How'd You Get Those in There?

5, August 2016
Photo of MHM staff moving in the La Casa Grande signOur Route 66 exhibit features lots of oversize artifacts that required careful handling to install. Click for a larger view.

When you visit an exhibit, do you ever stop to wonder how that exhibit came to fruition and who all worked to get it out on the floor for you to enjoy? As the exhibits registrar for the Missouri History Museum, I can assure you that our latest exhibit, Route 66: Main Street Through St. Louis, required a strong and dedicated team effort to get it in place and ready for its debut.

Part of that effort involved making sure all of the artifacts stayed safe. From the early planning stages right on up to the day an artifact is installed in an exhibit, I’m constantly weighing the associated risk factors and working to protect the artifact from potential harm. I also spend a lot of time working out the logistics of getting the artifact into the Museum and on display, and the logistics for Route 66 proved to be my most challenging to date. For one thing, Route 66 is a very loan-heavy exhibit. Fourteen lenders from places such as New York, Oklahoma, and right here in the St. Louis area lent us a grand total of 104 objects (out of 149 in the entire exhibit). Many of these objects couldn’t arrive at the Museum until the day they were scheduled to be installed in their display locations.

MHM staff getting the 1963 Corvette into placeA movable wall helped the 1963 Corvette roll into the Drive-In section. Click for a larger view.

The exhibit's five featured vehicles—a 1919 Ford Model TT, a 1926 Willys Overland, a 1957 Airstream Travel Trailer, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, and a 1966 Norton Atlas motorcycle—were among these objects. Each of these vehicles came to the Museum from different lenders, and each had unique travel accommodations. However, they all had to enter the exhibit via the Museum’s loading dock. Luckily, the gallery where Route 66 is housed has a removable wall that provides direct access to the dock—a small win for this exhibits registrar! This direct access eliminated the need to navigate a narrow hallway, the Grand Hall, and several tight turns along the way, thus reducing the risk of damage to the vehicles.

Putting vehicle dollies on the 1926 Willys OverlandVehicle dollies helped us roll the 1926 Willys Overland into place in the gallery. Click for a larger view.

But once inside the gallery, how were we able to get the vehicles into such tight spaces and navigate around all those walls? Well, during the exhibit's design and planning stages, we decided to reduce the chances of objects getting damaged during construction by building as much as we could before the artifact-installation period. However, we strategically left out a few walls so the vehicles could be moved into place. For example, by leaving out a long wall within the Drive-In section (a wall that’s actually made from a modular wall system that can be installed quickly and easily), we were able to create a cut-through in the center of the gallery that gave us direct access to get the Corvette and Model TT into their display positions with minimal turning of either vehicle.

Speaking of turning, want to guess how many 30-point turns it took to get each vehicle in there? Zero! Because we didn’t want to tax the vehicles’ wheels or axles by forcing them to make all of those turns, we set the vehicles on special vehicle dollies with caster wheels. These dollies made it so we could push the vehicles in any direction we needed and could practically turn them on a dime!

Photo from inside the Route 66 galleryThe 1957 Airstream is a highlight of the Vacationing section. Click for a larger view.

Every exhibit, no matter the size or the content, has its own unique set of challenges and therefore often feels like a hard-won fight to get it onto the floor for you to enjoy. Moving in the vehicles is just one of the many challenges the curator, preparator, installers, and I faced during Route 66’s 14-day artifact-installation period. It’s why I’ve jokingly said that Route 66: Main Street Through St. Louis should actually be titled Testing a Registrar’s Logistics Skills, but it’s also one of the reasons I’m proud to have been part of the team that brought this exhibit to life.

—Amanda Bailey, Exhibits Registrar

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