Just One Question: What Is Your Enduring Memory of the Machine Shop and Project Labs?
In the early 1940s Thayer had no machine shop. We three M.E. candidates were charged with building a shaper from raw castings. (A shaper produces a flat surface in metal by repeated, horizontal cutting strokes while advancing the piece a desired amount at right angles to the stroke.) Our professor, Joe Ermenc, arranged with the Lebanon High School to use its machine shop and shop teacher after hours. We drove to Lebanon each Friday, worked until late, and then rolled up in sleeping bags on the gym floor. The shop teacher got us started on various components and then pretty much left us alone. It was back to our sleeping bags in the gym on Saturday night. We completed the machine and installed it in the Thayer basement, one of the first machine shop tools. My companions in this effort were Roger Gaskill ’43 Th’44 and Frank Perley ’43 Th’44.
—Dick Livingston ’43 Th’44
Perhaps most memorable was the water. Yes, water in the lab. Water in pipes and valves and flowing through channels and over weirs. This was the hands-on part of courses in fluid mechanics, water supply, and sanitary engineering. Professor Ed Brown’s good nature helped temper the hard study with pleasant hours. I remember faculty members who relished the physical side of our studies, and demonstrated the importance of “feel” in engineering.
—Sam Florman ’46 Th’46
Machine shop was a required lab course in which we learned how to work metals on a lathe, a planer, and a milling machine as well as learning how to weld. It was taught by a retired machinist from Springfield, Vt., Larry Goldthwaite, who was a wonderful character and a very good teacher. Part of the final exam was to weld two pieces of steel together and then break it in the testing machine, hoping that it broke in the base metal rather than the weld. The course was great fun and has served me well throughout my dealings with steel bridges, including welding fabrication and the machining of the parts that go into movable bridges.
—Bill Conway ’52, Th’54
In the electrical machine lab I turned off the wrong breaker and cut off the field current to a big DC motor that was turning at a good clip. The armature current shot up and burned the commutator bars. Professor Kingsley made me dismantle the motor and trundle the armature over to the machine shop to have the commutator resurfaced. Maybe he called ahead over there, because they made me do the job all by myself: set the armature up on the big lathe, center it properly, set up the tool and the cutting angle, and make tiny shallow cuts until no more burned copper showed. Everybody stood over me and made scathing comments whenever I did the tiniest thing wrong. You can bet that after that I thought twice before I touched a breaker!
—Randy Cooper Th’54
Larry Goldthwaite oversaw the shop with great skill and even greater patience. He showed us how to arc weld two small pieces of steel, drawing a perfect bead with ease and practiced skill. When my turn came I carefully placed my two pieces on the welding bench, pulled down the mask, and set about drawing the best bead I could. Not bad, I thought. Then Larry quietly asked, “How do you plan to get it up from the bench?” Much to the amusement of all hands, I had welded the work firmly to the steel bench.
—Bill Macurdy ’55 Th’57
Dan Paradis ’61 Th’62 and I were working with schlieren images of burning acetylene and other gases in a small lab, and neglected the use of oxygen and the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere caused by burning gases. When we walked out, I passed out. Thus, the dean ordered the creation and adoption of a safety code. (We all contribute to the history of the place in one way or another.)
—Jerry Greenfield ’61 Th’62 Tu’65
Larry Goldthwaite was in charge when I took the course required to be able to have access in the shop. I still have the gear assembly on my desk that we made using each of the machines. It includes a 16-toothed gear, an 8-spline sleeve, an axle threaded on one end and with a larger opposite end, and an internally threaded base. My second memory relates to using a chuck on a tool or drill. Larry taught us the necessity of tightening such devices on each of the three openings – and I still do that today.
—Harris McKee ’61 Th’63
Larry Goldthwaite was a very precise and meticulous man, and it was easy to get on his wrong side with sloppy work. I learned that his somewhat gruff exterior camouflaged a genuinely warm and kind person. I still have on my desk the paperweight that I made during his shop course – four-part assembly that required learning how to use most of the shop’s equipment and a lot of useful techniques, skills that were helpful to me during my career and personal life.
