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Condition Reporting

Industrial & Oversized

Small locomotive.
This electric locomotive had been used locally 100 years ago, but then sold and used elsewhere for decades before coming back to Juneau. In the intervening years, substantial changes were made including altering parts and repainting. Curators from the California State Railroad Museum and a conservator specializing in metals helped identify those changes and indicate an appropriate course of action for restoration.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2008-9-1

Double-ender (large wooden boat).
This Columbia River Gillnetter, aka Bristol Bay Double-Ender, also had significant changes and was in the midst of restoration when acquired. A fisherman from the Bristol Bay area helped us identify the parts and condition of this boat. In particular, it is helpful to have expertise to describe what a boat like this would normally have in operation, so we could understand what was missing. Subject experts also know the correct terminology for the parts. A boat with a keel, for example, will often have sagging or hogging damage. Hogging is common if the keel is unsupported for a long period of time. This in turn can cause damage to the hull.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 97-34-1

Large canoe.
Dugout canoes often suffer distortion and longitudinal cracking over time. The end of this canoe closest to the viewer also suffered a damage event and is broken.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-626

Close-up of inside a boat showing a break in the shell.
The gunwale (edge) closest to the viewer is missing a piece of half-round, obvious from the unpainted area and the nail holes. There is also an unpainted rectangular area with holes that indicates a thwart (seat) is missing.  Several campaigns of repairs are visible as pieces of metal screwed across cracks.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1893

Inside view of canoe showing cracks in the shell.
Here we see various repairs to the cracks as well as an attempt to keep the entire end of the canoe in place. At one point, it had been detached and there are some areas of loss. You can also see holes and marks where staples and previous repairs had been removed.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1893

Inside view of kayak.
A camera with a flash can let you see inside a kayak to help document its condition. Here there is minimal distortion and most of the lashing still holds the ribs to the stringers. Loose pieces of hide thong seem to be detached from holding the ribs to the deck beams.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2013-7-2

Close-up of cockpit opening in kayak.
The shape of the cockpit opening is one of many clues that helps identify the origin of a kayak. In this case, the oval shape is normal and not a sign of damage. The vertical elements under the two sides are called “stanchions” and are a common location of damage in old kayaks but look intact here. There is a hole in the covering on the bottom of the kayak.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2013-7-2

Close-up of bow of kayak.
The bow of this kayak frame has a couple of different kinds of damage. There is wear and loss to the wood at the tip. The place where the gunwales come together has separated from the bow piece by at least an inch, and the hide thongs that held it in place as well as tie to the deck stringer above them have snapped. Someone has used a piece of thick green cordage to help hold the front of this boat together. Once one part of a kayak frame has moved out of position and become distorted, other parts become stressed and have damage too. Trying to force them back can cause more damage. Carefully documenting damage to a frame can help understand where stress might be and how much repair a frame can tolerate.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2013-7-1

Close-up of portion of kayak ribs.
Sometimes kayak ribs have bite marks on them, indicating the technique by which the ribs were bent during the manufacture of the kayak. The direction of the lashing (along the ribs versus along the stringers) can be a clue toward attribution. There are great many kayak enthusiasts in the world, and some excellent publications. Condition reporting a kayak might be a good collaborative project with a volunteer.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2013-7-1

Close-up of kayak ribs and gunwale.
On this kayak, the ribs were held into the gunwale by a mortise and tenon join, which has come apart. Lighter wood on the opposite side on another rib shows the same problem. You might find it helpful to draw a diagram of the kayak and its parts to indicate where you see damage. This is a great example of where a drawing might be clearer than a photograph, because you can really be explicit about what you are trying to show.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 2013-7-1

Vehicles and machinery can be challenging to condition report if you don’t understand the parts. Determining if there are liquids still present is important, and these ought to be drained. Some collections that have vehicles make determinations if they are ever expected to run again and under what circumstances. The Henry Ford Museum, for example, has excellent policies and procedures in this regard. Often there are greasy areas on vehicles that have become sticky and captured dirt. Paint is sometimes fragile in some areas as well.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 92-21-44

