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Age of Barnes 20" camelback drill press

Joe Michaels

Apr 3, 2004
Shandaken, NY, USA
I am getting a Barnes 20" Camelback drill press ready for use in my blacksmith shop. It is my second camelback drill, and I really do not need another camelback drill. The price was right as this drill came as a gift, delivered to me, and is so unmolested that I felt I owed it a good home. I call this drill press "the Survivor" as it is un-modified and un-damaged aside from a few extra holes in the table and some wear on the loose pulley's bushing. The drill press has the original tight/loose pulleys and has a foot pedal belt shifter.

The mainframe casting has the W.J & John Barnes name on it, along with a patent date of September 23, '83. The '83 is how it appears on the casting. The fasteners on the drill press, such as the bolts to mount the lower cone pulley/tight/loose pulley assembly, are all square-headed. There is a small engraved brass dealer's plate on the drill: 'J.A. Fay & Company
Chicago Store
J. A. Roche, Man'g'r (this is how 'manager' is abbreviated on the nameplate)

another small brass plate has the number 1720 on it. I suspect this was a property ID number.

The dealer's plate is interesting in that it is small, the top line uses a fancy larger type font for the J. A. Fay lettering, while the lines below are smaller and plainer lettering. I tried online searches for "J A. Fay & Company" in Chicago and got no results. Why a dealer would include the store manager's name is another little mystery. I do not recall ever seeing a store manager's name on a dealer's plate on old machinery or old machine tools.

The drill press has the lever feed as well as the worm-geared fine feed, but does not have power feed nor has it got back gearing. It looks to have had a fairly easy life, and somehow avoided being converted to motor drive. It evidently saw enough use to put some wear marks on the belt shifter 'wings' (cast iron parts which bear against the edges of the drive belt to shift it).

Hopefully, some of our members can give me an approximate age of this old drill press. It does have the number 3 Morse Taper spindle and has an ancient Jacobs chuck (knurled body) on the arbor. The quill is actually a good reasonably snug fit in the mainframe. There is a really well made sheet-metal guard over the bevel gearing. This guard includes a flanged edge on the conical sheet metal guard over the bevel gear on the spindle. The guard is put together with rivets and fastened to the drill press mainframe with filister (aka 'cheese head' in the UK) screws, none of which are buggered or damaged or mis-matched. The guard is held to the mainframe with some formed steel straps that are accurately cut and formed.There is even a small notch in the flanged portion of the guard to allow greasing of the bevel gear on the spindle.

I find it hard to believe a drill press could survive un-changed and un-damaged from the late 1800's, but the square head bolts rather than hex head bolts would seem to support this era. If the drill press does date from the late 1880's or 1890's, it would be somewhere around 130 years old. That has me wondering if the system of Morse tapers was already well established for drill shanks, lathe centers, and drill press spindles.

I have built a skid out of hollow steel structural tube and angle, and the drill press is now bolted to the skid. I am finishing a countershaft assembly which will be mounted on this skid. The countershaft has a 'drum pulley' to retain the use of the tight and loose pulleys on the drill press. I got hold of an old cast iron belt pulley from a farm tractor (it is showing traces of Allis-Chalmers orange and had a plain keyed bore rather than splined bore). I machined the crown off this pulley so the belt can be shifted as required to start or stop the drill press. I found Barnes literature from Old Woodworking Machinery, and Barnes spec'd a drive pulley speed of 225 rpm. The countershaft has a 3/4 HP modern electric motor and drops the speed to the drum pulley via a V belt. I'm using a tractor adjustable top link to tension the flat belt from the countershaft to the tight/loose pulleys.

I need to get some flat belting for this drill press. Somewhere along the line on this 'board, there was discussion as to how to determine the length of flat belting. The bottom and top cone pulleys are on fixed centers, so the belting has to be cut to maintain some tension. I plan to use rubber/canvas belting rather than leather, with 'hook' type lacing. Barnes specs 2" wide belting for this drill, which seems a bit like overkill, but I will go with that width. I'd appreciate the rule of thumb for figuring flat belt length for pulleys on 'fixed centers', to maintain good belt tension.

I know the countershaft and use of the tight/loose pulleys is totally unnecessary, and a simple V belt drive to the lower cone pulley with switch on the motor would be fine. However, seeing how the whole works survived intact with no brazed repairs or modifications of any sort, I felt an urge to preserve the old drill as intact as it was. I am not going to 'pretty it up' with repainting. Just clean the machined surfaces, wash the painted surfaces down to get rid of grunge, and probably give the painted surfaces of the castings a little wipe with linseed oil. There is too much patina and sense of the age of the machine to start in with filler, enamel and the like. Besides, the drill is residing in my blacksmith shed, not in a toolroom or museum like setting. Call it a very sympathetic re-use of the old drill.
Pictures will go a long way towards determining the age.
One way of determining if the drill is an early Barnes is the upper castings.
Are they flat with ridges or smooth and somewhat round.
The early ones were flat.

