New exhibit at Lynden Pioneer Museum to explore the world of engines

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 3, 2012 

LYNDEN - Recent exhibits at Lynden Pioneer Museum have explored fences, the history of bicycles and the roots of modern Christmas traditions.

Working with a modest budget and without state-of-the-art facilities, the museum's director and curator, Troy Luginbill, keeps coming up with intriguing topics.

With Luginbill at the throttle, Lynden's is The Little Museum That Could.

Now he's putting the final touches on a new exhibit: "Go! Engines, Motors and Forward Momentum," which looks at the rise of engines to power work, replacing the muscular oomph of people and animals.

"It's always interesting to look at technology as a driving force in history," Luginbill said.

Some of the more than 40 engines and other exhibit items are already in place in the museum's lower-level display area, but more pieces are coming and informational materials are still in the works. The exhibit will officially open Oct. 1 and run through March.

Luginbill contacted collectors in Whatcom and Skagit counties to borrow many of the engines.

"They don't collect the garbage of life," he said. "They are very driven, very focused. Many of them put museums to shame."

Items on display will range from large items, such as a 5-ton marine engine that powered snag boats on Puget Sound, to small devices, including a steam-powered popcorn popper the size of a typewriter.

There's a "hit-and-miss" motor, so-called because the single-cylinder, gas-powered engine fired every, say, four to six piston strokes to turn a flywheel, which, in turn, often spun a belt to run farm equipment.

There's a "walking tractor," a small engine mounted on wheels or mini-tank tracks to run, once again, farm equipment, while the farmer steered the contraption with long plow handles.

There's the front half of a Model A with two cylinders intact to run the engine and the other two to power an air compressor for a jackhammer. Model As and Model Ts were often bisected to create engines on wheels that were towed to work sites, Luginbill said.

In the newer end of the spectrum, there's a 1997 EV1 on loan from Western Washington University. The EV1 was the all-electric car that General Motors produced and leased in the mid- to late-1990s before it took them back and crushed and buried them.

GM agreed to provide 40 EV1s to museums and universities, with the promise they wouldn't be reactivated and driven on the road. Western wasn't on the original list, but Brad Smith, former dean of Huxley College of the Environment, had a contact at GM who snagged an EV1 for Bellingham.

"We were the 41st school," said Eric Leonhardt, an associate professor in the vehicle design program at Western. "That vehicle was slated to go to the crusher."

After sitting idle for several years, the EV1 was fixed by Western students and staff and has been taken to special events.

"It's a fantastic vehicle," Leonhardt said. "It's the best electric car yet."

A 2006 documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" said the self-interest of oil and car companies led to the demise of the EV1. GM has said the car wasn't commercially viable.

Regardless of the cause of the EV1's downfall, the Lynden exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see one in person.

LYNDEN PIONEER MUSEUM

Where: 217 Front St., downtown Lynden.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Admission: $7 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, free for museum members and for kids 5 and younger.

Phone: 360-354-3675.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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