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To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: March 26, 2007 07:03AM

Hi everyone!

My name is phillip simms and i am currently a postgraduate student at Manchester University's department of Museology and am working on a paper on the operation of historic machinery. By historic machinery i mean vehicles, industrial machinery etc.

There has always been debate over the restoration and operation of these historic machines. When sources attempt to define the function of a museum, 'preservation' usually comes up. However, many argue that museums that operate historic machinery for display purposes are working against this purpose in that their operation effectively contributes to their destruction.

I'd love to hear what you all think of this debate- is it right for museums to operate? is operation against the ideal of preservation in general? what are your feelings in general on seeing these machines in museums, both static and operating?

I'm also interested in what counts as 'authentic' in machines and vehicles. I presume that many of them undergo constant repair throughout their lives, so what makes a machine or vehicle authentic? When does it stop being authentic?

Again i apologise if this isn't the correct place to ask these questions but i think it is important to hear the viewpoint of the enthusiast as compared to the museum professional!

Again, thankyou!!


Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: March 27, 2007 02:04AM

Dear Phillip, There has to be a balance between museums who show their vintage vehicles and the collector who operates his vintage vehicles. They both do justice to the vintage vehicles and they both can do harm to them too. It is near impossible for a museum to operate all of their vehicles due to their large numbers of their vehicles and the hassel of moving them around with in cramped quarters. In the museums, large numbers of people get to see large numbers of cars sitting in lines, like portraits hanging on the walls. The operator/collector maintains his cars so that his cars can be seen operating on the higways and as with the steam car, it is a totally different experience for the viewer. A steam vehicle is like a candle. The more you burn it, the less that you are going to have left of it, until soon, unless something is soon replaced, the steam vehicle is all gone. The collector running his vehicles is necessary to keep awarness of the vintage vehicles in the peoples minds. That is just as an important issue as the museum that preserves the vehicle from the elements and shares the static image with the guests. The damage that is done to the cars while parked in a museum is usually reversible. The restoration of a good original unrestored vehicle is always irreversible. Both museums and collector/operators are guilty of this.

Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: March 27, 2007 06:00AM

a great reply! thanks alot!

Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: Mike Clark (
Date: March 27, 2007 06:28PM


I don't think operating historic machinery destroys it. There are obviously risks in taking a veteran car on the London to Brighton run but really the risks are small and the benefit to the public in being able to see, hear and smell them is undoubted. The number of preserved vehicles in musuems in the UK is considerable - think of the Science Museum's reserve collection at Wroughton - the proportion of these which public bodies can afford to actually run is very small and using some surely encourages people to go and see the others. The sad thing is to see the vandalism committed by the Science Museum (admittedly years ago) by sectioning machines to show their insides.

There is a tendency now to make museums into theme parks which no doubt pulls in the punters but offers little to the serious student of old engineering. What does satisfy both audiences is to have machinery in action - Bradford Industrial Museum have many industrial steam engines running at least once a week and they are far the better for it as they have to be properly maintained. The wear and tear of running them to demonstrate them is absolutely minute compared with the wear and tear of their working lives.

I think you need to distinguish between "authentic " and "original". A thing can be authentic even though many parts have worn out and been replaced - think how many Spitfires are flying - many of them with a very high "new" content - they are certainly authentic but not original. This is particularly true of steam cars which even when new were not expected to last for more than a few years. For me the important thing is that they should be (within reason) presented in authentic form so the experience of seeing and driving them is as it was when they were new. An extreme example of this is the construction of brand new "1930's" Auto Union racing cars - the entire point of these is to show what the originals were like.

In the vintage and classic car fields there is now much more weight given to originality than in the past. Unrestored originals are highly valued and no longer given the "Pebble Beach" treatment. Here I do think that some restraint in usage is needed as the uniqueness of a Silver Ghost which has been unused for 80 years depends on keeping it that way and obviously no one would advocate trying out the Wright's flier or sailing the Victory.

I think the purpose of museums is to educate and inspire and operating the exhibits is an important part of this. If ultimately the exhibit becomes worn out, or something irretrevably breaks - that's the time to put it away.


