Dream Come True

A lot of guys dream about starting their own shop someday. Of course, it takes more than dreaming.

Columns From: 4/2/1999 Modern Machine Shop, ,

A lot of guys dream about starting their own shop someday. Of course, it takes more than dreaming. You need guts, persistence, hard work, money, and good luck to get a startup shop off the ground. You need the right equipment, too.

Five guys, whose shop just went on line, are particularly proud of finally fulfilling this dream. They are cutting chips, and they are doing it with what they consider the right equipment—a milling machine built by the Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. in 1896, a LeBlond lathe built in 1895, and an American Tool Works shaper built in 1906. All of these machines are powered by belt-driven cone pulleys, with the overhead jack shafts powered by—what else?—a 1910 vertical steam engine! (Okay, the steam engine is real but its crankshaft is actually driven by a hidden electric motor.)

You're probably thinking machine tools and power transmission equipment this old belong in a museum. And of course you'd be right. That's exactly where they are. This working, chipmaking machine shop is located in a new exhibit at Cincinnati Museum Center, which is located in Cincinnati's historic Union Terminal.

This little machine shop is part of a larger display, Forming A New World: Cincinnati's Machine Tool Industry, 1850-1930, which opened last February and is free with admission to the Cincinnati History Museum. At the turn of the century, Cincinnati was widely regarded as the machine tool capitol of the world. The innovations emerging from Cincinnati's premier builders influenced the entire machine tool building industry. (Indeed, the tradition lives on, for the greater Cincinnati area is still home to several major machine tool builders.)

The five fellows who are responsible for collecting and restoring the machines that form the core of this display had a very clear vision. They wanted to see machines that could demonstrate metalworking processes in action, rather than static exhibits of defunct equipment. That machine tools make things is the whole point.

"The Machine Tool Group," as they call themselves, includes Rudy Schneider, Art Baumann, Charlie Weisbrod, George Allendorf, and Walter Foster. The youngest in the group is aged 76, the oldest is 82. All of them had careers in the machine tool industry before retiring. Rudy Schneider, the group's leader, has spent the last fourteen years working to see this project become reality. All five are volunteers.

A number of corporate sponsors, private donors, and museum staff also supported this project, contributing funds and expertise to augment the work of the five original preservationists.

Including the power generation and transmission equipment in the shop area is a unique element of this display. Not only are the traveling belts and rotating shafts interesting to watch in action, but they also reveal how metalworking tools became powerful and effective machines, enabling them to produce the essential components for more machines and other types of equipment.

Along with the working machine shop are displays of other historically significant machine tools such as a horizontal milling machine built by John Steptoe, the man who first marketed machine tools in Cincinnati; a treadle-powered lathe; and an 86-year old six-ton planer from the G. A. Gray Co., a machine truly big enough to machine large parts of other large machine tools.

Other displays focus on the entrepreneurs behind Cincinnati's machine tool industry, such as R. K. LeBlond, William Lodge and Murray Shipley. Additional posters, artifacts, and photos show what life in Cincinnati's factories was like at the turn of the century and how it typified American industry at the time. The impact of machine tools on today's manufacturing becomes clear in a yet-to-be completed display of the latest CNC technology. Appropriately enough, a Hawk CNC lathe from Cincinnati Machine, formerly Cincinnati Milacron, is already in place.

Nevertheless, Rudy Schneider and his gang have left their mark on this entire section of the museum. It is obvious that their passion for machine tools and for the history of this technology truly enlivens what is presented here. Thanks to these five tenacious dreamers, at the heart of this magnificent display are machines making chips, and machines making chips are still at the heart of our metalworking industry.

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