Formal attire and an M-47 Patton tank marked the American Locomotive Company Heritage Museum’s gala on Saturday night, which featured the unveiling of its 18,000-square-foot design plan.
Alco’s 100-year history will soon be on display, if plans and fundraising fall into place. The historic company churned out 60,000 locomotives in its lifetime and produced tanks and other heavy weapons during World War II. Alco and General Electric were the industrial anchors that made Schenectady “the city that lights and hauls the world.”
“The theme of the museum is man and machine, so you’re trying to tell the story of the people who built the machines,” said Jim Cesare III, museum director.
While the museum content currently consists only of the tank, designer David Lenk was contracted to draft “phase one” of the floor plan. Lenk is from Virginia and has worked on the Smithsonian and the Monitor Museum, which highlights the Civil War ironclads.
In the design narrative by Lenk, he said they positioned large artifacts in a way that would encourage “self-guided discoveries.”
The plan has a temporary wall creating a narrow entry that opens up to the museum. In a sunken area of the museum will be a locomotive appearing the way it would during manufacture. The main area would include a baggage car that patrons could walk through. The fledgling museum is on Maxon Road Extension in part of the former Dimension Steel complex now owned by Schenectady Floor Covering.
Cesare said the goal of the design is to create an interactive experience and ensure they were able to take in the full scope of the machines. To appreciate the size of the locomotives and tank, there must be a lot of space.
“If you’re five feet away from a hundred-foot locomotive you’re not going to experience the whole thing’s mass,” he said. “If you’re 15 feet away from it you get a much better experience.”
Cesare added that another key element of the planned design is that it is flexible, so displays can easily be moved if the display area expands. Currently, the museum only occupies a part of their building. “Hopefully down the road the goal is to be financially viable to buy the other wing. … It’s not going to be the same when you see it in five years or 10 years. It always has the potential to change,” he said.
One of the ways the museum hopes to raise money is with the gala on Saturday night, which featured a keynote address from U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. The gala featured a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle.
The fundraising has a long way to go, though, with Cesare saying a large portion of their expenses will come from moving exhibits to the museum. In the case of a locomotive in Utica, the museum needs to raise $30,000.
Dressed in a suit and admiring a history of Alco displayed across various posters was Schenectady resident Steve Hladik. He said the event was very enjoyable and described the museum as a good addition to the city. “It’s extremely great for the community,” he observed.
Cesare wouldn’t say when the new design would be implemented, but said they’re hoping to be open for business by spring, when more of their exhibits will be complete.
For a schedule of events, ways to contribute and information on the oral history project go to ahts.org.