Monitor’s Turret: A Private Screening

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This past week, the Monitor conservation staff began screening concretion and corrosion products removed from the interior of the turret over the last 10 weeks (see previous posts and video links on the main page). As with any archaeological excavation, we want to make sure that even small objects and fragments are recovered for future study and interpretation. This being said, we have opted to use a process called wet screening. Under this technique, material types of various sizes are separated out while at the same time washed by a steady stream of water to remove loose sediment and rust. The additional washing makes the identification of small artifacts easier and speeds up the overall screening process.   

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Sub-Stanchion-al !!!!!!

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In preparation for their removal from the turret, photographic documentation was undertaken to record the location and orientation of remaining roof stanchions (in situ in their mounting brackets), which once supported a canvas canopy above the turret.  In the photograph below taken in July of 1862, you can see the starboard side of the turret in the background with the roof stanchions and canopy clearly visible. (notice the dents near the gun port!!)

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A Day in the Lab

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It was Friday afternoon and Conservator Elsa Sangouard did not say a word; she didn’t have to say anything.  Her smile told the whole story.  Elsa and Gary Paden, the Objects Handler for the USS Monitor Conservation Project, had just successfully removed a beautiful and shiny copper alloy tallow cup from Monitor’s 25-ton steam engine when I walked into the engine treatment tank.  They held the multi-component artifact with pride and examined it closely.  It had the appearance of something Dr. Seuss would have invented.  Two valve handles of different sizes extended from the smooth, round tallow reservoirs.  A smaller drain spigot with a stout nozzle extended from one of the reservoirs.  It looked ornate and stout, fantastical and practical.  Engineers heated tallow or pig fat in these devices.  The liquid fat would then drip into the steam engine’s valve chests, providing critical lubrication.  Surprisingly, Elsa was able to turn one of the valve handles as if it the object was new.  Smiles grew wider on their sweaty and sediment-covered faces.

            They passed the tallow cup to me and I placed it in a plastic container filled with deionized water for safe storage and desalination on a workbench outside of the engine treatment tank.  I labeled the container and lined it up with a dozen similar containers filled with other copper alloy engine components removed during the week.  Conservation Technician Mike Saul walked up to the table with a clipboard and began documenting the condition of each engine component for entry into the artifact database and individual artifact treatment files.  We stared at an amazing assortment of ten oil cups of various sizes removed from the engine’s rock shaft bearings and eccentric arms.  A small drop of oil bubbled to the surface of the water in one container.  “That’s original engine oil from the night the Monitor sank,” I said.  Mike hustled off to grab a glass sample vial so we could collect the oil for later analysis.   Read more

Worthington Water Cylinder Liners

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Wednesday has been a good day for Worthington disassembly for the last couple of weeks!  Last Wednesday, Gary, Eric and Will used a hydraulic press and a new tool made from recycled aluminum to press out the brass cylinder liners and iron retaining rings from both port and starboard Worthington pumps.  

In the last Worthington post we had pushed out the water plungers from their brass cylinder liners.  This time we removed these liners in two stages: First, we pressed on the back of the liners just enough to push out the cast iron rings which held the liners in place.  Second, after removing the loose rings, we continued pressing down on the liners until they were out and free of the pump casting.    Read more