What Do You Keep?

By Lloyd Graff

Where have all the souvenirs gone?

I find it ironic that we seemingly hacve a collectibles boom, with TV shows like Pickers and Antique Road Show, but if you go to a tool show like IMTS or the PMPA April extravaganza you leave with nary a keepsake that is worthy of a shelf in your office or a chest in the attic.

I was reminded of the value of a souvenir twice this past week. I went to a wedding in New Jersey and took a 20-year-old t-shirt to wear at the family lake house where the wedding took place. The shirt had been artfully designed for a Bar Mitzvah of twin brothers in the same extended family in 1995. It had a family tree on the back of the shirt.

It seemed like all the people at the wedding wanted to inspect the t-shirt and recollect the occasion 20 years earlier on Long Island. I love the shirt, and I wear it frequently to exercise in. It was a 50% polyester 50% cotton garment and it has easily withstood hundreds of washings without fading or tearing. This shirt passes many tests. It has family significance because of the family tree on the back and the celebration of the occasion on the front. It is useful, and it is remarkably durable. Very few keepsakes pass so many tests.

The second souvenir that popped into memory this week was the brass bell machined by a National Acme Screw Machine at the 1970 International Machine Tool Show.

Jeff Kovalenko of Elkhart, Indiana, sent me a photo of the Acme staff who worked that show, which included his father. The title of the email was Tintinnabulation, which referred to the brass bell, complete with the dinger. The word “tintinnabulation” was used in an Edgar Allen Poe poem, and means the sustained ring made by a bell.

I remember that show only because of the National Acme exhibit and the beautiful brass bell, with the National Acme inscription.

The bell was the perfect intersection of engineering, art and execution. It was also the perfect keepsake. The bells still come up on eBay from time to time. My brother Jim has a collection of them that he cherishes.

I ask you, where are the cool souvenirs these days? Is everybody so bottom line driven that they are afraid to give away anything of value at a show? It seems odd that a company will spend a million bucks at IMTS but not a nickel on a memorable reminder.

I think it is less about tight-fisted bean counters and more about creativity. It’s hard to come up with an idea like a bell with a brass dinger and then convince a bunch of engineers and sales people it is worth the effort to pull it off.

I’d like to hear about keepsakes that you value, like a home run ball you caught at Yankee Stadium or a beer mug you brought back from Vienna. Maybe it’s a cap from Army Basic Training, or a piece of shrapnel from Iraq. Why do you care about it so much? Is it in your will to go to someone else?

My son Ari has his comic books from childhood stashed away at our house. I know a guy who has kept a 2 5/8″ Conomatic, virtually unused, out of the Atchison caves. He hasn’t used it more than three months. That is one big old souvenir.

Question: What do you keep?

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5 thoughts on “What Do You Keep?

  1. AvatarJack

    Have some tickets stubs from the early 70’s from the local dirt track. Some of the best memories of my dad was going to the Tuesday night races.
    Still have the slalom ski I made in wood shop in high school in 76.
    Still have the center punch and some ice skimmers I made in metals shop class.

  2. AvatarBob Holladay

    I have the same exact bell BUT mine was made on a Clausing 15″ engine lathe with a tracer and turret attachment at the 1976 IMTS show in Chicago. The operator would turn the bell in 2 ops (outside 1st op with tracer) and inside 2nd op with turret. In the 2nd op he would insert the “ringer” and seat it with a staking tool. The ringers were made ahead of time.

    It is roll stamped Clausing Colchester

  3. AvatarTom Steuby

    We have one of the bells. I was always told that both parts were made and assembled in one operation on an 1-1/4″ machine?? My dad got it at the show.
    I keep cancelled checks, single socks, and concert ticket stubs…my wife keeps everything, especially Christmas decorations and shoes.

  4. AvatarJohn Bacsik

    I have two habits in which I developed as I began my position as QC Director and as I began to learn the art of machining and how to balance and create synergy between the two at my family’s shop. My first collection, is a large pile of scrap parts (categorized by material type and size). These, however, I collect not as a reminder of past mistakes and oversights during production… I know the cost of material vs. the price you get when you haul old parts to scrap is so one-sided that I decided to take what was once a non-conforming part and recycle it for use in setups to save from using (i.e. wasting) new raw stock on setups (especially the tricky ones that come along every once in a while. Also, for small orders and/or orders in which the material required is on the expensive side or is not readily available my scrap collection has been a time and money saver! I can not recall how many times that I utilized old scrapped out parts to build at least a portion if not completely fufill small orders or orders where the material was not readily available and our delivery schedule was very short. Those parts saved time, material expense, and helped us keep our delivery schedule from being marred with our customers! Lastly scrap parts often save machining time and help conserve tooling since they have already been machined before. It turns production mistakes around and helps recover the lost time and money they cost by being available for those tight and difficult times as a backup for us.
    My second habit of collecting, which has paid off so many times when I have serviced cars as a side job, is my compulsion to keep old car parts. Given the fact that I specialize in Toyota and Lexus exclusively, I have used old car parts (either as a whole part or only one or two sub-components) when I would have otherwise been totally out of luck or been out a lot of money because I found a component that HAD to be changed but availability and/or time were not on my side. I have rebuilt many Nippondenso alternators and A/C compressors where having an old, non-operational alternator or compressor gave me extra cash when the job was done because certain internal components I required for the rebuild I found inside those otherwise “junk car parts” in perfect condition as the final performance of the rebuild reflected. Not to mention those faulty parts that would have been scrapped until I asked if I could keep them… Usually always an easy way to get money with minimal or no cost in the repair, just an hour or two resulting in a fully functional, and usually very costly for the average guy to buy from the auto store, part to sale on ebay or craigslist cheaper than everyone else while still netting some nice pocket money… The last old alternator I had rebuilt (along with extensively having tested both mechnical and electrical features and performance output which all showed to be well within their allowable range as specified by Toyota) didn’t cost me but a few bucks to fix and about an hour and a half to repair the internal diode terminals where there was some corrosion and a few missing fasteners along with cleaning and re-packing the rear rotor bearing with AMSOIL marine grease (what I use to grease various things on our Mori Seiki lathes). It was in great shape with little wear and less than .0008″ of play between the outer and inner race, just a damaged seal that I replaced from our machine repair part stock. After a few days on craigslist, I sold it for a nice profit of $135 and didn’t even need to leave my shop…
    Smart collecting too often gets labeled as “pack-ratting” or “hoarding” by those who don’t bother to ask before they just start throwing negativity and judgmental “comments” out of pure ignorance most times… I just remember and enjoy each time something is said to which I show how my “habit” just put extra money in my pocket, or made my family additional profits that far exceeded the money paid at the scrap yard for our scrap parts (just to mention a few past confrontations). I say to anyone who is an avid collector to keep collecting to have fun if for no other reason. You never know when your habit of collecting items of interest may pay off in ways you may never have imagined…

    I have a dozen tools and gun accessories that I designed and built from 95% old bar ends and scrapped parts! You would never know it to see them now!

  5. Lloyd GraffLloyd Graff

    John, you are remarkably resourceful. Thanking you for sharing that comment. You give me faith in the future of American job shops.


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