Gear history is a passion of mine along with the history of mechanical transportation. Growing up in Milwaukee we got a big dose of local history and the many innovations of our Southeastern Wisconsin brethren. They were a proud bunch of mechanics and many were determined to find the next big thing that would make them rich and famous. A couple obviously succeeded on two wheels, but less well known is the development of the first commercially viable four-wheel drive truck around 1914. The Jeffery Company was doing a decent business building Nash cars when the U.S. Army visited looking for an all-weather truck to replace their mule teams. Apparently mules were becoming too hard to find and too expensive to feed.
The result was the Jeffery Quad, later renamed the Nash Quad after the company was sold to Charles Nash. Over 40,000 of these unique vehicles were made during the 15 year production run. They were sold all over the world and, for all we know, one is still exercising its 315 cubic inch gasoline motor, four-speed transmission, automatic locking differentials, and four-wheel steering. Amazing specifications for 100 years ago, and a reminder that although the old gear guys were hampered by poor metallurgy and relatively inaccurate machines, they had a great understanding of basic engineering principles and how to apply them. For example, Jeffery had, in his early days, patented the pneumatic “clincher” bicycle tire and sold the patent to Dunlop. He surrounded himself with smart people like John North Willys, who later founded a car company of his own that had a future in four-wheel drive.
While researching a gear ratings history story I am discovering a similar linkage between well-known gear people. Particularly in areas like Chicago, creative people were introduced to the trade at one firm and over the course of their career they took that knowledge and developed new products, started new companies, and improved upon the things they saw others doing. It is still possible to do these things today. Just something to ponder as we wait for our SUV’s to warm up for another commute through this challenging winter.
I am not much of a professional basketball fan; to me the college game is more interesting than the NBA. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament may be the perfect sporting event that doesn’t involve internal combustion engines. Recently there has been a lot of chatter about an NBA Mount Rushmore and which faces should be on it; certainly a worthy topic to debate at the local sports bar.
What about a Mount Rushmore for the gear business? My last posting talked about finding a book by Professor Faydor L. Litvin in my electronic files. In the preface to the book, professor Litvin laments that many of the personages he wrote about were not recognized for their contributions during their lifetimes. Some of them remained unknown long after their deaths. We still don’t know who first accomplished many important feats in our trade.
Those who wrote books, filed for patents, taught at prominent universities, or founded companies have a better chance of being remembered. But how would you rank achievers in a field with a history going back several thousand years? Does an innovator, inventor, and founder of several still existing companies like George Grant get more consideration than an Iron Age mill builder?
The same problem exists in the NBA Mount Rushmore debate. For some talking heads the “history” begins when they were personally able to watch the nominees for immortality. For them Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, George Mikan and dozens of other stars are lost in pre-history.
So who goes on a gear industry Mount Rushmore? I can’t imagine cutting the list of nominees anywhere near four or five but would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the subject.
Writing a technical paper sometimes requires digging deep in your files for that obscure reference you just know you kept a copy of somewhere. I’ve been collecting books, papers, and magazine clippings for 43 years and remembering where things are after that amount of time and multiple job changes and relocations can be frustrating.
Even more frustrating is finding the sought after clipping and discovering it lacks the information needed to reference it in a peer reviewed paper. Contacting living authors is one thing; getting out the Ouija Board to contact others seems like a long shot.
An unexpected pleasure of this process is finding things I didn’t know I had. Such as a wonderful book (Development of Gear Technology and Theory of Gearing, NASA Ref. Publication 1406) by Prof. Faydor L. Litvin that included short biographies on people he thought were important to the development of gears. There is some impressive mathematical development early in the work that probably accounts for my forgetting that it was in my computer files. Included on that list of luminaries was the author of a book I had open on my desk at that moment, Prof. Earle Buckingham.
I have been a frequent user of Prof. Buckingham’s three volume master work, Manual of Gear Design. If you deal with epicyclic or planetary drives you too probably have pages 126-136 of Section Two memorized. I never bothered to look at other chapters in the book until prompted by another reference. It was a real shock to find that the Professor had taken the time to work out an entire system of high contact ratio gears back in 1935! While I had no illusions that I was breaking new ground with my Fall Technical Meeting paper, knowing that one of the giants of gear engineering had worked on the topic makes me sharpen my outline a little bit.
