The base or bed of an steam engine engine, particularly a
steamboat engine, was a “timber”
;
the long unwieldy “pitmans” were (and still are) made from a
single spar bound with iron; valve and reach-rods,levers, and other minor parts were
jobs for
the carpenter and ship builder rather than for him whom we now call machinist.        
Running a lathe in those days was not the  “cinch” that it afterward became; there were
no slide rests and no feeds to “throw in” so that the lucky operator could start things
moving
and then go to sleep on a soap box. Turning was accomplished with the “hook-tool,” two
of
which still occupy positions of safety (for the operator) if not of honor, under  
the safe in Walter Renton’s office. He calls them his “relics of barbarism.”            
The picture of one of these tools that was doing valiant service 60 or 70 years ago
appears
on this page in Fig. 1. To use it the lathesman settled the point of the hook into the
rough
surface of the T rest, held the long end  firmly upon his shoulder with one hand while
with the other hand he tilted the downwardly projecting handle in such a way that the   
lip of the tool was moved forward in a direction parallel with the axis of the work.  


If the piece being turned was. good homogeneous iron,
little difficulty would be experienced,    
With a properly ground lip the tool would  
almost feed itself forward until the angle
of presentation became too great; when the
heel or “hook” would have to be moved forward
to get a fresh bite. The long end of the   
tool must be held tightly down on the shoulder
so that the workman could at all times feel
the pressure, and woe betide the unlucky wight
who let his attention waver. George Renton
told me a story in which a ma- chinist whom
he called “Charlie” was the hero and this particular
tool the vil- han. It seems that Charlie was
turning a piece of iron in a lathe that    
stood before an open window on the Ferry   
St. side of the build- ing. Either there   
was a seam in the iron, or Charlie for an  
instant forgot his re- sponsibilities, for
the end of the tool suddenly flew up and fetched
him a resounding thwack under the ear that nearly
laid him out cold, after which it sailed   
merrily ‘out of the window and landed among
some kids that were playing in the street,
scaring them into flight. It took some moments
and much sympathy and ad- vice from his shopmates
to restore Charlie’s equilibrium but when  
his head had cleared sufficiently to allow
him                                        
-to navigate he went out into the street   
to retrieve the                            
Vol. 53, No. 22 1                          
                                 
tool. As he stooped to pick it up a large  
lady of Hibes nian extraction appeared suddenly
from behind nearby tree and commenced to   
belabor him unmerc fully with a horsehide  
strap; calling him between b~ a “dirty spaljeen
that c’uldn’t let the little chil play widout
t’rowin’ t’ings at ‘um.” It required the corn, bined
office and shop forces to effect an armistice.
After a job was roughed out with the hook-tool
th~                        
   latter was ex.i                            
changed for a 1 o n g-h an d led square-nosed
tool which would be pushed along the       
top of the rest                            
with the hand, reducing the humps to the   
diameter of the hollows left by the hook-tool.
Although this finish- ing tool was not quite
so erratic in disposition as its predecessor
it still required a firm hand and a skill born
of long experience to do a creditable job.
Threading was done with two tools made especially for
the purpose. The first was a graver, having
a single sharp point with which the lathesman
would “start” the thread by a dexterous twist
of the wrist, running up a turn or two on  
the work. Here, too, only the skill of the
practiced artisan would suffice, for there was
nothing but the movement of his hand guided
by his eye to establish the lead.          
     When a partial thread of one or two turns  
had been cut, the “chaser” was brought into’
service. This would be a tool having several
“teeth” of the exact shape and pitch of the
required thread. The first turn or two cut
by the graver served to start the forward  
move- ment of the chaser and it            
was up to the workman to continue the same
relative rate of advance as he made pass   
after pass over the work until the teeth   
of the chaser had gotten suffi- ciently deep
into the metal to guide itself. By the time the
thread had been cut to half its depth the  
chaser would of course be guided by its own
accurately pitched teeth, not only in- suring
the regularity of the threads but correct  
the slight inaccuracy of the starting threads
cut by the graver. Capscrews, bolts, studs,
etc., were not then available as a commer- cial
product, therefore the                     
     making of these small but                  
important items was a stock job to be followed
up when- ever work ran slack, or inclement
weather kept the workers indoors.          
Blacksmithing was a fine art and not a few
parts came, all finished and ready to take
their place in the machine, from the anvil.
The good machinist was also blacksmith,    
carpenter, millwright andY pattern maker; not
infrequently foundryman as well. The broad
axe or the sledge; the plane and the bit-brace,
or the ham-                                
                                 
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 Working in an 1890's detroit
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.
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1890-Wodward and Congress. Bicycles are
now-in-abundance-rails-horse-drawn trolley.
                                            This is your walk to work downtown in 1890.