By Lloyd Graff

The sound that a 20 ton traveling crane makes as it stolidly rolls north to south, south to north, on its electrified path, is very much like that of a lumbering freight train.  I heard it all yesterday, backing and forthing, carrying its 700 pound containers of old dinosaur bones closer to their new home, 400 miles to the east.

Of course, they aren’t complete tyrannosaurus skeletons being transported.  They are a pile of Acmesaurus bones, the steel innards of 40-year-old multi-spindle screw machines unearthed from cabinets and shelves after being virtually buried for decades.

I made my peace with selling the remains of machines that had been our meat and potatoes for so long.  Back in the last century of the last millennium, National Acme screw machines were king.  They were frothing giants like Tyrannosaurus Rex, and they ruled the turning industry, but today we are just shipping some heavy numbered bones, being sold for parts to repair or complete somebody’s fractured Acmesaurus.

Containers of old ACME-GRIDLEY  parts at Graff-Pinkert

I was shocked we had so many unmatched bones left.  They had occupied the shelves so long I no longer really took note of them, sort of like books you forget you own, squatting on cheap space on your shelves.

Eighteen months ago I made a promise to my wife Risa and to myself that I would get out of the dinosaur business one way or another. I was in the midst of suffering through a second straight miserable year in the used screw machine business and knew I had to make major changes or my bank would make them for me.

For 40 years, the business was generally a fun game that I played, but after 2008, it wasn’t nearly as much fun. Multi-spindle automatics were being seen by more and more of my traditional customers as unproductive, clumsy dust catchers—not core equipment to invest in.

In retrospect, one reason I kept investing in Acmes so long was because I was trying to prove to myself that my choices were correct and my brother Jim was wrong in wanting to change the business focus of Graff-Pinkert away from Acmesaureses.  But Jim was shrewder than I was in recognizing the long-term trends in the machinery business.  Acmes were dinosaurs; rebuilding multis was a really hard business to make a living in; and expensive real estate, high wages and big health care costs were eating the profits in the dinosaur resale game.

Overhead crane at Graff-Pinkert carrying old ACME-GRIDLEY parts

The people who bought our Acmesaurus parts knew what they were buying and they paid accordingly. Forty thousand pounds of National Acme parts and pieces went for $13,000, plus $4,000 for a skeleton of a 1-¼  RB8 Acme. The buyers have cheap real estate, productive and not overly expensive employees, low utility costs and a good reputation in the business.  They also acknowledge it’s a hard game.  A lot of stuff they bought from us will never be used, but for 13 grand, they don’t have to worry about it.

I feel lighter getting out of 40,000 pounds of idle iron but I’m a little nostalgic as I hear the rumble of the crane shifting the tonnage to a new owner.  We are still in the multi-spindle refurbishing business, selling primarily Wickmans.  But refurbishing machines is now less than half of Graff-Pinkert’s volume. In a good month, refurbishing pays three quarters of the bills of the total business, which is okay because it builds our brand, augments our spare parts operation and provides a base of talent and knowledge that nourishes the rest of our business.

I know a lot of folks in the machine tool business who love the iron.  I don’t.  Those bones rumbling down the craneways are just dead iron to me.  What I love is the creative challenge of matching buyers and sellers, of turning dross to gold—occasionally hitting the jackpot, of connecting the dots that nobody else even saw, and feeling the combustion of ideas with Noah and Rex Magagnotti.

Question: Does it make sense to invest a lot of money to upgrade an old Acme?

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11 thoughts on “Acmesaurus

  1. Randy

    There are still lots of projects where investing in this kind of equipment makes sense as long as you have the talent pool to make it sing. Is it worth it to hang a bunch of CNC retrofits, that is a different question. Again if you have the project and the people then adding $50,000 versus spending $250,000 on a CNC machine which either one in a year will deplete in value the same $50,000 is really a question of output capability. The CNC may be more versatile and give you many additional years of benefit, but may have to run lights out to come close to keeping pace with the converted Acme. I’ve made both kinds of decisions, based on different scenarios. These days we are moving towards where the customers and the work force are telling us we need to be so we don’t end up a dinosaur.