—Andy Urquhart ’61 Th’64 Adv’71
In 1962 I bought my first car, a VW bug. It came with a small, lightweight shift knob that didn’t measure up to my expectations. Thanks to the help of a machine shop teacher, I turned out a beautiful egg-shaped, custom-made, steel gear shift knob. I drilled and tapped it and cut off the shift lever in my new car and threaded that shaft for the new knob. That knob was a real treasure. It was heavy enough that I could toss it from gear to gear and shifting became a snap!
—John D. Pearse ’62
I built a radio from scratch and – the most amazing thing – it worked!
—Sandy Duncan ’63
I took the machining extracurricular course in the machine shop. The most valuable lesson for me was to understand the process of metal evolving from a drawing to an actual part. The lesson was the time and effort required to machine a part. When I became an engineer, I remembered that as I awaited the parts I had designed, and I appreciated the effort invested by our technicians. My second lesson was to leave your work area in better order than you found it. Not a bad lesson, even now.
—Dick Couch ’64 Th’65
My enduring memory is Frank Dulac. He had such an infectious can-do attitude. He always had time for one more request and never lost his patience with students.
—Neil Drobny Th’64
I loved working in the machine shop (hey, it’s part of why I’m an engineer). I had a summer job at Grumman Aircraft on Long Island and got to work in the machine shop, where they built the jigs and tools so that everything they did was one of a kind. It was great that I had the Thayer experience so I understood what they were doing and could learn much more because I was already starting with a strong base.
—Ward H. Hindman ’65 Th’68
In 1963, as part of ES-22: Systems, I was staring at an equation on the blackboard and realized that an ideal seismograph would reduce the connection of a mass to the Earth to zero. The previous fall I’d seen some impressive table air-bearings used in demonstrations of Newtonian mechanics in physics lectures – these air-bearings reduced (horizontal) friction to almost zero for hockey puck-like disks. I imagined a one-dimensional air-bearing built using a rectangular tube turned with an angular edge up, with a right-angle “sled” riding on it. I went to the machine shop and the gentleman there told me to get the specs – hole diameters and spacing – from his counterpart in the physics department. I did so and returned worried that I wouldn’t know how to run the necessary drilling equipment with sufficient precision. The shop’s head honcho expressed doubt that the machine shop could take on the job, given the many holes that would be required and the delicacy of the very small drill bits. I came back the next day to find my completed air-bearing, built from beautifully machined aluminum. I built the rest of the seismograph myself, and it won me a very helpful citation.
—Mark Tuttle ’65 Th’66
My experience was that the idea of a perfect shop at Thayer was that every tool was in place and accounted for rather than out and at work on projects. That is, my experience was not all that positive. However, if I worked with Vic Surprenant, the on-site technician, I could get almost anything done because he was there to help students, not to keep the place in perfect order. I would have loved to have him with me here at Plastic Technologies Inc., where our culture is to “make things happen” rather than to keep everything in perfect order.
—Tom Brady ’66 Th’68
In 1967 I was responsible for making aluminum snow pickets for our Dartmouth Mountaineering Club expedition to put a new route on Mt. McKinley (Denali). I went to the machine shop, was given a catalog, and ordered some stock T-shaped aluminum. When the order arrived, two days before we were to leave for Fairbanks, we realized that the aluminum was not stiff enough. It was too late to reorder, so we reluctantly cut it to size and drilled the carabiner holes. When we unveiled the pickets on the mountain, our shocked teammates were ready to throw us off the nearest face, but we had no choice and used them. Luckily, we had no wrenching falls; certainly the pickets would not have held. Lesson learned: Next time my life depended on a material or design, I carefully researched before I bought.