Have any of you had a similar experience in researching a new topic only to find that some of the hard work has already been done?
While it is customary for people of a certain age to decry the decline of civilization resulting from the Internet, this is one old guy who wonders how we ever lived without it. This is never clearer than when I am gathering reference material for a new project.
Don’t get me wrong—I love libraries. As a kid I often visited the Milwaukee Public Library multiple times in a day. It was convenient to stop on the way home from swimming lessons at Jackson Park, but they only let you take two books out a time, so a return visit was necessary if that day’s selections were short. Once I learned to swim or the weather cooled, visits became a Saturday ritual.
As much as I love libraries, I hated the card catalog. For my younger readers, we once had to search for books manually in massive cabinets full of index cards. The cards themselves were organized by the incredibly complicated Dewey Decimal System. It hurts my head just thinking about it. Especially when you throw in the occasionally cranky librarians who didn’t appreciate kids messing up the shelves.
Researching even highly technical topics is so much easier with the Internet. Thanks to on-line libraries, such as Gear Technology’s, dozens of books and papers appear on your screen within seconds of your skillfully worded inquiry. Or not, if you inquiry is less skillfully defined. Or your topic is too obscure.
Efficiency is a wonderful thing, but there is something to be said for having an old reference book physically in your hands. One of my AGMA friends brought an early set of rating standards to our meeting. Dating to the early 1930s, this three-ring binder may be one of the oldest still in existence; it predates the things at AGMA Headquarters. I remember paging through the large three-post binders used for standards in the 1970s, and much prefer the thumbnail drives sent to members these days.
So how old are the AGMA standards in your company library? Any to challenge my friend’s pre-World War II stash? And while you are checking, how about some leads on who first “standardized” the tooth forms we use today? (I’m on a deadline for my Fall Technical Meeting paper. What is the point in having a blog if you can’t ask readers for research help?)
As mentioned in my last posting, the AGMA Helical Gear Rating Committee ([HGRC)] was in Chicago this week for two days of work on the next edition of the basic gear rating standard and a discussion of our official American position on certain ISO methods. Eight gear engineers from around the country representing a variety of companies took time away from their busy schedules to participate. The HGRC meets in person three or four times a year and holds a like number of web-based meetings to keep the dialog going.
None of the industry participants gets paid for this effort. When they go back to their offices the work will have piled up; yet somehow they will find time to get their AGMA “homework” done too. Some of their employers will also be encouraging their participation in international standards work that requires overseas travel. There are many AGMA committees besides the HGRC where this scene is replayed with equal fervor. And amazingly enough, the AGMA has operated this way for 98 years.
I mention this because the AGMA has been a big influence on my development as a gear engineer. For those of you starting out in this trade I cannot emphasize enough how much value you will find in the standards that apply to your products. They are more current than any reference book and while they lack the cutting edge of technology found in our magazine’s articles, they represent the consensus “best practices” of our field’s experienced practitioners.
Committee membership is open to representatives from all member companies. The meeting calendar is kept current on the AGMA website and new members are always welcome. If you don’t have a travel budget, the web-exs are a great way to participate from your own workstation. In 1979 I was one of the new kids—now I am one of the old timers. The years really fly by when you are immersed in an activity you enjoy. If you are reading this blog you may be just the sort of person who will find AGMA committee work a great addition to your life in the gear trade.
PS: You also get to feel like an insider when you attend committee meetings. Today we got an early look at the list of papers for the Fall Technical Meeting. Somebody has some writing to do.
Today I have the pleasure of attending an AGMA Helical Gear Rating Committee meeting. On and off for the past 35 years I have been able to observe a great group of gear engineers debate the big issues and the minutia of helical and spur gear capacity. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s educational. Standards writing has been compared to sausage making; we all enjoy the results even if we don’t want to know the ingredients in great detail.
