Hello everyone and thank you for visiting the Collings Foundation website and this new blog I am starting up. My name is Colin Spencer and I’m a senior at the Bancroft School in Worcester. I am writing now to tell you about my experiences and views that I’ve had working here in the past few weeks.
For my whole life I’ve had a fascination for vehicles, especially cars and war machines. Growing up I would talk all the time about old cars and World War II with my dad (in fact, I still do!) The sheer beauty of the machines and what they were able to accomplish simply blew my mind and continues to.
Come the end of senior year, I had to partake in the senior coop program where kids go off to help organizations with various projects and then report to the school about their experience. When I was looking through the catalogue of organizations and projects that needed to be done, the Collings Foundation instantly grabbed my attention and I knew it was what I wanted to do. I had never heard about it before, but the fact it had World War II planes, tanks and old cars had me sold. Along with this, I was intrigued that they had all of this in Stow, which isn’t the closest to my town of Whitinsville (in Northbridge), but still beats traveling all of the way to Boston or out of state. A few weeks later I had been selected to work there and I set up a date to make contact with Hunter Chaney, the Director of Marketing and my mentor.
Initially I was thrown off when I first pulled up to the parking lot. The main building was an old barn right next to a large hanger, all surrounded by huge fields and woods. However, once I met Hunter and he showed me around I couldn’t have been more excited to start working there. I learned of the Collings Foundation’s mission to bring history to life in an interactive manner and was blown away with their incredible collection. It was one thing to look at pictures of the planes and tanks on line but to see them in person was a whole different experience. You can imagine my excitement when he let me inside some of the tanks and planes to see what it was like to work in them during World War II.
A few days later I was starting up my work cleaning the vehicles which isn’t the most exciting activity to do, but I didn’t mind removing dust to make them look like they rolled right off of the assembly line. Also, when you are cleaning tanks like the Sherman or planes like a TBM Avenger, it isn’t so bad.
Through this process of getting my hands on these vehicles and going inside them, I could understand better the conditions for what soldiers had to deal with in World War II. Despite the tanks and planes being very large on the outside, they were very tight and cramped on the inside. In the TBM Avenger (picture on left), I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get from the entry port in the stern to the co-pilot’s seat. Getting into the ball turret seat was even harder as I had to hoist my self up with the help of various switch boxes and solid object that would not shift under my weight. I did leave the site having bumped myself a few times against the hard metal interiors (World War II vehicles weren’t designed with comfort in mind). Still, I got to see what it was like to be a soldier in these vehicles during the war which I would never in my wildest dreams have thought I would get to feel.
When I picked up work the following Monday, I got to experience what it is was like for early Indy car driver’s from the 1920s to the 1950s while cleaning them. Again, we’ve come a long way with our technology as many of the early cars had a pressure pump that had to be pumped during the race, the brake outside the car a lever and the spinning drive train on the floor in between the driver’s legs. I also learned that modern-day race cars are custom designed for the driver when I tried and failed to fit into Michael Andretti’s race car and had my legs cramped up against the steering wheel. I’m not much of a racing fan but I began to appreciate what the old racers what compete with and even what today’s drivers deal with (more than just left turns).
Since then I have been cleaning old yet incredible cars like a 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom 1 Phaeton, 1935 Packard Model 1208 and even a 1940 Cadillac V16 owned by Al Capone. Talk about unique! It was surreal to say the least sitting behind the wheel of it as it was the definition of luxury, helping the name Cadillac to become the highest level of any machine (a la the P 51 Mustang was the Cadillac of fighter planes during World War II).
Capone’s 1940 Cadillac V-16
What keeps me coming back each day is the great power that Collings Foundation has to transport you to another era and see how times have changed. You can see the historical time lines of with vehicles like the 1901 Oldsmobile Curved Dash, more or less an electric horse carriage, the 1913 Model T, the classic era cars of the 1920s and 30s up to modern day race cars. The same can be said for the planes and tanks with the 1909 Bleriot No. XI ABII, the first plane to fly across the English Channel up to a T-33 Shooting Star jet from 1952 and from an old French World War I tank to a M1 Sherman from World War II. Even more incredible is that all the machines there actually run and are put into action on Father’s Day, (put in other dates). If you ever get the chance to visit this great place hidden away in Stow, do it. It is truly something special.
Thank you for reading this blog which I hope you have enjoyed. Stay tuned for my next entry, Ford vs. Chevy, the start of a rivalry!