Story and photos by Steve Finkelman, AAM Communications Coordinator
Dana Williams has spent much of his working life creating order from disorder. So it’s not surprising his first impression of the Alberta Aviation Museum was not entirely positive.
“When I started, the back half of the museum area was storage, broken cabinets, broken furniture, unused and unwanted displays,” Williams remembers. “I often wondered why anyone would want to pay to come in here. Part of it was aircraft but the rest of it was just junk.”
Williams worked 21 years with the federal agency that gets rid of assets that are no longer wanted.. He spent another 15 years with the RCMP helping deal with property seized from criminals. Earlier he served 14 years as a reservist in Edmonton and in Germany. So he knew alot about how to get things in order.
After retirement in 2012 he was lured into the museum by his friend, long-time volunteer Bernie Sheppard, whose job it was to find parts for the B-25 restoration project. It was right up Dana Williams’ alley.
“We had two 53-foot trailers in the west parking lot full of B-25 spares and they were just in a pile. So Bernie and I got in there and we organized them,” Williams says. “I had to get into the technical manuals so when the guys working on the aircraft needed a part we could identify the part number. Then it was my job to go out to the trailer and find the part and bring it in to the guys.”
Williams attention to detail soon came to the notice of Jean Lauzon, the museum’s new Executive Director. She needed someone to do Facilities Maintenance.
“She offered me a part-time job. You come and go as you please. Work whatever days you want to work, whatever hours you want to work. So I accepted and here I am today. Although my work week has never been as described.”
Williams has become a key museum staff member responsible for the property, building and helping out with a wide range of other projects.
“It’s been a real challenge,” he says. “The building itself is approaching 80 years old and a lot of the equipment has never been changed and was poorly maintained.”
Then there was the mess.
“Nothing ever got thrown out. Nothing ever got recycled or taken to an eco-centre. It just got put into one room or another. As an example, the furnace room. I remember my first time in there you could just open the door and there was a narrow path through a bunch of broken fixtures and old light bulbs.”
Part of Williams’ solution was to hold giant auction in 2016 to get rid of surplus tools, equipment, displays and even some airplane parts. It raised $13,000.
There were also huge quantities of dangerous good that were improperly stored. Williams sorted through the lot, disposed of some and arranged safe storage for the rest. He also instituted health and safety rules and regular briefings for volunteers, another responsibility has has accepted.
“They were looking for a volunteer coordinator and I reached up and scratched my head and I guess they assumed I had put up my hand up.”
It’s those volunteers, Williams says, who have made much of the difference in the museum today.
“We have really hit the jackpot with this current group of volunteers,” he says. “Everybody we have on board here has skill sets. Some are good carpenters, some are finishing carpenters, some are painters, some are aircraft people. So my job is much easier now because I keep a lot of the jobs for our volunteer days on Tuesday and Thursdays. The volunteers come in and they have work to do and it helps me in that I don’t have to do it personally.”
Williams says the support from management has also been excellent, including the purchase of a new tractor for snow clearing and property maintenance, a new scissor-lift and a new floor scrubber.
“Management, the curator and the board have been very good. If I raise a point with a reasonable explanation they generally act on it. And we work together and keep things moving. It’s a lot more organized from management on down. We all worked together to clean the place up to make it a more professional looking facility.”
Despite all the improvements, Williams is always pushing for more.
“I walk into the museum today and I see things that should still be done. We get to one level and then think maybe we could take it one level higher. Although it’s improved greatly, really come along with help from everybody.”
And clearly he’s proud of the work that’s been put in to keep the old hangar looking it’s best.
“If we have contractors come in to do work, I often take the time to show them around. They’ve never been in this facility before. They are basically awestruck. “