Saturday, February 6, 2016

Exploring the War of the Rebellion ( the American Civil War 1861-1865) at Willowbrook

Each year 19th Century Willowbrook Village has offered camp life and drilling re-enactments of the Union Army. This has been exclusively done by the the Third of Maine Re-enactment Group from Auburn, Maine. Last year, the sesquicentennial of the final year of the war was our most developed program in some years. This development of many of the day's activities was inspired by an arrangement with a large homeschooled group, who had visited the museum on other occasions, and who wished to partake in programming focused on the Civil War. The program developed was combined with the public event. We hope that this type of programming will continue to be developed further and be a characteristic of this annual event through the addition of other re-enacting groups and those who wish to present various aspects of both military and civilian life during the Civil War. We invite groups and individuals interested in contributing to this annual event to contact us ( 207-793-2784,
The following is the programming that was presented at our 2015 Civil War Event:a camp of approximately seven tents and canvas awnings, including one that served as the center of a presentation of a civilian Sanitation Commission. These commissions served a number of purposes during wartime. They were largely comprised of civilian women who would both raise funds for medicine and bandages for wounded soldiers as well collect materials for the making of bandages. In some urban centers like New York the Sanitation Commission organized contemporary fine arts exhibitions in the outdoors. Art work was donated by artists or collectors for sale to the public to raise money for bandages and medicine for wounded soldiers. Civilian activity during the war may have included meetings in which women cut bandages from donated cotton sheets.
A presentation pf sanitation commission activity during of the war. Willowbrook presented index cards with biographies of real soldier to a group of visiting children. Many of these children were with a large homeschooled group that had been invited. They came to the event in period costumes of there own making further adding to their learning experience as well as other visitors to the event. The card included  injuries sustained by that soldier during a particular battle. Additionally, children were given a reference resource that characterized the treatment for such an injury during the war. Through the assistance of some of the museum's costumed interpreters, children role played these soldiers and through the use of stage makeup, props, and bandages prepared their wartime injuries.
Among Willowbrook's hands-on offerings are re-creations of the H.M.S. Titanic's and Carpathia's Marconi Radio Rooms. This two rooms located at opposite ends of our Hands-On History Building include faux instrumentation imitative of the real radio rooms that included wireless telegraphs. We offer six working telegraph keys and sounders in the two rooms. Visitors can explore Morse code communication through the twelve working instruments which include late 19th century and early 20th models in addition to keys and sounders built from kits by our staff for the purpose. For our Civil war Event we thought that it would interesting to marry these telegraphs sets to the secret codes used by bot the Union and Confederates in conjunction with the telegraphy of that time. We reproduced multiple examples of coding wheels from the wheels that young visitors cut out and assembled for use with our telegraphs. An interpreter facilitated code sending and receiving among those participating.

One of the newer additions to our living history presentation is a working Victorian Kitchen which includes a working circa 1880s wood burning kitchen stove, cast iron sink with hand pump, and other period appliances. Visitors churned butter and participated in baking as part of the day's program. Hard tack, the staple of many a soldier in the field, was one of the products of the day. Many remained at the end of the day!
Volunteer interpreter Ruth Durfee and staffer Johanne Vaters lead activity in our Victorian Kitchen.
  • Have you ever changed a wagon wheel? Visitors were able to check this off their bucket list. In our 100 foot long carriage house, our Democratic Carriage was pulled from the collection in addition tpo one of the comprehensive collection of wagon jacks we have. The jack was ratcheted by each participant and using a buggy wrench removed the wheel hub nut. The wheel was removed and spun around once freed from the axle. The exercise was reversed and repeated by a half a dozen visitors. 
  • High Tea on the Durgin House porch. part of our Civil War event has always included scenarios from civilian life. Served by costumed volunteers tea and pastries are served on linen table clothes. There is silverware and china included at each of the ten tables. Pastries are homemade and delicious. Re-enactors this year were invited to partake transporting onlookers back to another time. in 2016, we hope to have a fashion show  of both men's and women's 1860s clothing in our ballroom.
  • Willowbrook has two functioning and fully equipped blacksmith shops. These are inhabited by past students of our frequent blacksmithing and knife making classes. Opportunities for learning some basics of heating and shaping metal are offered for walk-ins. Descriptions of our one or two day classes can be found on our website.
  • Visit our collection of Civil War artifacts in the Durgin Barn. You can also read local Civil War letters transcribed for easier reading in the Durgin Barn just outside the orientation video room. There are additional Civil War letters to be found on the walls of the Hands-On History Building.
  • Visit our school house where our costumed school marm leads visitors in a lesson classroom etiquette---mind your Ps and Qs because she wields a history stick!

Winter Classes 2016 ( Use Our Search Engine to Explore Past Classes)

Request a Gift Certificate for our classes will will mail it to you to give
for a birthday or other occasion.

