Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Temple of Precision

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: They are rails out of another time. The scale, to the left of the door, which weighed castings as they left the foundry, is calibrated to 40,000 lbs. The foundry has been as still as a sanctuary since 1986

Across the yard the machine shop is still a temple of precision. Machines still hum and machinists work and recall the days when the foundry was dangerous and important. At the head of the machine shop Joe adjusts a narrow groove called a “keyway," at the base of the large screw. The machine is a bit like the carpenter's router I used to use. The size of the machine is matched by the heft of the bench that supports the work, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when the heavy, steel bench started to move as Joe pushed buttons on a digitally calibrated display. A couple of times I watched Joe stop and check himself, “Which axis must be adjusted, how much, and on bench or router?

Distinguished machines like this will be upgraded and modified long before they will be replaced, and they develop a history. When I sent this photo to my friend, Don Bristol, he wrote:

The picture you sent, is my old machine, I ran that machine for years. There is probably only one other person that knows that machine better than me, that would be Wendall. He is most likely cutting the keyway or keyways depending on the specs. Some have one keyway while others have two, 180 degrees apart. Notice who made that Planner-Mill, Farrel did. I believe they only made two. I think one was sold, and that one has been used by Farrel for many years. Its been back and fourth between the Ansonia and Derby plants.

The size of the machine and the bench allow a skilled machinist to achieve tolerances to 1/1000 of an inch. Making a machine like that requires tolerances many times greater.