Following Shana Aue into a storage area off-limits to the public revealed an immaculate and coolly kept room filled with books and other materials deemed worthy of historic preservation.
"We try not to let it get above the mid-60s in temperature and low-60s in humidity," Aue said. "We monitor that every day."
As the special-collections librarian for the Jim Dan Hill Library at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, it's Aue's responsibility to fetch requested items, care for the collection and continue to build it.
So, when the university won a $50,000 National Maritime Heritage Grant in May to preserve thousands of documents from Fraser Shipyards, Inc. of Superior, Aue was ecstatic.
"If you're a certain kind of person these are the kinds of things you'll find really cool," she said.
The Fraser collection is a treasure chest of ship-building history, featuring more than 3,000 technical drawings, 8,500 aperture card negatives and several boxes of correspondences and reports.
Only, "no one can get to it," said Dara Fillmore, a UWS graduate and the archive project assistant who will be dedicated to helping Aue catalog the Fraser artifacts during the next 18 months.
The materials feature working design documents and blueprints of such well-known vessels as the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Mackinaw, the Leon Fraser and more. Once proprietary information - held tightly to Fraser and its customers' vests - the artifacts are extraordinarily detailed and on the verge of being available to view in the public domain.
Aue held the schematics for assembling a telegraph - the bridge dial that features "ahead" and "astern" categories for "full," "half," "slow" and "dead-slow" speeds. Fillmore said the coolest thing she's found so far are technical drawings for deadlights - those round portals - from a time before the vessels were outfitted for electricity.
Fillmore and Aue both are scanning and filing negatives one at a time, while also removing and rerolling each of the thousands of technical drawings.
"We've been around for 125 years," said Tom Curelli, director of operations for Fraser. "You go back in the history, and there's a tremendous amount of construction and repairs."
Curelli said the value of the collection comes in how the artifacts display the evolution of shipbuilding. The artifacts begin at wooden boats and evolve to steel, steam-powered boats that were riveted, then welded, converted to diesel, lengthened and made self-unloading.
Even as the collection is just now being unfurled and recast for availability, Aue has received calls from engineers excited to see the work.
The technical drawings are from an era when the architects and engineers did their work by hand, resulting in ornately detailed works that Curelli said he considers "works of art."
The largest propellers and the smallest clevises have a place in the collection's drawings, and scans of the aged negatives are revealing all the details.
"We're getting really good results," Aue said, showing off a fancy negative scanner that was purchased with the grant money.
The collection revealed itself just before Christmas 2012, when the company was moving into new offices it had built on its expansive grounds on Howards Bay at 1 Clough Ave. The company didn't have further use for materials from a time before the emergence of diesel power in the 1970s and 1980s. "It's one of those things where you see those drawings and say, 'There has got to be some value here,'" Curelli said. "We were happy to give them a new home."
Curelli said the artifacts are in capable hands with Aue. "She's dedicated to preserving this stuff," he said.
As Aue and Fillmore handled the technical drawings, they weren't wearing gloves.
"Hand oils are not that big of a concern with the paper," Aue said, explaining that they touch the paper so little as not to matter. But there are rules.
"We don't do anything we can't reverse," she said, meaning no lamination, no labeling and no folding. They do tape any tears with a special tape that doesn't leave a residue.
The technical drawings came tightly wound in groups of 10 to 25 in long, slender boxes that could fit an overhead light bulb. The documents are carefully removed and spread out on a table. Small groups of three to five pages are sandwiched by a sheet of plastic and a special type of paper, then rerolled the opposite of how the documents were found - with the readable sides out.
The documents then are placed into archival boxes made of acid-free cardboard, labeled and filed onto shelves in the storage area for posterity.
So far, only a handful of boxes are on the shelves. There is much work to be done.
"It's a big project," Aue said.
It's one she figures will be especially valuable to model builders and maritime enthusiasts.
"All kinds of people," she said. "I think it's fascinating."