The same can be said for gear rating software. In a previous post I related my sudden promotion to “gear expert.” Part of the job description in 1979 was writing your own software; commercially available gear rating software didn’t exist. Large companies had custom software for use on mainframes via punch cards but for everyone else it was manual calculation according to the standards book or, if you were lucky and had a generous boss, a homemade program on one of the just emerging personal computers.
You learned a lot about standards when you wrote your own program. Like just how tough it was to calculate an accurate J factor for bending strength – especially if your geometry wasn’t completely “standard.” It was frustrating to labor for hours on your code and have the program fail for a single misplaced symbol. Eventually I got my programs to run and produce results I had confidence in.
As soon as commercial software became available, I stopped writing my own, but, mindful of the errors possible through programming defects, I validated the results against previous methods, both manual and computer. Each generation of software takes us further from those individually tested methods, however, and increases the risk of problems going undetected. All the sophisticated analysis routines in the world can’t make up for faulty reasoning or misapplied logic. Pretty output screens and lots of figures to the right of the decimal point do not absolve the engineer of his or her duty to verify the results against real-world experience.
The late Don McVittie was fond of saying “In God we trust; all others bring data.” Computer calculations are not “data” unless there are physical test results to back them up. Beware of software that promises to make testing unnecessary. Well-known aerospace projects have been publicly humiliated by glitches real-world testing would have caught.
Department of Corrections: An earlier posting incorrectly identified Al Swiglo as head of the AGMA metallurgy committee. While he admits to being a “senior” member in terms of years, Al is “only” the committee secretary. I apologize for the error.
It is that time of year when some of our favorite television shows are pre-empted by awards shows. Every facet of the entertainment business seems to need a couple of prime time hours to celebrate their accomplishments over the last 12 months. In the gear trade we tend to take a bit longer to judge success, and no one wants to see our folks walk the red carpet.
A feature on many of these shows is worth emulating, however. The Grammies had a nice tribute to musicians who “left us” in 2013. I recognized the kid from Glee and Pete Seeger, but not many of the others. Perhaps it is my age showing that others were unknown to me, but I am sure their fans, friends, families, and co-workers appreciated the gesture of respect.
AGMA has a number of awards for committee chairmen and association officers. The people who win these awards have often devoted 20 years or more to the association; nobody is an overnight sensation in our business. An earlier blog posting mentioned my ongoing research into the development of gear rating methods; I have been collecting documents and names to investigate further. A veritable Gear Guru Hall of Fame, and most of them devoted 40 or more years to the advancement of our trade.
Many excellent gear people never get near an AGMA gathering, however, and there ought to be a way to recognize their contributions to their company, shop, or academic institution. You know and work with these folks every day; they are the people who can be relied upon to make the difficult decisions. Ideally they would know they were appreciated while still alive to enjoy it. So if you have a favorite gear person you would like to salute, drop me an e-mail or post a comment.
The world’s first Porsche vehicle was recently discovered in a shed in Austria, where it’s been since 1902 (photo courtesy of Porsche).
Close-up of the wheel from the world’s first Porsche (photo courtesy of Porsche).
Among old car fans few things stir interest more than the announcement that a valuable car has been found in some storage facility. Just this week we learned that the world’s first Porsche had been found in Austria. The 1898 vintage electric car had been missing and presumed lost since its victory in an early race for electric vehicles. Looking more like a horse drawn farm wagon than a 911 sportscar, the “P1” will no doubt become the centerpiece of a museum’s collection.
So what does this have to do with gears? It got me wondering how many historic gears and gearboxes are languishing in storage sheds or rusting away outside our factories? While not as fondly remembered as old cars and trucks, don’t these objects deserve to be preserved and celebrated?
Last year I started collecting material for an article on the history of gear rating methods. The AGMA was organized to standardize calculation methods lest some snake oil salesman ruin the business for everyone else by making outrageous claims for his products. One of the items I collected is a 1912 engineering magazine with an article by Percy C. Day on the advantages of herringbone gears. A short while later I visited Falk’s Renew facility for a client and on display in the lobby was a 1914 herringbone gearbox Mr. Day designed after he went to work for Falk in 1913.
