The guns in the collection, not unlike the men who once used them, are no longer quite the formidable specimens they once were. In accordance with federal law, all have been deactivated, holes cut into their high-pressure chambers, their barrels welded shut at the breeches. Movie special-effects technicians, however, are able to get the pieces to convincingly mimic firing, complete with flame and smoke shooting from the barrels and faux recoiling action.
For many years, veterans volunteered at the museum to work on the equipment, laying hands once again on metal that conjured images of themselves as younger men undergoing the watershed experience of military service.
As the years passed, however, that cohort has tended to "lose interest or move away or die off or get sick," Craig Michelson said.
Nowadays, the 10 active volunteers who assist the museum, which has never solicited money from the public, are no longer of the same vintage as the equipment. Rather, they are younger enthusiasts -- a dentist, a NASA engineer, a salesman -- who can only imagine what it was like to fire the cannons and drive the vehicles on battlefields.