Winter Classes 2016 

( We continue to schedule new classes throughout the Winter so frequent this site, if you are interested. We also advertise regularly in Uncle Henry's classifieds.

Sat. & Sun., Feb. 13 & 14 (CLASS FULL), 9AM-4PM: Sat. & Sun., February 27 & 28, 9-4 ( STILL TAKING RESERVATIONS).
Beginning Blacksmithing: Knife Making Class is scheduled with local knifemaker Frank Vivier. The two day class for $175 involves heating, cutting and shaping spring steel into a blade and tang ( for a handle). Students will use propane burning forges to do much of their work but use a coal forge to heat the blade once shaped and polished for the purpose of hardening through immersion in oil. Since this is a two day class, there will be an opportunity to achieve a greater finish to your blades and to begin making a knife handle. Gift certificates available on request. Payment required in order to register. $175. Credit Cards taken. Contact:

Sat. & Sun., March 19-20, 9AM-4PM. Antique Engine Repair and Maintenance. Hands-On Learning about these one cylinder engines knowns as "make & brake (s)", one lungers, and hit & miss engines used for decades by farmers and tradespeople. Two veteran mechanics instruct. We will work on both the mechanical and electrical (magneto/spark) elements. We will change rings on a 7HP Economy, resurrect a hit and miss 1 3/4 horsepower Fairbanks Morse as well as a 5HP Sandwich engine. We might metal cast some parts for the class, i.e, a new rocker arm or muffler. This is an essential and rare opportunity for those interested in these antique engines, $200. Get discount on aforementioned metal casting class, if taken in conjunction with this class.



Saturday, November 7, 2015

November 7, 2015, Antique Engine Repair and Maintenance Class at 19th Century Willowbrook Village: A summary of the class activity by a budding gas engine novice

The 7HP Economy in its long time resting place; it is presented connected to an 1880s Chase shingle mill, but the consensus is that this engine may not have had enough power to actually cut shingles. The unusual feature to this engine is the side mounted kerosene tank right above the base and behind the black pipe used to fill the gas tank. This pipe apparently is not very efficient so we will reconfigure it with the tank replacement. The tank itself had many lead patches and a quantity of rust flakes in it. The vent for fueling was merely a puncture at the top of the tank. The new tank will include a larger in diameter copper pipe that we have to orchestrate under the engine. I say "orchestrate" as it is difficult to get under the whole engine in order to make exact measurements for a top of the tank vent. Certainly part of the work on this engine will include beefier skids, perhaps 2 x 6s or 2 x 8s so there is greater visibility and access to the new tank once it is in place.

Gantry crane in place with chain fall made working on this 7 HP Economy engine possible; in fact, we picked it up in order to access the gas tank. The tank was deteriorated, and we ill be making a new one. Here we see instructor Doug Kimball who co-taught the class with Russ Welch. The two taught our previous three consecutive Saturdays class; this class was a one day eight hour class. Both these guys have a wealth of knowledge about these early gas engines having been long time collectors and gas engine presenters at Maine Antique Power Association meets.

We did not succeed in starting this engine, as we ran out of time. Our original class was three consecutive Saturdays, but this time round we couldn't find students who could forfeit this time so we went with a one day class. And, of course, we couldn't accomplish as much in the eight hours we had this time round. A number of problems were revealed. In re-inserting the cylinder the top ring broke; on this particular cylinder there were pins on rings two and three but not on number one. Nevertheless we  thought that we could achieve enough compression if we re-arranged the intact rings we had positioning them at the top and middle of the cylinder. We re-inserted the cylinder and thought we would give it a go. There were other issues with the new igniter seal  that we had replaced but nevertheless leaked and lost compression. We also had issues with a build up of red paint that effected our governor system. The plan is to go back and remove that material and make it move freely.

This is the Gantry crane in place. The lifting rig includes an ingenious metal pipe construction that keep the engine level when lifting created by Russ Welch, one of our veteran mechanics. this in combination with nylon strands made positioning the engine child's play.

The head is off. We had to heat those nuts with a torch in order to get them off.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bruce D. Fleming

Bruce D. Fleming
Recently, the museum received the donation of a collection of homemade crystal radios created by the late Bruce Fleming.
Born at Booth Memorial Hospital in Boston in 1943, he was son of Hartwell and Irene Fleming, Lieutenant Colonels in the Salvation Army in Portland, ME. Shortly thereafter the Fleings were transferred to Rochester and Concord, NH where Bruce attended elementary school. Eventually, they transferred to Philadelphia where Bruce graduated from Northeast High School.

