Friday, April 2, 2010

The Hawthornes Visit The A.A.F. Tank Museum In Danville, Va.

This past weekend, Mr. Hawthorne and I took a little road trip - he to see his family and I to visit with Maxine. Before we parted ways, we visited the American Armoured Foundation Tank Museum on Hwy 29N in Danville, Va. Maxine took my boys and me there years ago and I've always wanted Mr. Hawthorne to see this place. If you're interested in Military History, this is the place to go. It's a private collection. This Museum houses one of the finest collections of tanks, artillery, uniforms, headgear, weapons, and other military memorabilia dating from 1509 to the present, with all nations represented. (At least that's what their press says.) The Museum was founded in 1981 by the present museum curator and director, Mr. William Gasser. The Museum was certified in 1981 and re-certified in 2003 by the United States Government and the Center of Military History to receive military donations as a not-for-profit museum. In 1999, the Museum relocated from Mattituck, NY to Danville, VA. The facility was donated to the Museum by a New Jersey Corporation, Sandvik, Inc. Remember that name. Sandvik. When I was growing up in Danville, VA, I knew the building as the H.K. Porter Disston plant. I had a friend who despised working there during the summer months while he was home from Vanderbilt. I got a belly-full of the
AITCH-KAY-Poe-tuh- DISS-tun-plant.
Bit of history here: Henry Disston was born in 1819 in Tewkesbury, England, and emigrated to the United States in 1833, where he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia saw makers. His apprenticeship ended when his master's company went bankrupt in 1840. At the age of 21, Disston was freed from his employer and was compensated with tools and materials in lieu of cash payment for his work. Disston operated his business at a series of rented properties in Philadelphia, producing saws of superior quality. In 1855, Disston became the first saw manufacturer to produce his own steel, a factor which made Disston the most successful saw manufacturer in the United States. The Morrill Tarrif Act of 1861 greatly increased the cost of imported steel, making it impossible for other saw makers to compete with Disston. By supplying steel products to the Union Army during the Civil War, Disston accumulated huge profits, enabling him to invest in the factory, mechanizing much of the process of saw and tool making, lowering costs, and increasing production. For over 50 years, Disston was the leading manufacturer of saws in the world. In 1940, a Time Magazine article claimed that 75% of all handsaws sold in the U.S. were Disston. For the first 75 years, the corporate culture at Disston was paternalistic. The employers worked closely with their employees, apprenticing in the factory, maintaining a presence on the floor, and providing housing and services to the residents who lived and worked in the northeast section of Philadelphia called Tacony. Tacony was a factory town. In the 1870's, Disston bought large parcels of land in Tacony and set out to build a town to house his factory and his workers. Compared to the urban squalor in which many of his employees and families lived, Disston's duplex houses and detached single family houses were considered working-class castles. The houses were maintained by Disston and rented to his workers. However, there was a trade-off - a straight-laced lifestyle, resulting from the prohibition of vices and outside influences which might reduce the productivity of the workers or distract them. There were no bars, only tea houses. There were no other factories in town, so there was no competition for workers. Livery stables were not allowed, so the only transportation in and out of Tacony was the trolley, which was too expensive for most people to use on a regular basis. Disston employees had no choice but to live in Tacony, so a lifestyle that groomed and maintained suitable factory workers was benevolently imposed upon them. For 50 some years, this arrangement worked. With the Great Depression, workers hours and wages had been reduced in order to keep the factory running. Because of this and other economic and social changes, the age of paternal corporate structure disappeared, and, as in other manufacturing industries, Disston workers unionized. Cost-cutting decisions proved detrimental to the long-term health of the company. Capital investment in the factory had been neglected for decades and most of the equipment had been in use since the 1880's. It was old, inefficient, and overworked. Nothing was being spent to do more than the most basic maintenance on the factory. In 1940, the company's 100th Anniversary was planned. Management and labor were at a stand-off over contract negotiations. After years of neglect and worker complaints, the employee rest rooms were remodeled just before a tour of the factory by politicians and business leaders who came to observe the centennial. Some of the workers, out of disgust and anger, trashed the rest rooms. Days before the anniversary, the workers went on strike and the centennial festivities were canceled. After