Is it really possible that the “thing,” the loud, relay operated, cam directed monstrosity called by the name of a sofa, is on the comeback trail?
Is it possible that the “thing” named for a little burg in Connecticut that chews up brass like it’s a kosher hot dog, still has a following?
Could it be possible that the stodgiest of plodding metal dinosaurs that uses so many cams for one job that it requires voluminous shelves to categorize them, still has a fan club?
Folks, it may just be possible in this weird, finally unmasked, industrial moment, that the multi-spindle automatic screw machines, known by archaic names like Davenport, New Britain, Acme-Gridley, and Wickman are making one of the oddest comebacks since cauliflower became a “hot” vegetable.
William Simeon Davenport started the Davenport Machine Tool Company in 1894 to produce clock pinion turning machines, and then progressed into building the Davenport multi-spindle turning machines, which he patented in 1902. In his words, the development of a machine is a growth process: “My first machine had about 350 parts. Improvements and simplification added the other 1,500. A machine grows out of a crude infancy like a boy into manhood.”
It was also said that old Mr. Davenport could make anything but money, but his student, an ambitious mechanic named Earl Brinkman, who began working at Davenport in 1925, turned it into a money-making machine as he became the leader of the firm.
My father, Leonard Graff, met Brinkman when he was first starting out in business. He regaled me with Brinkman stories when I was a kid. He connected with Earl when he was taking a train to Chicago on his way to Milwaukee to see his father during World War II. My dad convinced him to come to his shop on a Sunday and introduced him to a farm boy turned mechanic named Paul Carlson, who had recently gone to work for my father’s nascent screw machine shop, which had six Davenports then.
Brinkman coached Paul for several hours and told my dad that he was gifted, and that he could place him at any shop in America. Paul soon ran the shop and stayed with my dad for 30 years.
When Graff Pinkert moved into our new warehouse in Oak Forest in 1975, we had a celebration and Brinkman came back to speak as a featured guest. And now in 2021, that ancient machine, not much changed from the original design of Mr. Davenport and upgraded to the Model B version by Brinkman in the 1940s, is still productive, and still amazingly successful at whacking out 1/4″ and 1/2″ parts, tapped and deburred, 10 times faster than a Citizen or Star.
Today that awkward 5-spindle, ridiculous looking, 3,000 pound erector set is in demand to make fittings and car parts in Nashville, Shanghai, and Bangalore. They’re stupid noisy, so many people shroud them with fancy Noise Tamers, which cost more than the dinosaurs themselves. Some of the true aficionados like to run them without the Tamers so they can tune themselves into the machine’s rock and roll.
The Davenport. Is it an amazing screw machine or a dumb couch? The New Britain is named for a sleepy Connecticut town. The Acme-Gridley was invented by George Gridley, who studied stenography in his spare time while he invented his brilliant but clunky multi-spindle warrior that helped win two World Wars.
These loud tyrannosauruses still bang out parts by the multimillions each month. To my amazement, after spending a lifetime listening to their Timkens, they are making another comeback.
When everybody believes an idea is dead, it may well be the time to buy.
Question: What is the oldest machine you use in your shop?