Eclipsed Machinery?

By Lloyd Graff

Where are your eclipse sunglasses?

It isn’t a dumb question because the flimsy, one use only, $2 shades are the stuff of a provocative metaphor for how we live our lives. This issue came up after reading Seth Godin’s pithy short blog this past Tuesday, “The Market for Used Eclipse Sunglasses,” which I will reprise now.

“It doesn’t matter how many you have. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for them. It doesn’t matter how long the line was yesterday. The market is gone. It’s a sunk cost. Falling in love with what we have and reminding yourself of what it cost you is no help at all. The same goes for the value of the assets we invested in, the rare skills we used to possess, the position in the marketplace we worked so hard to get. New days require new decisions.”

As a used machine tool dealer who has speculated on and collected the eclipse sunglasses of the machining world for decades this blog was gold. I walked around my 20,000 square foot warehouse yesterday looking at Wickman and National Acme, Schutte and Gildemeister cam operated screw machines. At one moment, they looked like iron excrement, and then a customer called from New England looking for three machines, and the flotsam and jetsam sparkled like sapphires and rubies in my mind’s eye.

Value is in the eye of the beholder. The collector sees a fortune in old comic books and an ugly clunky wooden desk made in 1840 by a venerated craftsman. For a hobbyist a solid 40-year-old Bridgeport mill or sturdy little South Bend lathe are perfect for basement experimenting.


Seth Godin is also right, I must admit. In business we cannot be trapped by our eclipse sunglasses, no matter how useful they were for a few precious minutes on Monday.

There is an auction coming up on August 29 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with 40 well-maintained cam operated Tornos Swiss-type screw machines. They made money for the family that owned the shop for many decades. They probably will be sold and packaged for shops in Vietnam after the auction. Today, the shop owner probably looks at them ruefully, like eclipse sunglasses that he kept way too long.

When I discussed the Godin blog with my children and grandchildren they reacted to the one-day glasses with a different angle. To them, the sunglasses were an artifact, but one of value, because in five years they could pull them out of a closet and recall a wonderful memory of sharing the eclipse experience on August 21, 2017. For them the eclipse sunglasses were like a photo album or a poster advertising the first concert they attended. That view intrigued me. It romanticized the junk. But it does not change the kernel of truth in Godin’s blog. Graff-Pinkert cannot run a business selling machines whose main value is sentimentality.

The old iron, the now useless sunglasses, the obsolete ideas we cling to from childhood must be pitched or we will become the doddering hosts of tomorrow’s roving pickers.

Question 1: Are mechanical machine tools the eclipse sunglasses of manufacturing?

Question 2: Do you have a Bridgeport in your basement?

Share this post

16 thoughts on “Eclipsed Machinery?

  1. Steve

    “They probably will be sold and packaged for shops in Vietnam after the auction”

    It’s not that these tools are no longer useful, it is rather that stupid people have voted for Government and Regulations which drive manufacturing overseas.

  2. Mike Ray

    Good point, Lloyd.
    Machine tools (specifically) have multiple values – the value they generate by making parts for a profit, the value they intrinsically possess by being a saleable machine tool, and then there is always parts and scrap value. It is obviously up to the owner (and potential buyer) to understand what those values are.
    Paradoxically I have purchased used-up junk that has made me a substantial amount of revenue and brand-new CNC equipment that generated tens of thousands in losses.
    Best to you,

  3. Tom Hogge

    I have well over 100 CNC machines. Swiss, Multi task lathes . Machining centers, EDM`s . All the latest greatest expensive metrology to compliment them.
    Have around forty multi spindle New Britain`s few Acmes , Only a couple Brownies now and couple Davenports. They all do well as profit centers . The key as a job shop owner, know which machine will be the most productive on the parts to be produced .
    And having the personnel to utilize the proper equipment. That`s the hard part.
    But old good iron with the talent to operate it . Hope it never goes away in my life time . And I don`t think it will! And most of all hope I am around a while longer . Truly Blessed for each day .

    1. Joe L

      Tom you sound like a savvy owner. I’ve been a cam & gear multi spindle set up operator since early 80’s. Very frustrating in current scenario working for a mid size company with our own product, and the computer system used does not recognize the need to run in quantity. So we keep walking into the wall and saying we need to do better. As you stated, pairing the right machine with the right product is the key. Quantity runs are getting very rare!

  4. David Dillion

    As a matter of fact I have two Bridgeports. One that I helped unwrap when it was new in 1987 and another I keep as a spare, just incase…

  5. Mark Jacobs

    I bet no one else can say they have a COMET mill I have in the basement. Its not a Bridgeport but still keeps working. But truth be told bet my kids will junk it when I am gone.
    Disposable attitude and no one can operate it anymore. Sad

  6. rick

    Tools always have value.

    I have a beautiful double bit axe with a razors edge, and an antique Two Man Crosscut Saw in my cabin for when the chainsaw gets stuck or runs out of gas.

    Have you ever spent the time sharpening an ax, knife or saw by hand?

    there is something soothing and rewarding about careful hand sharpening, almost as much as cleaning ones’ guns.

    For short runs, one offs, prototyping and repairs NOTHING beats a Bridgeport!

    Before the fellas get done typing on the CNC, I will have it done .

    There are times and places for everything, just like there is a proper tool for each job.

    There are also many roads that lead to Rome!

    The problem today in our industry, the old world foundations, techniques, and methods are no longer taught and so much long forgotten!

    How do you create complex intricate components when you have NO FUNDAMENTALS!

    I have my own machine shop a couple of blocks from home, so I don’t need a Bridgeport in the basement.

    However I have an XY cross slide vise for my drill press at the cabin.

    I have repaired much and made it do some tricks.

    As I said, common sense fundamental skills are most important.

  7. Bryan

    Mechanical machines still have great value for simple parts and repair work/tweaking of parts. They will never go obsolete. I have a Bridgeport in my garage, moved off the shop floor into engineering. Could not stand not being able to do my own repairs and fabrication at home. Probably cannot justify owning it, but it has been very useful at times. Has great wow factor for visitors.

  8. Bob

    Looking high & low , but could not find even a 12 , even at McMaster .
    We chased around our nearest big town only to find that they were all sold out . Bought the last 2 telescope magazines to get the cheap glasses .
    A 600 mile ride through the night to Columbia MO and the local water utility was handing them out for free!
    Was it worth a 1,200 mi , 30 hour round trip to see a 2:34 event ?
    You bet it was . 2 Weeks from our 40th anniversary , and a memory with our daughter. What is the $ value of a beautiful sunset, a cherished memory ?

    1. Jeff Adamson

      Bob, I flew to St. Louis and then drove to Oakville Mo with my son to watch the eclipse at the Jefferson Barracks. Then flew home later that afternoon. It was an event neither of us will forget!

  9. nanoo

    If you are going for most excellent contents like I do, simply pay a visit this site daily as it gives quality contents, thanks

  10. Seth Emerson

    Mechanical machines are the learning tools. I missed them in my youth, ended up in electronics/non-machine tool computers, etc. Now, in retirement, a 1965 Bridgeport and a newly added 14″ lathe are allowing me playtime and extended learning in my garage, and the ability to make parts for my race car. Remember, a new project is an excuse to buy more tools! I have actually sold a few items as well. Kool!


Comments are closed.