One object that I have become quite familiar with since arriving in Fairbanks is in Arctos as UA2020-008-0001, and is better known as Bus 142.

Accession: The politics around Bus 142 often drown out the information on how Bus 142 arrived at UAMN. Most people would be surprised to find that Bus 142 was created in Akron, Ohio. It made it’s way to Alaska and is more famously known for it’s time on the Stampede Trail. Most objects do not arrive at the museum after being air lifted by the Alaska Air National Guard, but that is how Bus 142 began it’s journey to UAMN. My limited knowledge about how the bus became part of the Ethnology and History collection at UAMN is that the museum placed a bid when the State of Alaska began looking for a final location for Bus 142. The museum was chosen for a variety of reasons among them; UAMN is already a state repository for objects, and already has the space and resources to care for the bus. After looking at the Arctos entry for Bus 142, I do wonder why don’t we record any of the information on accessions with the object? Maybe it is private information that is not available to the public – but I hope that information is included with the information about the object.

Loans: It is inevitable that other people, museums, and institutions will ask to loan items that are related to the bus. Already, the museum receives messages and emails requesting small pieces of the bus be sold or donated to various outside collections. Selling pieces of the bus is not something that UAMN will do, but it is a question that required a pause. In order to explain why UAMN will not sell pieces of the bus requires a pause to consider why selling pieces of the bus would be unethical. Why is selling t-shirts and sticker of the bus ethical but selling pieces of the discarded flooring unethical? The answer, for now, is that the object is owned by the state and it is cared for by the museum. Selling parts of an object goes against UAMN’s professional museum ethics.

Projects: With an object as large as a bus, there are a lot of moving parts and support needed to move the object from accession to stability, to display. Being that Bus 142 is an exciting object and has often been in the public eye, there is no shortage of opinions on the projects being done with the bus. Critics include folks who believe the bus should have remained on the Stampede Trail, some believe it should be crushed down and thrown in the trash, and some believe the cost of conservation is too high….the opinions go on and on. The projects and opinions that go along with the Bus 142 are part of the ongoing story of the bus itself. One thing that I have learned in my time at the museum is that objects carry many stories that reach people in different ways and evoke different emotions. It is the museum’s job to keep those objects safe and ensure that they will be available to the public for years to come.

Exhibits: Prior to arriving in Fairbanks I listened to a fantastic lecture given by Senior Collections Manager, Angela Linn where she explains some of the interpretive plans for Bus 142. The exhibits plan for Bus 142 considers the people who wish they could have visited the bus on the Stampede trail, it considers people who are more interested in the bus’s place in Alaska history, it considers the Indigenous people whose have been stewards of the land long before the Bus was on it, and it considers local students and community members. There is something built into the exhibit plan so that all visitors can gain valuable knowledge from Bus 142. Like I mentioned earlier, the bus means a lot to people for various reasons and it evokes a lot of emotions from the public. It is important in the exhibit design that there are opportunities and space for all visitors.

Conservation and Media: Bus 142 is currently undergoing conservation work with B.R Howard Conservators. These professional conservators have a long history of working with historical vehicles. It was crucial to the well-being of the bus that professional conservators be brought on to conserve the current state of the bus and prepare it to be on display outside in Fairbanks. Being that Bus 142 has it’s own fanbase and popularity, media mentions of the bus can often gain a lot of traction online. Depending on what information is being shared about the bus, we will see a variety of comments and opinions come in through our social channels. Being part of the Bus 142 projects has given me a lot of professional insight on controversial objects in museums. Navigating the comments and feedback that we receive from media mentions of the bus has shed a light on the importance of listening to audience questions and providing transparent information about ongoing projects.

I don’t think there are any items in my home that are even slightly similar to Bus 142. It is a significant object with a long life full of history and adventure, it evokes an array of emotions and was made famous by a National Bestselling book (Into the Wild) and a related blockbuster movie.

My question for the class is, how do you think you will visit museums differently after taking this class? Will you look beyond the galleries and exhibits? What questions do you seek answers to when you visit a museum?

B.R Howard conservators at work on Bus 142.

3 Thoughts to “Collections Management”

  1. Avatar photoSavanna VonScheele

    Hey Maxine! I did not know that much about Bus 142! that is quite the information and work that is going into this project! I am not familiarized with a lot of big history pieces or historical events. I read the book once in high school for an assignment may have seen the movie but do not remember it. To answer your question I will probably look at them with more gratitude, there is more work that goes into the ethics of running and operating a museum collection, the staff, and providing the right service. They are serving the public with information in most cases is free admission and if any a low price which is not bad.

  2. Hannah Terwilliger

    Hi Maxine! I’ve heard about Bus 142, I think I had an old classmate of mine telling me about and I found it really interesting. Great post! To answer your question, I don’t really know if I will view museums and other collections differently. I guess I would feel more informed about museums but since I really do want to work in the feild of museums and archives, nothing really would change of my thoughts of visitation other than positive experiences I hope!

  3. Korovin Ellis

    I think the primary difference in how i will interact with museums after taking this class is paying more attention to how the exhibits are put together, and what isn’t included within the exhibits. this class has given us a look behind the scenes as it were, and really makes you think about the way the exhibits are put together and all the effort that goes into preparing and selecting them.

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