Skip to main content

Preserving the Past

Volunteer Devon Hall during a driving lesson, 2015.

Volunteer Devon Hall on a driving lesson with Stanley instructor Steve Bryce, 2014. (Mike Ciosek)

Operation and Preservation: A Delicate Balance

On a daily basis the Board of Directors, staff and volunteers of the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve must consider the delicate balance between operation and preservation. FAHP’s mission — to preserve the knowledge of and appreciation for steam technology — involves operating the vehicles and teaching the public how they work. At the same time, we must weigh the enduring impact this use has on the collections. Therefore, a strict training program governs who may operate the vehicles, and guidelines have been put in place to limit the use of each car.  

A Collections Committee oversees the operation, restoration and maintenance of the historic auto collection. Despite the rules and procedures in place, we often face challenging decisions, as illustrated by the three automobiles in this section: When to professionally restore a car? When to restore a car in-house? And when to leave a car as it is?


1913 Stanley Roadster Model 78 post restoration, 2013

1913 Stanley Roadster Model 78 post restoration, 2013. (Fred Rosenberg)

1913 Stanley Roadster Model 78
A Professional Restoration

In 2010, the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve (FAHP) commis­sioned Charles W. Johnson of Wellsville, Pa., to complete the profes­sional restora­tion of this vehicle. One of only three metal-bodied 20-horsepower roadsters in exist­ence and the only surviving Model 78, the car’s rarity prompt­ed the investment, initially estimated at about $100,000. After work began, Johnson discovered hidden issues that caused the project expenses and schedule to increase greatly, ultimately costing $240,000 and taking more than 2½ years. 

Without question, the car repre­sents a first-class restoration, and the skill needed to restore the car was beyond the range of FAHP’s volunteers. Yet the expense not only stretched the organi­zation’s resources but now challenges its mission-driven resolve to operate collection vehicles and share them with a broad public. In essence, the car is almost too precious to use (akin to Grandma’s best china, used only on the most special occasions). 

While it is unlikely that the organiza­tion will undertake another restoration of this caliber, the rewards have proven worth the challenges and cost. 

What do you think? Is a professional or a volunteer restoration better? Make sure to read the story about the volunteer-led restoration of the 1914 Stanley Touring Model 607. 


Pre-restoration Model 78 on its way to Winterthur’s Point-to-Point, May 2010.

Pre-restoration Model 78 on its way to Winterthur’s Point-to-Point, May 2010. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)

Damage to 1913 Model 78 discovered during restoration.

Following disassembly, professional restorer Charlie Johnson discovered serious damage to the vehicle’s structural integrity, including this crack in the aluminum body. (Charlie Johnson)

1914 Stanley Touring Model 607 pre-restoration besides Marshall Steam Museum, 2006.

Pre-Restoration photo of the 1914 Stanley Model 607, 2006. New photo coming soon! (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)

1914 Stanley Touring Model 607
A Volunteer Restoration

In 2009, the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve (FAHP) initiated a volunteer-led full restoration of this Model 607, requiring the complete disassembly of the car. Last restored in 1949 and used extensively for events and as a training vehicle, the car appeared overdue for major maintenance. 

The Collections Committee decided to entrust the project to volunteers for two reasons. First, as expressed in its Mission Statement, FAHP remains committed to training new generations in steam car operation, maintenance and preservation, and the technical experience that the project offered the volunteer team has proven invaluable. Second, the committee estimated the cost of a professional restoration (determined prior to the museum’s experience with the Model 78) at $100,000 or more, while the cost in parts and labor for painting and upholstery only came in at $25,000 to $50,000. More than 30 volunteers labored for more than four years and returned the car to service in September 2013. 

What do you think? Compare this restoration with that of the 1913 Stanley Roadster Model 78. Which is better?


Testing the 1914 Model 607's systems before final installation of the car's body, 2013.

Top: Pre-restoration Model 607, 2006. Above: As work concluded, the Model 607 was fired up for a test run before installation of the body, ca. 2013. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)

1922 Stanley Touring Model 750 donation arriving to Marshall Steam Museum

1922 Stanley Touring Model 750 donation arriving to Marshall Steam Museum, 2013. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)

1924 Stanley Touring Model 750
Junker or Conservation Treasure?

Clarence Marshall sold this 1924 Stanley Model 750 to George M. Knox Jr. of West Chester, Pennsylvania, about 1952, and it remained in Knox’s possession throughout his lifetime. Following Knox’s death in 2013, his widow, Helga, donated the car to the Marshall Steam Museum to honor her husband’s passion for antique autos. 

With chassis #24094 (the last recorded chassis number is 24101), this car was one of the last to leave the Stanley Company’s Newton, Massachusetts, factory. Due to its unrestored state, the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve decided to forego restoration and maintain the vehicle’s original appearance to enable further study and documentation. Volunteer and Stanley historian Kelly Williams described the significance of this vehicle in its current state:

“Surfaces and materials that were on a car at the time of its manufacture cannot be purchased or replicated; they can only survive and be cared for. We have the opportunity, and I would say the responsibility as a museum, to continue to carefully preserve this historic material.” 

This automobile not only demonstrates how materials change over time, evident in its aged appearance, but also showcases the materials originally used at the Stanley factory and how such vehicles were assembled.


Original paint under door handle of 1922 Stanley Touring Model 750.

When the Model 750 arrived at Auburn Heights in 2013, volunteers documented the car’s condition. Removing one of the door handles revealed the car’s original paint. (Marshall Steam Museum Archives)