Edited 1 times. Last edit at 03/27/07 06:29PM by Mike Clark.

Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: March 28, 2007 03:58AM

Mike- thanks for the fantastic reply- especially on the distinction between authentic and original, it'll be very useful in my work.

thanks again

Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: March 28, 2007 12:29PM

Dear Mike, In Washington State, we have a 7,500 square foot private museum with 5 stanleys and about 20 other collectible vehicles plus, plus.... We have had our museum for over 40 years and at one time we had over 50 displayed vehicles. The statement of "If ultimately the exhibit becomes worn out, or something irretrevably breaks - that's the time to put it away." That statement doesn't fit with our museum, because a museum should be of quality displays (normal wear acceptable) and with very little attention needed, every display should be able to be operable. That is why we downsized our collection. We eliminated the irretrevably broken non working vehicles from our displays. If we just "put away the irretrevable broken displays", our museum would soon not be worth visiting as we would only have a museum full of broken items. It takes quite a bit of work to maintain the quality in a museum. It seems that the tires always need air, the bright work always needs polishing and the last vehicle that just came back from a drive, needs to be sorted out again to be returned it to it's road ready and museum display status. The "worn out" description is a comparative description. Many of our artifacts compaired with when they were new, are "worn out". Due to their scaricity nowadays, their worn out condion today is very acceptable. They are on display in their worn out but in working condition. Examples of this would be vehicle finish, upholstery, and tires. You are very correct about keeping vintage displays as original as in the day that they were produced. Just a simple thing as putting the correct sized tires and wheels back on a vintage car, transforms the beast into a thing of historical beauty. We have a restoration building and additional storage buildings. Items that are awaiting restoration or are incomplete and waiting for their final key componets are stored away. Spare parts and duplicate artifacts are also put into our dark storage for future use. Quite agreeably, any good example of an original unrestored vehicle, should not be restored but conserved. Any modern day assembled vintage vehicle should be generously driven and enjoyed by all.

Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: April 4, 2007 08:51AM

A car is a living thing. So the comparison is similar to the arguement of whether to keep animals in zoo's or museums, and I guess the circus animals covers those who desecrate historic vehicles by"hotting them up"
I my opinion, lines of cars in museums is like viewing a cemetary, I have seen people filing past these corpses without any appreciation or an improved understanding of the history, the excitement they generate or the intracacies of their design, after all many cars have near identical bonnets, but the engines, etc is where the facinating engineering occurs.
Compare this stale reaction to the alternative, that of a living breathing moving historic car, with a loving owner who is passionate about sharing his pride & joy with anybody who will listen, surely the favoured direction MUST be to maintain them as live machines.

remember, the movement and sound is every bit a part of the cars history as is the metal construction.

Finally (in my rant) these early cars allow students to begin to understand mechanical and engineering principles, open the hood of your modern car and be greeted by plastic covers, open a "real" car and the mechanicas are exposed and observable, I have recently been using a 23 Stanley to train cadet marine Engineers on 1st principles of staem plant operation-I got a much better reaction from a live car than I could have got from books, videos or plain explaination.


Re: To run or not to run?
Posted by: (
Date: April 4, 2007 01:54PM

Remeber that if you keep a good, original example of a car in a museum collections then at least it will in theory be still there long after you have restored, crashed or otherwise wrecked all the other 'original' cars out of existence.

Running is important, but so is keeping a reference example!

Any restoration or return to working order, no matter how careful, will change an original car. Our car was pretty original when we got it - but had probably not run since 1951 - since then we have had

Total mechanical rebuild - losing a lot of original engine components and altering the desing of the crossheads

All new bearings

Rebuilt rear axle - there go the original Stanley oil seals

New fuel pressure tanks and new pressure piping....

New boiler & burner (the originals were taken out in 1959/50.

So I guess 80% of the orignal chassis and mechanics are left. But this is one of a dozen survivors, and there is a (probably) more orignal car in the Dougherty Museum in the USA...

And so on....

The body is next. Wonder how much of that will be left! Most of the orignal upholstery will have to go, the mice got in and wrecked it.....

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