—Michel Zaleski ’68 Th’69
I brought in a rusted brake drum from my 1967 Volvo to see if I could use one of the machines to resurface it and remove the rust. To my surprise the head of the shop, Fred Schleipman, showed me how to do it! I remember him saying, “You need a carbide-cutting head,” which I had never heard of. I felt guilty putting this dirty, rusty wheel on a pristine, expensive lathe, but I was very impressed that he allowed this “extracurricular” activity. The machine shop gave me an appreciation for the work of a machinist and how one could spend a lifetime mastering those skills.
—Jim Wood ’71, Th’72
Prior to being allowed to run rampant in the machine shop, you were given a project to complete that required the use of every machine in the shop. I was given a drawing of a four-piece paperweight and given guidance by the staff at each step of the project, focusing on both the machines being used, their capabilities, and the tolerances of the build for each of the steps. Our paperweights were sent off to be chromed so that we would have something “sharp” adorning our desks. For my 34 years with General Electric that paperweight has followed me. It still sits on my desk as a reminder that Thayer taught us not just how to think, but to build.
—Jim Bartlett ’72 Th’73
Building the Stirling engine for thermodynamics, we learned a valuable lesson on the cost of tolerances – how much more work it was to the tradesman if someone specified +/- .003 rather than +/- .03. My machine shop experience and relationship with Fred Schleipman paid off later when I was a poor married student and my car window crank (a molded plastic part) broke. Access to the shop and a little design advice from Fred enabled me to machine a metal part that not only solved the problem but looked good, too.
—Mike Sulaver ’74 Th’77 Tu’77
I was a volunteer fireman on the Hanover Fire Department, and during summer term I brought an antique fire truck with me to school. The truck, built in 1919, had a very pitted water pump shaft from rusting, and it would constantly tear up the water pump bearings. I worked with Fred in the machine shop and built a new water pump shaft to replace the old one. Problem solved!
—John Bartlett ’75 Th’78
I learned the most valuable lesson of my Thayer career in the machine shop: Workers on the shop floor know more than I do! Professor Converse required each member of his thermodynamics class to make a Stirling engine so we would understand, in his words, “how things are made.” I emerged with a profound respect for the machinists and their skills. My Stirling engine sits on my desk in front of me as my proudest trophy from my Thayer years.
—Scott Magelssen ’75 Th’76
The summer before my Thayer fifth year, I applied for a job in a printed circuit board manufacturing facility in my hometown. When I told them about the machine shop class I had taken, they hired me on the spot! I also remember the Stirling cycle engine that we built in the machine shop class. It’s interesting to see that large-scale versions are being used to generate clean energy.
—Wayne Ballantyne ’77 Th’78
I still have my Stirling engine. I don’t dare test whether it still runs!
—Pete Leone ’78
A few years back I discovered my Stirling engine. It brings back fond memories of my Hanover experiences.
—Tony Jones ’79 Th’80
My most vivid memory of my Thayer School days was making a Stirling engine. I had very little experience working with tools of any sort, but I quickly grew to love the pleasures of metal shop. I especially recall the satisfying sensation of shaping and polishing the bronze flywheel. When my little machine was done, I calculated its efficiency, which I recall as being dismal. However, once you cranked the thing up it would really buzz along. Now, 30 years later, it sits on a shelf in the family room. My kids still love to pour in the alcohol and get it going. I think they can’t quite believe I made it with my own hands.
—Lisa Saunders ’79
I enjoyed treks with the Mountaineering Club – and I liked the idea of a real-world test for my undergrad course’s machine shop project. So I contacted the REI company and they agreed to send a variety of free carabiners, which I then tested for tensile strength using a very strong machine shop testing apparatus. It was fun seeing where the carabiners failed (near the gate) and ranking their strengths. Blue ribbon went to “D-shaped” carabiners with locking gates.
—Jim Payne ’81
Just the other day my 6-year-old was playing with the Stirling engine I built. I have fond memories of the Thayer machine shop and Roger Howes and Vic Surprenant.
