Thursday, August 28, 2008

Old Iron. Machines that you just had to know how to work.

I was spending some time with Harrell Snodgrass the other day, and the subject of his retirement came up. It occurred to me that when Harrell retires, it will truly be the end of an era.

When I was a kid, there was a machine shop in the old wooden building in the lumber yard that the Southern Humboldt Building supply is in today. The place was a bustling, booming business. I don't know how many people worked there, but it was apparent that they needed a larger, more modern building, so they built a new metal covered shed just south of the town of Redway. The company at the time was called the Armfield Machine Shop. They specialized in making things out of machined metal. I’m writing this all from the memory of when I was a little kid, so I guess that I’ll have to warn you that this is mostly “Bullshistory”, in case Jim Baker is reading. He won’t let me get it wrong.

As I said, the business was bustling, there were many sawmills and logging operations in the area, and “The Machine shop” as it was known, was kept very busy. A man by the name of Burrell Lewis and his wife owned the shop. Up until they sold it to Harrell in the early seventies. Back it the sixties, I remember, that is where we went to have our chokers, and bull lines made. We got our welding tanks there. Whenever we had a welding job that was to big for us, the Machine Shop would send out a heavy duty welder. Often we had to have a shaft or a drift pin made, and they would turn one out on one of their lathes. The Machine shop was what kept the sawmills and logging operations around here working.

The reason that I say that it is the end of an era is, much of the same equipment that I remember as a child is still being used today. The machinery is probably more valuable as museum pieces than it is actual value. At any rate, I consider the equipment as being quite valuable. The machinery is so heavy that it would be difficult to move.

When I first started doing refrigeration service back in May of 1964, I would take the worn out belt drive refrigeration motors in to Burrell, and he would pull them apart and put new bushings in them. Then he would turn the motor shaft to true it and line bore the bushings to fit the shaft. He would cut oil grooves in the bushings and put the motor back together again. The motor would be good for another three or four years then we would do it all over again.

If you click on the pictures, they will greatly enlarge, and you will be able to see the detail of the machinery.

These photos are of a large size drill press. The beer can on the drill table was placed there so you could tell the size of the drill bits.

If you look at the object table of the drill press, you can see that it will raise and lower, and it has a large clamp to hold whatever is being drilled in place. As you might guess, a clamp is needed to drill a two inch hole in steel. The machine is a flat belt drive, and if you notice the bottom pulley, it is in many sizes, to change the speed of the drill bit. Different size holes and different metals take different speeds. Nowadays they have a computer to determine those speeds. Back in the olds days you just had to know what speed to use. Harrell knows all of those kinds of things, and they are not being taught anymore.


EkoVox said...

Yes, even I remember that shop when we would drive through Redway on the way to Garberville. There used to be scads of those shops around. In Willow Creek, Hans Hanson ran a machine shop that was based on the logging industry. A small shop for practical use. Probably mostly welding applications.

The most incredible machine shop I ever witnessed was the mill motor winding shop that Industrial Electric owned on Samoa Blvd in Arcata. They would take in the massive mill motors and re-core them and rewind them.....these mill motors were monstrous. And to imagine they started with a single strand of copper and braided up copper strands that looked like choker cables and wound those into the motors. Really impressive.
You'd see them being shipped on a lowboy to Industrial Electric for repair. But, with the loss of mills that meant the loss of Industrial Electric, too.

College of the Redwoods has a pretty decent Machine Technology department, but beyond that......are young people interested in the industrial arts anymore?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Yes, I had a lot of motors rewound at Industrial electric.

Back in the days of belt drive refrigeration, we used a lot of Wagner brand repulsion induction motors. They would start a bigger load than they could carry, but it took a lot of torque to move all of those big cast iron pulleys and get the piston over the top a few times. Then you only needed a small amount of horsepower to keep them running. The motors had a ring of brushes, and a armature shorting collar. They were always fouling up. I’m not sad that they are gone.

Most of the cable, and cable fittings, and the big huge Esco Press that crimped the ferrules and nubbins on the chokers went to Hanson’s Machine Shop when the logging slowed down here.

This is turning out to be kind a guy post. That is unless there is a few women out their that like machines. If that’s the case, jump in and get greasy with us.

Anonymous said...

We still have "old" machinery in our machine shop. However, in the filing room we have CNC grinders and use stellite (cobabalt) for our saw tips. None of the "old" swages and shapers. Yahoo! I'm happy I am old and don't have to look forward to moving to another mill and the "old" swages and such.
I bet I am getting past most of you out there as I work in a different enviroment than most have ever heard of. There are a few women that work in the filing industry but I don't think you will ever see one sending comments to this site.
I did take a bike part to the Yellow Dragon and I was told "I don't work on scooters". So I took it to the next best place, Branscomb Refridgeration. After that, my bike worked great and ran cooler too.


spyrock said...

I really enjoyed this article. This is what my dad's family did. They moved from Kansas because of the drought. Grandpa Don worked on the old silent movie sets in Burbank building sets and later was a streetcar driver. They moved to Santa Barbara where they saw the Wright Bros. plane lift up and land. Then they built bridges on the road to Yosemite. They finally settled down repairing windmills for the farmers and built a machine shop that had a lathe, a sheet metal brake, a metal saw, welding equipment and everything related.
They pretty much could make anything you needed. They Eminent Domained my Dad's old shop when they made the road wider and he had me put most of the stuff out in the yard and gave the machinery to friends who never gave it back.
At 97 my dad was still in pretty good shape and he guarded his junk yard of old metal, most of which had rusted by then. I spent a year after his death cleaning this junk yard up and finding homes for the things that were still of use. My nephew hauled the good stuff that was left to Texas as part of his inheritance. My dad never used to send bills to people, he always trusted that he would get what he needed in life.
And he did. He lived a long beautiful life.