From Mound House to Manhattan, Part III

This is the third and final segment in the series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.

I barely had time to recover from packing up the die shells and plasters in Nevada (see “From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II“) before it felt like the trucks were on their way. Back on the East Coast and less than a month to go before we hoped to have everything here, it was time to put the last piece of the puzzle in place: the trucks. In the initial stages of planning, we were told that a few months’ lead-time is far too long, and that a month or less is needed. I was to learn that even this amount of time is eonic in nature—as you, too, will learn below. After pricing out four different logistics companies, Schneider National seemed like the most competent and reasonably priced for our needs. I had initially scheduled the three tractor-trailers to be picked up in Mound House on June 21, 22, and 23, in order to arrive in succession on June 28, 29, and 30.

As the first day for pickup approached, however, I soon realized how the trucking industry operated. Many logistics companies, in fact, do not necessarily own their own trucks and instead act as brokers between the drivers and the customers. This is, perhaps, the main reason why they cannot plan so far in the future—it is not theirs to plan. Just like the customer (in this case, the ANS), logistics companies are largely at the whim of privately-owned trucking companies or independent drivers. If a trucker doesn’t decide to pick up the load, the load doesn’t get picked up. The 17th turned into the 18th before becoming the weekend, still without a quote. Finally, just before 11 a.m. on the morning of June 21, we received a bite from a private trucking company. I received the paperwork and everything seemed good to go. Meanwhile, Rob Vugteveen—my trusted colleague from Part II— and Josiah—our hired forklift operator—waited diligently for any sign of an 18-wheeler. They ate lunch, then waited some more. The day turned nearly into night without a trace.

Unfortunately, the driver arrived as the sun set. However, we were able to convince him to stay local for the night and pick up the material first thing in the morning. Here is a video of some of the first pallets being loaded onto the truck, shot by Rob:

In less than two hours, the first truck was loaded with 26 full pallets. Knowing that this was the heaviest of the loads that would traverse the country—and fearful that he might be over the legal weight limit—the driver immediately went to get weighed in. 65,000 pounds! (Just 15,000 pounds below the 80,000-pound maximum.)

The second truck gave us no time to regroup. Rob was barely through a celebratory snow cone when we received word that the second truck was nearly there! By 3 p.m., it had rolled into Mound House and within a few hours was also completely packed. Rob and Josiah were both home by dinner, while our two truckers began a slow and arduous journey across most of the United States.

At this point, you should be reading about the third truck picking up the last load in Mound House. However, as noted above, the trucking industry is rather unpredictable and this did not materialize in the order which we had hoped. Instead, silence. While the first two were seemingly quick and easy, no one wanted to touch the third load. Despite the nonchalance of our Schneider National representative, apparently, we were quite lucky to have found those first two trucks as easily as we had. From what I know understand, the upper Nevada area is somewhat of a desert for truck drivers (pun intended) and, of the few that are actually there, not that many want to come to Manhattan or Brooklyn. Go figure!

On the morning of Monday, July 28, at the break of dawn, I made contact with the first driver, who had been in the area since the early weekend…waiting. Much to our surprise, the first driver to arrive was the second driver to have picked up material in Mound House. Somehow, the second driver drove past the first! That, however, was not of concern (with the exception of where, exactly, was the first driver?). Our concern at that time was to get the truck into place and unload the 26 pallets in its trailer.

Getting the truck into place was my biggest worry from the start of this project. I, and I alone, knew how narrow the street was where the loading dock is located. It is very narrow—basically an alleyway. The only solace I had and kept telling myself was that there is a loading dock there, so a truck must be able to get to it. Meeting up with the driver, he requested I get into the cab with him to guide him around the block. Even these wider avenues proved difficult. With the time of reckoning literally around the corner, I knew that if the driver couldn’t get the truck into place that the day would get so much worse—essentially having to unload the truck entirely by hand.

We approached the street and the driver nearly coasted by it—true testament to the narrow nature of the street. By the time we came to a stop, we were directly adjacent to the street. The driver stared it down for what seemed like all morning, but was probably a solid minute—cigarette hanging from his lips. Plotting. Navigating in his mind where he wanted the truck to go. At one point, he literally had to jump out of the cab to yell certain expletives at the many annoyed commuters in cars that we were holding up. The driver did not care, and let them know it. In the end, he felt that he could make the turn.

