THREE OAKS — An “amazing” local machine ahead of its time, a fearsome weapon faced by Michigan soldiers during the first World War, and locally made musical oddities for the home are among the exhibits making their debut at the Region of Three Oaks Museum, 5 Featherbone Ave. in Three Oaks, during the Fourth of July weekend.

The Region of Three Oaks Museum (TROTOM) is scheduled to begin its 2020 season from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 3, 4 and 5. Regular hours will be the same on weekends. Social distancing rules are posted and masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are available at the front desk.

Museum Board member Nick Bogert said the Chamberlain-Warren Museum operated in Three Oaks from 1916 to 1952, after which the museum’s collection went to Michigan State University — but not permanently.

“They’ve been very generous about letting us borrow things back,” he said.

Back from Lansing this summer is “Fred Warren’s Amazing Calculating Engine.”

Bogert said Warren (a brother of Warren Featherbone Company founder E.K. Warren) was an early photographer (some of his 19th Century pictures of Three Oaks are part of the exhibit).

After serving in the Civil War, Fred Warren opened a watch repair shop and photography studio in Three Oaks, but he eventually became focused on building the Calculating Engine (inspired by a “difference engine calculator” created in England by Charles Babbage), writing “I ought to get married and settle down, but this thing has got into my head and I will have to put it off for two or three years.”

He ended up producing three Calculating Engines (the third, and most complete — built in 1875 — is the one on display this summer at the Region of Three Oaks Museum).

The machine was said to be able to handle addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and “multi-step calculations like what is the interest of $1,237.90 for one year, seven months and three days at 7 percent.”

Tragically, Fred Warren was the only person who knew how to operate the machine when he died of tuberculosis in April of 1875 at the age of 36. Although he did not leave operating instructions, Fred Warren had predicted the Calculating Engine would “astonish the world”).

E.K. Warren sought help in figuring out how to use the device from the Studebaker brothers, P.T. Barnum and a prominent mechanical engineer, to no avail. Ultimately it ended up in the Chamberlain-Warren Museum and “was never really used.” After 1952 it was stored at Michigan State “in a giant storage vault … for decades.”

The earlier machines (from 1872 and 1874) are both at the Smithsonian Institution. According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Fred Warren invented and assembled “one of the first, if not the first, calculating machines built in the United States.”

On display with the Calculating Engine are other facts and photos related to Fred Warren including a vintage printing press and information on Three Oaks’ first newspaper, the Reveille, which was run by Warren.

Chuck Sittig, president of the TROTOM Board, said this is an exciting year for the Museum.

In addition to Fred Warren’s ahead-of-its-time machine, there is a World War I German Mauser MG 08 machine gun that also came from Michigan State University. Although it is not a former Chamberlain-Warren exhibit, the machine gun ties into an existing display on the Red Arrow Division (which Sittig said got its name by piercing heavily fortified German defenses filled with the Mausers).

The U.S. Army’s 32nd Division was composed of National Guardsmen from Michigan and Wisconsin, defeating 23 German divisions by the time the war ended in 1918. Red Arrow HIghway is named in the division’s honor.

Another new exhibit focuses on the Marx-O-Chime Colony which produced “oddball, hybrid musical instruments from 1927 to 1972 at its workshops in New Troy.”

An array of the exotic instruments with names like the the Marxolin, the Hawaiian Tiple, the Marxochime, the Pik-Nik, the Pianolin and the Violin-Uke are on display.

There also is information on and photos of the 30-acre Marxochime Colony (including cottages for workers) in New Troy where the musical instruments were made.

Bogert said Marx-O-Chime products were sold door-to-door and touted as instruments that anybody could play.

Yet another new display focuses on toys that used to delight children before the advent of electronics and the Internet.

There’s a display focusing on the Three Oaks Masonic Lodge which includes a Bible that the chapter started using in 1868 and information on the first Lodge Master, Henry Chamberlain.

The exhibit “Three Oaks: Then & Now” features photo montages (created by museum board member Randy Miller) that contrast current Three Oaks streetscapes with those of the 19th and early 20th century. There is one showing Spring Creek School as it appears now in color blended with a black-and-white photo of students posed in front of the building.

The museum also has an agricultural room filled with farm implements and the tools of yesteryear; a section exploring the history of the people behind local road names; a vintage kitchen set-up; an exhibit on the department stores of Three Oaks; and a Three Oaks room filled with reminders of school days (Bogert noted that the Three Oaks HIgh School all-class reunion was originally scheduled for Flag Day Weekend of this year). Interactive QR codes go with many of the displays.

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