Graham County Auto and Art Museum in Hill City opens to the public, could boost local economy
Stephen Tebo, who grew up in Hill City, is a long-time car enthusiast.
"When I was a kid, I never owned one because I couldn't afford one in high school," Tebo said, "but I did have a Model 8 that my dad had traded for, that he let me drive. ... I have a picture of when I drove that in a parade in Hill City in 1960."
That love for four-wheeled vehicles grew over time and eventually led Tebo to start a car collection as an adult, once he had made it on his own.
His collection is sizable. And members of the public will now be able to view cars from that set at a new museum opening this weekend in Tebo's hometown.
That museum is the Graham County Auto and Art Museum, which celebrated its grand opening Saturday.
Tebo, who now lives in Boulder, Colorado, traveled back home for the occasion — an opening that wouldn't have been possible without him.
How the idea came about
According to Tebo, the idea for a local auto and art museum came from his old friend and high-school classmate Fred Pratt, who still lives in the Hill City area.
"He knew I was into collecting cars and said it would be a great idea to put a little museum in Hill City that would hopefully generate some interest and some traffic through there," Tebo said.
Plans started to come together after Tebo, who owns Colorado-based real estate and development firm Tebo Properties, was tasked with developing a shopping center in Hays.
"I had a 7,000-square-foot building over there that we were going to have to demo," Tebo said.
But instead of tearing it down, he decided to donate the structure to Hill City to spur development of the new museum.
"I donated it to them, and they took it down, disassembled it and moved it to Hill City," Tebo said. "It sat there for several years until (Pratt) finally decided they had found a piece of ground to put it on."
But that original spot wasn't close enough to the town's major thoroughfare, US-24 highway — so Tebo helped them find and purchase a location, the old "Dean's Service" gas station right off the main road, that he thought would be more suitable.
"I said, 'OK, I'll buy it and donate it. And you get the community to put the building up and remodel the building and get it ready, and we'll have a museum,'" Tebo said. "So that's how that happened."
And coincidentally, the auto and art museum isn't far from where Tebo held his first job.
"This location is catty-corner from where I used to pump gas when in high school. I worked for the gas station in the evenings and on weekends," Tebo said. "And then, it's about a block-and-a-half away from where I had my first job at 8 years old — this would've been 1952 — shining shoes at Rex's Barbershop."
Attraction could boost local economy
Cory Simoneau, president of the Graham County Auto and Art Museum, indicated its location is ideal.
“The location of the museum offers a great opportunity to bring more tourism to Hill City and benefit the community as a whole,” Simoneau said. “We hope this will help to sustain many of the surrounding local businesses that have suffered over the last year because of the pandemic.”
The Graham County Auto and Art Museum is expected to feature a few dozen classic cars, including six from Tebo's personal collection. Those vehicles are on loan, and Tebo expects to trade them out for six other cars from his collection in about four or five months.
"So there will be a revolving thing," he said. "You'll need to go to it two or three times a year to see the cars. Of course, there's a lot of local cars — classic and antique cars that people own locally — that they will put on display there, also."
Among those on display will be the 1964 Cadillac hearse that transported President John F. Kennedy’s body from Parkland Memorial Hospital to Air Force One after his death in November 1963. Tebo purchased that vehicle at a car collector's auction in 2012.
He has also loaned the museum a 1936 Cadillac convertible, a 1929 Pierce Arrow, a 1924 Duesenberg and a 1922 Ford Model T.
And in addition to the cars, the museum will feature art from local artists.
Admission to the museum is $5, and tickets may be purchased at the door. The museum, at the intersection of highways US-24 and US-283, is expected to be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
And Tebo indicated he looks forward to seeing what kind of traffic the museum draws.
"We think we'll get a lot of people who maybe will veer off of I-70 — you know, it's only like 30 miles off of I-70 — and go through the museum," Tebo said.
"We're also going to try to have what's called a 'Cars and Coffee,'" he added. "So one Saturday a month — it'll be maybe the second or third Saturday morning of every single month — they will have a big deal and invite all of the car enthusiasts in the area to come and show their cars off.
"That should bring, we're hoping, a couple hundred people into town on those Saturdays. Once they get to town, we're hoping they spend some money with the local merchants."