Missouri man restores Walt Disney rocket prop
Dan Viets isn't the attorney Columbia thinks he is at home. Oh no, no, no – he's a rocket man.
Recently, Viets, wife Sheila Dundon and friend Don Jourdan set off in a two-vehicle caravan as Jourdan's F-150 pickup towed a trailer carrying a 40-foot novelty shaped like a rocket known as the Moonliner II. They were headed for the Airline History Museum in Kansas City.
"I just think this is fascinating history," Viets said. "It was something I had always thought was really cool."
Viets is a 54-year-old Walt Disney fanatic. For years, he said, he had seen the rocket stationed along Interstate 70, just west of Concordia. He even stopped a few times for a better look. Yet it wasn't until 1997, when he read "Disneyland: The Nickel Tour," that he realized the significance of what he had been visiting.
In 1955, Disneyland opened its gates in California, and Trans World Airlines sponsored "Rocket to the Moon," a ride that featured a nearly 80-foot tall Moonliner at its entrance. When TWA built an administrative building in downtown Kansas City in 1956, Howard Hughes approved construction of the Moonliner II to top the structure.
Disney and TWA ended their business agreement in 1962, and the Moonliner II came down from its perch. It was sold to Spacecraft Co., a business that used the metal figure to promote its camper-shell and recreational-vehicle operation. Spacecraft later moved to Concordia.
The Moonliner II eventually became an I-70 landmark that Viets purchased in 1997. He declines to say how much it cost.
"I spent a lot more – many, many times more – restoring it," he said. "If I had known how much it was going to cost me, I wouldn't have done it."
Using a building in the northern Boone County community of Murry as a workshop, Viets and Jourdan removed bushels of bird nests from the fuselage, reattached legs and fixed gaping rust holes in an effort to get the Moonliner II display-worthy.
It was the unique quality of the four-year restoration project that kept Jourdan, a 59-year-old farmer near Centralia, interested.
"I fix stuff," he said while trying out walkie-talkies for the trip. "I fix all kinds of things. Except computers."
Many wives might not support their husband's purchase of a 50-year-old, hollow rocket, but Dundon said she was proud of Viets' accomplishment.
"My mother used to tell me I'd be lucky to find a man who liked cartoons as much as I did," she said. "When he found out it was a Disney trinket, he immediately tried to get it."
Viets is co-author of the 2002 book "Walt Disney's Missouri: Roots of a Creative Genius," and he has a collection of Disney memorabilia at home.
But he isn't trying to have it all.
"I'm not out to amass the biggest collection," he said. "There aren't any others in the same league as the Moonliner."
Foe Geldersma, president of the Airline History Museum, said Viets' rocket would figure prominently in the museum's future.
"I think its a great article," Geldersma said.
Viets is lending the museum the rocket indefinitely but said he's not upset to see the craft he has spent so much time and money on take off on such a timeless flight.
"I'm definitely happy about it," he said. "I don't want it to stay in the little enclosure we built over in Murry."