He backed the truck up, to the further chagrin of those we held up. Some sped around us, but no matter. If words can explain how he maneuvered this turn: we essentially had to turn left the go right; at one point the cab was beyond the road was aimed for, but the trailer was whipping around into place; essentially converting the 90° turn into a complete 180°. The straighten out amidst a row of parked cars. By this time, John Thomassen, curatorial assistant at the ANS, had arrived to help unload. As we made the turn, I could see him near our destination, both hands on his head as he helplessly watched the driver pull off this incredible maneuver. I had respect for big-rig drivers before this, but watching it in action—literally in the passenger’s seat—brought my respect to new heights. The geometry involved in a simple turn is often counterintuitive.

That turn was only half the battle. Next, we had to back the truck up into the loading dock (Figs. 1 and 2).

Figure 1. ANS Curator, Jesse Kraft, hoping that the first truck of MACO die shells will fit into the loading dock.
Figure 2. Kraft guides the truck into place.

While the turn seemed like the hard part, perhaps the fact that it took him three attempts to pull this off—while only one to make the turn—shows how difficult this truly was. The truck was in place. Again, getting to this point, in my mind, was the hard part and gave an incredible sense of relief seeing the truck in place. More importantly, now that I knew that one driver could do it, the other two had no excuse not to pull of the same stunt.

Figure 3. Kraft unloads the very first pallets into Brooklyn.

Next was to unload several tons of numismatic material (Fig. 3). Just prior to the arrival of the material, the ANS purchased two pallet jacks and a hand truck for the occasion. I had plenty of recent experience with these whilst in Nevada, but John had never handled a pallet jack before—though he caught on quickly. Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg graciously offered his help this morning, and we quickly realized that we needed to keep him away from the pallet jacks if we wanted to unload the truck in a timely manner. Aside from minor elevator troubles—the closest freight elevator wasn’t working that day, and, at one point, the working elevator dropped a foot below the basement level and wouldn’t rise again—unloading went smoothly. About four hours later, we had the first third of the MACO die shells unloaded and in storage.

Two days later, June 30, the second truckload arrived and was nearly as eventful. The second driver, Sufyan, was an incredible help to us. Sufyan was much less sure of himself than the first driver. He didn’t think it could be done but, knowing that it was, in fact, accomplished just two days prior, I repeatedly had to remind him that it was possible. He, too, pulled off the turn with a wider-than-life turn and, more impressively, was able to back the truck up into a better position in only one attempt! In addition to Sufyan’s help and, instead of Gilles, Chief Curator Peter van Alfen offered his assistance. Furthermore, we had the luxury of using the closer elevator, which essentially opens up to the front door of the space we occupy in the building. This shaved several hundred feet of travel per pallet and, as a result, we were able to unload the truck in about three hours.

If you recall, we had three truckloads of material but only two trucks picked anything up. The first two trucks were completely picked up, delivered, and unloaded and we had yet to have heard from anyone who wanted to touch the third. Sufyan, as he was leaving, mentioned that he would be interested in going back to Nevada but he was either redirected by his dispatchers or wasn’t necessarily telling the truth. Either way, we had until July 17 to have the facilities at Mound House completely emptied.

As if out of nowhere, in the late morning of July 5, I received an email from my contact at Schneider National that a driver was, literally, on his way to pick up the material. As quickly as possible, we needed to get the contract signed and, perhaps most importantly, make sure that Rob and Josiah were available for a last-minute load (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The last pallet being loaded onto the final truck in Mound House.

Long story, short: the third and final truck arrived on the morning of July 12. For several reasons, however, we decided to bring this load to our storage facility in Brooklyn, rather than to our headquarters in Manhattan as originally planned. That said, this series should have been titled “From Mound House to Brooklyn,” but we didn’t know—plus the alliteration of the current title is catchier. Either way….

By the end of it, we were pros at unloading tractor-trailers and whizzes with the pallet jacks. I would like to add that, since we couldn’t count on the third driver being anywhere near as much help as Sufyan was, Peter, John, and I recruited ANS Photographer Alan Roche to help as the fourth person. However, Alan didn’t show up until, most conveniently for him, mere minutes after the last pallet was put into place. His contributions for the day were to document the sweaty messes that the three of us were by the end of it all (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Peter van Alfen, John Thomassen, and Jesse Kraft recuperating after moving the final pallets into place.

Nonetheless, the MACO die shells were officially repatriated with the ANS in New York City! Many of the die shells were, in fact, created in the Big Apple prior to MACO’s move to Danbury, Connecticut in 1973! This momentous occasion will allow the Society to begin completely cataloging the die shells, to compare them to the struck medal, and be able to build a bigger picture into the production methods of the Medallic Art Co. While this is the final segment in this series, do stay tuned for further updates from the ANS regarding the MACO Archives.