A very quick search shows John Roche associated with J.A. Fay & Company between 1878 to 1888.
He became mayor of Chicago in 1887. I don't know if he continued his association after that.
After his term as mayor he worked for other companies such as Otis Elevator.



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Joe, I just use the simplest method of wrapping a tape measure around the pulleys. After you get your measurement by what ever means, subtract 1/10 of an inch per each foot of belt length to provide the proper length for the correct tension. Also, don't forget to allow for the approximate 1/4" gap due to the lacing.
Thank you to everyone who responded to my post about the Barnes drill press. Quite the story about the illustrious Mr. Roche. Aside from being a machine tool salesman, he had worked as a "draughtsman" for a firm building steam engines before moving to Chicago. Roche was cited as being something of a 'reform mayor', wanting to clean up vice (note the spelling, NOT 'Vise'). He also wanted to use examinations as a means of selecting new hires for the police and fire departments.

Roche worked for Fay prior to his becoming mayor of Chicago. This would put the date of my Barnes drill as sometime prior to 1887, and given the square-head fasteners and the 1883 patent date, the drill may date from prior to 1887. How it survived unmolested and with minimal wear is somewhat remarkable.

I often wonder, when the history of old machine tools is established, how machine tools 'emigrated' around the USA. Hendeyman's posts as to the original owners of Hendey machine tools and the locations of the members making inquiry about them often shows the machine tools were moved to different regions of the USA prior to the 'board members acquiring them. Why something so commonplace as a Barnes 20" camelback drill, lineshaft driven, sold by a Chicago dealer in the 1880's wound up in NY State is one of those mysteries. Possibly, the drill was part of a plant liquidation, or the relocation of a shop or division of a company and wound up in NY State.
The fact it apparently saw light usage over more than 100 years speaks of a drill which may have been in a maintenance shop for a building or institution rather than a working machine shop. Moving something like a specialized piece of production machinery, or perhaps some heavier machine tools or toolroom machine tools would make sense. Moving a used, lineshaft driven, small camelback drill from the Chicago region (presuming the drill was sold to an original owner in an area served by J.A. Fay) to NY State just does not seem like a sound business decision.

Enginebill furnished exactly the information I was looking for. My bro and I spent the day putting rough-sawn 4/4's pine board siding on the smith shed. The Barnes drill is on its base skid in the smith shed, and I will be finishing the countershaft soon. I will then be able to figure the lengths of flat belting needed.
My bro picked up a jackshaft for his buzz saw that I made for him. He has an ancient buzz saw made by "Lyon Iron Works- Greene, NY", and wants to run it with the PTO on his modern diesel tractor. My bro logged on his land, and sawed the lumber from trees he felled. That went onto my smith shed. An 1880's camelback drill sharing the smith shed with an almost as old Champion forge and other smithing tools in a shed built of lumber logged and milled by my bro does feel right.
I bought a 1886 Barnes drill press from a scrap yard in Buffalo NY
about 20 years ago. It had been layed over on its side and the
squeeze lever downfeed handle had been broken. I bought it for
cheap scrap price. I braze repaired the handle, like it had never
been broken. It was in good shape for 1886. The botton countershaft
babbit bearing journals had cut off the iron frame and flat steel
pad flanges had been brazed on. To these, someone mounded Hyatt flat
roller bearings for the pulley countershaft to run in. A tasteful
modification, showing the craftsmanship of perfectly brazed on steel
pad flanged done years ago. It still had a real leather belt and
a 3MT socket, with a diamond knurled Jacobs chuck still in the spindle.
The round base suggests 1885 to 1887 vintage, so I call it 1886.
It was missing the foot pedal for shifting the flat belt on the tight
and loose pulleys, but the cast in bracket mount was still visible
on the base. On the squeeze lever downfeed handle, it had a fine
downfeed handwheel. For the spring squeeze lever return, inside the
main handle was a bronze coil spring. I thought that was neat.
First time for me to see a bronze spring.
So made in Rockford Ill. Somehow traveled to Buffalo.
I brought it to Charlotte NC when I moved.
I never used it, Sold it to my friend James C. in Virginia.
So it is well traveled. On the way from my place to his,
a buddy of his picked it up from my shop to deliver it.
He had this Barnes drill in the back of a Dodge pickup,
along with a 13x40 lathe. The guy did not chain the machines
down, and dumped the drill and the lathe out of the bed of
his truck, somewhere on the side of the highway.
The Barnes drill was not damaged.

