Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Bryan Turnbow's blog

Museum Preparator: Other Duties as Assigned

As I noted in a post last year, a museum preparator handles objects from storage to display, ensuring they are safe and secure while allowing the public to have the optimal viewing experience. And, preparators have to be ready…in other words, prepared…for anything.

Sometimes you never know what is going to pop up. No matter how much you plan there seems to always be one thing or another that is going to be a challenge. That does make the day go by quicker, though!

Sometimes things happen that are unexpected. Like the roof being torn off one of our artifact storage buildings during a June 2018 storm, and water everywhere. A temporary wall was needed to protect artifacts, and cleanup was necessary from the debris. We ended up building a plastic sheeting wall, until the ceiling could be closed up and a more permanent fix could be found. This picture shows a little more natural light than what is recommended.

damaged ceiling showing debris and sky viewable through large holes

I created a hands-on experience in our Treehouse exhibit for young visitors. This was a project that evolved over time as I found more items. Used in this build:

  • Blackhawk helicopter engine repair cage
  • Salvage fireplace insert
  • Gauges from state surplus
  • Sewing machine parts
  • A broken back check valve from my sprinklers
  • Various acetylene torch apparatus
  • An original boiler gauge from the State Capitol building
  • Various handles from obsolete shop equipment
  • Authentic train CB radio
  • Various pipe and plumbing supplies

photo collage: left side, black box with fake fire graphic on bottom; righ side: view of the front with dials, guages, etc.

boy playing with the train box

To create our latest Governors Gallery exhibit, we were tasked with coming up with a design that was modern in feel, “easy” to produce, and could be reused from exhibit to exhibit if needed. This is the scale production of the design for our aluminum upright signage.

small scale display mockup featuring a sticker graphic on front

Hmmm, how to get an artifact — in this case, a fire wagon, now on exhibit in The Horse in North Dakota — that was too long onto a platform, which was the only way to get it into the museum? The solution was to use the forklift to raise the front with the back on the platform (then drive forward with the forklift and set it down once it was on the main level). Not so bad, but it did take many spotters to make sure that all was going according to plan.

Antique fire wagon in a garage in front of a raised platform

In this photo from Camp Hancock State Historic Site in Bismarck, I am standing on the newly installed rough cut white oak boards sourced from northern Minnesota. It was a challenge to find the thickness, width, and species of wood that would be consistent with the original build. The boards I found are actually used in the trucking industry to deck trailers hauling heavy equipment.

Bryan standing on top of a train

If I do my job right no one should notice — but sometimes they do, and that’s the best!

Bryan and young museum visitor smiling at dino bones

A Museum Preparator Does What, Now?!

A museum preparator handles objects from storage to display, ensuring that they are safe and secure while allowing the public to have the optimal viewing experience.

If I do my job right, no one should notice. There is a great deal of planning and teamwork with all aspects of an exhibit installation or general maintenance of the museum galleries and state historic sites. I rely on the expertise of supremely qualified experts to help in all aspects of my daily work. This is part 1 of a two-part blog to share some of those efforts.

Tarp rolled up above the mastodon

For example, at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, I had to protect the mastodon while contractors worked on lighting fixtures above it. A protective tarp had to be deployed easily and quickly to protect the object while the contractors worked, but also had to be stowed above the mastodon when not in use so as to not affect the viewing of the artifact. We went with the tent method, which prompted many jokes, some of the best being: “He is the worst at hide and seek,” “He is cold,” or “He had fleas and we were fumigating.” So many jokers!

Tarp tented around Mastodon

The video below shows the task of taking the mastodon off display in the old gallery, putting it in the Governors Gallery for storage while the State Museum expansion was completed, and then installing it in the current location. Needless to say, I didn’t want to take it completely apart to move it again. This video shows the solution. We built a gantry on wheels, attached the mastodon, and took him for a ride…easy-peasy!