I was involved with making parts for some 1894 vintage Hullet loaders a number of years ago and have read that the machines are still on display in Duluth Minnesota and Cleveland Ohio. Some very old gear drives continue to power the inclines in Pittsburgh. We are making history every day and someday today’s new product will be just another curiosity.
So what do you have in your lobbies, museums, and storage areas? How about your production line? I am sure we can get your stories up here on the blog and maybe into the magazine itself.
Is there a better time to salute metallurgists than when much of the country is in the midst of a massive cryogenic experiment? It is -15°F without wind chill as I write this, so I am reminded of the unique challenges of selecting materials and heat treatments for extreme conditions. I’ve been through worse cold snaps than this, including a Boy Scout Klondike Derby outing where -28°F proved to be close enough to the brittle state of plastic pipe to destroy some competitors’ sleds. Traditional sled materials such as wood, leather, and rope proved immune to the conditions; much like well bundled kids without thermometers handy. Their mothers gave us an earful about irresponsibility when we returned home, but the boys were pretty proud of themselves for overcoming the brutal temperatures without damage. Thanks to ever-present modern communication, today’s scouts would never consider setting out in a weather emergency.
My first recollection of “metallurgy” was seeing a photo of a Liberty ship with the bow broken off from the cold ocean water. I survived the required classes in engineering school but never really appreciated this important field until decisions had to be made about materials and thermal processing for wind turbine components that might end up in very cold conditions. We even had to build and test lube systems in a deep freezer; -40°F is very hard on pumps. Since then I have learned a great deal about materials selection, heat treating, deep freezing, and the various test methods used to insure proper performance at extreme temperatures.
The most important thing I learned is to have good reference materials on hand and the contact information for expert metallurgists at the ready. As always, AGMA standards are an excellent place to start. My friend Al Swiglo heads up the Metallurgy Committee, which is always working to keep the standards current with this rapidly advancing field. Many metallurgy papers are presented at the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting and other materials symposiums. You can count on Gear Technology to publish the papers which are most valuable to the gear trade.
Here are some links to past articles that might be of interest:
Some months ago I got a call from a young engineer asking how he could get into the consulting business. It was a flattering call but a rather tough question to answer. As mentioned in a previous post, the American gear industry does not require a doctorate to be a consultant. While we have a professional engineer licensing system — I am a licensed PE in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — it is more concerned with keeping civil engineers and surveyors compliant with the appropriate statutes. We have relatively few academics active in our trade compared to other countries. Those we have, of course, are greatly appreciated.
So how do you become a gear expert? If you look at the backgrounds of Gear Technology’s volunteer technical editors, you’ll find that all of them have been active in the trade for many years, have served on AGMA committees, and continue to participate in solving gear problems. I was invited to join this group in 2004 after 33 years in the gear industry.
On a humorous note, I can remember the first time I was referred to as a “gear expert.” In January of 1979 I found myself working for Cone Drive/D.O. James in Traverse City, Michigan after eight wonderful years at Falk. The second Monday on the job I arrived at the office to discover that the remaining D.O. James engineers had left the company on Saturday. I got this news when a shop foreman showed up at my desk with a problem. He had been told by the shop supervisor to “go see the new gear expert.”
I had never been involved in figuring change gears before but could hardly admit it in front of my new co-workers, Fortunately I was able to find an operator’s manual for that particular hobbing machine and a battered copy of the MAAG change gear tables. It was the first of many “problems” I couldn’t delegate and it set the pattern for my growth as a gear engineer. You don’t become an expert dodging trouble; you have to wade into it and reason your way out of the swamp.
My co-workers and mentors were very supportive of the process. They were great about asking lots of questions and testing the answers. The first answer wasn’t always the best answer and I have a few scars to prove it. At Gear Technology our “Ask the Expert” feature is designed to minimize the number of scars you collect, too. We want you to succeed in your effort to be a gear expert, too.
Here are some links to recent “Ask the Expert” columns that have appeared in the magazine: