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At Penngrove museum’s “Power Up!” day, old machinery comes to life

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: 2018 Power Up

Where: Penngrove Power & Implement Museum, 200 Phillips Dr., Petaluma

When: July 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free, donations accepted

More information: (707) 484-0272

Website: penngrovepower.org

The Penngrove Power & Implement Museum, a private collection of working machinery from the past, will hold its annual “Power Up” day on July 14. Interested people can visit the museum, see the machines in action, ride the train on the property, and enjoy a rare look at human ingenuity.

Visitors will also see displays of vintage farm, home, camping and military paraphernalia. They will see old tractors, vintage printing presses, and one of the engines from Howard Hughes’s famous Spruce Goose.

Three Fairbanks-Morse engines will be running on the grounds and in the barn.

The private museum is the creation of Steve and Nancy Phillips. Its mission is to preserve in working condition the equipment and machinery that helped America transition from manual and animal power to external power sources such as steam, diesel, gas and electricity. While the museum is open to interested people one day a month, “Power Up” is its major fundraising event of the year.

“We will have everything slowed down so you can see the machines work,” Nancy said. Because of all the moving parts in the collection, the Phillips insist that children be carefully tended. They find that kids should be at least ten years old to enjoy the museum.

Visitors will find docents stationed around the machines to answer questions.

“This is a look-and-learn experience,” Nancy said.

The main building is the former barn of a chicken ranch and dairy of J. Howard and Nita Phillips, Steve’s parents, who bought the property in the 1940s. Steve, a mechanical-electrical engineer, grew up there. An inveterate collector of machines, engines, motors and tools of all sorts, he and Nancy have turned Steve’s passion into a one-of-a-kind venue that the word “museum” fails to describe. It’s more of showcase where rare machines of the 1930s and ‘40s, and even earlier, come to life.

“We show the transition from human and animal-powered machines to power generated by engines and motors,” said Nancy. “We have working representations of all these types - and everything runs.”

To keep their unique collection intact and functioning for future generations, Nancy points out, the Phillips need three things. The first is capital to provide long-term stability for the collection.

The second is more volunteers, to help with everything from marketing to maintenance. Asked what they are looking for in volunteers, Nancy says anyone willing to come and learn.

“Our youngest volunteer is only eleven,” she reveals. “He loves the machines. His grandfather brings him here.”

Finally, they need to find the next generation of leadership for the museum. Currently, only Steve can run the “Big Six,” a six-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse engine from the 1930s. It weighs 70,000 pounds.

“It’s quite a rush when you get something like this running,” Steve said. “You don’t know whether to start running yourself.”

And only Steve can start the Pratt-Whitney R4360, one of the eight original engines powering the Hughes H-4 Hercules, or “Spruce Goose,” the largest flying boat ever made. Steve bought it from the holding corporation of the Howard Hughes estate.

“It took him six months to figure out the engine’s governor,” Nancy said with a laugh. She pointed out that even the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, where the plane now resides, doesn’t have a working engine from the plane. “On New Year’s Eve, we start it up and it shoots out gorgeous blue flames,” she said.

PLANNING TO GO?

What: 2018 Power Up

Where: Penngrove Power & Implement Museum, 200 Phillips Dr., Petaluma

When: July 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free, donations accepted

More information: (707) 484-0272

Website: penngrovepower.org

Steve does most of the repairs.

“I tell people who work for me that before you can repair a machine you have to understand what you’re working on,” he said.

The 1913 New Huber steam traction engine, built in Marion, Ohio, takes three and half hours to get up to steam, Nancy said. It was used in the old days to power such farm equipment as a thresher. Neighboring farms could share it.

“We used to be a community that was joined by mutual benefit,” she said.

The train, formerly used for hauling salt, came from Leslie Salt Company in San Francisco, which used to harvest salt in the flats north of Highway 37. Steve laid seventy-five feet of track for the train, which has been customized to transport up to twelve passengers at a time. The locomotive is a Milwaukee built in 1937. Van Bebber Bros., a long-time Petaluma company, formed and donated the metal cab for the locomotive.

The New England Butt Number 2 Flat Braided Machine was built in 1923 and used for years in Petaluma at the Sunset Line & Twine Company on Jefferson Street, where the building has recently been converted into a hotel. Visitors can watch as the braider’s sixteen bobbins braid strands of material into flat braids.

The museum’s most recent purchase was a Bucyrus-Erie crane used for dredging.

“I have a background in cranes,” Steve explained. “I’m partial to them. This is one was old, from the early 1930s. We try to stay pre-World War II. I had to do a lot to it to get it working properly, but the engine was in good shape.”

“This collection is my heart and soul,” Steve said, looking around the former barn and pointing out its various elements. “This was the milk barn, with the hay upstairs, the grain below. We mixed our feed and wet mash with a mixer that still works. All my life I’ve collected and stored stuff all over the barn and house.”

“We add things to the collection all the time,” Nancy said, “and sometimes we sell something in order to buy something else”

The first exhibition on the property was held twenty-one years ago. The museum was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2005. It is open on the first Saturday of the month and offers memberships to those who are interested.

The Phillips welcome car, radio, engine, and steam clubs - and even robot and scout troops - to share their enthusiasm for the history of technology. If you have something to show, contact Steve at (707) 484-0272.