Armored trucks star at Dunbar unveiling Museum: Dunbar Cos. dedicates its new $7 million headquarters in Hunt Valley, and the Dunbar Armored Car Museum is an eye-catcher in the lobby.

May 09, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Dunbar Cos. unveiled its collection of armored car memorabilia yesterday at the dedication ceremonies for its $7 million headquarters in Hunt Valley.

The Dunbar Armored Car Museum, believed to be the only museum in the world devoted to the armored car industry, features two vintage armored trucks, wall displays and a poignant memorial to the six Dunbar guards who have died in the line of duty since the company was founded in 1956.

There's also a display that shows the nearly one dozen movies that featured Dunbar Armored trucks, including "Tough Guys," starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, and "Beverly Hills Cop III," starring Eddie Murphy.

The initial item in the collection was the armored truck the father of Dunbar Cos. Chairman and Chief Executive James L. Dunbar Sr. used to launch Mercer & Dunbar Armored Car Service in 1923 in Connecticut. Dunbar tracked the truck down in 1988, refurbished it, and began considering what to do with it.

"I didn't have a place to put it, and I thought a museum could tell as much of the industry's story as anything else," Dunbar said.

"I receive calls now and again from people who want to know something about the armored car business," he said. "I send them to the library, but I know nothing is there."

Dunbar Cos. is the parent company of five related security businesses, of which Dunbar Armored, the nation's third largest armored car company, is the cornerstone. The privately held, $130 million security company employs 3,000 people.

Dunbar had the headquarters building custom-fitted with a large atrium to accommodate the museum in the lobby. The company relocated to Hunt Valley in 1996 after 40 years in Baltimore.

The museum also features the truck used to found Federal Armored Express in 1956, which was renamed Dunbar Armored in 1996; a wall of Most Wanted posters for notorious bank robbers, including John Dillinger; a replica of a 1921 submachine gun; a mannequin dressed in a Dunbar uniform; and informative plaques on the history of the industry.

And then there's the plaque memorializing those killed in the line of duty. Four guards were killed in robberies and two were killed in accidents while driving armored trucks. The most recent death was in 1996.

This isn't a museum for the public, Dunbar said. Down the line, there may be field trips for children to show off the collection, but for now, it's a tribute to the industry and his family's role in it, he said.

"I grew up in the business," Dunbar said. "I want to show the industry the way it really is."

There are also plans to expand the museum to other floors in the building to include information and memorabilia of other armored car companies.

Dunbar said he has commissioned an author to write a book about the industry's history.

The manuscript, which is about one-third completed, has involved extensive research, including interviews around the country with people familiar with the business, Dunbar said.

The museum and the book are the best way to publicize an industry that's typically known for being the target of robberies, Dunbar said.

"No one knew about the armored car industry until Jan. 17, 1950," he said, referring to the famous $2.8 million robbery of Brinks Inc.'s Boston office.

"Brinks got its name out there because of a big robbery."

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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