If your heart is into aviation, and you have money, there is no end as to what you can accomplish, including building a first-class aviation museum, and filling it with some of the finest examples of World War II aircraft. That’s what ethanol entrepreneur, Ron Fagen, did in his hometown of Granite Falls, Minnesota. The museum is located at Granite Falls Municipal Airport/Lenzen-Roe Memorial Field (KGDB).
In 1974, Ron Fagen returned to his native Minnesota after a stint in Vietnam, having accumulated experience in construction, courtesy of the United States Army. He immediately started a construction business with a single pickup truck and a four-man crew.
Over the years, Fagen seized several opportunities to expand his business, specializing in heavy industrial construction. Today, the company that bears his name, and of which he is CEO, is the 30th largest contractor in the U.S., and the 68th largest in the world.
While the company takes on many different types of industrial construction projects, Fagen is the largest green energy design-builder in the country, specializing in building ethanol plants and wind farms. The company employs approximately 2500 people, including 300 at its home office in Granite Falls, Minnesota (pop. 2864).
Fagen became an industrial legend during the construction boom days of the United States ethanol industry (late 1990s to mid-2000). During that period, he was building about 80% of all the new ethanol plants in the United States (something over 100). Fagen Construction is still going strong in the energy world including erecting steel towers for wind farms across the north central states. Outside the U.S., Fagen recently completed a 55 million gallon ethanol plant in Hungary.
Granite Falls is 125 miles west of the Twin Cities, and by necessity, Fagen utilizes general aviation aircraft to conduct business on a daily basis, from single-engine Pipers to Citation jets. But Fagen’s romance with aviation is in his collection of World War II aircraft and the museum he built to house them.
Built as a tribute to his late father, Raymond, who participated in the June 6, 1944 D-day Utah Beach invasion of Europe, the 18,000 square foot museum measures 90 feet wide, 200 feet long, and 28 feet tall. A three-dimensional scene includes life-sized bronze sculptures of United States Army G.I.s exiting a U.S. landing craft as it hits the beaches of Normandy. Raymond Fagen is depicted as the lead soldier departing the landing craft. A total of 160,000 Allied troops were part of this huge assault. The sand used in the display was transported from Normandy to Granite Falls.
The WWII-era aircraft on display include a P-51 Mustang monogrammed as “Sweet Revenge;” a Lockheed P-38 Lightning “Ruff Stuff;” a P-40 Flying Tiger labeled “Desert Shark;” and a BT-13 trainer. This same hangar also houses General Omar Bradley’s D-Day Willy Jeep, a Harley Davidson WLA Escort Motorcycle, and a D-Day Veteran WC-54 Dodge Ambulance. Upstairs is a library with books, photos, posters, WWII newspaper stories and other literature about World War II. On both the main walls are several interactive touch video screens, plus a huge mural by Nebraska artist, Dave Reiser, depicting the Allied invasion of Normandy.
A smaller gallery hangar features a Waco CG4A combat glider (built in Minnesota) that carried U.S. Army personnel from England. Gliders were often used during nighttime missions to quietly transport troops into enemy territory across the English Channel. This gallery also houses reconstructed Army training aircraft, including a PT-19, PT-22 and PT-26. There is also an anti-aircraft halftrack, a CCKWX troop carrier (better known as a Deuce and a half truck), and a Cushman Model 32 Scooter.
One Minnesota firm that got its foot in the door of the Fagen museum project was Schweiss Bi-Fold Doors of nearby Hector, Minnesota, 42 miles east of Granite Falls. Owner Mike Schweiss, who himself is a pilot, will be the first to recognize the significance of the aircraft housed in the museum, but structurally, he also sees his 18 x 70-foot Schweiss bi-fold door as a museum showpiece.
Weighing 22,000 lbs. with special steel sheeting and inside insulation, the bi-fold door is powered by three 5 hp electric motors. Twenty (20) Schweiss patented Lift Straps do the heavy lifting of the door, which is built to withstand 190 mph winds.
“The first hangar door I ever bought was a Schweiss door, and it will also be the last door I ever buy,” said Fagen. (www.schweissdoors.com)
Two additional hangars, a WWII Quonset depicting a flight operations center and a WWII control tower, make up the total complex of the museum.
Hours and days of operation are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday thru Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and national holidays.
The suggested donation to help with turning on the lights, cleaning the restrooms and staffing is $10 per person. For additional information, visit http://www.fagenfighterswwiimuseum.org.