-Mary Nita Bondurant-
It’s not just anybody who gets to shop for a Gutenberg Press, a Rosetta stone, a replica of the Liberty Bell, or a head crusher. Add to that list chastity belts, evolutionary human skulls, antique automobiles, an entire gallery of military memorabilia, and you could say that Hugh Wade is one of a kind.
So, how did Hugh Wade get to buy all this cool stuff? He got involved with the development of Discovery Park of America (DPA.). “I’ve known Robert Kirkland, founder of DPA, and Jim Rippy, current CEO and Project Director, since elementary school,” Hugh said. Kirkland and Rippy graduated with Wade’s wife, Winona, a year ahead of Hugh. “I was a grade behind, so I’m younger than they are,” he chuckled.
But it wasn’t Kirkland or Rippy who got Hugh started in his procurement role at Discovery Park, it was Newell Graham, owner of the local Coca Cola Bottling Company. During the planning stage of the Discovery Park project, Kirkland divided his volunteer army into committees. Newell Graham was asked to chair the Military Committee. According to Hugh, Newell had a full time job, and knowing that Hugh had an avid interest in the military, he requested his help. Before long, Hugh was wheeling and dealing all over the country. “Robert found out early that I am a negotiator,” Hugh said. “He liked that.”
It started with Hugh procuring military equipment ranging from the PT-17 Stearman biplane to the huge Vietnam War era helicopter. “Just about everything in the military gallery, I had a hand in,” Hugh said. “Newell, Mike Rinker, and others were involved, but I was typically making the deal. After I negotiated an item down to the bottom dollar, I would call Robert. Robert would tell me to talk with Jim about it. I would go talk to Jim, who would typically say that he would talk to Robert and let me know. That’s how that went.”
Soon, Kirkland was asking Hugh to buy antique cars, tractors, items of torture, and other non-military items. Perhaps the largest procurement he made was the antique Swedish Trains now found at the Train Depot. “Robert told me that he wanted a sleeping car, a dining car, and some type of lounge car. I found out that Michael Hagan, President of Reelfoot Bank at the time, knew a lot about trains, and I got him to help me,” Hugh said. “I ended up going to Maine twice to look at those trains. It took over six months to complete the deal, but we ended up buying them. And, then, we had to get them here,” he said shaking his head. “Buying the trains and figuring out how to get them here was by far the most time consuming and the most interesting process that occurred.”
Did Robert ask Hugh to find things that aren’t currently on display at Discovery Park? “Oh, yes. Some of the things Robert asked me to find, he wasn’t willing to pay the price for,” Hugh said. “At some point, he was interested in having a Da Vinci Machine, a Sherman tank, and a duck-billed platypus. I found these things, but the price didn’t suit Robert, so, he just shook his head and moved on,” Hugh said.
Hugh can’t say what he likes best about Discovery Park. “There are just too many things,” he said. Now that the artifacts are in place, the galleries are full, and the park is in full swing, Hugh is still involved. He serves on the Board of Directors and works as a docent in the military gallery on Saturdays, sharing that he loves to talk to DPA guests about the items displayed there. Recently, Hugh had a conversation with a man from Houston who came to the park as a side-trip while visiting relatives in Dyersburg. He told Hugh he would be back, because what he had found here was an “oasis in the desert.”
If you would like to meet Hugh Wade and find out why he is known as the “junk yard dog,” you can probably find him in the Military Gallery most Saturdays. You can pick his brain about Discovery Park’s military display or find out about his “world-wide travels on the internet.” But, the fact of the matter is that Hugh Wade is in and out of Discovery Park all the time. “This place is special to me,” he said. And, maybe someday he will even find a reasonably-priced duck-billed platypus.
Discovery Park of America is located at 830 Everett Blvd. in Union City, TN. Find out more about the park by visiting the website at www.discoveryparkofamerica.com.