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@Jon G posted:

1. What gets me is if you look in the 1950's popular science mag, it seemed like everyone had an Atlas metal lathe in their basement.  

2. Today, most people can't change the tire on their car let alone know how to turn a lathe on.

1. Was thinking about that just yesterday, because this arrived in the mail:


1941 edition. Reading about "Polydrives", etc got me to thinking about how mechanically minded the average modeler had to be back in the day. When I first got into the hobby (1970) there was still a lot of kit building, kit-bashing going on. Guess that's why I find posts by the likes of "harmonyards" and "bob2" so interesting.

2:  Why, you buy it dinner and tell it what it wants to hear, of course!  

Mark in Oregon


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I took a shop class at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA so I could help out more at our local railway museum. I ended up taking every class they offered, and got a degree from there in Machine Technology. It ended up being my career standing at lathes and mills in the movie industry doing miniature special effects and prop making in general. I am glad I found out what I wanted to do fairly early in life...

Didn't have a real good machine shop class in high school but it was mandatory in engineering school. We covered enough that you would know what process might be needed to make the part you designed/needed. That was covered in the lecture. Then the lab part involved actually using a broach (didn't even know that was the thing), mill, lathe, planer, casting aluminum, welding (gas and stick), stamping, shearing, etc

I use something from that class daily at work or at home. It makes me wish I had a machine shop at home. 

That was very similar to my curriculum Ken, but I never took a machine shop class--if it was available, I wish I had.  I always took wood shop when available, along with classes in electronics, drafting, and even printing--using some kind of antiquated, old-school Guttenburg-type thing.  It was automated and big (compared to a middle-schooler), and you placed one sheet of paper in at a time.   You had to be reasonably coordinated with a natural rhythm as you could easily smash your hand or forearm swapping printed and plain sheets of paper in and out.  I remember if we ever acted up, the teacher's detention trappings included sorting type for the length of the period.  Probably explains my nearsightedness, and perhaps lead poisoning.  Good memories there...

I did recently tour the machine shop at Strasburg RR while the 611 was there.  Really cool. Lots of vintage machine tools are utilized.

Last edited by Tuscan Jim

I had machine shop class in high school twice.  That would have been 1969-70, 1970-71.  I still have hobby tools stored in the tool box I cut, bent, and riveted, a center punch I made on a lathe, a tack hammer I cut, smoothed, and hardened, and some other things.  Since that time, I have only used a drill press, never having access to any of the tools since.  It was a great learning experience.  Along with that, I took a year of wood shop and two years of mechanical drawing, yes with a tee-square, triangle, and pencil on vellum.  Oh yes; calculations were all made with a slide rule.  I used the drawing most in my career in electronics as an electrical designer in the early '80s before they went with CAD.  And while we are at it, a lot of my electronics repairs in the early days were on communications equipment with vacuum tubes, not transistors, and certainly not ICs.  I guess my experience sounds like it was during medieval times to my young counterparts I left behind when I retired last fall.     The hands on work was vital I believe.

I took all the shop classes I could in Jr High and high School. Wood, metal, small engines. We also had a printing class with old letter-set plate printers. Can't remember how many times I spilled the letter plates after I had them set up.

Drafting classes as well.

In HS I was able to take a wood technology class where we made our own furniture. I made a few nice pieces for my mom. Great shop too- two big table saws, Oliver lathes, shapers, planers, etc. We had a full spray booth for poly finishes too.

Now they don't even teach shop skills in our schools anymore.

@RSJB18 posted:

I took all the shop classes I could in Jr High and high School. Wood, metal, small engines. We also had a printing class with old letter-set plate printers. Can't remember how many times I spilled the letter plates after I had them set up.

I used the high school woodshop classes to refinish the stocks on almost all my hunting rifles.  They get beat up packing them through the woods, but they looked like new after a visit to the workshop.