—Terry Wong Th’81 DMS’90
I was never really a designer, but I did need to do some data gathering to support Professor Strohbehn’s work on hyperthermia using ultrasound. We needed to test our disc-shaped ultrasound transducer before attempting to use it in studies with cancer patients. That meant constructing a non-interfering Plexiglas “fish tank,” which is where the shop came in. As I was rather clueless at building, one of the shop guys directed my work and chipped in as I built the tank. Later I filled the tank with de-ionized water and floated a hunk of raw roast beef a few inches from the transducer. The 3 MHz sound heated the meat, and I got temperature readings at various positions. This allowed us to better understand the heating capabilities of the circular transducer when encountering human flesh. It also led to a memorable roast beef dinner.
—Russell King Th’83
I remember the bridge project. We were given three-foot lengths of aluminum strips and a piece of Plexiglas. We roadtripped along the Connecticut River to look at old truss bridges for design ideas. It was my first chance to cut and bend metal with a Bridgeport machine, which was a blast. I got to keep the bridge, which I still display proudly in my study.
—Doug Kingsley ’84 Th’85
In the bridge-building contest, our group made the truss bridge too short. Instead of making the bridge greater than the span required, we made it exactly the width of the span to be bridged. Any weight on the bridge sent it to the bottom. We had to build an adapter on the end of the bridge, which threw off any real ability to predict the bridge deflection due to load. I guess that’s why I ended up in software design.
—Steve Morris ’84 Th’85
I built a mechanical CPR device in the machine shop. The experience was so positive because of Roger Howes. He was very helpful, and I learned a lot.
—Heidi Russell ’84
I always found Roger Howes and his team enthusiastic, willing to help and, most importantly, patient. From the popular truss design competition to my ENGS 21 project, where we designed and built a deep sea cable connector out of a titanium “memory” alloy, to my thesis project on thin film transfer printing, my time spent in the shop was not only productive, it was always fun.
—Eric Schnell ’84 Th’85
Vic Surprenant gave me excellent help in making the machine we used to investigate the wear of UHMPE against stainless steel in low-amplitude oscillating motion. It was a tribology project that I did for Professor Francis Kennedy as a part of my M.E. degree. How exciting it was to make a drawing and have it realized in the real physical world! I made some parts of the machine myself, but Vic made most of them. The finished machine was used for a number of years for tribology experiments with the guidance of Professor Kennedy.
—Leo Smidhammar Th’85
I have fond memories of the machine shop with Roger Howes. Our group built a wheelchair that elevated upwards for access to cabinets and shelves. We used those wonderful machines like the Bridgeport. I grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., so using that machine was very special.
—Nancy Shawah Cheung Th’86
I was a grad student working for Professor John Collier, manufacturing titanium alloy implants for rabbits and implanting them. The implants were basically glorified washers with countersinks and fancy coatings, and I needed numerous sizes to fit the various rabbit tibiae. Titanium is not an easy material to work, and I was not very experienced in drafting or design. I kept my list of implant sizes on a piece of paper by “my” lathe. When there was time, the guys in the machine shop would help me out (like little elves in the night) and make a few of these little implants and leave them in my box. One day I found a round wire thing in my box. I could not figure out what the elves were up to! I inquired and found it was the smallest diameter implant I thought I needed. Little did I know that this was an “un-makeable” device. I learned two important lessons that have helped me in my career: be careful that you never ask for something that is “un-makeable”, and you need to have made things yourself in order to gain that wisdom.
—Kim Dwyer Th’88
My fondest memory came from the introduction to the machine shop that Roger Howes oversaw. To be allowed to use the machine shop, one had to successfully follow a set of directions for various machines and tools, and until that point in my life I was not handy at all with such things. To this day I keep the device that I had to machine on my desk, and anybody from Dartmouth during the same era who sees it says, “Hey, you’re a Thayer graduate, aren’t you?!” We all built them – and it gave us an appreciation that people have to be able to build what we engineers design. Years later, I became a professor at Vermont Technical College and found that Roger Howes had joined the faculty there, too. He remains a whiz in Vermont Tech’s machine shop as he helps his engineering technology students, but I can still tap a thread when need be – all thanks to the Thayer machine shop.
