11 October, 2015

Save the Boobs Month

Breast Cancer "Awareness" month.  The tool trucks are all running specials wherein the purchases of certain tools will cause a certain percentage of the profits to be donated to breast cancer.....  Meaningless.

Your Facebook shares, twitter posts, instagram pictures etc. do not do one thing to cure breast cancer, diabetes, reduce drunken driver kills, solve child abuse et al.  You think you're participating, you think you're doing your bit but you're doing nothing.  Nothing at all. 

An Uncle and a Cousin of mine were killed by drunken drivers.  My Father and Maternal Grandfather died from cancer.  My Brother, Mark, died from diabetes related complications.  Do you think sharing a post on Facebook helps?  It doesn't.  You're fooling yourself if you think it does.  Your intentions are worthless, but your actions can perform miracles. 

If you truly want to help a cause, donate directly to the source doing the fighting.  The American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the United Way, the Red Cross...  "Awareness" and social media don't mean a goddamned thing.  The ribbons, the decals, the posters...  Meaningless.  How about you find a family from your church, school, place of employment etc. who is dealing with cancer, diabetes, death from a drunken driver, and helping them directly.  You could offer to mow their lawn, feed them for a day, offer your support and a willing ear, give someone a ride to the hospital.  So many ways to help that will mean something and actually make a difference. 

Put down that fucking "smart" phone and actually DO something.

20 June, 2015

Is it time to leave?

This past week I had a few really stressful days.  It seemed everything was falling apart and we couldn't get anything done.  One guy, who had already been gone for two weeks on vacation, didn't show up.  A new guy started and he, though fairly smart, has no background in truck repair.  Service calls were throwing us way off track.  On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it seemed like the whole of the transportation industry simply fell apart.  Each day, soon after starting my shift, the day foreman and I get together and make up a "to do" list for the night shift.  Those first three days of the past week made the "to do" lists worthless.  Igor and I were working like crazy and it seemed we just couldn't get anything done.  The scheduled jobs went from around ten to thirty in a flash.  Some other people, those who somehow manage to always leave right on time and are never affected by increase in workload, created even more headaches for me.  I had two drop-in jobs.  Both of which started with a customer showing up and saying "I called earlier.  They told me to just stop by."  Well, it would be nice if that information was passed on to me.  There was no foresight from those "other people".  No concern was given to the jobs already in the shop or the lack of workforce.  The "other people" just keep piling up the work knowing they don't have to deal with the consequences.  They don't think about how Beaver and myself have to deal with angry customers.  "I was told my truck would be done tonight!"  In my opinion, disregarding one customer for another is not good business practice.  The workload is still there, it's just the order of operations that changes.  The "others" start at the same time and leave at the same time.  Every day.  "Oooh, you worked thirty minutes past the end of your shift.  Thanks for the extra effort."  Try an extra four or five HOURS every day trying to fulfill YOUR promises!  By Wednesday I had reached the point where I didn't care anymore.  I realized that my life was slowly being consumed by my job.  The piles of dirty laundry, the clogged gutters, the projects left unfinished... They kept stacking up because I was at work all the time and by the time I got home I was too tired to do anything other than feed myself and go to sleep.  Day after day after day...

Years ago I found myself working as night foreman.  I was never (and still haven't) been given the "official" title and position.  At the beginning it was a temporary thing.  Not a big deal.  I knew enough of the office workings that I could hold things together until a permanent replacement could be brought in.  One has not been found.  You see, the ideal foreman in a truck shop is a person who has considerable experience (meaning an older person usually) out in the shop.  We've had two people who were hired as service writers.  Both of them couldn't hack it and lasted no more than a few months.  I was disgusted with both of those people.  They had no clue how easy their job was.  All they had to do was answer the phone, get parts, write up work orders and deal with the customers.  I have to do all that and still work out in the shop.  I'm also still in the service call rotation.  What is supposed to happen is when someone moves to a foreman position, they're taken out of the service call rotation.  Not me.  Coming up on three years performing foreman duties and I'm still in the service call rotation.  Beaver got taken out of rotation soon after becoming day foreman.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter towards Beaver.  He works just as hard as I do.  I'm just using him as an example.  He makes up for not being in rotation by putting in more time in other areas.  I'm just getting sick of continuously putting in more effort than most and being "rewarded" with more work.  I simply want to either be working in the shop or working in the office.  Not both as I have been. 

