Frank E. Wheeler was born April 4, 1906, in Hancock Township, Osborne County, Kansas, on the farm of his parents, Frederick and Ariadne (Holmes Hodson) Wheeler. He got his early education at the one-room Social Hill School, District Number 31, and at the age of twelve he began collecting, trading, buying, selling, and writing about firearms, ammunition, and cartridges – a hobby that became his lifetime obsession.
Frank worked as the janitor at the Osborne Carnegie Library while attending high school in nearby Osborne. When he was 17 he became the regular librarian and broke in his replacement in time to graduate from high school in 1924. Then Frank clerked at the Babcock Variety Store in Osborne for nine dollars a week. He decided to travel a bit, and 1926 worked as a cook’s helper in a restaurant at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In the spring of 1927 Frank’s knowledge of weaponry got him a job as a powder monkey in Yellowstone National Park, where he blasted loose frozen packs of snow with explosives to clear the roads. That summer he headed west to Hollywood, California, and spent the next five years cooking and managing restaurants. There he married Anna Egerer and started a family. In 1932 the Depression cost him his job and Frank decided to bring his family back to Osborne.
Frank then worked for the federal Work Projects Administration (WPA), earning $9.80 a week. In 1936 he worked at the Holmes Bakery and the next year he and fellow Osborne citizen Frank McDaneld began a publication of a listing of cartridges for collectors, which they published for the next 31 years.
Wheeler took over management of Vern Lemley’s antique store in 1940 and began seriously building an extensive library of weapons technology. By 1941 he had acquired over 800 pistols and rifles and continued amassing a large cartridge collection. In September 1943 he began work at the Osborne Post Office. Twelve years later he sent a story in to The Gun Report, an internationally-circulated monthly. He later became an associate editor and had his own column, The Cartridge Collector, which he wrote for 22 years.
In 1956 Frank organized the first Solomon Valley Gun Collectors Show in Osborne. This became an annual event that attracted gun, coin, and stamp collectors from across the nation for 20 years.
Frank held life memberships in the Kansas State Historical Society, National Rifle Association and the National Muzzle Loading Association, and was a member of over 60 other groups concerning weaponry. Frank was elected charter president of the Kansas Cartridge Collectors Association when it was formed January 18, 1969, and also served two terms as president of the International Cartridge Collectors Association.
Frank retired to his legendary two-room “shanty” on the east edge of Osborne and received still more awards and recognitions, including the International Cartridge Collectors’ Association’s inaugural B. R. L. Lewis Memorial Award for personal contribution to cartridge collecting in 1972, and the Kansas Cartridge Collectors’ Association Man of the Year in 1976. By 1973 his cartridge collection had grown to over 12,000 specimens, and his library held 2,000 old cartridge catalogs and 1,200 volumes on weaponry, ranging from an Italian book on guns printed in 1561 through to the 1970s.
Frank was an acknowledged world-wide expert on weaponry and was named to both Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who International under Who Knows–And What Among American Experts and the Specially Informed. The shanty regularly entertained visitors from around the world who enjoyed anonymity in Osborne they would never have received in a larger city. Frank treated all who came to see him equally with a smile and a story culled from a lifetime of remembrances.
Frank died on February 27, 1977, in Osborne and was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery. After his death a three-day auction was held to disperse his personal collection of guns and cartridges. The softbound auction booklet sent out to prospective bidders ran 59 pages long.