—Scott Sabol ’88 Th’88
As a master’s candidate and later a research associate under John Collier, I was building all manner of Rube Goldberg devices for testing total joint replacement prostheses. My free access to the machine shop was key, as many of these devices and fixtures started out as rough ideas and only took final shape on the mill or the lathe. Having earned my bachelor’s degree outside Dartmouth, I was unfamiliar with the Thayer machine shop and was amazed at not only the level of access that students had but the amount of patient teaching that Roger Howes, Gary Durkee, and Roland Gauthier provided. Later on, as a design engineer and a project manager, I was always cognizant of the fact that whatever I designed or had designed, someone had to build it, so it better be buildable.
—Jim McNamara Th’89
Together with the Swedish student Stefan Palmgren Th’91, I worked on our B.E. project. My task was to design two planar robot arms for a master-slave configuration, while Stefan designed the wrist with a special force and torque sensor. After finishing the drawings, I had to manufacture the complete structure in the machine shop on the lathe and milling machine. Roger Howes helped, so the work was done properly. Back in Germany, it was no problem for me to get credit for the project.
—Harald Schoenenborn Th’91
For three years I worked for Roger Howes in the machine shop as a T.A. From Roger I learned two vital and related things: How to make myself heard and how to stand up for myself. Roger has a keen eye for group dynamics. Many times I saw him pull a quieter student apart from a group and give him or her a talk – telling us usually that our ideas couldn’t be any worse than those of the louder members of the group, so we must get in there and fight for them. Usually he was right. Roger also trusted me to help students learn the machinery and new techniques. Once he and Roland Gauthier asked me to shut down the shop for lunchtime. All the students stopped working as asked except one, who informed me: “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re just another student.” So I spun around and hit the emergency stop button on the wall, cutting power to all machinery in the room. When he tried to turn the mill on and it wouldn’t start, he turned to me and demanded that I turn the power back on. I told him, “I’m sorry, I can’t; I’m just another student.” This has helped me anytime I’ve been dismissed as “just another X” – you are never quite that powerless. Roger lured me away from a lucrative job at the dining hall with the promise of lower pay and a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich once a week. Best deal I ever made.
—Becca Voelker ’92 Th’94
Roger Howes and Gary Durkee were great – patient with a novice like me and always good with a joke. I had never done anything in a machine shop. They never made me feel afraid to go for it, even though I was scared to death I’d break something.
—Darrin Clement Th’93
One of the proudest entries on my resume is of my experience in the machine shop. Machining metal taught me a ton about planning ahead and doing everything deliberately. Parts were either exactly right or they were junk.
—Zander Lichstein ’95, Th’97
Roger Howes ran the shop with pragmatic rules: “If you’re about to do something stupid, ask first.” “If you bust something, than fess up.” “Clean up before closing time.” With all the high-minded intellectualism around campus, I could have compartmentalized these rules to the shop floor, but there was something in Roger’s manner of teaching that led me to extrapolate instead. After all, what good is an education in mind-bending concepts and theories unless we learn to acknowledge the limits of our understanding, take responsibility for our actions, and respect other people’s time?
—Sol Diamond ’97 Th’98
My senior thesis project was to design and build a better body for the Formula race car. I loved the countless hours I spent in the basement of Thayer. I’d happily come back and do it all over again.
—Erik Weeman ’97
The machine shop opened at 7:30 a.m., an ungodly hour for college students. It didn’t take long to learn that I would have Roger Howes, Leonard Parker, and Pete Fontaine almost all to myself if I kept coming in then. I picked a thesis that would let me spend as much time in the shop as I could and dragged out its completion just to keep working in the shop another term.
