Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Year After My Heart Attack

By Lloyd Graff

Today is a day I’ve pointed toward and dreaded. It’s a day I’ll be relieved to look back upon. Today is the one-year anniversary of my heart attack that almost killed me.

If you’ve read my stuff in Today’s Machining World you know my story. Feeling really crappy after a two-week vacation of feeling crappy, my wife Risa drove me 50 miles to see my doctor in Evanston, Ill. He looked at me, listened to my heart, and said, “Lloyd, you are in heart failure and I’m wheeling you to the emergency room right now.”

A stent, heroically implanted a few minutes later gave me a shot to make it past Labor Day when the heart surgeons were able to complete quadruple bypass surgery and a valve repair.

After 12 days on a breathing tube I regained the ability to breathe on my own. Two days later I went home. I resumed writing “Swarf” a few days later.

Has this near death experience changed me and my life? Yes and no. The stuff of my day-to-day living is remarkably similar to before the heart attack, except that I’m working more intensively, and later. My schedule is different because I start around 10:00 a.m. and work until 6:00 p.m. I know I absolutely do not want to retire. I love the structure that my work at TMW and Graff-Pinkert brings to my life. I love the people work brings into my life. I love the intellectual challenge. I do not enjoy the financial challenge the recession and structural changes in the economy have wrought. But the perspective that comes from having had my “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment helps me deal with everyday trials with more equanimity than I used to have.

Now I really do believe that every day I get to live is incredibly valuable borrowed time. I used to talk that talk, but I did not truly believe it like I do now.

I take a minute each day, after a few minutes of morning prayer, to identify five things I am particularly grateful for. I think it shifts my mood to a happier quadrant.

I wish I could forget about the heart attack episode, but I think about it many times every day. The big thick pink scar running down the middle of my chest still itches, and part of my left ankle is numb where the surgeon must have severed some nerves while fishing for a spare artery.

But what I connect with the most is the wonderful feeling of getting more time, knowing how my wife and children and friends supported me and each other for those two terrible, emotional and bonding weeks in the Intensive Care Unit of Saint Francis Hospital. I only wish I could have been in the waiting room, renamed the “hospitality suite,” instead of waiting for the nurses to fiddle with the tubes in my body.

Tonight, God-willing, I will get to say the Jewish Shehecheyanu prayer of gratitude for “reaching this day.” I know I will cry a little and feel immensely grateful to be able to experience the tears roll down my cheeks.

Question: How has a life-threatening illness affected you?


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Les Paul–Guitar Hero

By Lloyd Graff

Les Paul, the famed guitarist, died last Thursday at 94. He played his instrument in a jazz club until just before his death even though he had the use of only two fingers in his left hand because of arthritis. Paul’s right arm had been badly crushed in a car accident in 1948. One doctor suggested amputation, but Paul insisted that they fix it at a right angle so he could play his guitar.

He developed the first solid-body, electric guitar for Gibson. The company did not see a future for the instrument until 1952, after rival company, Fender, introduced its hugely popular Fender Telecaster electric guitar to the music market

Paul’s story is an intriguing one for me. It resonates with another tidbit I heard recently.

Crusty old Arlen Specter, 78-years-old, who had five terms in the Senate as a Republican from Pennsylvania, flipped to the Democrats in May of this year. One reason he did so was to keep more clout on appropriations for the National Institute of Health, which funds a huge part of the medical research in the United States. Almost single-handedly, Specter forced $10 billion into the Obama stimulus package for the NIH.

The person who told me about Specter is closely involved with medical research and said that this infusion of money is already making a big difference.

Specter is currently taking chemotherapy for his second bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an often lethal type of cancer.

Les Paul and Arlen Specter chose totally different life paths, but both have demonstrated that you can make a difference by doing what you love, and never giving up, despite any supposed disability.

Making a Gibson Guitar

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A CAM Operated Davenport in a CNC World

Last month I wrote an article about the death of Automatic Machining, in which I ended the piece with a reference to the magazine being a CAM operated Davenport in a CNC world.
Bob Brinkman, owner of Davenport, took umbrage at my comment. I am taking a moment to answer him.

I love you and I love your product. My father made a lot of money running Davenports in World War II with the assistance of your father, Earl.
But sadly, today, the world of machining tends to look at your and my beloved Davenport automatic as a noisy representative of a bygone era. Right or wrong, the market for used Davenports, the world I live in, is in shambles. My brother Jim, my partner in our used machinery firm, Graff-Pinkert, attended an auction last week in Rhode Island and saw nice, operable, used Davenports with attachments sell for $250 each—and he passed on them. We recently traded our stock of 21 used Davenports for Maglites because we could not find a cash buyer. I know that your machines are still wonderfully productive pieces of equipment, but the market today is telling us bluntly that they are no longer valued by many buyers.

As always, I wish you all the best.



Letter from Bob Brinkman

August 11, 2009

Dear Lloyd,

To quote President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.”

In your article on the demise of Automatic Machining you imply that Davenport is going the way of Automatic Machining.  “A cam operated magazine (machine) in a CNC world.  The comparison could not be farther from the truth.

In spite of my repeated advice, Wayne Wood could not quite understand that he had to get engaged in the business, develop new perspectives and improve his product.

In comparison, we at Davenport have constantly improved the machine, the parts and our customer service to the point that we are now considered the only alternative for spare parts.  Lower prices, highest quality, and extensive inventory continue to provide our customers with a superior customer experience.  Not only that, our machines continue to produce millions of parts a day because the Davenport is the most economical, efficient and cost effective way to produce these parts.

Sure, CNC has its place and is very effective for many applications.  But the thousands of Davenports running out there prove that the machine is still viable and will continue to be.  Our HP servo driven machines can do many of the things a CNC machine can do at a fraction of the cost.

