. Located in West Liberty, Ohio
    We are in the center with Lima Tank factory just North of us and Wright Patt AFB just South. Urbana, Ohio has a small Air Force Museum. I know we have large old factories just sitting empty and would be a good spot for a tank Museum. We have local motor pool groups who would love to add to this collection.
    J.S.

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