—Gus Moore ’99 Th’01
I was fortunate to work closely with Pete Fontaine in the CNC shop and learn many of the aspects of product design and producibility from him. Working with the cantankerous old Bridgeport CNC, I saw firsthand how small tweaks to designs could significantly improve producibility of a system. Knowing the essentials of machining and smart-part design have enabled me to excel in the aerospace industry, where the vast majority of parts are CNC-machined. It always strikes me how students from other universities have no experience with product design and manufacture, and how much they struggle to understand that engineering is not just calculation of solutions to book problems, it is the ability to make an elegant solution to a real-world problem. Part of that elegance is in the ease of manufacture, a skill Thayer School and its machine shop effectively instill in all their graduates.
—Brian Paris Nealon ’01 Th’02
I used the machine shop to create a sculpture for studio art. Kevin Baron was instrumental in ordering materials, as well as setting up the CNC lathe to create a mechanical joint that allowed my sculpture to rotate in the wind. Execution of this sculpture would not have been possible without the machine shop and the enthusiasm and guidance from Kevin for a non-engineering-related project.
—Mat Ackerman ’05
Although I did not use the machines, the staff helped me make some parts of the bioreactor for my experiment. I found the staff very nice, helpful, and professional. I wish I had been an undergraduate there and spent more time on the machines with them.
—Yanpin Lu Th’05
The machine shop is the heart of the Thayer – the place where build happens! I believe that working in teams and getting your hands dirty are the most important parts of an engineering education.
—Brian Mason Th’05
I worked under Kevin Baron programming and running the milling machines. One day when Kevin was out, I ran out of work and asked Leonard Parker what to do. He handed me a bright orange mallet and told me to sit behind the new thermodynamics students building their Stirling engines and “threaten” them. Although a bit harsh, we always made sure that anyone new in the lab was watched. The machine shop was one of the most caring areas, even if no one in there would admit it.
—Tasha Sakaguchi Th’05
It’s funny how attached I grew to a small, crowded, windowless project design lab after spending a ridiculous amount of time in it. We solved problems, ate meals, fretted that we were going to fail the class because we didn’t have our project working a week before our final presentation, and traded high-fives when we managed to get it working.
—Josh Kjenner Th’06
I was intimidated by the machines until Leonard Parker and Mike Ibey began helping me out, making sure I was using the machines correctly. They made the experience way better with their humor and anecdotes of past machine shop “incidents.” I always looked forward to my part of the day spent there.
—Erik B. Marquez ’06 Th’07
I dropped into the machine shop for practical experience on anything mechanical. As a graduate student driving an old car, I found their mechanical advice invaluable in keeping my 1991 car running through five winters. They had so much knowledge and enthusiasm to share.
—Glenn Nofsinger Th’06
Some of the early Advanced Transit Dynamics‘ TrailerTail prototypes were made in the machine shop as part of an ENGS 190/290 design project. Jeff Grossman ’06 Th’07 was on the Thayer team (and now works for ATD), led by CEO Andrew Smith Tu’07. Also helping was Chuck Horrell ’00 Th’01 (also now with ATD).
—Errik Anderson ’00 Th’07
I came to Thayer with a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. This gave me a somewhat unique perspective on the nature of the Thayer machine shop and its role as a learning tool. At my undergraduate institution, the multiple machine shops and casting facilities were guarded from the average student, much as they are at other institutions. In contrast, at Thayer the hands-on spaces are truly integral to the education. My presence there was natural; I didn’t need a “reason” or some kind of lab hall pass to use the facilities. I spent some time in the machine shop and project lab working with James Joslin ’05, the mechanical design wizard of our research group. He was very comfortable working in these spaces and was treated as a peer by the machine shop guys. I know that developed from countless hours learning by doing, and I know his experience was not unique because you could walk by the machine shop on a busy day and see every station occupied by a student. My enduring memory of the Thayer machine shop is that the people responsible for the space recognized that it is there for the benefit of the students. And in order to maximize that benefit and really differentiate a Thayer education from any other engineering education, they tried very hard to make project space seem like an open environment, a natural place for a student to be.
—Devin Brande Th’07