Preferably, I want to be in the shop.  Truck repair is hard on the body, but I have a lot of years left in me before I become too worn out to be effective.  The decision I need to make is whether or not I will continue at the current shop.  There are two fleet shops in town that are desperate for mechanics.  Heck, every shop in town is desperate for mechanics.  There's a lack of skilled, experienced mechanics right now which means I have a little bargaining power.  I've been going over the pros and cons of changing jobs and, lately, the balance has been shifting to quitting my current job and moving to one of those fleet shops.  I might lose a little money but not having to run service calls and not having to deal with the general public or picking up the slack from careless coworkers would more than make up for the loss of income. 

I'm not going to be one of those assholes who threatens to leave if I don't get what I want.  If I walk into the office and hand the boss a letter of resignation it's because I'm leaving.  Period.

13 June, 2015

Shop Update: 13 June, 2015

I just finished uploading the final parts of my "Fan Hub" series to YouTube.  It ended up being ten parts.  The project was done in one session after work because the part had to be installed the next day.  From start to finish I somewhere around five hours into it.  It was a simple part and probably could have been knocked out by a professional machinist in an hour.  Amongst the other things I'm learning, I'm learning how to be more efficient on the lathe.  I try to set needed tools out before starting a job, have stock selected etc.  Problem is, I don't always know what I'm going to need right from the start.  I am still pretty green when it comes to machining. 

I also uploaded a short clip of those cabinet doors I made for my Mother's kitchen.  I didn't have the new drawer fronts made at that time.  A video I made for the Facebook crowd also got uploaded to YouTube.  Sometimes I decide a video made for Facebook might be interesting to those on YouTube.  The FB vids have black backgrounds with white text, the opposite of what I use for YT vids. 

Upcoming vids that have been filmed, but not edited, will include another tool purchase and review, a "how to" regarding tips for broken bolt removal and a tour of my basement "machinist's" tool box.

14 May, 2015

Hello, Ireland!

Ireland, you are wonderful.  I rarely check this blog's statistics beyond the amount of views my articles receive but, Ireland, you must like me.  Emerald Isle, you are, consistently, the number two viewer of this silly blog of mine.  I am (by heritage, most to least) Danish, Welsh and German with a light sprinkle of Scottish and English as garnish.  I don't have a clue what you like, but I'm glad to have you visit and hope you'll keep coming back.

26 April, 2015

Warning to Mechanics

A lot of mechanics do "side work".  I am not among them.  When I leave the shop, the mechanic stays behind and I become my own man.  I don't fix my lawn mower until it ceases to cut grass.  Unless, of course, a person is part of my bloodline or a damned good friend.  Exceptions?  Sure.  But be aware.  There is a particular young lady who happens to be the daughter of a former coworker.  That former coworker being an in-law to my employer.  Now before you begin thinking I'm a dirty old man, I must say that I am a, somewhat, chivalric kind of man.  If the situation is dire enough I will help anyone whether I am rewarded or not.  I have my parents to thank for that. Every now and again, someone takes advantage of me.

This particular young lady found herself in a tough spot last summer.  Her car had a starting issue and her boyfriend, though skilled, was in a different state and unable to lend assistance.  The young lady was headed to Florida to lend assistance to the shop owner while leading a group of scouts on a scuba expedition.  Her car was at the shop, having been started by her boyfriend in Iowa and would not restart.  She sent me an email requesting my assistance.  I knew that her Father commuted to another city (as a shop manager for Goodyear) and would likely be unavailable.  So, I said "Leave the key where I can get to it and I will take care of the problem.  Enjoy your trip."  I didn't bother to mention that her problem occurred the weekend I started vacation.  If that had been an issue, I would not have taken on the job.

