Saturday, May 26, 2012

My old Atlas Lathe died and My Heart Sank – How could I fix it?

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My old Atlas Lathe died and My Heart Sank – How could I fix it?
About two weeks ago my Metal Lathe quit working.  Actually it was the motor.  When I turned it on it would only make a low hum as it tried to begin to turn over.  Something was seriously wrong with the motor after all these years.

My heart sank as the feeling of hopelessness flooded over me.  What am I to do?  I need the lathe and what it does for me now. In my production of some of the items that are in demand right now, Misty Hollow cannot have any down time!

On Tuesday I started working toward the possible repair of the electric motor. I removed it from the lathe and started to take it apart.  It is old and very dirty to say the least.  It has been ages since this has been looked at.  What am I going to do?

I should tell you this part first. The lathe is something that you turn metal parts on but you can also use it to make wooden parts as well.  Things like chair legs or table legs and even wooden bowls.

The lathe is not new. I inherited it when my Dad passed away in 1987.

He bought the lathe in 1943, a year before I was born.

It is an Atlas Lathe with a 10 inch chuck and a 46 inch bed for those that understand that lingo.

Whoa!  The motor is 69 years old or more – likely closer to 72 or 76 years old. It was bought in 1943 but likely produced a few years before the small garage in Lang, Saskatchewan purchased it to work on the farm machinery. My dad was working for that garage as a mechanic. The lathe was too small to do the larger tasks that it was needed for.  So my dad stepped forward and bought the lathe from the owner.

When I was presented with the lathe in 1987 I moved it in a small trailer from Regina, Saskatchewan to Scarborough, Ontario.  Then we moved it from Scarborough to Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  After that it moved with us to Regina, Saskatchewan.  Following the stint in Regina it went across Canada again to Peterborough, Ontario where it has worked hard for the last 14 years.

The original move to Lang, then Milestone, and then Regina Saskatchewan had taken place after it had arrived from Illinois where it was made those many years ago.

I doubt that there is any lathe, anywhere that has traveled any more than this one… and to top it off it is now very old.  Talk about an active senior citizen that weighs about 300 pounds!!!

As I pulled the motor apart it was clear that the dirt built up after all these years was the issue.  It so caked with dust and grime that the working parts were not doing what they should do.

In lower technical language I can tell you that this kind of one phase induction motor starts with a starting winding and then switches over to the running winding. The initial start is done by a zap from a capacitor.  And it all happens when the power flows through the starting switch which makes the starting winding send the armature in a certain direction either Clockwise or Counter Clockwise – depending on which way you position the drum switch… Forward or Reverse.

Did you get all that?  I learned all that when I worked with my dad rewinding and repairing electric motors at his Lincoln Motor Repair shop that he launched later in his life.

Knowing this stuff has come in handy over the years.  And when I ran into trouble with a motor on one of our appliances I would call my dad for advice, or parts or whatever I needed to repair the electric motor.

My father had given me the most valuable thing he could have. He gave me some of his knowledge and ability to repair things.  He gave me the best.

It was amazing to have him around in person or by telephone.  One quick call and he had an answer.

For 25 years now he hasn’t been around. I have had to rely on what I remember and what I can figure out. His training and gift to me was very good.

BUT – and it is a BIG BUT… on Tuesday when I took apart the old motor my heart sank.  This is not something that you go out to a repair shop and get parts for. No one even remembers this kind of motor!  Not the young guys at least.

To buy a new motor I found that I was looking at a range of prices from $175 for one that might not be big enough or up to $350 for one that would likely work.

After pricing the new motors out I was less than confident that I could go this way.

Worse yet, I had checked the wiring harness in the old motor and in the line to the switch and the wire casing was breaking every two inches. It was already broken in many places from the switch to the motor. The 70 plus year old wire couldn’t remain pliable any longer. It was having a heart attack of sorts.

As I drove away from the last place I checked prices at I suddenly remembered another place that I had passed almost every day. It was the “Dependable Electric Motor Service” with a sign that explained what they do. When the door was open it looked just like the shops that my dad used to work in.

When I walked into Dependable Electric Motor Service it smelled like my father’s shop.

I explained my problem and the older fellow (younger than me but older than his staff) told me that they do carry new motors as well. But there were also shelves full of used electric motors that were for sale.

Bingo. There on the shelf was a used motor that would more than do the job I needed done. A customer had brought it in to be repaired.  It was from a band saw and should do the trick.

Whoa!  The best news… it was only $50!  Misty Hollow can handle that for sure!

Oh boy!  When I got it home and opened the back of the motor up where the wire connections are… there were six wires coming out – not four like the other old motor!  The drum switch had only four wires to connect to… and the plug leading to the wall had two more.

It was early Friday morning when I started to work on this problem. I began on the Internet asking how this problem could be solved. There were suggestions but not the answer that I needed.

By the afternoon I was even more confused. Where should I begin? Dad wasn’t there any longer and I had no one to call… no one at all!

So I began using some of the old ways that my dad had taught me. Try this… test. Mark it down what I did if it didn’t work. Try it… test. Try it… test.

The real testing started at about 8 PM and suddenly at 10:30 PM – kazzoom the motor roared to life and with both Forward and Reverse working perfectly!  What a moment of elation!

Who should I call?  Who would care? Who would even understand why I was so happy?

I wished at that moment that I could have called my dad.  He would have been so proud of me.

When I left my Misty Hollow shop last night and went into the house. I checked something on the calendar.

It was May 25.  That was the day that my dad passed away… 25 years ago!

Could it be that my dad is still watching over me? Naw!  I don’t believe that kind of stuff.

But when I had left that last place when I was pricing out the new motors I had this strange sensation that I should to Dependable Electric Motor Service.  And when I walked into that place it was as if I had come “home”… it had smelled like my dad’s place… the man was like one of my dad’s guys he used to work with. Even his clothes were the same.

When I went to bed I was smiling!  I had to tell someone… so I did that just now… by telling You!

Oh – and by the way – I worked on the old motor a little more… and even with its weak wiring and ancient workings inside… it too roared to life as well.  I could say it is as good as new… but that should say… almost as good as new.

It will go with the Lathe to one of my grandsons when I go. It will depend now on which one is really ready to take over this part of my life. Hmmm?

Somehow, somewhere and in some way I think my dad is smiling.  And in some small way he is telling somebody near him… “That’s my son… I taught him well!”

~ Murray Lincoln ~

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