By C.J. Bunce
Don Hillenbrand is what you would call a diehard science fiction fan and entertainment memorabilia collector. In particular he is a rabid Star Trek fanboy, a true Trekkie, and he’s one of my oldest Trek collector pals. He recently launched his new website WrathofDhan.com, an online museum of sorts where he shares some of his sense of humor and allows fans to get a closer look at his amazing collection of screenused costumes and props from the show and movies that featured the original Star Trek crew—Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and the rest.
As part of his passion for Star Trek, Don has spent some time over the years trying to track down the original shuttle Galileo—the actual ship that was used by Kirk & Co. in the original 1960s TV Star Trek series. For years rumors persisted about the ship being in Don’s vicinity. Trekkies posted photos of Google satellite images showing the vessel existed, somewhere in Ohio. But no one seemed to know where it was stored. It had undergone extensive restoration over the years. One owner obtained it from the studio and (rumor has it) let their kids play in it in their yard for some time, somewhere in California. The current owner acquired it and supposedly poured tens of thousands of dollars into a restoration effort, only to run short on money or otherwise decide to hold off, resulting in further weathering from storing it outside. This is, after all, a 45-year-old piece of set dressing that was never intended to survive production of the series. Recently the current owner put it up for sale and it is being auctioned off. This week, after much persistence, Don (pictured above) was able to get in to see the Galileo in person. I asked him here today to share his reactions with everyone involving this unique opportunity.
CB: Don, what was your reaction to finally being able to see in person and walk through the actual shuttle Galileo, the only item that could be called an actual full-sized ship from the original Star Trek TV series?
DH: Seeing the Galileo was a truly amazing thing. On one hand, this is THE prop that we’ve all seen for decades and the emotions of joy that wash over you – well you can imagine. Kirk and Spock actually hopped in and out of this piece! But even as that feeling overtakes you the reality sets in – this thing is in TERRIBLE condition. If you think it looks bad in the photos, that’s nothing compared to seeing it in person. So you’re simultaneously hit with profound amazement and profound sadness. It’s an odd experience.
CB: So how much is left of the original ship?
DH: Of the main structure, I’d say AT THE MOST, there’s 25% of the original material in place, and of that, very little is salvageable, in my opinion. The vast majority of the structure and surfaces have been replaced. But then THAT was left to go to hell. The owner kept saying how upset she was about all the bad online comments concerning the condition and how it wasn’t that bad. At one point she abruptly turned to me and asked “It’s not as bad as you thought it was going to be, is it?” To which I replied “Yes, I’m afraid it is. Maybe worse.” I didn’t want to be cruel, but this was a piece of crap. It never ceases to amaze me how people can delude themselves when they have something on the line.
CB: I see from photos some of the weathered iconic logo on the side of the ship and the Enterprise ship identifer NCC 1701 across the back. None of the paint or logos are original, correct?
DH: Not a bit, unfortunately. This has gone through at least two rounds of “restoration,” neither of which did much actual restoring in the long run. Apparently every time progress was made, it was left out in the weather. The lettering that you can see is from one of those rounds. From what I can tell there’s not a molecule of original paint on the piece. Or if there is, it’s so deteriorated that it can’t be identified. This was originally made from a combination of materials. From what I could tell, the skin is/was masonite with fiberglass used to blend the curved surfaces into each other. The top “quarter round” pieces were metal, again blended with the glass. Now it is mostly plywood and Bondo. Lots and lots of Bondo.
CB: Can you tell what parts were original and what was replaced in the last restoration?
DH: One of my goals (beyond acting like a Trekkie fanboy) was to specifically try to ascertain what was original and what was replaced. I tried asking the owner but got rather vague information. At one point she would say that an entire side was original. But when I pointed out the obvious use of the plywood that the “restorers” had used, she’d say, “well, except for that.” Of course “that” was a third of the side. But through a lot of study and comparison, I was finally able to break it down. Here’s what I know:
- Steel frame is original and in good condition
- Engines are mostly original and in good condition
- Rear landing strut is original and in good condition
- Interior wood frame has all been replaced
- Sheathing on port side is about half original/half replaced
- Sheathing on starboard side is all replacement
- Aft – impulse engine nook has been totally replaced; lower section is original
- Roof – totally replaced due to cave-in
- Front – mostly original and in bad shape
- Door – original
- Detail pieces –grills – original
- Bottom – no idea
The best thing about it are the engines – they are almost entirely intact. They have no domes, unfortunately, but the rest is original except for one rear cowling that the owner had fabricated by one of the guys that worked on the original. And I was amazed at how big that rear landing strut was in-person. Big and beefy. Unfortunately for me, the engines were stored in a garage and I was not able to get far enough away to take a good shot. But they were impressive.
