Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 1

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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There are a lot of places in the worldwhere the summer heat and humidity are hard to ignore.  It’s an oppressive combination that tends toput a lot of stress on anyone and anything it can surround.  To that point, most collectors of earlytransportation understand that leaving a wooden vehicle outside – in any season– can be harmful to the piece.  Thenegative effects are easy to see in countless rotted wagon and coach carcassesscattered across the pages of time.  Therelentless hammering of the sun’s UV rays along with excessive and fluctuatingtemperatures have a way of overwhelming some of the most important parts of ournation’s history.  Similarly,accumulations of ice, snow, rain, bird droppings, insects, and othernaturally-occurring phenomena can be equally challenging to an old set ofwheels. 

Moving a vehicle inside may seem likethe perfect solution to properly care for these irreplaceable treasures.  While it is a step in the right direction, itmay also be premature to believe that just because it’s ‘inside’ everythingwill be okay.  Storing an antique vehicleindoors is just part of the process in protecting a survivor.  Properly guarding these rolling links toyesterday means staying abreast of things like temperature, humidity, andairflow as well. 

Years ago, I was visiting a large historical collectionin another state.  The atmosphere of thebuilding was reasonably comfortable since it included central heat andair.  As I walked through the dimly lit rooms, I noticed something on the back of a wagon on display.  Backed up to a wall, the rear end gates ofthe wagon box were covered in mold spores. I was surprised to see it.  Truth is, though, no location or region iscompletely immune from these types of challenges.  There are a number of culprits that couldhave created this particular problem. The air conditioning might have been funneling excessive moisture into theroom.  Even more likely, since a concretewall was just inches from the back of the wagon, I suspect it wastransferring moisture to the rear end gates. Combined with a lack of light and minimal airflow in the isolated area,this spot was a haven for mold spores to collect. 

Mold spores are a natural part of ourworld.  So, the fact that they’re in theair is not a surprise.  Allowing them tosettle, collect, and feed as an indoor colony, though, can create realissues.  One of the most importantpreventative measures is vigilance.  I’mtalking about a level of proactive watchfulness that goes beyond noticingproblems.  For instance, how susceptibleto mold is your vehicle collection in the first place?  Awareness of the makeup of wood as well asmanaging atmospheric conditions can go a long way in protecting a set of wheelsand your health.

Someone coated this old spring seat in linseed oil.  Left to incubate in a humid and dark room, it became a feeding host for mold spores (see whiter areas).
Poor maintenance of temperatures,humidity, and wood moisture content as well as overly dark environments andother considerations can all collaborate to set the stage for the growth ofmold and mildew.  Even more to the point– do you know how much moisture (humidity) is in the air around your earlywooden vehicle(s)?  What temperatures arethe vehicles regularly subjected to?  Arethe wood fibers in a particular piece continually saturated withmoisture/oil?  Answers to these (andother) questions have a way of highlighting levels of risk.  For instance, even if temperature levels arereasonably maintained, some oils – even those from your hand or soap residue – can actually provide nourishment for mold spores.  Vegetable oils – including linseed oil – canalso supply a good nutrient base for the growth of fungi.  (This is just one reason I don’trecommend the use of linseed oil on an antique wooden vehicle) 

Looking beyond the poor visual appeal,what’s the harm in allowing mold and mildew to grow on an antique vehicle?  First of all, left in an unchecked condition,it will continue to grow.  Second, the fungimay destroy wood fibers or at least leave stains on and in the wood.  Third, and most critical, are the serioushealth concerns connected to colonies of spores.  Even though these spores are a part of nature,allowing them to grow unhindered while on and around antique vehicles is asituation that collectors want to avoid. After all, it’s typically better to prevent problems than deal with them afterward.

Next week, I’ll cover some specificthings we can all do to better protect antique vehicles and parts from theill-effects of mold and mildew.  Talk toyou then!

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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