I found myself at the shop, only one day into my "vacation", diagnosing a Sunfire that wouldn't start.  I quickly found a shit starter.  I called the parts house for a price, "Your cost is $135", decided "Ahhh, she's good for it", picked up the starter, installed it and... Success!  I sent her a short video clip of her car starting and mentioned "Easy fix, starter was shit."  The young lady expressed her gratitude for having helped her out of a sticky situation and then asked what the bill came to.  "$135 for the starter.  No charge for labor."  On return from her trip she had found that I fixed her car while on vacation.  A lot of gushing praise followed and I was like "Yeah, yeah.  Golden Rule and such.  Just reimburse me for the starter when  you can."  The young lady had just moved to Iowa with her boyfriend and wasn't exactly rolling in the Benjamins.  I wasn't expecting immediate reimbursement.

Despite my kindness and generosity, and despite her being the kind of woman whom, if I were her age, I would be on a major campaign to win her affection, she took advantage of me.  Again, before declaring me a "dirty old man" I must state that I only wanted to receive compensation for the starter.  $135.  I willing accepted the job, in a gesture of kindness, and never expected anything in return besides what I put into it in parts.

I received a lot of praise and "Thank you so much!!!" stuff.  I blushed.  But here I am, almost a year after and I have, despite many promises from her, to receive the money I put into the purchase of her starter.  I'm quite pissed.  I have had to remind her twice and still haven't received compensation.  Is it a big deal?  Financially, no.  I can eat $135 and, as we've seen, she won't dole out $135 to the person whom it is owed.  What she doesn't realize is that, by her delinquency in payment, she has lost the services of a skilled mechanic.  I will never help her again.  Any future requests of "My car has a flat" or "My car won't start" will be met with silence.  She will have to request the services of someone who does not know her and who will expect payment upon completion of work or she won't get her car back.  It will be a hard lesson for her to learn, but a much needed lesson as it has turned out.

My lesson for you new mechanics out there is this.  Unless  you demand payment from the start, have your "friend" purchase the parts outright or are willing to take possession of the vehicle (you old hands know how to take care of that part), you are donating your services and money.  Do not expect reimbursement.  You have to learn to look past the nice legs, big tits and kind words and see the "customer" for who they really are.

Be careful.  You had to pay for your education, your tools and your experience.  You shouldn't let a "friend" take advantage of you.  

14 March, 2015

The Repairman

Those of you in the auto/truck/equipment repair trades.  Have you noticed over recent years how as the old hands retire that there is a lack of "repairmen"?  I think it's safe to say every mechanic can point to, at least, one old hand and say "He was my mentor.  He taught me the things that make me the mechanic I am today."  These old guys got into the business during a time when it was still common to actually repair things instead of just replacing things.  Those old guys would rebuild starters, alternators, water pumps, they would reline brake shoes and rebuild calipers and wheel cylinders.  But, times have changed.  The most common parts have become cheap enough that replacement is (usually) the most cost-effective thing to do.  Time is money.  I think there are times, even in a modern shop, where being able to repair something versus replacing, would be the right choice.  The thing with that situation is that there needs to be someone in the shop capable of repair.  As I mentioned earlier, those old guys and their skills are disappearing from the business.  The skills are always going to be around, but probably not as much as they used to be.  Think about it.  When you break something, who's the guy in your shop you would go to for advice?  In our shop, I'm that guy.

In my shop I'm the guy the other mechanics come to when something breaks or when other uncommon advice is needed.  I'm not bragging, nor did I make the choice to be that guy.  It just happened gradually over my career.  But it really started when I was a child.  Before I started going to school my Mother would, of course, have to take me along when she was running errands.  She would get her coupons out and compare the supply of coupons to the list of needed items.  At the stores she would compare prices.  $.02 mattered.  My Father, aside from working two full time jobs, was in charge of the "mechanical" stuff.  By the time I was born, our family had two cars.  That was quite a luxury.  Well, I think they had two cars long before I was born, but they were both used cars.  Anyway, when it was possible my Father purchased a new car for my Mother.  He knew she worked at home just as hard as he did in the factory and he didn't want her dealing with a break down while out shopping.  He drove an old car.  I barely remember it, but "Dad's car" when I was really young was a pink/white '56 Chevy four door.  I also remember having second hand lawn mowers, tools, window air conditioners etc.  I also had a lot of "hand me down" clothes as well as shirts and pajamas made by my Mother.  This was the time when I became who I am.

