Preserve History And Dispose Of Asbestos

If you’ve ever visited Gettysburg, the turning point of the American Civil War, you’ve probably seen this illuminated topographical map. For years, it was housed in one of the many visitor centers in Gettysburg and demonstrated the progress of the 3-day battle with an amazing 1960s-era visualization using a 30 foot by 30 foot topographical map and many, many light bulbs. Even the coolest museum exhibits are eventually made obsolete, so this masterpiece of battlefield education is now up for sale. The starting price for this auction? Five dollars.

We’re going to be honest. We talked about using Hackaday’s influence (and funding to buy toys such as an AR Drone and the Oculus Rift) to put a project together to save this gigantic map. It’s got everything we love in a large-scale project: giant things weighing several tons, cool representations of data, and vintage electronics. Really, restoring this map is the perfect project for any (very) ambitious hacker. It also helps I live a half hour away from Gettysburg.

There’s a problem, though: the map is literally covered in asbestos. Also, it takes up four shipping containers and weighs 12 and a half tons. Basically, you’re bidding on a GSA auction to be responsible for a hazardous waste disposal project.

Now that our dreams of doing something really cool with five dollars have come crashing down, we’re turning it over to Hackaday readers. If you run an asbestos disposal company and are around South Central PA or Maryland, there may be some people who want to get in touch with you. Drop a note in the comments.

Really, we’d really just like someone to scan this 30-foot square map with a Kinect and a high-resolution camera, and maybe get our hands on a video of the hourly show when this map was still in operation. It should be possible to dig up some topographical data and replicate this map fairly easily… maybe someone should start a Kickstarter to build a smaller, non-asbestos laden copy?

41 thoughts on “Preserve History And Dispose Of Asbestos

  1. I realize posting even a vague idea of my geographical location means I’ll probably be doing an informal HaD meetup. Here’s the deal:

    Sometime in October (after Maker Faire NY), and either at the Flying Bull or that cool coffee shop 3 blocks west of the square. I’ll post some details in a links post. Sign up below.

  2. why don’t you make a mold with something and then use this mold to make a replika out of epoxy or something similar?
    also AFAIK asbestos is not toxic in itself. the dust/fibers produced when working with it is the really dangerous part.

    1. Taking a physical mold from that map will be dangerous because any deterioration or serious damage to the plaster will release asbestos into the air. It would have to be done inside a negative pressure room with a HEPA air filtration system.

      Even then, the mold would have to be thoroughly cleaned of any plaster debris before positives could be made, because if there is any original material embedded in the mold it has to be treated as contaminated waste.

  3. Scanning it in would be a great first step.

    From there, why not divide the 3D map of the structure into blocks and hold a sort of “potluck” where people can sign up to 3D print a section of the map, then join the blocks.

    Basically, it would be crowd-sourced historical preservation utilizing 3D printers. What’s cooler than that?

  4. Honorable.
    By “covered” in asbestos, could it mean that asbestos fibers have settled on it from another source? i.e. fibers that could be vacuumed up with a vacuum cleaner designed for such a task?

    Or, was it built with asbestos to keep the situation lights from burning it up?

    Also, I think the USGS should have topographical data for the site (probably for download). Would the terrain (other than structures or plant life) have changed in the past ~150 years?

    1. Following up, the next version could have a video projector(s) shining down on it to show the movements of troops and artillery fire synced with background video segments and re-enactments of the action.

    2. I really doubt the topo data has changed over the past 150 years.

      The surrounding area, though… that’s a bit different, and Gettysburg is an *extremely* well preserved battlefield.

      It’s probably just an issue of doing all the research that was done 60 years ago, again.

      Edit, after some thought: It probably changed a lot. They built a road through Pickett’s Charge.

    3. I remember reading an old Popular Mechanics magazine on Google Books. I think it was from late 1941, and discussed a variety of the landmines that Axis powers were using. Anyway, there was a bit there about making model railway landscape using… asbestos mache! For all your fireproof modelling needs.

    4. It’s old enough that the plaster it’s made from probably contains asbestos. I think they included it back then because the fibers helped reinforce the plaster, almost like fiberglass.

      They also put asbestos in drywall compound, pipe insulation (it looks like paper mache), vinyl floor tiles, and granular insulation (looks like cat litter).

      1. To be (I think) chronologically correct: They didn’t use asbestos because it was fiberglass-like.

        It was a genuinely awesome material for everything from plaster (more available and better than horse hair!) to asbestos concrete (roofs and siding that last forever!). It had good friction and heat-resistant qualities, and was used for brake linings. It was used as an insulative wrap on duct work and plumbing, because it was cheap, easy, and far more effective than anything else available. There are tons of really great uses for the stuff, and then it became known that it was toxic.

        In a time when “plastic” didn’t really exist as we know it today, asbestos made all sorts of things possible that would otherwise have been blanketly impossible.

        So it stands to reason that the model contains asbestos not because it is similar to any other material, but simply because it was the best material for the purpose available at the time.

    1. I agree. Asbestos is only dangerous when it’s disturbed. Coat the map with something, and you’ll only have to be careful when cutting or drilling. You can even do it right in the shipping containers. Then you can get to work replacing the lights with LEDs, and setting up a bunch of projectors to show battle lines.

  5. Surely a 3d scan and extremely high resolution photos so you can make copies.

    Then hermetically seal within a toughened glass enclosure, it is a part of history.

    Possibly a kickstarter project selling first small scale reproductions to fund scanning and then safe enclosure.

    Then donate the stabilised object to a suitable museum / collection.

    Naff site it pops up a messagebox to expire you, bet they paid a fortune for that.

  6. Well I’m not really an asbestos expert as i know no more that what has already been posted, so I just have some spare change to add. Some sort of poly resin/sealant would work (after all loose particulate has been removed, for better adhesion purposes, which would require some sort of well sealed vacuum) but unless sprayed very evenly would change the topography. Recreating via a camera/3d modeling might be almost a better solution at that point.

    Now my practical side has a bit to say, the way it reads to me is that you need to have a way to transport it and that is it. (you need to “aware” of the dangers of asbestos, not put up a plan of how to dispose of it) So you take the map out to a farm (or some equally large piece of private property) clean it up, scan it, then figure out what to do with it. Granted you will need to have some friend who is willing to store a big hunk of asbestos on there property, but in a well ventilated environment the immediate danger should be relatively low. (take this with a grain of salt as I have not had to deal with friable asbestos.)

    But yeah transporting that will be a pain in the butt, and considering the auction ends in 2 days someone might want to just contact the “custodians” and see if they will let you come in and image the thing to make a model… for Historical purposes. So that way someone is not stuck footing the disposal bill.

  7. The first thing that needs to be done is to decide what the goals are, is it to preserve the original work, duplicate just the data, or create something new based on the old work.

    If it is just to duplicate the data then you take photos of the existing one and use USGS maps to do the rest and toss the current one in the trash.

    If it is to preserve the original , then you have to ask where are you going to display it when done ? If the museum itself doesn’t want it then it will be hard to get someone else to display it.

    Newer models like this one are done with rigid core styrofoam and then shaped and painted, model railroad folks are very familiar with this form of building.

  8. I have had several projects were remediation of asbestos was involved. Like others had said, asbestos is only dangerous when can be made into dust that can be inhaled. Left alone there is no hazard. If you need to drill a hole or cut it, just wet it down while working on it to prevent dust and clean up with wet rag. When / if you do buy it, they will make you sign a chain of custody form. This will track who owns this item in case there are any lawsuits involving this item they know who is responsible for this item.

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