My Barnes drill has the rectangular base with tee slots. About the only modification I found on the drill was on the lubrication fitting for the 'loose pulley'. Someone had tapped in a grease zerk fitting, while leaving what looks like the original lubrication fitting in place. The shape of the brace carrying the outboard top shaft bearing and cone pulley is 'oval' in cross section & blends smoothly into the 'neck' of the mainframe casting. From what I have determined thus far, the only bearing showing any real wear is in the loose pulley. It has some free play which I can feel by moving the pulley on its shaft. Otherwise the remainder of the bearings seem nice and tight.

That is quite a story about the Barnes drill taking a tumble out of the back of a pickup. More surprising is the fact the drill was undamaged. I am reminded of an incident we had happen back when I was still working at the powerplant, prior to retirement. We had decided to purchase a used/reconditioned Carlton radial drill from the firm which had taken over the rights to Carlton along with Monarch and Lodge & Shipley, along with a few other machine tool builders. They were in Cleveland in a portion of the old Warner & Swasey plant. We selected a used Carlton drill that had come out of the toolroom at Electromotive Division (EMD), the diesel locomotive plant in LaGrange, Illinois. The machine tool firm in Cleveland went thru the drill, rescraped some surfaces, replaced some bearings and seals, and upgraded the electrics. Two of us travelled from NY State to Cleveland to inspect and accept the finished drill, doing some operational checks as well as some tests with dial indicators. We were happy with the drill and released it to be shipped to our powerplant. I had written the contract with "FOB NY Power Authority Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project, Gilboa, NY" rather than FOB Cleveland, and made shipping the responsibility of the machine tool firm. As we learned later, after the events that followed, rhe drill was loaded on an aluminum flatbed trailer, and bound down with nylon load binder straps. The rig made an uneventful trip from Cleveland, Ohio to very near our powerplant, which is in the Schoharie Valley of NY State, kind of off the beaten track. The rig was proceeding on some back road when there was a road construction area with a flag-man and heavy equipment on and around the road. Apparently, someone in a car in front of the rig made a very sudden stop to avoid hitting either the flagman or some piece of heavy equipment. The rig driver swerved the rig to avoid rear ending the car and driving it into the work zone. The swerving took the rig off the road surface, off the shoulder and partially down a bank. The violent maneuver and sudden stop caused our Carlton drill to be launched off the deck of the flatbed. As we learned, the fabric strap binders and their hooks held good. So good that they tore the aluminum tie-down points off the side of the trailer deck. Our Carlton drill wound up busted into quite a few chunks, and to add the proverbial cherry to that sundae, there was a mess of oil from the shattered geared head all over the road. Add a 'spill cleanup' and 'reportable incident' to the overall mess. I saw photos of the drill, and the major castings, aside from the handles, were all broken into a number of chunks. The insurance company got the mortal remains of the Carlton drill, and to make good on it, they paid the machine tool shop to furnish a like machine to us. We made a second trip to Cleveland for that machine. While it did not have the illustrious past of coming out of the EMD plant, it was also in nice shape to begin with.We kidded the machine tool shop people that they had better insist that the next shipper use a steel deck trailer and bind the drill with chains and softeners. That second drill arrived at out plant undamaged, and as I recall, on a flatbed with a steel framing and steel tie down points. There was plenty of wood dunnage along with softeners, load chains and ratchet binders tying that drill to the trailer. At the time, I wondered who would have bought the remains of the smashed Carlton drill from the insurance company. It would have been a parts source for the right person, but more likely, a scrapper got it.

Back around 1985, I found some used machine tools for sale on "Wantad Digest". I went to the seller's house and he had quite a home machine shop. I did not buy anything from him, but I spent a little time visiting. He had a camelback drill that was a disaster. Apparently, he had attempted to move it and succeeded in dropping it on its side. This broke the mainframe casting about where the round column met the 'neck' and 'head' of the drill. The guy then attempted to put the drill back together using NiRod, stick welding. While the drill was together, there were gobs of weld that looked like it was put on with a trowel, and all kinds of visible 'indications' (an indication being a 'defect' which may or may not be 'rejectable' based on applicable welding specs and codes). I remember thinking that even if the welding repair did hold, how square to the table would that drill's spindle be ? I also remember thinking that I would not want to use that drill, thinking the thrust load of drilling and the reaction to the torque of drilling could bust that welded repair and land a heavy chunk of casting on the guy using that drill. When we brought my Cincinnati Bickford 25" camelback drill home, we did it with my bro's old Mack dumptruck. The seller loaded the drill with a heavy wrecker truck's boom, and we bound the drill in an upright position. No problems in transit. When the Barnes drill came to my house, it was flat on the bed of another bro's pickup with the lower cone pulley assembly and the table removed for transit. Again, no damage in transit.

Rigging machine tools is one of those activities where common sense and taking a few extra steps is vital to the survival of not just the machine tools but the guy moving them.