    I just spoke with a customer that had a project he could have tooled up as a specialty machine and run circles around the CNC mills he actually bought and fixtured instead. But it was a new projected and he was able to go thru the learning curve with simple code and tool path changes over a few years to enhance the project. Now his customer wants to buy his project all tooled and he can sell the fixtures and program and keep the machines for another project. Acme’s are likely in this case the “specialty machine”, the CNC is the versatile one. Depends what you want “left over” for your next project.

  2. Dick Crosby

    Hi Lloyd! The above description of your (former) Acme parts inventory, sure made me laugh. At 85, and in this super rewarding business for 42 years, ending 12-31-17, I tell
    lots of people, I’m a dinosaur, and I sell dinosauer machines & stuff. My current fondest dream is to sell the last piece, be it machine, accessory, or tool, the day before i check out, and the wife & kids won’t have to wonder what to do with what’s left. You’ve got to admit it’s been a great trip. “The Lord takes care of used machinery dealers, and all the other dumb animals.” He has & still does take care of this one. It was a good decision back on Jan. 1, 1976, for me & (4) kids, following an anguishing divorice.

  3. Lloyd Graff

    Michael, I am happy business is strong for you. Do you buy refurbished machines or low priced machines to run relatively cheap work. Do you upgrade your machines with Logan attachments and clutches? What is your secret sauce? I wish you well. Just because I do not want to be in the Acme refurbishing business does not mean smart users cannot make money with the machines. And if you want a good “as is” machine give me a call.

    1. Michael P. Topolewski (Jr.)

      Lloyd, we have been upgrading our machines with Logan clutches / attachments and buying newer machines refurbished and similarly outfitted. We also run CNC lathes and mills in addition to our screw machines. No secret sauce, just a good product, good customer service and quick turn around. Will keep you in mind. Wish you luck in your expanding endeavors.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    Randy, as always, your comments are on target. Few things is business are “either or”. We are lightening up on Acme bones because refurbishing Acmes is no longer a winning business for us. It may well be for somebody else who has special skills.

    Upgrading an Acme or New Britain or Wickman to position it as a competitor of an Index may be a stretch but I certainly can imagine and have seen Indexes run next to Acmes, Wickmans and New Britains in the same factory. Certainly Okumas and Miyanos are running in primarily Acme shops. The pure multi or CNC model is archaic, but you cannot outreach your skillset.

  5. Terry

    I am knee deep in dino bones , Acmes flow through my veins as they are our work horse we’ve managed to expand to five locations , three states and over 250 machines running strong . I hope your next clean out you give us a call . The petrified forest is strong here.I hope 2018 is a great year for the machinery dealers here and all of the user’s . Go Trump !

  6. Joe L

    Cleveland man who illegally demolished National Acme Building sentenced to 33 months

    Updated Sep 20, 2017; Posted Sep 20, 2017

    Men sentenced for releasing asbestos from demolishment of National Acme Building
    By Eric Heisig,

    William Jackson Jr.
    CLEVELAND, Ohio — A federal judge sentenced a Cleveland demolition company owner to 33 months in prison for helping to demolish the National Acme Building in the city’s East Glenville neighborhood, releasing asbestos into the environment near an elementary school.

    William Jackson Jr., 47, pleaded guilty in March to two counts of the Clean Air Act, including failing to remove asbestos prior to demolition and failing to dispose of asbestos waste. Prosecutors said he was one of several people involved in the demolition of the building on East 131st Street near Iowa-Maple Elementary School in 2012.

    He also lied on forms submitted to the city and wrote the building had no asbestos, authorities said.

    While Jackson admitted in court to the charges, he has continued to fight the case.

    He tried to withdraw his plea, which Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent refused to allow him to do. He also maintained that he only participated in demolition on two occasions in August 2012, though witnesses interviewed by federal investigators said they saw him at the site conducting demolition on other days.

    Up to the last minute, Jackson tried to explain away his conduct. When Nugent brought up the fact that Jackson wrote on city forms that there was no asbestos, Jackson said that was based on a survey provided to him.

    When Nugent asked Jackson, who has demolished buildings for years, whether he would recognize asbestos when he saw it, Jackson said, “no sir, I’ve never had a reason to look for it.”

    Jackson is the last defendant to learn his fate in the problematic demolition and trashing of the National Acme Building, which remains an eyesore for East Glenville, with tons of trash piled up on a site that is easily accessible to burglars and rodents alike. A city lawyer also said Wednesday that asbestos remains on site.