We intend to continue to support our customers with the best in parts, service, and support.  When I took over in 2003 our motto became, “Davenport, Another 100 Years”.  As the only remaining American made screw machine builder we would appreciate your support instead of your repeated derision.

R. J. Brinkman


Davenport Machine

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My Beloved Bridgeport and KitchenAid

By Lloyd Graff

Two icons of American mechanical ingenuity I encounter every day are my Bridgeport Mill and KitchenAid mixer. It struck me that their fortunes are going in different directions.

This last weekend, just a few days after the announcement arrived that Hardinge Corporation, which owns Bridgeport, is cutting back production at its flagship Elmira, New York, plant, the new movie about chef, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, made its debut.
Julia Child loved her cobalt blue KitchenAid, and it now resides at the Smithsonian museum in Washington.

More than any other personality, her warmth and unflappable style popularized the cooking TV show as a staple of television. For me the best shows on the tube today are on the Food Channel. I find Altan Brown to be the most creative and interesting TV personality on the air. The Tribune company’s stake in the cable channel is the bankrupt company’s most valuable property aside from my beloved Chicago Cubs, which are about to be sold.

Cooking is on the ascent and Whirlpool’s KitchenAid division is still cranking out mixers in the United States and doing well. The K45SS model my wife Risa and I have in our kitchen is used several times each week. It’s 30 years old, but has never faltered. We recently bought a new dough hook for it online and it arrived two days later. The basic product sells for $199.00 on Amazon, which is the same price it sold for 70 years ago.
Bridgeports’s fortunes are not so sanguine. While the product is beautifully designed and still incredibly useful, it has been in decline since it was sold off by Textron to a leveraged buyout firm in 1986. They immediately suffered a strike and struggled financially as CNC competitors eroded Bridgeport’s market dominance. In 2002, Hardinge took over the battered remains of the company, but its fortunes have gone the other way from KitchenAid’s.
I love both my KitchenAid and my Bridgeport. They have both helped make my “bread” for decades without ever failing.

We combed YouTube for our favorite cooking scenes from a popular movie or TV show. What are your favorites? Feel free to embed a clip from YouTube into your comments.


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Industry Scuttlebutt

Hydromat of St. Louis is suffering through a soft spell and has let about 35 people go from its peak employment. But a sign of the times is a fresh notice on the company’s Web site looking for new people.

They need a design engineer, a draftsman and an electrical control integrator.
I also heard through the grapevine that Bruno Schmitter, the head of the company, would like to buy a couple of CNC lathes to make more components in-house.
There is a strong rumor that Pfiffner in Switzerland has a severe cash flow problem and that company founder, Mr. Pfiffner, has infused the firm with a sizable sum of personal cash.


Tad Yamamoto has been named CEO of Okuma America. He spent 1994 to 2002 in the U.S., then went back to Japan for six years and then spent a year getting reacclimated to the American company. This is not an unusual career path for a top executive of a Japanese multinational company.
By moving back and forth between Japan and the U.S. a Japanese executive keeps his ties and credibility strong in both places. The home Japanese execs keep their confidence that the man still shares the parent company values and the Americans believe that he knows the territory. Larry Schwartz continues as President and COO of Okuma America.


The glutted screw machine market is going to get even more saturated in September. Niagara Machine Products in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, is being auctioned off by Glenn Gray’s Premier Asset Recovery Group September 16th and 17th. There are 50 multi-spindles including an MS32-C Index and (2) 8 spindle Euroturns to go with 40 Acmes and 60 centerless grinders.
This sale will be followed a week later by a DoveBid sale in Athens, Alabama, with 25 more 8 spindle Acmes and Conomatics.


Chad Arthur, whose Arthur Machinery was the most dynamic dealer in machine tools in Illinois until his company spiraled into bankruptcy, has resurfaced as exclusive distributor for DMG in Illinois. Chad’s company, CDA Machinery, is based in Elk Grove Village Ill., as was Arthur Machinery. I think this is a good move for DMG because they needed a surge of energy, and few people in the business have more energy than ex-hockey player Chad Arthur when he is truly engaged.


Which machine tool builder from your experience has the best service?

And, which is more important for customer service, the builder or the distributor? (You can also comment at

Tad Yamamoto

Tad Yamamoto

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Time to Leave Business Hibernation?

Mike Jackson, head of the publicly traded dealer group, AutoNation Inc., says the automotive economy has turned the corner. He sees a 13 million car year as early as 2011 or 2012. Ford is making money. GM may have an IPO as early as next year. Inventories of cars have been halved in the last few months. The green lights are illuminating the highways. Yet business in my world, the machining world, still stinks.

What do you do if you are making decisions now that could affect your business for the next three years?

From experience I know that the big money is made in the tiny window of a market turn. We have already seen that in the stock market’s 50 percent rebound since the March bottom. If we are at the pivot point in machining, particularly in automotive work, this may be the time to go into business if that’s what you’ve always wanted to do. If you are a business person still standing after 18 months of being pummeled, this is probably the time to gamble on the upside.

When a bear hibernates his bodily instincts tell him when to exit his cave. Rational humans tend to want to stay in the cave well after the thaw begins because a spring blizzard might hit and finish them off.

I must make the decision in the next few days about whether to increase the number of Today’s Machining World issues from the survival mode of every other month, to nine or even 12 issues for 2010. After I almost died a year ago I fear being reckless in case of an economic relapse. But because I survived near death in the hospital and on the economic playing field, I am much more inclined to say to myself and the world, “If not now, when?

Question: Are you ready to leave survival mode?

Leaving a Cave

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