Shortly thereafter he sought out a career in electronics finding employment at Technitrol Engineering in Philadelphia where he worked with the Air Force on the Gemini Space Project. In 1966 he entered The Salvation Army College for Officer Training located in the Bronx, NY. After serving fourteen years with The Salvation Army, Bruce worked for General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton, CT for eighteen years. He was a sonar electrician working on construction of the country’s nuclear submarines. After retirement from Electric Boat, Bruce and his wife, Lorraine, served as officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He previously served as Administrator of The Salvation Army Day Care Center in Dorchester, MA and Assistant Administrator of The Salvation Army Booth Hospital in Cleveland, OH.

A skilled photographer and model builder, Bruce also spent time building crystal radios. His interest in crystal radios began with his reading of Boys’ Life as an eight year old. He eventually shared his passion for radio building with workshops for kids until his death in 2013.

As Fleming has said, “it’s a hobby of childhood simplicity and flavor at first glance, but it possesses technical complexity that creates a never-ending quest for resolution and design variation.” “I build crystal radios,” said Fleming, “you’ve heard of them…maybe you made one or listened to one sixty years ago. It’s an awkward collection of homely parts that seem to have no relationship to one another, yet they draw a radio station to your ear. Interestingly, all radios today use the same design as the crystal sets of 1920.

What sets these beauties apart is that you don’t plug them into the wall socket…they use no batteries…no solar batteries, yet they are always “ON”. It’s the ultimate “green” radio. They draw their required energy from the electro-magnetic field created by the radio station. That “field” is the pull you feel when you bring a magnet near metal. I’d like to have a car that does that!

One of my radios has a base made from an old oak stair riser. I wound a tuning coil with Litzendraht wire from Germany; we call it Uberlitz because we like it. Then added a variable capacitor from Montana…a few switches removed from WWII military gear…Galena “crystal” from South America…and so on.  That radio won the 2004 International Crystal Radio Contest by receiving 141 stations.

Donation of Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collection, 2015
The hobby offers an opportunity to design and create radios with a direct connection to the days of early inventors such as Nicholas Tesla. It affords the ability to follow the progression of electronic development and see the positive and negative effects brought on by a century of change. This world looks today like it has experienced drastic change when; in fact, there has been little change.  




Radio Buff Tunes in Yesteryear

The following is an article that appeared about the late Bruce Fleming of Old Orchard Beach, ME. Mrs. Lorraine Fleming has donated examples of her late husband's homemade radios.

Radio Buff Tunes in Yesteryear ( Valley News Dispatch, February 25, 2007)

He builds crystal radios with antique components.

By Tamara Sampson, for the Valley News Dispatch

People often question what it would be like to travel back in time to an era where things were much different. In a small way, that’s what Lower Burrell resident Bruce Fleming does when he works with his crystal radios, which were used in the early 1900s.

A wooden tea box becomes the armature for one of Bruce Fleming's radios.

C.R. Gold tea box crystal radio.

Observe the cat's whisker to the right.

Fleming’s hobby of building crystal radios has led him to scavenge antique shops and eBay packages that advertise a box of “old wires and stuff” someone found in his late father’s attic. He’s hoping to find components such as coils, wire and old capacitors to build the radios.

A cigar box crystal radio.


Although he can buy newer wires for his hobby, the old fashioned components lend to the authenticity of the radios.

“I have one authentic radio, and all the components of that particular radio were built with antique parts,” he said. “It’s as close to what they experienced in 1920 as you can get. It took me over a year to find the parts over the Internet and at antique shops.”

This vintage tuning capacitor is one of many that the Late Bruce Fleming sought and found
for his crystal radio constructions. Donated by Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collection
The tool that pulls the components together, making them successfully tune in a radio station, is an LC meter. An LC meter measures inductance and capacitance, according to Fleming. He described inductance as the value of a coil, and capacitance is what makes the radio sound the station that the coil’s tuned to.

“For example, if you’re listening to AMK radio,” Fleming said. “Say you want to listen to KDKA, You’d want a coil with the number of windings tuned to the frequency 1020, but the capacitor would resonate that coil and make it tune in KDKA.

The radio’s ability to harvest radio waves in the air, using no electricity or battery power, is the reason it continues to be used---especially in military settings.

Fleming said crystal radios were popular in the early 1900s, but around 1922, the tube was invented. That changed the future of radio.

However, during World War II, the crystal radio was crucial. Fleming said GIs built crystal, or foxhole, radios---they are simply wire wrapped around a toilet paper roll with other attachments they would have had readily available.

This foxhole radio is one of Fleming's making, although it mixes elements of the original type including a single edge razor blade, pencil lead, and a safety pin to recreate the "cat's whisker". It also includes more durable materials like the PVC pipe for a coil rather than a toilet paper roll. These sets were ubiquitous during WWII as Fleming points out as they were easily constructed and could be hidden. Donated by Lorraine Fleming, Willowbrook Collections.
“The crystal is made up of a rusty razor blade and pencil lead out of a regular pencil and hooked to a safety pin,” he said.

