"The film industry, they just don't throw anything away," Ollenburger said. "So all the outtakes and trims and all these things that never see the light of day in the finished product are kept, and they get sent to us in boxes because they never know when they might use them again.
"I'm always amazed when they pull some really old piece and find those never-before-seen elements and put it into a DVD extras package because I know where it's been. It's been underground and we've kept it safe."
I tried to weasel more intel out of Ollenburger, who was kind enough to give me a rare look at the place. But the man is a human vault. It might have something to do with the confidentiality agreement employees must sign.
"Do you have any copies of 'The Wizard of Oz?'" I asked, flashing what I thought was my most winning smile.
"I don't have any on me," he replied, grinning.
Knowing that I was most interested in the Hollywood stash, we headed for one particular storage bay. The 15,000-square-foot room filled with boxes neatly arranged on floor-to-ceiling shelves reminded me of the last scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where the ark is crated and stashed in a government warehouse.
Could that ark be here, I wondered?
We walked down the room's center aisle and I girl-squealed as we passed boxes marked with one memorable movie title after another. At the end of one row sat a box that made my knees go weak as I read its label. I reached out and touched it.
I'm not supposed to reveal what was inside that box.
But frankly my dear, I don't give a .
At the end of my visit I dreaded what lay ahead: a ride back to the surface in that noisy hoist.
In the gift shop I found someone who felt my pain: Sandy Beltz, a visitor from northeast Nebraska. She and her husband like to check out "weird and different places" on vacation, and an Internet search led them to the salt mine museum.
She'd been concerned that her claustrophobia would kick in underground, but "it wasn't what I thought," she said. "The ceilings are high, and it's very open."
For the ride down, which she compared to being stuffed into an MRI machine, her husband stood close to her side after she "took a Tylenol," she stage-whispered to me.
She was checking out the salt-themed souvenirs: lamps made of salt, shot glasses, plastic miner's helmets and, of course, salt shakers.
She settled on a T-shirt that I was tempted to buy for the editor who sent me to do this story.
It read: "I Survived the Shaft."
IF YOU GO:
KANSAS UNDERGROUND SALT MUSEUM
Where: 3504 E. Avenue G, Hutchinson, Kan.
Winter hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Allow at least two hours for your visit. Last tour each day departs two hours before closing.
Admission: $14 adults; $12 seniors, AAA members and active military; $9 Reno County residents; $7.50 children ages 4-12. Dark Ride and tram ride cost extra.
Visitors: Between 55,000 and 60,000 a year. July is the busiest month.
Party underground: The museum has an event space for public and private functions where food and drink are allowed, unlike in other parts of the museum.
Info: undergroundmuseum.org, 620-662-1425, 866-755-3450
Lisa Gutierrez: firstname.lastname@example.org