To the rescue: Cummins fixes glitch with bicentennial history exhibit

The Bicentennial Experience had non-stop lines during the Bicentennial torch relay and celebration at the library plaza, Sunday, September 18, 2016 Carla Clark | for The Republic
The Bicentennial Experience had non-stop lines Sept. 18 during the Bicentennial Torch Relay and celebration at the library plaza. Republic file photo

I have to confess that infrastructure, the little-heralded system of stuff that makes things go, has never interested me all that much. But I have a newfound respect for such things.

So does Lynn Lucas, director of the just-completed Bartholomew County portion of Indiana’s Bicentennial Torch Relay, which passed through Columbus and neighboring communities last week.

One of the highlights of the local event was a touring van through which visitors could be exposed to a variety of educational and electronic exercises dealing with Indiana history. It is called the Bicentennial Experience, and like so many things these days it is dependent on a bunch of technical equipment.

The van was scheduled to be at the plaza of the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus and be open for visitors in the afternoon of Sept. 18. The previous day, it was in Lawrenceburg, and that was where officials of the Indiana Department of Tourism determined that they had a problem. Some of the technical stuff wasn’t working. As a result, visitors could only experience 30 percent of the Bicentennial Experience.

By 10 p.m. Saturday, the staff decided to warn their hosts in the coming days that there was a problem and that the Bicentennial Experience would likely not be all that was originally intended. Lynn was one of those who got that call.

“I certainly didn’t have any background in the area of the problem,” Lynn said. “On the other hand, this is Columbus, and I knew where to go for help.”

Her first phone call spoke to the formal and informal connections that make Columbus tick. It was to John Kestler, director of special events and exhibits at Cummins Inc. John and Lynn had worked together on a number of projects during her tenure as director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center. They also had one other connection. They were neighbors.

Admittedly, the call on his cellphone at 10:30 on a Saturday night was a bit on the puzzling side for John. “When her name came up on the cellphone, my first thought was that she was retired, but then I thought that she might have been calling as a neighbor.”

In a way it was a bit of both her former career and her present status as a volunteer. Lynn filled John in on the situation with the van and asked if there might be some way for Cummins to use the expertise of its staff to resolve the problem. Even at 10:30 on a weekend night and a window of less than 24 hours to find a solution, he promised to see what he might be able to accomplish.

His first phone call that night was to Indianapolis. It was not only to a fellow Cummins employee but to someone with whom he was well-acquainted, his nephew, Josh Kestler.

“The service had to come out of Indianapolis, and Josh was able to get in touch with Ben Hancock, our power (generation) guy, shortly after 11 p.m. and fill him in on the situation,” John said. “He was also able to get in contact with the staff on the Bicentennial Experience and received a photo of the equipment.”

Armed with that information, the Cummins staff put together a plan to remedy the problem. By the time the van arrived in Columbus around 2:45 p.m. Sunday, Ben was waiting with a generator set and the expertise to resolve the problem. The doors to the van opened at 4 p.m., and the first of 900 visitors got to experience 100 percent of the Indiana Experience.

“The turnout was enormous,” Lynn said. “State tourism officials said it was a record for crowds in all of the counties that had been visited.”

The van resumed its journey in the following days, with Cummins equipment. It also had a new corporate sponsor, Cummins Inc. Lynn was still marveling at the way the whole process evolved days after the van had left its successful showing in Columbus.

“It really stands out as an example of so many of the things that Cummins Inc. has done over the years to help our community,” she said. “It’s not just their donations to so many causes or all of the investments or jobs it has provided. It’s pretty remarkable that you can call on someone so late at night, with such a small window to get things done, and in the end make things totally right.”

I suspect it also helps when you are dealing with a neighbor, and that neighbor is working with someone who happens to be a nephew.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at