In July, 2018 I received a phone call offering me an old South Bend 9A lathe and a mill. I will not go into the details here, but it was a extremely generous offer which I would have been foolish to decline. The only issue that I had was that I needed to move it within a week or two.

A quick phone call to my father and brother yielded the brawn that I would need in order to move the tools. However, due to an unfortunate incident with my dad’s trunk, we needed a vehicle because I was really certain a lathe with all of its tooling, stand, etc… would fit into a jeep. A quick conversation with my lovely wife, AKA the brains, the operation had it’s transport in a Uhaul cargo van. We agreed in exchange for some manual labor, I would buy the team some ribeye steaks if they would help the move. Our plan was set.

A partial disassembled motor assemble of a South Bend 9A Lathe

As would be expected, whenever moving anything the challenge is everything. In our case, moving day was a lot of unknowns. I was told the lathe was in good shape, but I really did not to know what to expect. We arrived at out destination and I surveyed my prize. I was now the very proud owner of a South Bend Lathe, Model 9A. It has a 3 position pulley drive with a back gear. Although dirty, it was in good shape and appeared “complete”. Everything appeared to function and it was equipped with a great set of gauges and assorted tooling. Awesome. So, feeling ambitious, I grabbed a corner of the lathe and stand, lifted with my legs and proceed to move it. Or at least that was the plan until the reality of how heavy this thing really was….

My brother and I were finally able to get the lathe moving, but only after some concerted effort. Slowly, an inch at a time, we walked it out. Once we had it to a point, leverage became our friend and we got it out into the open. They we started on the disassembly to lighten our charge. The motor and pulleys soon parted its company. The tail stock was removed easily enough and finally the 4 foot long lathe bed was removed from the table stand and lowered onto a furniture dolly.

The South Bend 9A Gear Box

Soon enough, we had the lathe loaded into the back of the moving fan and strapped down. After we finished cleaning the area, we loaded up and were off to our shop to clean it up and get to work. The 3 hour drive to the shopped felt like it took forever…

When we arrived, we quickly unloaded and took stock of the situation. My dad, our resident machinist inventories and sorted all of the tooling, while my brother and I worked to remove several decades of grease and grime. I went after the lathe table which appeared in good shape overall. My brother volunteered to clean the lathe itself. Soon he noticed that the lathe has a small red badge installed on it, which reads, “THIS MACHINE CONFORMS TO THE ORDERS OF THE WAR PRODUCTION BOARD”.

This Machine Conforms to the Orders of the War Production Board.

Immediately, our conversation jumped to the production date. This badge seemed to indicate that the lathe was produced during World War 2. Clearly, one has to assume that my little SB 9A was ordered and performed some critical task on a Battleship, my vote was the Iowa. My brother seemed to think that this was unlikely, which I can only assume was his jealously that I was entrusted with such and important artifact of US History. After a few minutes of dreaming, I did understand and reminded him, that this lathe was produced during a time of rationing for the war effort and this badge was to let customer know that it was deemed vital to the war effort.

A partially cleaned  South Bend 9A Lathe
A partially cleaned South Bend 9A Lathe

It took several hours of scrubbing with steal wool and WD-40 to cut through the years of grime and a thin coat of oil to protect the steal from rust. As promised, this tool was in very good shape despite its 75 years. The ways are straight and true and once we lifted it back on to its table and was leveled it looked ready to go.

There were a couple of issues with the South Bend 9A Lathe, which I look forward to addressing over time.

  • The primary issue was location in the shop really needed more light.
  • The way the 1/4 HP motor is mounted, after oiled, and the belt put into tension, the oil drips onto the table deck.
  • The 75 year old wiring needs some attention.
  • The lamp style tool post is just wrong.
  • Rubber flooring mats to make longer turning sessions easier on the feet.
  • Metel shielding on the wall to protect the dry wall.
  • Cabinetry and Tool holders will need to be built.

All in all now a bad weekend of work. I did deliver on the Rib-eye’s and we might have had a touch of bourbon as well.

I am honored to be trusted with this fine piece of machinery. I look forward to building many things on it, and showing my son, nephews and perhaps my niece how to use it to build things.

Getting Closer to Chips on the South Bend 9A Lathe AKA "The General"
Getting Closer to Chips on the South Bend 9A Lathe AKA “The General”

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