July 17, 2007
Tifton-- A teenager's temporary job can make a lasting impression, as it did to a man in "10 Country" who fell in love with special machines that were often thrown away and forgotten.
He sees, hears and restores special pieces of art more than a hundred years old.
Some people have the unusual power to go back in time whenever they want, to grab a piece of history and to operate a piece of working art.
"There's beauty in this old machinery," says Keith Rucker as he looks at old belt-driven machines at the Georgia Agriama. Most of the old machinery is more than twice his age.
"One of my first loves in life is working around old machinery," says Keith who finds the sounds the machines make an old fashioned symphony.
"Belts hitting on the line shaft; unlike anything else you'll ever hear. I just really enjoy it," says Keith with a big smile.
An old machine shop where the equipment operates on belt power, one power source drives several machines, like where Keith worked as a teenager, and where he fell in love.
"Oh, absolutely," says Keith as the picks up a piece of wood to cut on a table saw that he restored.
Keith sees quality in the old equipment, unseen in many of today's machines. "The manufacturers fully expected it to last a life time," says Keith as he moves a wooden handle that engage the pulling belt.
Manufactures fully expected more from their products than mere functionality.
"Just the beauty of the machine, the aesthetic beauty of the machine was part of the selling points they had to market their items," says Keith pointing out the large, graceful stand of a band saw.
Keith's obsession with restoring old wood working machinery cuts rather deeply.
"Restore it back to factory new condition," says Keith as he gently pushes the board through the whirling saw blade.
He restored several wood working machines for the Georgia Agriama, the state's agricultural museum. But, he would rather restore than operate the equipment.
Keith manages a national web site with a treasure-trove of technical information about vintage wood working equipment. The site, www.owwm.com, with literally thousands of diagrams and pictures is free, a labor of love to maintain it. Wood working enthusiasts frequently add information to the database, as well as swap parts.
Keith spends hundreds of hours restoring the old equipment in his home garage/workshop. So, every now and then he needs a touch of inspiration, and that's why he has a picture of a band saw from a catalog going back to 1897 pinned to wooden shelf.
The old picture helps him maintain historical accuracy, something he takes a lot of pride in.
"These pulleys are the original pulleys," says Keith as he slides one of two metal ones on a shaft.
The pulleys are over a hundred years old and ready for another spin.
"Feels very smooth," says Keith as he literally spins them to make sure they turn freely.
"I want it just like it came," says Keith.
He always uses the exact hardware that came with the machine when it left the factory.
"Snug that up," says Keith as he tightens a nut that holds the saw's adjustable cutting table.
The saw was almost ready to work again when he adds a protective blade cover.
"Tilt your table, and just tighten it up again," says Keith. "Authentic to the piece."
Almost ready to enter its second life. "There we go," says Keith after working on the saw, and it's all thanks to a teenager's job where he fell in love for a lifetime.
Keith plans to restore at least three more machines to their historical best for the Agriama within the next several months.