THE ROAD AHEAD Posts

I remember as a kid haunting construction sites and walking around in new houses as the rooms started to take shape, imagining what each space might become. Was I standing in the future kitchen or dining room? How would I configure the rooms if I were the architect or owner? In many ways, the museum project is unfolding in much the same fashion, and while I’m no longer trespassing (I was more fearful then that my mother would find out than I was of the crews or owners), I still feel the thrill of watching the progress. When the roof goes on and the interior walls start to go up, I’ll be sure to share more photos so stay tuned!

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My colleague Alli Schell and I traveled to the Small Museum Association Meeting over the holiday weekend (a tradition that fuels creativity and connectivity among small museum professionals across the region and the country), and as I left on Friday, I vowed that we expected to see walls upon our return! It was part wish and part challenge since I’d been told repeatedly that things would move more quickly once the project reached the framing stage. So I was both relieved and excited to see the image above when I drove onto the site this morning! What will tomorrow bring?

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All things start from the ground up, and our museum addition is no exception. January rains delayed the pouring of the concrete foundation, but at long last — on Valentine’s Day of all holidays — we reached this important milestone. It was amazing how quickly the concrete was poured, spread, and smoothed (I’m sure there are more precise construction terms… but for the lay person, my description should suffice). Onward and upward we go!

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Designed to house his growing collection of Stanley steamers, Clarence Marshall erected the block building behind his family home in 1947, and two years later he commissioned Sanborne Studio in Wilmington to photograph 13 of his restored vehicles. Of special note (to me at least) is the sign he posted over the doors, labeling his new building a “museum.”

The dictionary defines a museum as “a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.” Clearly, Clarence Marshall recognized the importance of the historic autos he had collected and restored, and he proudly shared them with family, friends and even  strangers who stumbled upon the site. He enjoyed showing off his prize cars and wrote in 1960:

There are two kinds of people that come here. The first really relishes the experience… They’d like to come back — and usually do — from all over the country. The other group contains the cynics. They’re amused by what they consider archaic and ridiculous. My answer to them is this: All things must have a starting point — and these early pioneers began a sequence of continued refinement.

It’s telling that Clarence’s son, Tom, also maintained a sign above the “museum” doors attesting to the historic nature and value of what he considered his father’s collection (even though he purchased a number of the cars). Tom himself wrote in 2008, “No property or collection should remain static… Certainly the property has evolved to where it is today by constant change.”

Tom championed the renovations currently under way, making the lead gift with his wife, Ruth, and personally soliciting most of the supporting funds for the capital project. Whether named for the father or the son, the Marshall Steam Museum will remain dedicated to inspiring and connecting generations to the magic age of steam!

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It seems that all capital projects begin with demolition, and this one was no exception. Once we had the collection vehicles and displays stored safely elsewhere, construction crews swiftly set to work inside the museum, removing interior walls and the old ceiling insulation and chicken wire — leaving a blank slate inside.

Outdoors, workers set about breaking apart the decades-old concrete slabs (where traction engines once stood on display), but the slabs proved a more formidable foe than the interior walls. Reinforced with both wire and rebar, they were not departing easily. But the planned installation of modern plumbing demanded that they be removed, and our construction partners (Commonwealth Construction Company and David Roser Excavating) ultimately won the day. Who knows what surprises tomorrow’s undertakings will bring!

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We’ve always known that it takes a village to accomplish the important things in life… and preparing the Marshall Steam Museum for important renovations was no exception. The transfer of the 1905 Cagney Model D Locomotive was a nail-biter, but thanks to some professional help from Dave Roser Excavating, it was accomplished safely, though I’m pretty sure I suffered extreme oxygen deprivation from holding my breath for more nearly 30 minutes.

In a similarly challenging move that required expert choreography, members of the Marshall Steam Team piloted our Stanleys (and our Packards, electric car and Model T, too) to their temporary winter “digs,” and, for once, Mother Nature cooperated. The steamers “blew off steam” before being bedded down for their long winter’s nap:

No less dramatic — and equally impressive (albeit without benefit of video) — was the work of our Lionel model trains team and the Auburn Valley Railroad crew. The model trains group dismantled and packed up the entire display that entertains young and old alike at every Steamin’ Day (and in between) in record time. If only we’d placed a time lapse camera to capture their hours and hours of work! The AVRR folks put in many long work days to not only batten down all hatches for the winter but also to pull up signal system lines and dismantle track that may be impacted by the construction project.

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The Stanley Model 76 was the last to leave the museum building, which seemed fitting since it was the first car in the collection (acquired by Clarence Marshall in 1940). When Alli Schell, the museum’s new Public Programs Manager, stopped in for a brief visit, she asked when the museum last stood completely empty of cars. Without Tom, it was a question we could not answer… but we surmise that this may be the first time in nearly 73 years when the building was wholly vacant of autos or displays.

Tom worked very hard to make the planned renovations happen, and without question, we will collectively — Board, staff, and volunteers — do our best to make him proud of the outcome! Please watch our progress in the months ahead!

P.S. For those who occasionally ask if I have ever driven any of the Stanleys… this is the closest I come. They are smart enough to limit my “drive time” to occasions when someone else is handling the major decisions!

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