I never received an "allowance" as a child.  I was expected to help with chores and that was it.  I helped Dad paint storm windows and screens.  You young folk out there, it used to be normal to pull the screens off in fall and put the storm windows on for winter.  Reverse that procedure in spring.  The screens and storm windows got painted whenever the house got painted.  I remember Dad showing me, when painting screens, how to drive a nail into a scrap of wood, sharpen the point and then use that tool to poke out paint from the screens.  When I was older, I helped Dad paint the house along with my brothers.  I raked leaves (which were bagged and lined up around the house's foundation for extra insulation in winter), when old enough I took over lawn mowing duties.  Being the last child, I mowed that lawn long after my Father had died, and long after I moved out.  When Dad knew he wasn't going to live much longer he had told me "Take care of your Mother."  A duty which I am proudly performing to this day.  Can you see how those years formed me into who I am?  We had no choice but to make our own things and perform our own repairs whenever possible.

I bought my first drum kit when I was in junior high.  It was crap, but I was too young and naive' to know any better.  I spent $200 (It took a really, really long time to save up that much money) on it.  The shitty hardware started breaking almost immediately.  New, or even used, equipment was not a possibility.  So, I had to fix it as best I could.  Sometimes it would work, often it didn't.  Enter junior high and high school shop classes.  The things I learned in shop class at such a young age are still with me.  I learned about different woods, metals, hand tools, machine tools etc.  Skills that would serve me well into my adult life.  It was normal back then.  I grew up in a manufacturing town. The skills taught to us in school were, ideally, preparing us to take over the jobs our Fathers were working at.  If your mind can twist enough, I started my career when I was a child.  At the current time, I'm somewhat of a rarity.  Most of the other kids I was in shop class with are working at jobs completely unrelated to those shop classes.  I put those skills to use on a daily basis.  The young mechanics in my care weren't so lucky.

Beaver has the aptitude, but not the background.  His Dad was (and still is) a salesman.  Beaver has talent in spades, but is still gaining experience despite having risen to shop foreman.  Igor, as with Beaver, is chock full of aptitude but is somewhat lacking in experience.  These are but two examples, but they're the best examples.  They're both very smart and only require a bit of guidance (via my experience) to get them moving forward.  I'm very happy to have both of them in the shop.  I'm also very proud of them.  My relationship with both of those people is very much a Journeyman-Apprentice relationship.  However, Beaver is a much better foreman than I and I defer to him regularly.  Igor?  I'll be starting my ninth year at this shop in a couple of weeks and Igor has been the only person that has been truly worth the time I've put into teaching new mechanics.  I'm not knocking the other guys in the shop.  There's a lot of talent there, but Beaver and Igor are stand-outs.  But...

...nobody can drill a straight hole or even sharpen a drill properly.  When broken bolts need to be removed, I am the guy that removes them.  The other guys have made attempts to remove broken bolts, only to fuck things up and make the whole situation worse.  It is now understood that if there is ANY doubt, they are to not make any attempts to remove the offending fastener.  They will stop and leave it for me to deal with.  You see, when someone is not good at removing broken bolts tries to remove a broken bolt, the surrounding part can easily be fucked up beyond repair.  The worst is finding a drill, tap or "e-z out" broken off in a poorly drilled (meaning crooked) hole.  The other guys know that such shitty workmanship makes my job of "clean up batter" that much harder and I will not be a pleasant person upon finding just such a situation.  That situation will cause loss of time and money.  The rear structure (what a transmission bolts to) on, say, a Cummins ISX is a good example.  The bolts which hold transmission to rear structure occasionally break.  A steel bolt into an aluminum part... It corrodes.  When someone who can't center punch properly, drill straight or even use a tap and die set properly tries to remove that broken fastener... The whole of the rear structure could be ruined.  The best situation would require removal of the rear structure (a huge consumption of time, therefore money) and sending it out to a machine shop.  The worst would be having to replace the rear structure.  What would you rather tell the customer?  They'll have to wait a few more hours for someone (me, for example) to remove the broken fasteners at a slight increase in cost, or that they'll be spending another $2,000 in parts and labor to replace the whole rear structure?  Every part can be replaced, but in situations such as this repair is the correct path.  Unless someone else has fucked with it, I rarely have to use a heli-coil for thread repair.

