ALE VARNAM insists he is not crazy. He
makes that abundantly clear up front.
And in the middle. And at the end.
“I don’t want you to think I’m
crazy” is a repeated phrase during a
typically long visit with the propri-etor
of Fort Apache, the quirky road-side
attraction/museum/junk store near
Supply in Brunswick County.
There are variations on the theme. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy.”
“I’m not crazy.” “You’re going to think I’m crazy.” “Do not think in
any way that I’m crazy.”
Each phrase, enunciated with a Brunswick County drawl that
out-of-state visitors find endearing, is said with an ever-present
mischievous twinkle, usually accompanied by a chuckle from the
pleasantly smiling man with the white beard and hair.
The emphasis on his mental state is understandable. The big
bus filled with zombies parked near the commodes with legs stick-ing
out the top is the first, oversized clue that this place is a little
strange and bizarre.
After parking near the bus, visitors can go through the gates and
walk through a whimsical, surreal “town” that includes antique
cars and a replica Love Bug haphazardly parked on the main street,
Cinderella’s gold carriage, parachuting CIA agents caught in a tree,
mannequins and movie props inside a collection of themed build-ings,
and a menagerie of chickens, turkeys, ducks and Dale’s dozen
or so cats.
Or they can go inside the store crammed virtually to the
rafters with an eclectic assortment of used
merchandise. Some might call it junk,
but then again, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure — so says a
saying on a T-shirt sold in the store.
“The average person would see it as just a junk hole. I see it as
you’re going to dig through that next box or you go around that next
corner and you’re going to find that thing you’ve always been looking
for,” says Daniel Shelton, a visitor from Rockingham County.
The building includes the “tunnel of treasure,” a long, arched
offshoot jam-packed so full of things there’s barely room to get
In a portion of the tunnel that’s become one-way because of the
encroaching treasure, Dale runs into Daniel and his wife, Abby,
who is doing her best to push 8-month-old Grayson in a stroller
down the narrowing pathway.
“It’s a mess through there,” Daniel says. “You need to get some
of that cleaned up.”
Dale doesn’t take offense. He and Daniel became good friends
a couple of years ago, when the young man first visited Fort
“I was scared to stop the first time I came by,” Daniel says.
“I thought I was going to get shot. But I told my girlfriend —
she was my girlfriend then, but we’re married now — I said,
‘You know what? I’m going to take a chance and I’m going to
stop. I’m going to take some photos.’ And then he comes out. We
hit it off from there.”
Just about everyone who stops by hits it off with Dale. After a
few minutes, they’ve likely made a life-long friend.
Jim Danko, a visitor from Leetonia,
WBM august 2017
Ohio, just met Dale two hours ago,
but when he leaves the two men hug
and call each other brother.