Reflecting upon “transformative technology,” I remember the sadness I felt at the Cincinnati Gear Company auction when a group of pristine condition MAAG gear grinders did not draw a single bid, even from scrap dealers present. You could tell from their appearance that these “dinosaurs” had been the pride of that firm right up until the end of operations. They were big, durable and precise machines that no one could afford to operate commercially anymore. Two newer CNC machines could out produce eight or ten of the MAAGs.
Almost every shop that I have worked in had a dinosaur or two stashed away for those “special jobs” that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Some of the old machines are still highly sought after; gear milling machines dating back from 1910 are fitted with carbide gashing cutters and continue to earn their keep. Herringbone machines, especially in the larger sizes, are still making gears on a production basis.
We once had a line on a 12-foot-capacity herringbone machine at a close out auction. Unfortunately, our designated machine tool buyer picked the wrong moment to visit the rest room and returned to find the winning bidder already torch cutting the 1921 vintage device into handy pieces of scrap.
As the dinosaurs get melted down, future generations will have to content themselves with photos and grainy training movies. One of my favorite places in the Philadelphia area is the Mercer Museum in Doylestown. Henry Mercer collected pre-industrial era tools and opened his museum in 1916 to showcase the creativity and skill of our predecessors. I especially like the early 19th century clock making display (www.mercermusem.org).
I hope to eventually visit the American Precision Museum in Windsor Vermont (www.american precision.org), which celebrates our machine tool industry with interactive displays and miniatures. Any suggestions for other places to see vintage machine tools? Other than your shop or my garage. I’m the world’s worst machinist but I enjoy playing with my 1989 vintage Shoptask lathe/mill, serial number 2.
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