This essay was written for American Machinist Magazine in 1931 by Tom White. When I read it, I felt chastened and humbled, and I have redoubled my resolve to spend 2007 studying and learning, rather than trading in a frenzy like the market will disappear tomorrow. I've omitted several paragraphs extolling the machinist trade, although they are lovely. The tie between the later paragraphs and speculation are too obvious to belabor.

Stealing the Trade

As far as I know, there is but one statue of a machinist, as a machinist, in the United States today. This is the statue of Seth Boyden. Boyden was a machinist and an inventor, but the artist has depicted him in the leather apron of a blacksmith, standing at an anvil. This, I suppose, is the average sculptor's conception of a machinist. However, we will not quarrel about a little thing like that. The fact that gear wheels are seldom made with a hammer and anvil does not alter the fact that a lot of people think that is the way they are produced. But speaking of the blacksmith, what a breed he has sired! Wherever one has settled, civilization has blossomed. The machinist is the legitimate son of the blacksmith and like his mighty sire he bends the fractious metal to his will. Look where you will, wherever men congregate, the work of the machinist is visible. In all fields of war, transportation, communication, farming, building, mining, in fact in every phase of our modern civilization, the machinist has supplied the means to carry on.

Most good machinists have served their time, but some others manage to "steal the trade". These men, unless they have a tremendous aptitude and a willing disposition, pass through a terrible ordeal before they acquire enough knowledge of the business to have the other men accept them as machinists. I would not advise anyone to try to steal the trade, though I have known some excellent machinists who took this route, either by accident or design. One whom I know well got into the business quite accidentally, and he got much amusement out of his own ludicrous mistakes.

One morning, about 7 a.m., he joined a group of about 25 or 30 men outside the gate of a large machine shop. He was then about 21 or 22 years old, and was looking for any kind of work that he could get. The employment agent singled him out of the crowd and said, "We need a lathe hand; you're a lathe hand ain't you? Come on in. That's all we need this morning, men, come around tomorrow." He then sent Herman up to the small lathe department, and the boss put him to work. The first job he took on was a shaft about an inch in diameter and six or seven feet long, to be cut in two. The shaft was centered on one end and as there was a chuck on the lathe, he chucked one end and put the center up to the other end. He then put the parting tool in, and started the lathe up. The lathe was speeded up pretty fast but that meant nothing to him. He jammed the tool into the job and started to cut.

He said that he noticed that all the men near him suddenly found important business somewhere else, and that they all seemed in a hurry to get there, but he steamed merrily along and cut the shaft off without a mishap. He said that afterward someone told him that they all expected to see the shaft wrap itself around his neck, but as he put it, "There is a special providence that watches over children and fools, and it was on the job that day." I asked him how he happened to chuck one end of the shaft, and he said he didn't know that the chuck was removable. He said also that he learned about a steady rest some six months afterward.

Herman told me of another fool stunt he pulled off in the next shop he worked in. He hired out as a machinist, and the boss put him on a planer. He got along all right for a few days, then he got a job that was quite particular. After he had squared the job up and clamped it down, the boss told him that he didn't trust the square he had used, and to get the new square from the tool crib, and check it. He went to the crib and asked for the new 12-inch square. The boy handed him a wooden box shaped like a square with the square inside. He never suspected that there was a square inside, but thought it was rather strange that the boss wouldn't trust the steel square, even if it was old, rather than a wooden one, but who was he to question the boss's judgment, so he shoved the wooden box up to the job, found it was OK, and proceeded to finish the job. Fortunately the job turned out all right so that there was no harm done. About a week later he saw someone pull a fine new steel square out of the same wooden box.

Notwithstanding the inauspicious start, this man eventually became one of the best machinists I ever had the good fortune to meet. But he was one in a thousand.





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