'Fascinating' fun at machine collectibles venue

Roger Phillips doesn't know what an mp3 is, but he will enthusiastically show you how music was recorded in the 19th and early 20th century. He likes to demonstrate his player piano, using foot pedals to play music recorded by punching holes in a roll of paper.

Phillips and his wife, who own the Dinosaur Place, have collected old machines and other antiques for 40 years, always looking for unusual items during their travels. On May 31, they opened a new store in the Route 85 plaza they call Nature's Art Village: PAST Antiques Market.

The store is stocked in part with items from their personal collection, with space for 40 vendor booths on the lower level.

While giving a tour of the store during its first week, Phillips couldn't stand still, running from one old machine to another to demonstrate its proper use.

"Everything was so mechanical," said Phillips, who was dressed in a plaid pearl-snap shirt and a cowboy hat. "That's what I find so fascinating." He grabbed an old hedge-trimmer, which took two people to operate, and asked a nearby customer to guess what the machine was for.

The antiques market doesn't just have machines: It's filled with jewelry, furniture, dishes, toys, even a wedding dress. Overlooking the whole scene is a reminder of the business next door - a giant green dinosaur, the corporate logo of Sinclair Oil Corporation, which Phillips found at a sale in Massachusetts.

But machines are Phillips' passion. PAST stands for Preserving Antiques and Saving Technology, and on the saving technology side, he plans to go beyond retail.

In late 2013, Phillips will open the PAST Antiques Museum in a room adjacent to the store. It will be packed with objects from his collection that demonstrate the last 100 years of American technology. The motto of the museum is "From Steam Engine to Search Engine."

Construction is already underway on the next phase of the museum, two more building to house all the items in Phillips' collection, some of which are very large.

"Steam engines are his baby," said Laura Rush, the marketing manager at Nature's Art Village. She said they'll have to cut into the museum's floor to fit in one of his favorite pieces, a 35-ton steam engine with a 14-foot flywheel, which Phillips bought in Indiana.

He's been "tinkering on" that engine for the last 13 years, restoring it and preparing it for display.

Right now, only a few lonely items sit in the room that will become the PAST museum. One is a Tirril's equalizing gas machine, which was used to light buildings in the late 1800s. Phillips has its original owner's manual, which contains the line "we're assuming that by now most people have heard of gasoline."

Just like a pastor is called to save souls, Phillips said he has a calling to "preserve as many industrial artifacts as possible for the education of our youth and the uninformed public."

Until the museum opens, though, PAST is mostly about shopping. Rush said PAST is the largest antiques market in the area, providing a "unique destination" for residents in the Montville region.

The market, at 1630 Hartford-New London Turnpike, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Space is still available for vendors, and interested dealers may call 860-443-4367 for more information.

K.CATALFAMO@THEDAY.COM

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