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Left to rot at Patna Museum for over a year, vintage roadroller rescued and restored

Ragini Bhat, curator at the Heritage Transport Museum near Gurugram, had said the Patna Museum 'let us all down' after raising hope of the heritage-loving fraternity and people in general.
Last Updated : 30 June 2024, 07:09 IST

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Patna: After rotting and rusting on the premises of Patna Museum for nearly 18 months, a British-era steamroller has been rescued by road construction authorities that capped a dramatic journey for the vintage machine that has survived against the odds.

The nearly century-old steam roadroller, manufactured by the John Fowler and Co in Leeds, England, was in possession of the Patna district board till about two years ago, lying decrepit in a corner of the now-razed Patna Collectorate.

It was brought to the the Patna Museum after a rescue operation on the intervening night of August 24-25, 2022, delighting heritage lovers and legacy transport experts in India and around the globe.

The district board had donated the roadroller to the museum for "proudly displaying" it as a "priceless gem" after its old buildings and other historic structures were demolished in 2022 as part of the Patna Collectorate redevelopment project.

While the museum authorities initially showed interest in its upkeep and restoration, the roadroller became a victim of government authorities' apathy a few months after its arrival despite it becoming a hit among young visitors and even spawning a selfie craze.

As time passed, vegetation took over its huge wheels. The monsoon rain last year further corroded its old body while the original chimney, which blew steam in its heyday, suffered damage and got separated from the machine.

This rare piece, however, had a change of fortune after it was recently rescued and given a basic restoration.

A senior official said the roadroller was taken out of the museum for keeping in custody of the road construction department.

Sources said it was transported out of the premises in a "hush-hush manner" recently after the museum closed for visitors for its ongoing redevelopment work.

The Patna Museum, home to a collection of rich artefact, rare paintings and 200 million-year-old fossilised tree trunks, has been closed for visitors since June 1 last year to undertake a revamp of its 96-year-old building.

The road construction department authorities have since provided the heritage roller the care and upkeep it needed.

"From Patna Museum, it was brought to the Central Mechanical Workshop of the road construction department in Patna where it is currently kept on a raised platform under an existing shed. A team of engineers and others worked on the basic restoration and we are proud to possess this rare gem that tells the story of early era of road construction," a senior department official told PTI.

The roller which, till recently, wore a decaying look now shines with a fresh coat of black paint, its chimney patched up and the body cleaned of at least the superficial layer of rust.

The rescue of this rare vintage machine has brought cheer among heritage lovers but many have criticised the Patna Museum for "abandoning" the "gifted roller".

"The Patna Museum failed in its duty to preserve even a donated item. A rare piece of history that any worthy museum would have proudly owned and displayed. The roller tells the story of Patna, the urban history, the making of the early roads when steam ruled both rail and road," Kolkata-based transport heritage expert Abhishek Ray told PTI.

However, people in the Bihar government and the road construction department, which lent dignity to the roadroller, "deserve full praise", he said.

Last year, heritage experts from India and the UK lamented its decay and poor upkeep despite lying in a "sanctuary of history" for a year and had appealed to the Patna Museum authorities to urgently take up its conservation, starting with putting a shed over it to at least arrest further deterioration.

Ragini Bhat, curator at the Heritage Transport Museum near Gurugram, had said the Patna Museum "let us all down" after raising hope of the heritage-loving fraternity and people in general.

The Heritage Transport Museum, home to some rare artefact, possesses two vintage roadrollers, a Marshall from 1914 rescued from West Bengal and a TELCO from the 1950s, she had said.

Derek Rayner, vice-chairman and steam archivist to the UK-based Road Roller Association, who has closely followed the rescue of the Patna roller, had earlier said the Patna Museum would do well to know that it was in possession of a "steam-era jewel".

"This machine deserves better than being left to rot out in the open and really requires appropriate conservation, as do all museum exhibits," Rayner had said.

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Published 30 June 2024, 07:09 IST

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