Why does a field gun need axle stands?
We are building storage frames for four field guns and a limber (military trailer) from our Human History Collection. This will protect their wheels from damage, and allow us to move them safely around the Museum.
How do you store a vehicle in a museum?
There are 101 different ways to store objects in a museum - ranging from preserving fish in ethanol to rolling flags onto tyvek-covered cardboard tubes. Each storage method takes into account the type of object and its inherent weaknesses, then provides a solution which will mitigate the risk of damage occurring. Vehicles, however, can provide a unique storage challenge.
Firstly, vehicles are really quite large. Where most of the objects in our collections can be stored in archival boxes (made from acid-free cardboard or coreflute) and then placed on shelves, this obviously isn't possible with a field gun.
With our larger object types (including taxidermied animals and historic furniture), the storage solution is usually also rather simple. We construct a wooden crate or pallet, build in support mounts of wood and ethafoam, then place it on the pallet racking in our large collection store. However, the field guns (and limber) are too large to fit onto our standard pallet racking.
So what storage solution did we come up with?
One major risk with vehicle-type objects is that all of their considerable weight is carried by their wheels. This is not an ideal situation, as the wheels are often either pneumatic tyres or wooden carriage wheels - both of which can be damaged by being under load for long periods of time.
For example, w1560 is a QF 18 pounder field gun, which was used by New Zealand troops during WWI and WWII. It weighs nearly 2000kg - all of which is held up by its two rubber tyres. Over the long term, this weight would lead to the tyres becoming compressed, crushing them and possibly creating splits in the rubber. This is definitely something we want to avoid!
To prevent this, we needed to provide a method for carrying the weight of the object from its axle, not its wheels. The axle is one of the strongest parts of a vehicle, so this makes it the perfect place to support vehicle-type collection objects.
Initially I looked at purchasing stock standard axle stands. These are used by museums worldwide to support cars and other vehicles in their collections. However, I ran into a couple of problems.
Why not use regular axle stands?
Firstly, field guns have larger wheels than standard cars, as they are designed to be towed across rugged terrain and not get bogged down. This means that any axle stand would have to be taller than that used for a regular car. I thought I could get around this problem by using truck axle stands, but that's when I ran into the next problem...
Namely - that the underside of field guns can be quite hard to access. For example, w1104 is a Japanese 75mm infantry or mountain gun from WWII. You can see in this photo that it has metal shielding on the front of the gun, which then extends underneath to protect the axle from damage. Again, this makes sense when you consider what these objects were originally designed to do - to move quickly across battlefields, possibly under fire, and still be in once piece when they got to their destination.
Finally, I realised that although axle stands are great at preventing damage from long-term storage in a single location, they don't help at all when transporting the object. Previously, the only way to transport these objects was to push them around on their wheels, which is obviously not ideal.
So what did we do?
In the end, the best solution was to have bespoke metal support frames built for each of the five objects.
Just like axle stands, the frames support the weight of the field guns and limber from their axles, protecting their wheels. However, the metal frames can be designed to fit around the shielding and other obstacles on a field gun, providing a safer storage solution, tailor-made to each object.
As you can see in this picture, the metal frames also come with their own lockable castors, which allows us to move these objects around the Museum without them touching the ground. This means that this storage solution can also become a transport solution - which is the goal of all museum packaging!
Post by: Megan Harvey
Megan is a Collection Manager, Collection Care at Auckland Museum and works in preventive conservation.