I take every opportunity to teach the newer guys.  I usually start by asking a question.  "Hey, Igor.  Bell housing bolt broke off in the rear structure.  What's the first step?"  It gets their brain working.  A lot of these people have learned these things but have never had the chance to apply them.  I try and bridge that gap.  When Igor gives his reply, we work from that point.  If his answer is "Drill it out."  I reply with "No, establishing the center of the bolt."   I then walk him through each step of removing a broken bolt.  Time usually dictates the situation.  When able, I'll have the person watch every step I make.  Unfortunately, the modern shop environment (meaning flat rate) does not allow for such instruction to take place on a regular basis.

Broken bolt removal is just ONE example.  What if someone finds a thermostat housing that is warped?  The knee jerk reaction is to get a new one.  Sounds like a good idea, but is it?  If you're working on your car at home (or in a shop) chances are you can call 'round the parts stores, find a new housing and have it in an hour or two.  A truck shop, especially our shop, is a different situation.  The base engine may be common, but the installation could vary greatly.  To get a new thermostat housing for, as an example, a Mercedes MB400 would require the following.  Getting in contact with the customer and acquiring approval to replace the part.  "What's that going to cost me?" is the usual question.  Many factors will have to be considered.  There's one truck dealer in our town, an International dealer, and they are definitely NOT going to have anything for a Mercedes engine.  I would then have to call the nearest supplier.  The parts guy and myself would then have to find our way onto the same "page".  This frequently involves having an exploded diagram faxed, the correct part being circled, then the fax being sent back to the parts guy.  If the dealer even had the thermostat housing in stock I would then have to find someone to go and get it.  In the case of this fictional Mercedes engine, getting the part would require a 2.5 hour round trip.  Not to mention the time it would take me to create a PO.  If I can't find a non-mechanic to get the part (which is frequent on the night shift) I have to take a mechanic off of what he's currently doing.  All of this equates to a lot of wasted time.  I have to stop what I'm working on to find and order a part.  I will, possibly, have to pull a mechanic off a job to go and get this new part.  Putting us even further behind schedule.  The solution to this problem is easy.  Repair.  I take ten minutes to show a mechanic how to flatten the housing with a file (or sandpaper on a flat surface), I show them how to make a gasket from bulk material and we're moving forward.

Another customer has a crap alternator.  Am I going to figure out what part of the alternator failed and then repair it?  Hell no.  We stock two alternators (a pad mount and a swing mount) which will work on, I'm guessing here, 90% of heavy duty trucks.  The most efficient path is calling the customer "Hello, Mr. Doe?  Your alternator is junk.  We have one in stock and it will cost $xxx to replace it.  Shall we procede?"  Am I capable of repairing alternators?  Yes.  Is repair an efficient option?  No.

An idler gear for a lift gate chain has a bad needle bearing.  Repair or replace?  Think about your shop and the resources available to you.  If you have a bearing supplier nearby, replacement might be the best choice.  Take the bearing and gear to the supplier, the person at the counter takes some measurements, walks back into the racks and comes out with a new bearing.  Easy.  At our shop, there isn't a supplier like that nearby.  For us the repair option is the best choice.  I take the gear and bearing home with me, chuck a piece of brass in my lathe and make a bushing to fit.  It would be installed the next day.  If the job is an ASAP job Beaver, being the daytime foreman and living near to me, could pick up the repaired part on his way to work in the morning.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

The repair or replace decision is going to be unique to every shop.  But without those old hands and their skills, you will be a replace only shop.  You will be at the mercy of your parts suppliers.  You old guys out there, take every opportunity to share your skills with the young guys.  And you young guys, put aside your cockiness and listen to what the old guys are trying to teach you.

