Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 | 3 p.m.
The Army depot at Hawthorne has gone to a lot of trouble making sure nobody can get to its stores of ammunition, protected in warehouses and bunkers half-buried across the desert and appearing like the work of a monster gopher gone crazy.
But don’t feel deprived of an opportunity to get up close and personal with bombs and bullets.
On the main drag through town — U.S. 95 between Las Vegas and Reno — stands the free-admission Hawthorne Ordnance Museum, which at first glance looks like a storefront thrift shop.
In fact it’s a showcase of unusable weaponry and inert ammo — some of which spills outside — including torpedoes and bombs, nuclear training rounds and shells for a battleship’s 16-inch guns. There’s also a rarely seen Jeep-style M151 Mutt and a couple of drone helicopters developed during the 1960s designed to combat submarines.
It’s a museum totally befitting this community, which has played host to the Army since 1930. The depot rose to prominence during World War II as a staging area for most of the bombs, rockets and other ammunition employed during the war. It also has served as a hub for American war materiel being shipped to the front in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The bunkers also store old ordnance that didn’t get fired or detonated.
The museum is neat and well organized, staffed with knowledgeable volunteers. There’s military memorabilia in addition to the ordnance.
Most but not all of the stuff on display here came from the ammo depot down the highway. Some comes from people who worked there or who were just interested in bombs. Some people collect rocks, others coins and a few, things that go boom.
Rocky McKellip, retired sheriff of Mineral County, volunteers at the museum and said you never know what you’ll find.
“People die and you go (to a house), and (say), ‘Look at that closet. Call the bomb squad,’” McKellip said with a laugh.
Like any respectable museum, this one also has a store for the purchase of souvenirs.
Bullet key chains go for $4, 20 mm silver shell casings — good as paperweights — go for a buck, ammo boxes sell for $10 and if you’re on the hunt for an usual flower pot stand, the fins from a 1,000-pound bomb can be purchased for $75.