Aberdeen Proving Ground facility restores Army treasures
February 28, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 28, 2012) -- When the U.S. Army Center of Military History has a priceless artifact in need of restoration it calls on a group of professional machinists and fabricators located here at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Located in Bldg. 3070, the restoration facility is funded and supported by CMH and the APG Garrison, and operated by contractor Engineering/Documentation Systems, Inc., or EDSI.
Its employees are highly skilled in the art of rebuilding artifacts from the inside out. According to project manager Manuel Torres, this means everything from crafting a small missing part on a tank hatch using designs and specifications acquired after careful research, and removing old paint from artifacts using high-pressure hoses in the facility's state-of-the-art blasting chamber, to duplicating paints and decals used in the artifact's original design.
Torres oversees the group of just five personnel, all of whom are specialists in macro artifact
restoration. He is a former command sergeant major of the Ordnance Mechanical Maintenance
School and Ordnance civilian who elected to remain in the Aberdeen area after base realignment and closure relocated the corps to Fort Lee, Va.
An EDSI employee since March 2011, Torres says the building, the facility's second home after the first was torn down, is one of the few former Ordnance classrooms left standing on the installation after the massive demolition and construction due to Defense Base Closure and
Realignment Commission, or BRAC.
"It was very well cared for and in good shape," Torres said of the building, formerly a vehicle maintenance training site for Ordnance Officers and warrant officers.
"Working here makes me feel like a part of the corps remains."
He pointed out that environmental considerations prompted restoration efforts several years ago to combat runoff from older artifacts displayed outdoors. Along with that effort, the CMH is focused on preserving rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts for future generations.
Water used in the blasting process is recycled, cleaned and reused through a system of special
pipes and water filtration tanks connected to the blasting chamber, he said.
"Waste products are turned over to hazardous waste authorities. Other than that, nothing leaves this facility."
With 40,000 psi water pressure coming out of the hoses at about 130 degrees, safety is paramount and Torres said the facility coordinates with garrison safety officials and firefighters
to ensure standards are met.
On the fabrication side of the mission, Torres called his personnel "amazingly skilled," especially Anthony Beard, a veteran who learned sheet metal and mechanics during his four years in the Air Force.
"CMH sets the repair and restoration requirements," Torres said, adding that when required, he conducts the research for particular parts, then gives the information and photos, if available,
"And then he works his magic," he said. "I haven't seen anything Anthony can't repair or re-fabricate. It's an invaluable talent because we can blast it or paint it but if it's not repaired, it's no good to us."
When artifacts arrive, they are inspected for broken or missing parts, he noted. Because they are no longer in production any missing parts have to be fabricated.
Currently, Beard is working on a six-month project, restoring an SU-100 World War II-era Soviet tank destroyer. Working in a booth, surrounded by shelves of sheet and scrap metals, blow torches and various other tools of his trade, Beard has had to fabricate nuts and bolts, storage boxes and a rear shroud for the vehicle, with much more work to be done. He said he loves the job.
"The best part is seeing it after it's finished and knowing I had something to do with that," he said.
Torres praises his crew, who includes Richard Warner, Joe Wheeler and Leroy Sims, as "slow and meticulous."
"They take their time, they think safety and they get it right the first time," he said. "This is a really interesting and fascinating job and I've learned so much I feel like a kid in college," he added. "To be able to disassemble a piece of equipment from the 1920s and rebuild it to exact specifications tells you the caliber of talent these guys have."
"It's good for the community to see what we do to preserve military history."