64+ Years of Gears—Geoff Ashcroft

Photo courtesy of Ontario Drive and Gear.

1955. Fresh out of high school, (actually grammar school), 16 years old, unqualified academically and financially to continue full time education. I needed a job and a means to carry on schooling.

I heard of a company in Manchester who was hiring so I showed up at the door and asked to see someone about a job. Miraculously the personnel manager asked me in and interviewed me on the spot. He looked me over (literally) and said they would have an opening for an apprentice in the machine tool building plant, and if I was willing to continue education at the local technical institutes I would have one day per week at school but also two to three nights would be required.

On applying to the local “tech” I learned that as a grammar school student I would skip the first two years of basic mechanical engineering and could earn a degree in six years. There was a catch. My paid time off would continue only so long as all curriculum sections were passed simultaneously; If even one section did not make the grade, all sections would have to be repeated on one’s own time until all were passed simultaneously. This meant five nights a week, a great incentive.

It was a great company, the Machine Tool Division of David Brown. The division produced gear manufacturing machines, hobbers, shavers and inspection with a sister company producing gear cutting tools. The machines ranged from 5.0” to 400” diameter capacity

I completed four years of apprenticeship, got my first step toward a degree, and was moved into the drawing office as a tooling draftsman. Wow, a white collar (literally) job with a salary! One year later I moved to machine draftsman and, on completion of my degree, to the design and development group.

Nine years of 44 hour weeks plus 15 hours schooling was tough but where else could you get a free education and nine years of hands-on experience? This at a leader in the gear industry and at a couple of good technical institutes, including Royal College of Advanced Technology.

Unfortunately in my tenth year, 1965, the company announced that the division would be moved and few employees would remain. By now I was married with a young son and a mortgage, so rather than waiting for the promised severance package I immediately went job searching. In just a couple of weeks I came across an ad for an engineer experienced in gear machinery and manufacture for a sales and service position. This about had my name on it with the exception of the requirement — “unmarried” and location “India.”

Long story short, I got the job which involved six months in the U.S. for training at The Gleason Works and Fellows Gear Shaper and in December of that year moved with my wife and two year old son to Calcutta in the position of Sales and Service engineer with Machine Tools India.

The next three years were spent travelling the subcontinent installing, repairing and selling gear-related equipment. Back then, communications were poor to non-existent. You went out to plants miles from anywhere and had to improvise and figure out how to do things with what was available. I learned more in those three years than at any time in my career — not only about equipment, but about people, politics, and religion — as well as about myself.

At the end of my three-year contract the political situation, and the fact that we now had two sons, prompted a rethink. I had been most impressed by America and my family had several connections in the U.S. This, to me and, of course, my long suffering wife, seemed to be the place to be. I was offered a position by Fellows as project engineer with emphasis on the Pfauter line being produced by them in the U.S. and moved to Vermont in 1969. Quite a change, Springfield versus Calcutta!

Got to work with some very able people, as I had at David Brown, and I was soon asked to take over the newly formed collaboration with Oerlikon of Zurich in respect to sales and marketing, a position I held for three years after spending six months in Zurich getting to know the products and the people. By this time we had moved to Detroit.

These years were ones of turmoil in the machine tool business with many changes in ownership and new competition from Japan. In 1974 Pfauter severed their relationship with Fellows and started a new company in the Chicago area. I was contacted by Herman Pfauter II and joined the new company which comprised a total of, I think, seven employees, in a rented office in Elk Grove Village. This was after three months at the Pfauter plant in Germany.

Again a great experience with another world-class company, with some of the best engineers I have ever had the privilege to be associated with. The company grew from this small nucleus to a complement of around one hundred in a new facility in Elk Grove Village where we eventually built hobbing machines from imported main parts and Americanized to comply with U.S. customer standards.

In 1987 we purchased the Barber Colman Cutting tools division in Rockford, Illinois and eventually combined the two operations into one facility in Rockford. I took over as VP for the cutting tool division and that is where I stayed until my retirement in 1999. A fairly long career in one field, 54 years. It was most rewarding — especially in getting to know most of the top people in the industry of gear manufacturing.

However that was not to be the end. On my retirement I was offered a seat on the Board of the Overton Company, and stayed with them until we sold the company some 12 years later. By this time I had set up the Gear Consulting Group with two partners and I concentrated my efforts on providing educational and training programs to the gear industry.

Today I am advisor, partner and Board member to Ontario Drive and Gear, my official retirement having lasted about six months totaling a career of 64 years in the same field.

Tustin, Michigan.

No small part of this is thanks to my wife, Paula, who has stood beside me through all the moves and strife, and probably knows as many people in this industry as do I. We now spend our time, when not working, at our home in St Augustine, Florida and our cottage in Tustin, Michigan. It doesn’t get much better.

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.