WWII, Germany and Japan both invested a great deal of money and effort in new steel mills and factories. These efforts paid off for them in the early 1950's when these modern plants started production. Disston was essentially a 19th century factory with no cash to invest in modernization. Workers continued striking every few years for pay increases and Disston family members with stock in the company wanted their dividends. After several unsuccessful attempts to manufacture chainsaws, the family decided to sell the company to H.K. Porter, a holding company owned by Thomas Mellon Evans. Evans wasted no time in dismantling the company and liquidating every asset at Disston. H.K. Porter moved the Disston factory to Danville, VA, in 1956. After Disston left Philadelphia, that was the end of an era. Porter's Disston Division was sold in 1978 and became the Henry Disston Division of Sandvik Saw of Sweden. And Sandvik donated the plant to the Museum. See, I was going somewhere with the history. The Museum collection is exhibited in a 330,000 square foot facility on 89 acres and currently houses over 110 tanks and artillery pieces.
The Weapons Room Exhibit has over 150 mid-sized weapons such as Bazookas, Flame Throwers, and Recoilless Rifles. The Rifle Room Exhibit has over 50 rifles, from the unique and rare, to the very common military types. There is an International Hall of Tank and Cavalry Generals with 96 generals in attendance and some of those mannequins are downright scary. 1400 tank and cavalry uniforms are displayed, dating from 1509 to the present. 300 woman's uniforms are displayed, dating from 1852 to present. 1300 tank and cavalry headgear pieces are displayed, dating from 1790 to present. And there's a radio controlled 1/16 scale indoor battlefield, approximately 6000 square feet in size and the only RC Battlefield in the world. Plus there are exhibits of beaucoups artifacts from all time periods.
If you like tanks, guns, and war, this post is for you. It contains mostly pictures of the museum denizens and the occasional exciting sightings of Rosie and Mr. Hawthorne themselves. Caveat: Lots of pictures. But if you make your way through, you may find something you like. Trust me. Again.
As I've said, the mannequins can be creepy. This is one of them. What's up with his right leg? On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, thus beginning the Spanish American War. In June 1898, U. S. Army Forces prepared for amphibious landings near Santiago, Cuba. The U. S. Army gathered 15 Model 1895 Gatling guns for eventual shipment to Cuba. This exhibit shows U. S. Troops preparing a Model 1895 Gatling gun and limber wagon for transport. Only 4 of the original 15 guns were actually shipped to Cuba. There, they were magnificently deployed by Ensign Parker, which allowed Lieutenant Colonel Teddy Roosevelt to make his famous charge up San Juan Hill, thus helping to defeat the Spanish forces. Remember the Maine.
Rosie, taking a break with the boys.
Rosie, with Elvis.
I'm having so much fun. There are lots of pictures ahead. Every now and then, I put in a caption.
Hope you enjoy. Let's start with the International Military Rifles Room.
On to the Generals.
All the Generals.
More Generals.
Now, the head gear.
Oops, more Generals.
More head gear.
I do not know why the woman has no legs.
Same for the gentleman here with no legs.
No, I don't know the story behind the mustache.
Another scary mannequin in the background.
Welcome to the Instrument Room.
I loved the dioramas.
Bicycle exhibit.
How did they get Eva Braun's dress?
The remote control battlefield.
Private Hawthorne.
Crazy bitch on shell.
POW MIA Memorial. Thank you, Mr. Gasser, for this most impressive display.


Marilyn said...

Um, Rosie, what was the head count again?

Interesting collection.

southdrivein said...

Isn't that place wild Rosie. Whats really wilder is all the tanks and motor vehicles have to be started and driven around every now and then to keep them in servicable condition. To do so the owner of the museum had to find some place that the floors could handle the weight of a tank driving around on it so the Disston plant was ideal.

Anonymous said...

The soldier with the "what's up with the right leg" is lifting his leg due to the fact that he stepped in horse manure.

Dieter said...

I worked as Chief Metallurgist at the Disston plant, Danville Va between 1977-1979. All Disston plants (in USA (Seattle, Phiadelphia and Danville), in Canada on Vancouver, several factories in Canada (Vancouver, Quebec and outside Toronto), Mexico and Australia were aquired in 1975 by Sandvik AB of Sweden. Disston in USA was sold in mid80:th to the MD Hank Libby (MBO).

My responsibility was to improve the quality of Disston´s saw products and I was responsible for the major investments made at the Danville plant at that time. A very learning period of my life with lot of difficult work and decisions. I have been working for Sandik AB almost 40 years and am now since long retired.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Interesting story, Dieter. I was born and raised in Danville. Left back in 1984 for the beach. Still have family there.