Continuing our discussion of veteran machine tools, it occurs to me that many of our younger readers may not be aware that the United States was once the world leader in machine tool technology. When I began my career in 1971, it was not uncommon for a domestic machine shop to not have a single machine that was imported. For gear makers, hobbing machines were commonly from Barber-Colman, a Rockford Illinois fixture, or Gould & Eberhardt, of Newark New Jersey. Shapers were almost exclusively from Fellows in Massachusetts. If bevels were needed, you called upon Gleason in Rochester New York. For herringbones, Farrell-Sykes in Buffalo New York was the place to shop.
Dozens of other firms specialized in particular types of machines. Just in Wisconsin, we had Kearney & Trecker milling machines along with Giddings & Lewis turning machines. For large turning work there were Bullards. Numerical controls, pre-cursors to the now ubiquitous computer numerical control, and automatic tool changers were American inventions. The future looked pretty bright right up until it didn’t. The “dark days” that put most of those historic firms out of business are a topic for a different day. [Gleason remains a world wide leader, now with all types of innovative gear machinery. The other “veterans” are well supported with parts and service by successor firms, many of whom are Gear Technology advertisers.]
It certainly was not related to quality or durability. The machines I learned on were already over thirty years old and some of them were still making chips the last time I set foot in that shop in late 2014. Others were upgraded with modern controls or repurposed. I had a hand in turning two 72 inch Gould & Eberhardt hobbers into CNC gashers and a third into a CNC induction hardening machine. Even at sixty years old, their indexing mechanisms and ways were in amazingly good condition.
In recognition of these “second careers”, let’s expand our solicitation of tributes to the “old soldiers” to include any that were given a new life and mission.