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Cleaning a Piece of History

Last year the Museum received a generous donation of an early 1900s oil wagon. The oil wagon, which was used by Watson and Alford Hardware, a store and oil company in Kenly, had previously been on display at the Kenly Historical Society, but it was still owned by the Watson family. When the Kenly Historical Society began looking for a new home, the Watson family also began the process of deciding where to move the wagon. Ultimately, they chose to keep this piece of local history in Kenly, and it was moved to the Tobacco Farm Life Museum as it would have been transported in its heyday – by horses.

After being safely installed in its new home, Museum staff began preparing to clean the wagon properly in order to preserve it for many more years to come. The original wagon tank had been professionally restored in 2005 with a fresh coat of paint and a reproduction wagon chassis.

This photo shows the cleaning in process (left side not yet cleaned; right side cleaning underway).

Museum staff undertook research in order to identify the best way to safely clean the wagon. Automotive museums provided a valuable resource as the paint on the restored wagon is automotive paint. Our biggest concerns with cleaning the wagon involved moisture. We wanted to avoid introducing any more moisture to the item than we had to in order to clean it. This will prevent rust of the metal tank and damage to the wooden pieces of the reproduction chassis. We used a rinse-less wash product used in car detailing at a diluted level. This product easily cleaned away dust on the surface of the wagon. We cleaned in small sections and immediately dried all cleaned surfaces in order to minimize moisture. The product used leaves a small amount of protection behind on the surface of the wagon, which will make future dusting easier without the use of any water.

Museum staff used soft microfiber towels to do the cleaning to minimize scratches.

Another concern was to minimize any scratches to the paint on the wagon. We did this by cleaning small sections at a time and regularly changing cloths so that the dust and dirt on the cloth wouldn't cause scratches.

The finished, cleaned wagon.

To read more about the wagon's history and to see its arrival at the Museum visit:

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