This post is dedicated to Dad, Tooley, I-Beam, Dale and Hook.  I wouldn't be half the mechanic I am today without these men taking the time to teach me their skills.

15 February, 2015


Dear Pandora,

If you weren't a free service I would be raising hell along the lines of the Spanish Inquisition.  A Pandora One account?  Not on your life!  I can deal with the occasional ad.  Even the piss-poor pronunciation of "...ad-free listening..." (that guy's voice is very grating.  But cutting off a song two seconds into it?  What the fuck?!  The only conclusion I can come to is that Pandora is female.  She teases us with a few seconds of a song that makes us holler "Yes!  I love this song!" only to change directions and let us down.  Pandora, my dear, you are a cruel bitch.  But I still hang on.  

03 January, 2015

Shop Update: January, 2015

Welcome to 2015!  I celebrated the beginning of the new year by working in my basement shop then went to the dentist the next day.  Both the shop work and the visit with my dentist went well.  Thankfully the only pain came from the dentist.  That repair, a broken tooth, was a little aggressive.  Not having any dental insurance any visit to the dentist is "out of pocket" so I haven't been going for regular inspections.  One resolution for the new year is to get my teeth checked, at least, annually.  The cost of a cleaning and inspection is less than the deductible of any insurance plan I've looked into so it will be money well spent.  I think that's enough about my big mouth.  Let's move on.

I started making videos for my YouTube channel again.  Though Google isn't forcibly integrating Google+ into things anymore, it (G+) is still intertwined with YouTube.  I spent the majority of 2014 not making videos, not being able to interact with my viewers and not uploading new content (save for one little guitar lesson, which is private, that I uploaded for my niece.)  I decided to call my personal battle with G+ a draw.  I found that I was able to comment on videos because I either changed something in my settings or it was done automatically.  Either way it doesn't make any difference to me because the one big problem I had with the G+ integration into YouTube, the difficulty communicating with my viewers, is gone.  It's nice to be "back" and I'm looking forward to publishing videos again. 

Lot's of things have changed in my shops (I consider my garage and basement to be two separate shops) over the past year.  A short glimpse of some of the changes can be seen in my recent shop update video.  The two biggest changes were the addition of a new work bench and some machines.  Why do I have a budding machine shop?  The answer involves a story.

A few years ago I was showing a new coworker how I repaired a chain gear on a lift gate.  It was/is a common repair for a regular customer as they have many trucks with the same model lift gate.  Ultron lift gates are complete garbage by the way.  Long story short, these gears, which guide the chains, originally have needle bearings pressed in which an "axle" passes through.  We did not maintain these trucks from day one and the previous shop never lubricated anything on the lift gates.  So, these bearings began to fail frequently.  The first one I did was supposed to be temporary as we didn't have any bearings on hand.  I was told later that the bearings were unavailable.  I honestly don't think the parts guy tried too hard to find replacement bearings but that's a different story.  My "temporary" repair became "the" repair and having done it so often, I've become quite good at it.  I would press out what remained of the needle bearing, find an used brass fitting (which we have in spades) and grind it down just enough to be a press fit into the gear.  I would then drill the fitting to fit the pin/axle.  As I was doing this repair for the second time I thought "Gee, this would be super easy on a lathe.  I could make a handful of bushings and simply keep them in stock."  As I was showing my coworker how to perform this "repair" he said "I think I'll go *chuckle* and chuck this *ha, ha* up in the lathe *Bwah, ha, ha, Ha!!!*"  We were both laughing out tails off.  You see, the most "precision" machine in our shop is a drill press.  Considering the people I work with, precision machines such as lathes and milling machines would not survive in that shop.  The shop is always cluttered and messy because most of my coworkers are like toddlers.  Considering they rarely get used, it's hard to find one of the many brooms we have.  Oh, that's right.  Things rarely get put back where they belong.  Of the three bench grinders we have, not one of them has a flat grinding surface.  And that drill press?  Usually full of chips despite a chip brush always being right next to it.  So it became a running joke between me and that one coworker.  There was usually some version of "Why are you grinding that?  Just go put it in the millin...Oh, that's right.  The milling machine is out for repair."

