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A Closer Look at Precision in Windsor

  • Mike Becker, center, and his son Maxwell, 3 1/2, listen to John Alexander, right, collection technician, talk about the history of the building during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

    Mike Becker, center, and his son Maxwell, 3 1/2, listen to John Alexander, right, collection technician, talk about the history of the building during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matthew Cooke, of Maidstone, England, is seen through an antique steel lathe during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

    Matthew Cooke, of Maidstone, England, is seen through an antique steel lathe during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mike Becker, center, and his son Maxwell, 3 1/2, listen to John Alexander, right, collection technician, talk about the history of the building during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage
  • Matthew Cooke, of Maidstone, England, is seen through an antique steel lathe during a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. on August 25, 2013. The museum recently began the tours as a way for visitors to see the pieces of their vast collection that they do not have the space to display publicly. Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage

Windsor — On the second floor of the American Precision Museum, past the offices and behind a heavy metal door, are all of the things that don’t fit in the main exhibits downstairs.

It’s one peril of operating a museum that’s an exhibit in itself, a building in Windsor that has a history as a supplier and builder of firearms and machine tools from the mid-19th century.

The problem, really, is that the building just isn’t all that big.

“We have limited space downstairs,” Collections Technician John Alexander said Sunday, guiding approximately 15 visitors around the second-floor storage area as part of the museum’s monthly Behind-the-Scenes tours. “We have a lot of wonderful things. This is one of those wonderful things.”

He drew the group over to an antique iron planer, its green frame ornately decorated.

That was early in the tour, which is a $10 chance to explore all the machines and tools that have remained upstairs while their counterparts get set up in the main exhibition room.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Alexander would pull thin white tarps off everything from planers, to steam engines, to logarithmic dividers to a disintegrator, invented by John Keely, who wanted to use it to break matter into so-called aetheric force.

It was invented in 1878, Alexander said, and is one of only two known to exist.

“We feel an obligation to share our treasures as much as we can, beyond what we’re able to do in exhibits,” said Ann Lawless, the museum’s executive director.

There will be two more tours this season, the second full year the museum has offered these tours.

The next will be at 2 p.m. on Sept. 28, as part of Smithsonian Day, and the last will be at 3 p.m. on Oct. 27. Lawless said those interested can reserve spots by calling the museum.

Sunday’s tour attracted both families who came upon it by accident as well as those who were already interested in old machine tools, and made the trip to Windsor to see what was in the museum’s storage.

Mike Becker, of Brattleboro, said his father used to work at machine shops in Springfield, Vt., and as such he’s had a longtime interest in the old tools. He brought along his 31/2 son, Maxwell, who spent most of the tour atop his dad’s shoulders, and who he said is showing surprising signs of inventiveness for his age.

“It’s exciting to see this stuff,” Becker said. “Always interesting to see what kind of inventions are lying around.”

The machines also carried a degree of mystique, as Alexander said that a good number of the items came without documentation. As such, the way some of the more obscure machines work, he said, is anyone’s guess.

“Some things are really tantalizing,” Alexander said. “Makes you wonder what it all meant.”

After the tour ended, a few visitors lingered on the second floor with Alexander, talking in greater detail about the machines and tools of the day.

One was Greg Holdsworth, of Toronto, who used to be a toolmaker himself. He moved over to that first iron planer, amazed at how much people could accomplish, as far as making things goes, so long ago.

“The precision they can work to 150 years ago,” he said. “It’s hard to replicate today.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.