Working At the Museum: A Typical Day's Work the Museum

Working at the museum, there was always plenty to do. Some days had special activities or projects. But, some duties needed doing every day. Here is my typical workday routine at the museum.

Working at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry

Coleen and I worked at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry (MATI), in Wasilla, Alaska. I would start work about an hour before the doors officially opened. My days usually started and ended about the same.

My first tasks were getting the museum ready to open. I would unlock and open the front doors, turning the lights on as I went through the entry. I'd make my way to the office on the second floor, turning on lights and checking to see that things looked as they should as I went. I would start a pot of coffee. I would check to see if there was anything special going on; someone special I was supposed to meet with; or a group visiting. Usually there would be no one else in the building at this time.

By then, whoever was running the office and gift shop would be arriving. (Some of the time I worked there, this was my wife, Coleen.) Volunteers and members of the board of directors might also be arriving. I would have a quick cup of coffee and discuss the day with other staff, volunteers, and board members. This would get us all on the same track and I would learn of anything special they wanted me to do.

Then, I'd head down stairs and open the main gallery. I'd turn on the lights, and open and check all the exits as I moved toward the rear of the building. As I proceeded I perused the displays, looking for anything that may be amiss or out of place. I then went through the restoration shop, turned on a light, but not all the lights.

I would stop by the battery charging station and turn on a battery charger if needed. There were 100s of pieces of equipment that had batteries on the grounds. There were always batteries in need of maintenance and charging.

Exiting the building through the rear door from the shop into the yard, I would walk around the side of the main building. I would walk past the covered displays with the churn drill, Bristol Bay fishing boats, and the small equipment area. Looping around, I would view the helicopter, the fighter jet, the hydraulic mining jumbos, plows, potato diggers, and the tractor row.

Next, I would head back up a row with fire engines and fishing boats, down a row with miscellaneous vehicles, past the railroad snow plow/spreader, and back up past the railroad car display. As I walked, I would pick up any stray garbage that might have been dropped or blown in, would look for anything that might be amiss, or anything that might need attention.

I would unlock the caboose on the end of the string of coupled rail cars, and proceed in through the five or six cars, turning on lights and observing the displays. At the far end of the cars, I would unlock the entrance door and go out the train.

It was then back to enter the side of the main building. I would announce to whoever was taking admission that I was going to open the front gates. I would walk out to the main yard and picnic area, raise the American flag, and head to the front gate to officially open the museum for the day.

During the day, depending on the season, I might mow lawn, weed eat, cut brush, and pull weeds. I might shovel snow, scrape ice, plow the driveway and sand the walkways. I might rake leaves and cut down dead annuals, or trim trees and plant flowers. There was always yard and grounds upkeep, and I usually did this in the morning.

I enjoyed working on most any kind of machinery, and after lunch I would work on one of the thousands of pieces of equipment on the grounds. This could mean trying to get a bull dozer started, cleaning up an old chainsaw, fixing a flat tire on a fire truck, super gluing the mouthpiece on a hand crank phone, welding and fabricating a part, or freeing a rust frozen control on an old tractor. This was one of my favorite parts of working at the museum.

Many of the pieces that did run, weren’t run often. If I felt like it, I was free to start, run, and exercise any of these pieces to keep them in running order.

There was also work building new exhibits and displays, hanging shelves, wiring new lighting, and a host of other jobs in and around the buildings. There was more work than I could ever keep up with, always more to do. After the basics were taken care of, unless there was a special project or event, I was welcome to chose what I wanted to do. I always kept busy.

Toward the end of the afternoon, it was time to do the closing rituals. I would clean the restrooms, push the 40-inch dust mop through the main gallery, and empty the waste baskets. I would walk up to the warehouse and make sure it was locked, take the flag down on the way back, and check with the gift shop to see if there were still people in the museum. I would go backwards through my opening procedure, paying special attention to vehicle doors that hadn’t been shut securely, and other things curious visitors may have investigated. I add a special stop at an unused side door to make sure it hadn’t been unlocked during the day.

As a safety measure, I also made sure all the battery chargers were turned off. We never left a battery on a charger over night.

When all was secure, I would stop up at the office, note what I had accomplished in my log, and do my time card. Once again, I would touch base with any staff, volunteers, and members of the board of directors who were there. We'd chat about the day, discuss the day to come, and discuss any future coming events that needed planning or attention. I would turn off the coffee pot, the lights, and lock the door as I left at the end of my day working at the museum.


Coleen's comments: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article about working at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. Even on days when a board member had a special job for him, when there was a group function, or a fundraising event, he still did most of the things he mentions above every day he worked at the museum.

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