This text was prepared by Max ben-Aaron for the January 2004 edition of the NEMES Gazette.  


The Museum's New Model Machines Gallery

When the Charles River Internet Center was planned, the design included a gallery on the ramp that would separate it from the Charles River Museum of Industry. The original intention was to have an exhibit of the history of the telecommunications industry in the space that would be opened up. Karen Leblanc started the ball rolling by submitting a proposal to Verizon, which resulted in a grant that provided the railings and the alcoves for the new gallery.

When Dan Yeager assumed the directorship of the Museum, he realized that the implementation of the original plan would be very expensive; the effort to raise the necessary funds could take years. So he revised the plan: the new gallery would be used to house rotating exhibits and have to be home-grown i.e. rely on assets and resources then available to the Museum.

Plans were made to start by having an exhibit of models -- both models owned by the Museum and models loaned by members of the New England Model Engineering Society, which has close ties to the Museum and which provides the 'Oil Can Gang', the volunteers who work in the Museum on Thursdays and who would provide most of the manpower needed to bring the new gallery into existence.

Stands for the exhibits in the alcoves were designed and students in the Waltham High School were co-opted to fabricate necessary the steel supports. Under the able guidance of Dan and Fred Widmer, the stands were capped with oval table-tops and installed. Bill Nolan wired and put up the track lighting that makes the display so dramatic. Meanwhile, the Museum's model collection was surveyed and a number of models were refurbished to participate in the exhibit. President Norm Jones and members Dick and Mike Boucher, and Todd Cahill generously offered to provide their models on behalf of NEMES.

The exhibit was scheduled to open on November 25th when the Museum would be celebrating its annual Founder's Day, which commemorates Michael Folsom, whose efforts brought the Museum into being. As the due date approached, the intensity of the effort increased, and the Thursday Volunteers ended up working furiously on Friday, Monday and Tuesday, almost up to the very last minute. The exhibit was finally ready, about an hour before the opening.

Before dinner, guests were treated to a demonstration of new line-shaft installation, with the little Rhodes shaper manfully working across the face of a cast iron block. Glittering models, several running under compressed air, were show-cased splendidly under the carefully focused spotlights, an auspicious start to the newly-inaugurated gallery.

At the entrance to the gallery, a striking model of a 'Virginia' live-steam loco, made by Walter Bush, is juxtaposed with Dick Boucher's chassis, also of a 'Virginia' with the Museum's magnificent 'Flying Scot' loco, (another Walter Bush creation), mounted on a lower tier. Opposite, next to the Museum's own double-expansion steam engine model, made by George Eli Whitney when he was ninety years old, is George Collard's working triple-expansion model, also by Whitney. This tour-de-force has a different reversing gear for each cylinder -- Walschaert's, Marshall and Fink, and they all work.

A steeple engine and a beam engine by Todd Cahill, Mike Boucher's oscillating marine engine and Norm Jones' make-or-break gas engine and double-acting steam engine round out the NEMES contribution. The extraordinary quality of their models (and Dick's) is a credit to NEMES. All in all, a great display of superb craftsmanship; it would not be out of place in the Science Museum in London.

The gallery could not have been achieved without the hard work of Karen Leblanc, Dan Yeager, Bill Nolan and the 'Oil Can Gang': Fred Widmer, Bill Brackett, Bradley Ross, Dick Boucher, Finnbarr Murphy, Max ben-Aaron.

Previous Page      Next Page