ROCKFORD – A piece of Rockford history travels from Montana farmland to the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa., And made a special stop at his birthplace on Monday.
A 4,230-pound Greenlee Variety carpenter that was manufactured in 1910 by the Rockford-based Greenlee Brothers company was presented at a press conference in Rockford after being fully restored.
The 20th-century machine is on its way to permanent residence at the Smithsonian Museum’s affiliate, the National Museum of Industrial History.
Steve Williams, 72, of Kalispell, MT, is the owner of the machine and led the restoration project.
For Williams, who has been restoring machines for more than three decades, carpenter Greenlee Variety represents the importance of quality as a company standard.
“This is an example of the highest form of machine building in this era,” said Williams. “What you see is the best of the best.”
Greenlee was founded by brothers Ralph and Robert Greenlee in Chicago in 1862. In 1904 the company moved to Rockford. The company is now known as Greenlee Tools Inc., a subsidiary of Emerson.
In 1910, Greenlee Brothers sold their Variety Woodworker to Anaconda Copper Co. in Great Falls, Montana. At the time, the machine would have been used to create high precision wooden parts that would be used to produce sand casting mold models.
Until 1979, when Anaconda Copper Co. liquidated its assets, the carpenter remained in service.
The machine was stored in Montana and remained there until the owner contacted Williams after seeing an ad saying “vintage woodworking machines were wanted”.
Williams has driven over 200 miles to see the machine for himself. To his surprise, there was no rust and it was almost ready to use. Williams had no doubts that he would become the carpenter’s next owner.
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“Now here is this beautiful machine. I don’t know what to do with it. But it’s like finding a vintage automobile or Delahaye piece of art,” he said. “Are you going to take him home? Yes, of course.”
The machine is expected to reach its final destination on Wednesday.
The restoration took around 1,500 hours and the machine is expected to be one of the last of its kind.
The woodworker’s ability to stand the test of time is a testament to the quality of Greenlee craftsmanship, said retired Greenlee President Barclay Olson.
“If you look right here,” said Olson, “that’s what happens when you take the time and build machines.”
Despite Williams’ vast experience in machine restoration, woodworker Greenlee Variety was a challenge.
It turned out to be a satisfying learning experience.
“I was able to mentally transport myself to 1910,” said Williams. “I would have one of those ‘aha!’ moments, find out why it was done this way.… There were no ifs and butes. I absolutely understood what they were thinking in 1910. Phenomenal experience. “
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