Because of that situation I began to see my job with a new set of eyes.  Almost daily I would see simple parts, tools or tool repairs that could be done easily (and with precision) on a lathe.  Bushings, seal installers, pullers, bushing drivers, all manner of screws...  About one and a half years ago it got to the point that I decided to start looking for a lathe.  I kinda brought it up to my boss that a lathe would be very, very handy to have in his shop.  He took a little interest in the idea as I had a pretty good plan already laid out.  Then I remembered those poor grinders and the ailing drill press.  I dropped the machine shop idea immediately and began looking for a lathe I would be able to get in my basement.  My OWN machine shop.  I started scouring Craigslist and the local classifieds, asked people if they knew of anyone selling a lathe.  It was a difficult search.  I knew what I could afford and I knew the kind of lathe I could handle.  I couldn't get any bigger than, maybe, a 12" lathe as weight was an issue.  Any lathe I found would have to get into my basement via stairs.  That meant that when broken down into major components (head stock, bed, base etc.) the heaviest part couldn't be anything heavier than two people could manage, safely, down a flight of stairs.  I also didn't want a lathe that was too small.  You can make small parts on a big lathe but not the other way around.  Unfortunately, the size of lathe I wanted is very popular and they rarely lasted more than a day or two on Craigslist.  My work schedule also prohibited me from going to see a lathe during the week.  I would find a new listing after work, I would call the next day and it would already be sold.  One day at work the owner of another truck repair/welding & fabricating/hose & tube happened to be at our shop.  I knew he did a little machine work at his place and asked him if he knew anyone that had a lathe to sell.  He said "$200.  Stop by and have a look at it.  It's worn out and I just want it gone."  I went to his shop a couple of days later.  He led me into his machine shop/welding shop.  We walked around a tool wall/room divider towards a medium sized lathe and I started to get excited.  We kept on walking past that lathe and I was noticing his milling machine, the collet rack and other cool stuff.  As we got to the back of the building he points and says "There it is.  It's worn out, but still works flawlessly.  I just don't use the thing much."  I was staring down a monster.  It was a 16" South Bend.  It had the things I wanted,  quick change gear box, quick change tool post, live center and sundry other accessories.  It had been oiled regularly so there wasn't any corrosion, but not being used there was a lot of grime on it.  Not a big deal.  In my head I started breaking that beast down.  I would not be able to get the bed of that thing down the stairs, into my basement.  I was disappointed and explained to the guy that it was much too big for me and explained why.  I told him I was looking for something about the size of his other lathe, a LeBlond.  He was in the midst of purging his storage trailers and containers and mentioned he had a couple of small lathes he was going to scrap because he thought they were useless.  He said I was welcome to look at them and that he would sell them to me for scrap price.  I thought "What the heck.  Maybe I can, at the very least, have something to work with while looking for the lathe I want."  He showed me the two lathes.  Both had been sitting on a trailer full of scrap metal and had been rained on a couple of times.  One lathe was a Craftsman 109 series bolted down to a sturdy wood and metal table, even had a motor.  The other lathe was a very old Stark No.4 that had no chuck, no tail stock, no motor.  It was just a bed, cross/compound slides and a head stock.  "$75 for both." he said.  I handed over some cash, he and his guys loaded the stuff into my truck and off I went.  I decided to concentrate on the little Craftsman lathe since it was, mostly, complete.  I took the thing apart, cleaned everything, oil it all up and put it back together.  It's a change gear lathe and a lot of gears are missing.  Still and useful lathe, but no threading.  I ignored the Stark lathe and it rode around in the back of my truck (under a topper mind you) for a month.  Then, the guy I bought it from showed up at our shop with a big crate of stuff for me.  It was all the important bits that were missing from the Stark lathe and more.  Collets, a tail stock, drill chucks, three jaw chuck, misc. tooling and such.  The Stark lathe, which despite it's small size is one heavy machine, came out of the truck.  It got the same treatment I gave the Craftsman.  Even if I didn't use it soon, I wanted it to be cleaned, oiled and stable so it wouldn't deteriorate any further.  I took the Craftsman lathe home and left the Stark at work for a few months.  Then I hit the jackpot.

