John Bull under Wraps for Renovation

Before the Museum closed for renovation in 2006, conservators began planning ways to secure and protect large objects that cannot be moved because of their size, weight, and complexity.

Five objects need to be protected “in place” against the dust and vibrations of the demolition and construction: the John Bull, the world’s oldest operable steam locomotive; Ipswich House, a two-and-a-half story Massachusetts home that dates to 1760; the Gunboat Philadelphia, a Revolutionary-era vessel that was recovered from the bottom of Lake Champlain; Augustus Alfred’s 19th-century machine shop; and an 1850 Harlan and Hollingsworth steam engine.

Each object requires its own unique combination of dust protection and atmosphere control, combined with protective surfaces to avoid damage from construction.

To protect the John Bull, staff first removed and stored more than six pieces from the locomotive, including the smokestack and safety valves. The John Bull was then covered with a series of 10-foot-wide Tyvek sheets, sealed together with tape. The entire cover was then fully taped to the floor to eliminate any pockets where dust could enter and damage the engine. Conservators chose Tyvek because of its ability to allow moisture to escape, while preventing other materials from coming in. The next stage will be to construct a sturdy wooden box around the Tyvek-enclosed . The seams of this box will be sealed with20either another layer of Tyvek or with tape.

Similar conservation techniques are being employed on the four other large objects within the construction zone. Other precautions involve investigating the possible impact of construction vibrations on the objects, and planning ways to control the climate by creating positive air pressure around the objects, forcing air (and dust) away from them.

Object protection will continue through Dec. 1, when demolition is scheduled to begin.

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Learn More about the Renovation
The Museum closed in 2006 for a major architectural transformation focusing on three areas: architectural enhancements to the museum’s interior, constructing a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and updating the 42-year-old building’s infrastructure (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, fire and security systems). It reopened November 21, 2008. Learn more.