I never took a class, but my 2nd job out of high school was working in a shop that made park trains (16", 24", & 36" gauge.).  Started off sweeping, then to the mills.  Once they found out I knew AutoCAD I was converting the paper drawings to ACAD in between pulling the handle.  THen once I learned SolidWorks, I was converting from ACAD to SW.  I can not tell you how much that has helped me as a mechanical design engineer.  I'm always getting asked by even more experienced MEs to review things because I know how to make things.  I also can't tell you how many parts I've viewed from newer ME's that have square internal corners in pockets and holes.

  In graduate school I needed a lot of metal work done for my physics research project.  The experimental machine shop was way backlogged so I went down to the basement and told the head of the shop force I'd be willing to do any work he needed if he would train me on the lathe and the milling machines (the main shop was off limits to anyone not employed as part of the shop force). 

  The deal we struck was I cleaned up the shop every evening (swept the floor, cleaned all the machines, re-stocked metal where necessary, etc.). When I was close to being finished I'd give him a call at home and he would come back in and we would start my next lesson.  Basically, I became an apprentice. I made all of the metal components for my experimental apparatus and at the end John said he was very impressed with what I had done (so was I ).  That training helped me land my first job as a research physicist in industry and it has stood me in good stead in many other ways over the years.

I took some machine shop classes (along with metallurgy and mechanical drawing) back in 1974 when our local community college first opened its doors. We had the use of a fine shop with large 4-jaw South Bend lathes, Bridgeport Universal milling machines, surface grinders, heavy metal-cutting band saws, Morse-taper drill presses, and so. The shop also contained a special room with a huge polished granite layout table. I learned a lot of basic skills from the excellent instructor, Mr. Mick, a retired journeyman machinist who had worked for NASA at one time. One of our projects was to make a pair of machinist's parallel-jaw clamps (about 8 inches long): mill the jaws, drill, tap and counter bore them for the adjusting screws, and then turn and thread the screws and knurl their grips. I still have the ones I made and I still use them. I never really needed a lathe in my RR hobby, but I did buy a good, heavy-duty, accurate drill press. And I learned all about fractional drills, number drills, and letter drills, as well as proper cutting speeds for different materials. I also discovered bottoming taps, reamers, sine bars, dial micrometers, edge finders, and lots of other neat tools.

Hi from Michigan: I am a retired shop teacher, I spent 36 years teaching Graphic Arts, Vocational Printing Trades, Photography along with extra duties like  Drivers Education, & Yearbook Advisor. Across the hall was the Metal Shop, in that room they taught metal working with all the hand tools up to all kinds of large machines. They had seven welding booths, sheet metal tools along with a very nice foundry for doing sand castings.

I started teaching shop in the fall of 1974. We had seven full time shop teachers. (Industrial Education)

Auto Shop

Construction • Built A House

Drafting, Mechanical & Architectural 

Graphic Arts

Small Engines • Marine & Lawn

Metal Shop

Wood Shop

In the late 90’s Industrial Education had to deal with new state guidelines called: Core Curriculum. This put a strong emphasis on the college prep program for all Michigan Students.  Needles to say the students had no room in the school day for elective classes and this put Industrial Education out of business.

This is the book that was used by the Metals Teacher.


I also took shop classes in High School. Mr. Pasternak and Mr. Mathers were my high school shop teachers and they got me started at Central Michigan University to become a Michigan Shop Teacher.

I would not want to be a high school student today. 

Hope this helps: Gary 🚂


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I want to thank everyone who contributed their stories to the discussion.  I am humbled by the extremely high degree of expertise shown by so many.  I should have taken the classes years ago when I first recognized my lack of the necessary skills.  Right now, I am concerned with completing my mainline and staging tracks  while I have the physical capability to do so.  When that is done, who knows?  I may yet take a course or two.

Thanks again.


I had a master class in that from my father, who build many of his own tools and still has a blacksmith shop as well.

I also got machining classes while going through the Army Ordnance officer basic course at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1998, but I didn't pick up much new there.

Sadly I have no access to any such tools now...

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