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CULPEPER, VA (CBS) -- A race to save history is underway. It's happening at a federal facility in rural Virginia. That's where old videotape footage of television shows and newscasts are stored. They are waiting for digital conversion.

You may think you've seen the original opening of "I Love Lucy," but odds are you haven't. The show started out in the early episodes with caricatures of Lucy and Ricky provided the advertising for the show's producer and sponsor: tobacco company Phillip Morris. Curator Rob Stone says, "It's our history. I grew up seeing Lucille Ball get in trouble and Ricky being flustered and that's my memories - my memories are those shows."

It's all being preserved and stored at the Library of Congress conservation campus in Culpeper, Virginia; three million pieces of moving images. There's Johnny Carson and CBS' Ed Sullivan and Walter Cronkite.

Why is this so important to preserve this? Stone explains, "So that our heritage doesn't just disappear when we disappear. It remains. The day Walter Cronkite couldn't hardly finish his sentence in November of 1963 when Kennedy was shot. You remember those things."

But preserving 50-year-old video presents challenges. The tapes often are damaged and must be restored and then they only play on machines from the same era. Paul Klamer oversees video preservation. He says not only do these machines break down, but when they do, only one company in the world knows how to fix them and only one man. Klamer says, "The gentleman who does most of the work on these machines is in his 80s now and so that probably won't go on for very much longer."

The tapes often arrive from studios and television stations in cases that disguise the jewels inside like a 1975 blues documentary from Mississippi Public Television with the simple title of "special good morning blues".

Preservationist Bill Rush had no idea he would discover BB King interviewing blues pioneers until he popped it in the machine. And that's the goal here: to unearth and preserve history.