I had been continuing my search for the lathe I wanted and was still striking out.  Until I called a nice guy named Bernie about a 9" South Bend he was selling.  I read the ad at two in the morning and didn't wait.  I sent an email right away.  By the time I woke up, Bernie had replied and asked me to call him just to prove I was an actual person and not some sort of scam.  I asked some questions then explained that I would be able to come look at it until Saturday (this conversation happened on a Thursday).  We both knew that the particular lathe he was selling is very popular.  I told him that I didn't expect him to hold it just for one person to look at (me) and that if he had a buyer before Saturday I would have no problem.  I just asked that he contact me so I didn't waste an afternoon and 45 minutes of fuel getting there.  I had low hopes that the lathe would last two days but Bernie made my day.  He said something like "I'm a fair guy.  I take all offers in the order they come in and right now you're the third person to call about it.  One guy probably just wants to see how it goes together as he has one in parts."  I told him that he was being very kind and we set up a time to wheel and deal.  I called Bernie Saturday morning just to make sure he hadn't sold the lathe and he told me it was still available.  I went to his shop where he builds hot rods and custom motorcycles, marveled at the things he was building and then saw it.  A South Bend 9" Model A lathe.  It was complete, well cared for and ran smooth as glass.  I learned that it was his Uncle's lathe and that I was only the third owner.  The first outside of their family.  It definitely didn't come from a factory or a school because it doesn't have any of the "scars" associated with that sort of use and abuse.  It even had cast iron legs to sit on.  I told him it was a deal, handed him a wad of cash and scooted the thing inch by inch out to my truck.  He was kind enough to let me occupy some space in his lot while I took it apart and got it into the truck.  He also offered me a good price on a horizontal band saw as a, sort of, package deal.  I passed but wish I had taken him up on that offer.  I then disassembled, cleaned, oiled and reassembled a third lathe.  I had to acquire some accessories to make it more useable (a new four jaw chuck, some extra tool holders and such) but eventually got it into the basement and operational.  The Craftsman lathe is sitting on a shelf for now and the Stark lathe made it home and is not operational at this time.  I'll probably use the Stark as a second operation lathe.  Not sure what I'll do with the Craftsman.  Maybe I'll sell it, maybe I'll take it to work, maybe I'll put it in my garage shop.  Once that South Bend was operational it was put right to work.  The first actual parts I made were two extra set screws for the one tool hold I had (the tool post is one of those Aloris knock-offs) and never stopped.  I've made bushings, game pieces, tips for pullers and presses, mandrels, bolts, nuts...  I'm very, very happy to have a working lathe.

I also acquired an old Kennedy tool chest and Snap-On base cabinet for my little basement machine shop.  Oh, and my boss gave me a drill press.  I offered to buy it but he told me to just take it.  It's Chinese, cheap and wasn't being used.  An used Snap On top and bottom combo also followed me home and resides in my garage shop.  So my past year was largely spent gathering machines, tooling, tools and storage.  Almost all of it used.  I have a weakness for old tools as they're cheap to get (if not given away) and are usually made better than modern stuff.  I'm a happy person and am looking forward to the coming year.  It is going to be filled by the making of parts.  Wood and metal.  I'll also be shooting a lot of video.  I wish you the best in 2015.  Stay tuned.