The upcoming Oct. 1 Trinity Site Open House will feature the beginning of renovations to the McDonald/Schmidt Ranch House exterior and new informational displays in the interior.
The ranch house, where the hemispheres of the atomic bomb were assembled, will be rehabilitated in phases by the Cornerstones Community Partnerships, working under a cooperative agreement with White Sand Missile Range Cultural Resources Program, who were recently awarded the Secretary of Defense top performer award.
The cultural resource program is responsible for ensuring historic properties like the ranch house are managed in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act.
“As a component of the Trinity National Historic Landmark the McDonald/Schmidt Ranch House is a high priority for the program,” said WSMR archaeologist Bill Godby.
He said although the ranch house was fully restored in 1983 and again in 1995, it’s now been over 20 years since any significant restoration has occurred. Godby and his team were given the opportunity to work with Cornerstones Community Partnerships, a New Mexico non-profit corporation aimed at preserving historic sites, to get the ranch house back into shape and to apply state of the art preservation methods and treatments. The opportunity came about through the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Ecological Studies Unit agreement.
Since 1986, Cornerstones has helped transform 380 architectural treasures, historic sites, structures, and churches.
Cornerstones prides itself in teaching and using only traditional building methods while training youth and adults directly using a hands-on approach.
Currently, there are five paid interns, three volunteers and two New Mexico State University Civil Engineering students, working on the project along with the Cornerstones trained staff.
For this upcoming open house, Godby said he hopes to have the entryway ramp, porch and railings and the back exit repaired as well as stabilizing the masonry of the cellar. He said safety for visitors will be key and taking care of things like extruding nails, replacing them with ribbed shanked nails that won’t pop out of the wood throughout the years will be a priority. Renovations will be shut down to accommodate the open house and all areas will be open to visitors during the open house.
“We really want to focus on improving the ingress and egress of the ranch house to ensure a safe visit for the thousands who make the long trip out to Trinity site,” Godby said.
The follow-on project will occur in 2017 and will include a focus on the exterior stucco, gutters and drainage and interior restoration.
The interior of the house will also feature new displays and posters.
WSMR Public Affairs Intern Luciano Vera said the idea to update the information inside the ranch house came about during the last open house held in 2015.
“The displays at the Ranch House had to be redone because they didn’t tell the full story,” Vera said. “We wanted to talk about what wasn’t in the pamphlet they receive when they visit. We needed to tell a story but we wanted it to be simple enough that it didn’t cause congestion.”
The house is over 70 years old with small rooms. Each open house brings out three to five thousand people. Vera worked with representatives from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Alan Carr, and retired LANL Engineer Rob Hermes, who provided vital information on trinitite, based on his studies from Trinity Site, to the Ray Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos New Mexico. He also worked closely with retired WSMR Public Affairs Specialist Jim Eckles. Eckles spearheaded the Trinity Site Open House during his time at WSMR and was recognized for opening the historic site to the public when he was inducted into the WSMR Hall of Fame.
“We had a lot of information to go off of,” Vera said. “It was just a matter of sifting and ensuring the displays told a story outside of the pamphlet.”
Vera said the clean room will feature information about how the scientists developed the bomb and display a timeline of the explosion. Each room will have six to 10 photos displayed that will tell a different story.
“The key part was the text in the photos and to reduce it to no more than two sentences in order to reduce standstill traffic at the house,” Vera said. “There are no tour guides at the open house so the goal of the restoration and revamp is to let people walk around and observe without creating a bottleneck inside.”
He said one of the biggest limitations to bringing in new displays to a historic home was the inability to drill holes to mount an object. The group settled on museum-style hooks and heavy duty easels with rubber floors to display the new posters.
The living room area and the clean room will have most of the displays up for the open house in October. The remaining displays will not be up until the April 2017 open house. Vera said eventually the “clean room” will also contain a display with the plutonium core that is four times the size of the original so visitors can get a closer look.
For information on volunteering for the restoration, call Jean Fulton at (575)-649-3265.