Bullmoose takes up more than its fair share of floorspace in my shop. It’s old. I rarely use it. You have to be a millwright to preserve the babbit plain bearings and cast iron thrust bearing when you are turning. It represents so much of who I am and where I came from that I’d never give it up in a million years.
This lathe was born around 1900. It’s cast iron parts were bought by my grandfather from a shipyard in either Vancouver or New Westminster. After renovating the bearings he made hand-hewn cedar timbers for the ways. When I was growing up it lived in the workshop on the second floor of our barn. All powered equiment in the barn was run by water power from a pelton wheel on the ground floor. A huge leather flat belt drove a mainshaft that ran most of the length of the barn. Smaller belts ran from the mainshaft to jackshafts that distributed the power to the various pieces of equipment; Bullmoose was one, although it didn’t have a name then.
The timber-framed barn began a slow demise as the elements crept in through the unmaintained roof and I began to worry about nothing other than the big, old lathe. One day a friend who shared a common affinity for stuff that is old lent me a hand (and a strong back) to get it out of the barn before it was too late. It was a treacherous journey across rotting beams and flooring but determination and rash behavior carried the day. It lived in my friend’s shop for a while until I finished my own, providing a more secure home for the treasure. Not long after while renovating a machine shop, I found a pattern for making molds to cast the curved nameplates for Bullmoose forklifts. The pattern looked pretty cool and the name “Bullmoose” seemed to fit my lathe so I “liberated” it.
New life was breathed into the old beast after I made a new jackshaft to accept a drive from an old electric motor. I turned a few things every now and then pretending I was a turner just like my grandfather, regularly adjusting the thrust bearing and oiling the main bearings on the headstock. Once during a guild BBQ, three of us turned at the same time on a small log – the long tool rest giving us plenty of elbow room. The biggest job I ever used it for was to turn 22 porch posts for a house that I built for our family on a ski mountain. All the houses on the hill had to be of Victorian design which, as a woodturner, pleased me very much. With few retail suppliers of trim and accessories it wasn’t hard to see the similarities among them all. I vowed ours would be different so needless to say, there were many one-of-a-kind spires, finials, beaded screens, some truly unique dentil moldings and of course the heaviest porch posts on the mountain. The largest porch posts available were 5″ x 5″ and looked wimpy compared to the ones on the house where I grew up. I bought a large laminated beam and had it milled into posts, then planed them to 7″ x 7″ in my thickness planer (also in the picture). At 9′ long, they weighed 100 pounds each. When I turned the lathe on for the first time with one of those posts on it, to say that I was intimidated would be a huge understatement. I got the job done but only after several days of tweeking bearings, manhandling a ten pound gouge for roughing (in the picture on the 6″ x 6″ blank) then detailing what seemed like miles of tapers, beads and coves. I gained a tremendous respect for the turners in my grandfather’s day and hoped he would have been proud.
These days Bullmoose resides under heaps of turning wood and a blanket of dust but it is safe for now. It’s a survivor and has earned it’s rest.
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