    “What an environmental disaster this site has become,” Councilman Mike Polensek, whose ward includes the building, told the judge during Wednesday’s sentencing.

    National Acme Building now an eyesore to East Side

    The National Acme Building is at the center of a criminal case, but the trash-riddled property has not been cleaned up for five years.

    Christopher Gattarello, who leased the building in 2011 and used it a storage facility for thousands of tons of paper, cardboard waste and municipal garbage, was sentenced in July to 57 months in federal prison.

    Robert Shaw, who pleaded guilty in a related scheme, was sent to prison for a year.

    Nugent ordered Jackson on Wednesday to pay more than $6.6 million in restitution to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which did some cleanup on the site to remove exposed asbestos, and the city of Cleveland, though it’s unlikely either will see much of that money.

    Jackson was ordered to pay that amount along with Gattarello.

    Gattarello filled the building with garbage by April 2012 but realized he could make money by demolishing it and selling off the scrap metal, investigators said. He had several other people demolish parts of the building and Gattarello hired Jackson to continue the work.

    Jackson submitted his notice to demolish the building in July 2012 but the city’s Division of Air Quality rejected it, saying it was incomplete. Under Gattarello’s orders, Jackson still tore down part of the building.

    Jackson and his attorneys did their best during sentencing to illustrate that there were other people who worked on the building. Nancy Jamieson, Jackson’s attorney, said her client had a “very minimal role in the whole entire proceeding.”

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Beeson said Jackson and the others unleashed environmental waste in a low-income neighborhood that can’t afford any more problems.

    Jackson has a pending case in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on charges of kidnapping and gross sexual imposition. He was on probation for a state weapons charge when the investigation into the National Acme Building case began.

    Christopher Gattarello’s brother Anthony pleaded guilty in state court to open dumping and burning and was placed on probation.

    Polensek said after the hearing that he is still trying to get the Ohio and U.S. EPAs to put some money toward cleaning up the site. He pointed to the Ohio EPA’s recent willingness to put $6 million toward cleaning up construction debris from an illegal dump site in East Cleveland as evidence that the state may be willing to help.

    By Eric Heisig,

    CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland wants to hire a former federal prosecutor as the next superintendent of the police department’s Internal Affairs Unit, sources told

    The city seeks to hire Ronald Bakeman, who worked at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in northern Ohio for 28 years, as it works to come into compliance with a 2015 police reform agreement it reached with the Justice Department.

    Bakeman, 70, served stints leading the U.S Attorney’s Office’s organized crime drug enforcement and national security units. After retiring in 2011, he spent time in Afghanistan advising nationals on law and investigations.

    The city hired Bakeman, a Medina resident, in 2012 for an investigation into payroll abuses in the fire department. His work led Cuyhaoga County prosecutors to charge and convict 13 firefighters accused of illegally paying co-workers to cover assigned shifts.

    He also expressed interest at one point in being the city’s consent decree monitor.

    Cleveland spokesman Dan Williams said Tuesday that “the final selection has not been made.”

    But the city and the Justice Department said in a Dec. 27 court filing for the consent decree that the city had selected two finalists.

    “Of those, the City would like to offer the position to a candidate whose experience includes service as a county prosecutor and an assistant U.S. attorney, the latter being the position from which the candidate retired,” the filing states. Sources told that the person referred to in the filing is Bakeman.

    The consent decree mandates an overhaul of the Internal Affairs Unit because the Justice Department found in 2014 that Cleveland police failed to adequately investigate and hold officers accountable for using excessive force and committing misconduct.

    The city agreed to hire a civilian to oversee Internal Affairs with the hope that it would root out some of the unit’s historical biases.

    The new superintendent is expected to be hired and installed as the consent decree monitoring team shifts its focus to the Internal Affairs Unit. It wrote in a status report in June that it examined 45 Internal Affairs cases from 2015 and more than half of them were deemed to be “fair” or “poor.”

    The monitoring team also found problems with the way internal investigators conducted interviews and forms it required complainants to sign.

    The Dec. 27 court filing from the city and the Justice Department asks U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. to approve a tweak to the consent decree to allow a current or retired law enforcement officer to be hired as the Internal Affairs superintendent.

