Discover a very special part of The Phoebus Foundation’s collection: Maritime and Logistic Heritage! A team of enthusiastic volunteers is in charge of the daily routine of this extraordinary collection. As retired dockworkers with a passion for heritage they know this collection of historical risers, tractors, trucks, and measuring and weighing devices like the back of their hand. Every week, the group gathers together in the warehouse Argentin in the northern part of Antwerp to work on the conservation and the accessibility of the collection.

Volunteers at work at the Antigone crane

For some of our volunteers, a port heritage day already starts before dawn. Early bird Juul is always out and about at 6 AM. One after another, colleagues arrive and join the group. Around 8:30 AM there is a small meeting to discuss the daily schedule whilst enjoying a cup of coffee. All volunteers have their own unique background and expertise which makes everyone an essential member of the team. Juul and Roger are specialists in welding; Freddy knows all the secrets of tinkering and electrotechnics is Fred’s cup of tea. This diversity makes it possible to work on multiple large projects at the same time. An important element of their tasks is also the conservation of rare heritage objects. “The current major project we are working on is the Antigoon crane”, Fred explains. “It is a port vehicle of the early fifties and probably the last example left of its type. With lots of patience and effort, we managed to complete the mechanical work. It certainly wasn’t a piece of cake because we didn’t have a single plan or piece of documentation. Luckily we could count on the craftsmanship and expertise of our team members to solve these problems together.”

Volunteers in action

In small groups, the volunteers diligently continue their work. Painting, sanding, welding, restoration of all possible tools,… before you know it, it is time for a well-deserved coffee break where our volunteers share their memories from ‘good ol’ times’. “This is very important to us”, Harry, the youngest of the group, explains. “After retiring as commercial manager in the port industry after 43 years, I am grateful I could become part of this team. I have always been intrigued by history and I am happy I can contribute to the Logistics and Maritime Heritage here. Even though I don’t have a lot of technical expertise, I can cooperate in the large valuation project of the collection. We make sure every object is measured, catalogued and photographed. Some pieces are truly unique and have an extraordinary history, which always fascinates me. The many stories and interesting anecdotes bring the items back to life.” The other volunteers share the same passion and motivation.

The technical know-how of the volunteers is extremely useful

The team has completed many large conservation projects throughout the years. This is essential to volunteer Martin. “Our aim is to preserve the maritime heritage for future generations. The Antwerp port and her workmen are world famous because of their craftsmanship and professionalism. Sadly, this history is getting lost rapidly. The generation of whom I learned the tricks of the trade is now between 75 and 91 years old. Acts and tools from back then are no longer in use. Therefore, it is our task to pass on this important heritage to the future generations. We hope to realize this with our efforts in the Argentin warehouse.”

The diversity of the collection is huge!

Until 12 PM the team collaborates on various port heritage projects. Then, it’s time for a well-deserved lunch. Volunteer Jacques, who has been a ship’s cook for years, often surprises the team with soup or a home-cooked meal. Old memories and various port anecdotes are shared around the table. Together, the volunteers dream about the future. “Hopefully, we can reopen our doors for group visits soon. This way, we can share our passion and moreover this exceptional collection with a broad audience again.”