 Crystal radios were the lifeline for Germans who wanted to get news on the war. Tube radios could be detected by the Gestapo and were therefore dangerous to use.

“tube radios emit an oscillation that can be heard by another receiver,” Fleming said. “When the German army would come through town, they looked for people who had radios. They went by houses with receivers and could hear oscillation in the house.

“The foxhole radio did not oscillate, so you could have it running, and no one could detect it. It’s a way during that period of history that people could listen to the BBC or Radio Europe and hear the news without worrying about detection.”

Fleming’s affinity for the inner workings of electronics led him to jobs with the Gemini and Apollo space programs in the 1960s and contract work as an electrical technician on Navy nuclear submarines from 1980 to 1998.

Now a major with the New Kensington Salvation Army, he uses crystal radios to illustrate the radio waves in the air in his sermons.


Monday, October 12, 2015

New Crystal Radio Set Collection Exhibit, Donation from the late Bruce Fleming, Old Orchard Beach, October 5, 2015

Recently, Willowbrook received the donation of homemade crystal radio sets created by the late Bruce Fleming. His wife, Mrs. Lorraine Fleming of Old Orchard Beach has seen that the museum was offering crystal radio set building workshops, as part of our summer history camp each camper created their own wood based radio set. As we go forward with this seem, we have received much assistance from Rex Harper of Limerick who actually markets a Ham Radio Set on the Internet and has had much experience with radio kit building. In conjunction with this summer's program, he built a AM transmitter for the purpose of generating radio to pick up on our crystal radio sets at the museum. The geography, or rather topography, is not right for picking up the very weak AM radio signals available in this area. With Mr. Fleming's collection of his own handmade radios that include a razor blade trench radio, cat whisker type crystal sets as week as more sophisticated vacuum tube set ups, we will be inspired to make more crystal radios. We will be scheduling a building class soon, and this will be announced on our website:

Summer History Camp, August, 2015: We made crystal radios from purchased components. We set up a AM transmitter for the purpose of making the strongest AM radio station available to our radio builders at the museum campus that is unfortunately place for picking up AM radio and cell service.

Here we see a loopstick tuner; we will improve upon this for our next radio build.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ash Sunday at Willowbrook, September 27, 10-5

Ash Sunday Showcases the Wood's Beauty and the Tree's Enemy

Craftspeople, woodworkers and scientists are gathering at Willowbrook Museum in Newfield Sept. 27 to demonstrate traditional skills using ash wood. They will also talk about the impending infestation of a ash-killing beetle that has decimated forests west of Maine.

The series of hands-on activities, demonstrations, and workshop talks are sponsored by Willowbrook, Francis Small Heritage Trust and Forest Works!

"It's a way to connect people with the Maine environment," says Bob Schmick, director of Willowbrook Museum. "We live with the woods all around us, but we all get into our groove, and how often do we get to connect with the woods and trees?"

The day features a "great" lineup of activities, says Alison Truesdale, executive director of Francis Small Heritage Trust. “Part of the trust’s mission is helping people appreciate the natural world – not just the science behind it, but cultural aspects. Working with Willowbrook is an example of the collaborative effort the trust is hoping to do more of now and in the future.”

Ash Sunday
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday Sept. 27
WIllowbrook Museum, Newfield

Mark Young of Wells, owner of Black Ash Pack Basket, will demonstrate basektmaking and other rustic creations.
Bob Schmick of Eddington will demonstrate making of a simple shaving horse
Frank Vivier of West Newfield will demonstrate bow-making
Daniel Eaton of Denmark will demonstrate a work-in-progress canoe or small boat restoration

Penobscot storytelling:
Ron Prevoir of Shapleigh will bring regalia and museum artifacts in a story-telling of the ash tree and the Penobscot creation story.

Adrian Knox of Shapleigh and his team of oxen will twitch out ash logs from the museum's woodlot for use in firewood cutting.

Emerald ash borer and girdling trap trees
Colleen Teerling, forest entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, will talk about the impending infestation of the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has been decimating forests from the Midwest to New York and has been found in a county in New Hampshire 30 miles west of Newfield. Teerling will demonstrate the proper technique for girdling a trap tree in the spring to help track and manage an infestation.
Oliver Markewicz, Maine District forester will talk about telltale signs of the emerald ash border.

Children's hands-on activities
Ash firewood cutting with buck saw and two-person crosscut.
Archery with ash bows and handmade arrows - supervised by Frank Vivier
Augering peg holes with brace and bit - supervised by Bob Schmick

Apple cider pressing with old fashioned mills
Cooking in Victorian kitchen
Firewood splitting with 19th century splitter