Volunteer discovers, restores 1948-era mess hall furniture | Features
FORT LEE, VA. – Thanks to the keen eye and passion of a volunteer for historical restoration, there is a new exhibit here at the Army Quartermaster Museum.
The items were discovered in a museum workshop by Lee Holland, a longtime postal worker who is now retired. “I dropped something rolling under a piece of furniture and looked up and saw it had the ‘USA’ stamped on it,” he said of the M-1903 mess table built by Tammany Industries, Indiana, in October 1948.
Holland said the piece was in dire condition and neglected since it was removed from a WWII bachelor officer’s building in 1998 that was demolished to make way for the Army Women’s Museum. Nobody realized that the table had any historical value.
With a little research, Holland learned that the table design was almost 100 years old and dates back to 1883. Realizing that it wasn’t just another piece of old furniture, he decided to redesign it so it could be used in the museum.
The legs and the frame of the table are made of cast iron and the table surface is made of hardwood – according to Holland, a “combination of chestnut, hickory and oak”. “They didn’t care about the mix of materials. It just had to be hardwood. “
Holland further described the condition of the table, saying its surface was damaged by paint and glue and the legs were covered with floor wax. He suspected it was never moved when the floor of the exhibition hall was cleaned because of its colossal weight. A team of seven was required for the move.
It took about 100 hours to restore the table. Holland said he completely redesigned the surface and legs to bring them back to their original state.
A table this year would also have brought ten M-1883 stools for soldiers to sit on while they ate. Holland found a couple of them on a property sale.
“The stools accompanied the standard exhibition hall table, with the most common configuration being five per side for teams,” according to an index card made for the Dutch exhibition. “There were chairs at each end of the table, one for NCOs (without weapons) and one for officers (with weapons).”
The stools were manufactured at the Jefferson Indiana Quartermaster Depot and were used with the tables from the early 1880s through 1950.
“I can’t find anywhere in the literature that the army made the table, but we know they made the stools,” said Holland.
The stools have been put together using different types of wood, including oak, maple, poplar and occasionally walnut. Holland spent about six hours each making them back to how they would have looked when they were in use. Originally they were rubbed in a natural oil.
“Sometime after 1900 the stools appeared in a painted charcoal back,” says the graphics card on the furniture. “Depending on the unit, stool seats were displayed in the classic branch service colors: yellow for cavalry, buff for quartermaster, red for artillery, blue for infantry, etc.”
In the middle of the stool is a fire plug-shaped block in which a soldier could put on a uniform cap while eating.
The tables had ten hooks on the underside from which the stools were hung after a meal.
Adjacent to the exhibition hall table and stools is a No. 1 space heater manufactured for the Quartermaster Corps in 1942 by Locke Stove Co., Kansas City, Missouri. It has been used to heat numerous types of buildings including exhibition halls, lounges, tidy spaces, and other structures. This type of heater was considered portable because it was quite light.
The space heater, table, and stools are placed near the museum’s classroom, and the table is likely to be used as a place for food and refreshments during retirement, promotions, and other museum events. The facility is currently closed to the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. No reopening date has been set.
Holland’s historical restoration work can also be seen in other areas of the QM Museum. Its main strength is military vehicles. He has converted a MB ¼ ton Jeep and WC56 command car from 1942, 1 ton trailer and WC54 ambulance from 1943, GMC CCKW353 from 1944, and others. A six-wheeled amphibious vehicle known as a “duck” (the actual nomenclature is DUKW) is part of a permanent exhibition.
Other vehicles in the collection are kept in an outbuilding behind his Chester home. He calls the structure his “Fleet,” and it too is a replica of military history in that it was built to exactly the specifications of the 1938 Army 700-314 Fleet Plans found at Fort Lee. They were intended for a former fleet building which, according to Holland, used to be along Shop Road on the post.