Heritage Park is in the business of preservation, but sometimes relics of the past vanish like time itself, and must be recreated.
When Car 1202 rolled down the track after sunset 112 years ago, passengers found their way along the aisle between bench seating, or carried on with whatever they were doing, by the light of gas lamps fastened to the ceiling. Somewhere in 1202’s journey through time, though, it lost its light fixtures.
“There were no lights at all in the car,” says Bob Wyatt, Heritage Park manager of facilities and maintenance. “We knew gaslights were quite normal in that era. The tank was under the floor.”
The tank stored a compressed, oil-based gaseous fuel called Pintsch gas, named after its German inventor. Pintsch lamps were long burning and withstood the vibration of a train’s movement without extinguishing. They were used well into the early 1900s before being replaced by electric lights, which eliminated the risk of fire and explosive wrecks.
In an old photograph of a colonist car, representative of the time to which 1202 is being restored, park curator Sylvia Harnden identified the Pintsch lamp model needed. She soon learned, however, not a single lamp could be sourced for the project, and the park needed seven.
From nothing but a photograph
Wyatt says the lamp photo was scanned and sent to Rapid3D, a Calgary company specializing in 3D printing. Rapid3D started business eight years ago and began working for Heritage Park in 2016. Reproducing impossible-to-find mechanical parts and artifacts for museums, it usually has an object available. In that case, explains company president Ira Laughy, Rapid3D digitally scans a three-dimensional object to create an electronic model, which is then printed in plastic. The plastic model becomes a mould from which duplicates are produced.
“With the lamp, all we had were some photographs and dimensions,” says Laughy, who forwarded the information to an artist specializing in digital illustration. “The printing was the end result of a lot of work,” he explains, crediting the artist with the recreation of the artifact. “The fact that you can take a photograph and create a 3D digital replica, which we could print, is where the magic really happened.”
An elegant and time-consuming process – just the printing of the lamp took a couple of days – 3D printing expands the potential of recreating artifacts, which used to be done through sculpting or carving a mould, says Wyatt. The time it takes to chisel a model is “ridiculous,” he says, while Laughy “can’t even imagine trying to carve that lamp.”
Recreating a lamp, and the past
The plastic mould was delivered to the park in late 2016 and is now at a foundry in Miami, Florida, where it will be duplicated in brass. Within a month, when the brass fixtures arrive from the foundry, a glassblower will make globes to fit. Finally, when 1202 is restored and the assembled lamps are fastened to the ceiling, LED lights will illuminate the globes. Then, after sunset, visitors will walk the aisle between bench seating and Pintsch lamps will light their way.
“For us, to be able to use modern technology to complete the experience for someone who wants to step back in time and see what it was really like gives us a lot of satisfaction,” says Laughy. “And to get that authenticity as close as we can, to our abilities, will add to their experience.”
Until next time....