Venango County Correspondent
FRANKLIN - If you had a restaurant and wanted to attract patrons, what would you do to get their attention?
Great food and good service would be paramount on the list.
What about those busy motorists who might drive past and see it as just another eating establishment, catching their eye could be very important.
Why not put an Apollo spacecraft right in front of the building?
For almost 30 years, residents and visitors who travel along Route 8, south of Franklin, have been able to see this metal monument to America's achievement of landing on the moon in 1969, which is mounted by the front door of Dairy Queen.
Many people think it is just a replica that somehow got displaced more than 1,500 miles from the Kennedy Space Center. The truth is, it's real and is only one of four test models of the Apollo left in the world.
So how did this now priceless, 3-ton vehicle get here?
The story starts in the same year that America launched its first man in space, 1961.
Along the Pittsburgh Road, long before it turned into the busy four-lane highway that it is today, the Rogers family built a small Dairy Queen.
In 1973, Kim Rogers, the present owner, took over the operations. Over the years, he expanded it for indoor dining.
Rogers was one of those - and still is - space fanatics. He loved watching the courageous astronauts ride the mighty metal monsters into the heavens on TV.
His love of rockets took him to a salvage yard in the early 80s after a piece of history. Rogers described how it all came about, “I found out that a place called Langner Enterprises, just outside of Grove City, had two Apollo Spacecrafts for sale. I couldn't believe it, so I grabbed my checkbook and drove down. Sure enough they were there. I bought one for $2,500.”
Getting the huge craft back to Franklin proved to be a little bit of a challenge. After all, it was designed to ride a Saturn V rocket.
“We loaded it up on a truck that was used for hauling bricks, thinking it could take the weight,” said Rogers.
“We didn't think of getting any permits or wide-load signs at the time, so we just drove nice and slow all the way back. I can remember getting a lot of looks from drivers in the opposite lane.”
The Apollo spacecraft was soon mounted at an angle in front of the business. It wasn't until earlier this year that Rogers found out exactly what he had purchased.
“A gentleman from Pittsburgh by the name of Paul Spark was up in the area to take advantage of the bike trails,” said Rogers.
“On his way back, he spotted the spacecraft and pulled in to take a better look. He realized that it was the exact same type of boiler plate vehicle that he trained on when he was with the Underwater Demolition Team Twelve. They later help recover Apollo 16.”
Another confirmation came from professor David B. Allen, of Maritime College State University, of New York. It was the real thing. Allen also has an Apollo that he purchased for educational use.
Another one is on display at the Kennedy Space Center and one is in storage at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. All of the other Apollo spacecrafts were sold for scrap.
Within the past month, Rogers has added a power-point presentation on the spacecraft so that customers can learn the history of this rare piece of equipment that helped pave the way to the moon.
Rogers had one more humorous part of the story to add.
“I was down at the Kennedy Space center a few years ago and I saw the other vehicle that was similar to [mine],” he said.
“I bet that I was the only person down there who could say, ‘Yeah, I have one of those.'”
Now that the space shuttles will be auctioned off at the end of the year, Rogers was asked if he would try to get one. “I think I might be out bid on that.”