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Lifting, Rotating, and Rolling with Care

The act of moving USS Monitor artifacts during conservation or onto exhibit at The Mariners’ Museum often isn’t very simple. Factors like an artifact’s size, weight, fragility, and material composition must be considered before any move occurs in order to avoid damaging these precious artifacts. Minimizing movement during treatment and exhibition is critical to the overall health and long-term survivability of fragile artifacts. Often times the Monitor Conservation team spends days or even weeks planning and prepping for a move that may take no more than a few seconds or minutes. Better safe than sorry!

We use a variety of gear and equipment including overhead cranes, lifting straps and cables, shackles, chain hoists, lifting platforms, come-a-longs, pneumatic tires, dollies, forklifts, and good old-fashioned sweat and elbow grease. But sometimes even the best equipment and planning is no match for 140-years of exposure to a corrosive ocean environment. As a result, many of these treasured artifacts from USS Monitor are too unstable after deconcretion and conservation to move out of the exhibit.

There are very few facilities in the world that have developed an expertise in moving and conserving extremely large and fragile archaeological materials. The Mariners’ Museum is fortunate to be a leader in this field. Here are a few pictures of our efforts to move large, heavy, and complex artifacts recovered from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

Conservation staff use a 5-ton auxiliary hoist with lifting cables to move a 10-foot long section of wrought iron propeller shaft weighing 1,900 pounds. The shaft’s surface is protected from the steel lifting cables by rubber, foam, and canvas.
Conservation staff and rigging professionals prepare to move USS Monitor‘s 9-foot diameter cast iron propeller from its former location in the lobby of The Mariners’ Museum to its current location within the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum. Each blade of the propeller is protected by a padded blanket to make sure that the lifting equipment does not damage the fragile surface of the artifact. Addtionally, the base of the exhibit mount on which the propeller sits was designed to accomodate a rolling structure for ease of movement. This rolling mount is visible in the foreground of the picture.

A team utilizes high-strength lifting straps and an overhead hoist to rotate Monitor‘s port Dahlgren gun carriage to its original upright position. The carriage is fixed to a custom designed steel and epoxy-coated rig built at The Mariners’ Museum that allowed the conservation team to pivot the entire carriage from a solid, fixed point.

The same carriage, after rotation, is affixed to chain hoists and a spreader bar supported by the lab’s overhead crane.

Monitor‘s port XI-inch Dahlgren shell gun attached to twin 20-ton hoists inside the Batten Conservation Lab at The Mariners’ Museum. The use of very wide lifting straps dispersed the heavy weight of the gun over a larger surface area, minimizing the risk of surface abrasion or damage during lifting. Conservators also placed heavy-duty foam padding between the Dahlgren’s surface and flexible lifting straps.

XI-inch Dahlgren shell gun being placed onto a specially designed rolling rig that allowed conservators and Newport News shipbuilding apprentices to safely rotate Monitor‘s Dahlgren guns into their original upright positions by rolling them within the rig across the lab floor. The rig is split into two halves; the gun sits on one half and is sandwiched by the second half (visible top left of picture).

Forklifts? We’ve got ’em! This behemoth is used to safely move entire 20′ x 8′ x 4′ tanks filled with multiple artifacts. Treatment solutions are first transferred from the tanks prior to moving, but then the forklift tines are placed beneath the tanks and lifting begins. The ability to move dozens of artifacts safely and simultaneously saves considerable time and resources over a long course of treatment.

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