    The consent decree says that “Internal Affairs will be headed by a qualified civilian who is not a current or former employee of CDP, and who is not a current or retired law enforcement officer.” The city tried to find a qualified candidate who fit those requirements but was unable to do so, the filing says.

    “After 20 months of advertising the position four times and interviewing several candidates, however, the City has been unable to attract a qualified civilian who is not a current or retired law enforcement officer to the Internal Affairs Superintendent position,” the filing states.

    The monitor agrees that removing the restriction on current and former law enforcement officers is necessary, according to the filing.

    Oliver has not ruled on the city and Justice Department’s request.

    By Cory Shaffer,,

    Michael D. Polensek
    CLEVELAND, Ohio — An outspoken city councilman who decried recent acts of violence in his ward on Tuesday penned a letter blasting a Cuyahoga County judge for not raising the bond of two men charged in a gas-station gun battle that wounded a 7-year-old innocent bystander.

    Michael Polensek questioned Common Pleas Judge Shannon Gallagher’s decision not to grant a prosecutor’s request to raise the bonds of Eddie Johnson and Steve Stewart — whom Polensek referred to in the letter as “dirtbags,” “gun packing predators” and “thugs” — from $100,000 to $250,000 at their Thursday arraignment.

    “I cannot believe, after personally being on the scene right after this ‘OK Corral shootout,’ that you would order such a low bond as to allow these characters back on the street to continue their mayhem throughout the northeast side of the city,” Polensek wrote. “Judge, they weren’t arrested for shoplifting or petty theft.”

    The letter, sent to Gallagher on Tuesday and shared with, copied Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and Safety Director Michael McGrath.

    Gallagher declined through a court spokesman to address the open case. Administrative and Presiding Judge John J. Russo said in an emailed statement that Gallagher did increase the conditions of the men’s bond, ordered them into custody and placed them to report to a probation officer while on house arrest.

    Johnson and Stewart were among five men charged in connection with the 5 p.m. Dec. 19 shootout at the Sunoco gas station at East 156th Street and Waterloo Road. Investigators say Johnson, Stewart and Stefone Black planned to lure Clarence Moore III and Deangelo Billingsley to the station under the guise of a drug deal, then rob them of money and drugs.

    The robbery devolved into a shootout which saw the two sides volley more than 50 gunshots at one another near station’s gas pumps and then onto the street, police said. Moore and Black were each wounded, and a stray bullet pierced a car at the gas pump and struck the hand of a 7-year-old girl inside the car, police said.

    The men were arrested within a day.

    Johnson, Stewart and Black are charged with felonious assault and aggravated robbery. Moore is charged with a weapons violation, and Billingsley is accused of dealing drugs. They began making their first appearances in Cleveland Municipal Court the week after Christmas, and have pleaded not guilty.

    A Cleveland judge set Black’s bond at $250,000, while the others were given $100,000 bond. They were released after posting 10 percent.

    Moore was shot again Jan. 7 while the men were free on bond, and told police that Johnson was his assailant. No charges have been filed in that incident.

    When the men showed up for their Thursday arraignment in Common Pleas Court, Gallagher denied a request by an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor to raise all of their bonds to $250,000. The prosecutor did not mention the second shooting at the hearing.

    The men’s attorneys asked Gallagher to keep the bond at 10 percent of $100,000.

    Gallagher said the men were released before the court’s bond commission had a chance to interview them and issue a report, she said, so she kept their bond at $100,000. But she removed the 10 percent provision and required them to post the full $100,000. She also ordered them to wear a GPS ankle-monitor and remain on house arrest if they did post the bond.

    The men put up the bond through a bail bonds agency and were released Thursday afternoon, according to court records.

    Her decision did not sit well with Polensek.

    “When you campaigned in our community for judge, you indicated that would take a hard line on individuals preying on innocent people,” Polensek wrote. “What if the innocent people who were affected by this shooting were members of your family? What would you have done then?”

    Polensek ended the letter by saying that he and residents of Collinwood and Glenville are watching closely how judges handle those accused of committing violent crimes in those neighborhoods, and that “we have a long memory.”

  7. Fred F

    “They had occupied the shelves so long I no longer really took note of them”

    Like the guy with the 35 foot Cabin Cruiser in his side yard.
    Been there 30 years, and now he doesn’t even see it anymore.


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