CB: Someone will be forking over tens of thousands of dollars if they want to take on another (maybe the last) effort to finally restore this ship. What is your take on that?
DH: Let’s bottom line this: Is it worth restoring? Is there enough left that it could be considered a “restoration” at all? This is about opinion, since there’s no magic formula to determine which way to go. I say “yes, there is.” If it didn’t have the engines, I’d say forget it. After all, whatever outer sheathing that is still original is in such poor condition that it will have to be replaced. But I think there’s enough to justify restoring it and still being able to call it the “True Galileo.” Just barely, but it’s there.
That said, it will take a Herculean task to fix this puppy up. A year ago when I first heard about it resurfacing – practically in my own backyard – I fantasized about buying it and restoring it myself. I’m a very handy guy and I can learn how to do just about anything. But when I saw the poor girl in person, I knew it was good that I had put that dream aside. You’d need a significant facility to house it in and work on it – this is no “garage kit” after all. And you’d have to make it your extended hobby and be willing to spend hundreds of hours AND thousands of dollars (tens of thousands? I don’t know, frankly). I’m not up to it. And anyone thinking of bidding needs to know this going into it – it’s a BIG job!
CB: So what were your thoughts on being able to touch that actual ship from your favorite series as a kid (and still today)?
DH: Regardless of her condition, I got to spend a great afternoon looking into every nook and cranny of the old girl. A good friend and fellow Trek fan was with me (hey Mike!), and for a little while we were 7-year-olds stranded on a desolate planet (that bore a striking resemblance to a warehouse) with Spock and McCoy and the rest of the crew. Kid in the candy store moment, for sure, and one I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.So I want to help make sure she ends up in a good home – with someone who will restore her to her former glory and put her proudly on display for the world to see. I hope it comes to pass. She deserves it.
CB: About your own collection of original Star Trek costumes and props, what made you put it all together to share on the Internet?
DH: Well, I think you said it best when you referred to my site as “an online museum of sorts”. That’s exactly what I want it to be – a virtual museum where fellow fans can see these amazing pieces of Star Trek history that we all love so much.
As a collector, I collect for myself, period. I don’t buy things to impress others, just myself. That said, a collector likes nothing better than to show off their collection to fellow fans and see theirs in return. And since I can’t afford to build a facility and open my own museum (every collector’s dream, I think) I decided to go online. Since web design and photography are what I do on a daily basis, it was a natural progression. My friends had to endure countless iterations (sorry, Chris!) but I finally got something that I could be proud of and that reflected my collecting sensibilities. I tried to have fun and tell a story.
CB: Any future plans for WrathofDhan.com or new pieces you are looking to acquire for your collection?
DH: I already have so many amazing pieces – stuff that is frankly beyond anything I could have dreamed of a few years ago. But like any collector, I’m always on the hunt for new stuff, new information, and new insight into the Trek experience that has meant so much to me throughout my life. As a matter of fact, I have a number of pieces that I need to add to the site even now. In that way, I hope my site will never be finished. And I’d like to thank all the great friends I’ve made over the years that have helped me make my collection what it is. They’ve helped me in so many ways, beyond just the collection. I wish all of you could have joined me on the Galileo for the trip of a lifetime. As usual, Captain Kirk said it best:
“Course heading, Captain?”
“Second star on the right… and straight on ‘til morning.”
CB: Thanks for talking with us today, Don!
DH: My pleasure.
In real life Don runs New World Design (www.neworldesign.net) and NEOWORX Studio (www.neoworxstudio.com) where he creates design and illustration work for clients around the world. His work was recently featured in the Star Trek “Ships of the Line” calendar, a collection of new outer space imagery in the expanded Star Trek universe.
For anyone interested in bidding on the Galileo, you’ll have to act fast as the auction ends this week.