Dog sled.
This dog sled has some very obvious wear patterns in the location where the musher would have put their hands and feet. Some of the lashing that makes cross braces on the sides has broken. Attachment points often have missing or damaged hardware, and it is common for there to be splits or breaks in the wood.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-929

Piece of a plane.
Where to even begin with this one? This is all that remains of the aircraft known as the City of Seattle, one of four Douglas World Cruisers that attempted the first flight around the globe in 1924. This one crashed in Alaska. Nonetheless, even in its wrecked condition it is an important artifact in the history of flight. In this case, we refer to it as an artifact in “relic” condition and take a great many photographs to help document the details.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 92-21-1

Open trunk.
Most Alaskan museum collections have trunks, footlockers, chests, and other kinds of storage boxes and luggage. They are often in rough condition, as they tend to get stored in garages, attics, and basements where they suffer water damage, mold, pest infestation, corrosion of their metal parts and general rough treatment. Fabric and paper linings are often damaged. This one is missing some drawers, as evidenced by the runners.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-843

Two house posts.
These house posts have had many layers of paint. It is challenging to move house posts, totem poles, and other monumental sculptural objects. Whenever one is being moved, take the opportunity to get photos of the parts that are hard to access, like to top, base, and back. When condition reporting them, it can be useful to divide the report into the different figures and describe the proper left, proper right, and front of each along with photographs.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1740

Large safe. Hall's Safe and Lock Co.
It is also common for museum collections to contain at least one safe. Again, because they are so heavy take lots of pictures anytime they are in motion. If there is a lock, be sure to note the combination in the record. One safe in the Alaska State Museum was locked and the combination was lost, but our registrar methodically recorded each combination she tested whenever she passed by. After many years, she stumbled upon the right combination. Be aware that safes often included fireproofing materials such as asbestos that are hazardous.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-554

Be aware that various things in a museum collection can be dangerous, especially things intended to be dangerous such as firearms and ordinance. This cannonball was professionally drilled to remove its explosive contents, and the details noted in the record. Another item commonly drilled are old fire extinguishers, which often contain carbon tetrachloride.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-95

Old-time radio.
Here is the housing to an old radio. The veneer has moderate abrasion and wear, the knobs are present, the grill is darkened somewhat, the dial and glass crystal are present, and the metal ornamentation has a stable patina…

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-312

Back view of old-time radio.
But how to describe the back of this radio? What are all the parts? Is this in good condition or not? Without knowing anything about the mechanical parts inside a radio, we can say this one is missing the back, and one of the two wood struts at the top is also missing. Does the cord at the left terminate in a plug that could be put in an outlet? Plugging it in is risky. The paper label merits an up-close photo or two and likely has useful information. The deck of the metal base has three round space with holes which could indicate missing elements. Certainly the interior is quite dusty.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-312

Drawer full of gauges.
Industrial collections often contain lots of parts and pieces. It is a judgement call to know the level of detail to take when condition reporting. For these items, taking group photos of both sides, making sure there are good measurements, and indicating obvious issues is a good starting point. These items were dirty, greasy, corroded, some had broken glass or damaged paint on the faces of the gauges.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum

This cannery basket is an example of an item with structural instability and severe damage. It might be the kind of item that could be deaccessioned due to condition issues. The basket is stored inverted because it is too damaged to stand on its base. It has wood and metal support elements for the branches that weave around the warps. The wood is broken in many places with missing hardware and the metal is rusted in many places. At least half of the base is detached and there is a large area of loss low on one side. While this basket is in terrible condition, curatorial information may indicate it is still worth keeping. Is it a rare example? Is there a compelling story behind its damage?

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-1074

Close-up of typewriter keys.
Industrial and oversized items are very often dusty and soiled. Sometimes they are also greasy or sooty. Extraneous debris, paint spatters, insect nests, large particulate deposition, and grime are common.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection III-O-312