The Machinist that made the Poison Pin (photos)
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  1. #1
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    With all the poisoning of spies in the news it made me think this might be of current interest. Some of you may remember the "History Detectives" show on PBS about the the poison pin carried by the U-2 pilot Gary F. Powers back in 1960...... here is the link to that thread...

    http://www.practicalmachinist.com/cg.../1/12604.html?

    The short version of this story is I bought a bunch of tools at auction about 1985 of a machinist who worked at Fort Detrick.... His name was Milton Frank..... As always they only put a tiny portion of what they found out on the air..... one thing not shown was some of the earlier attempts at the design.... he even tried to make a spring loaded version and believe me those are some little coil springs...... the folks from the show sent me copies of all the stuff they dug up and that has been some fascinating reading..... the government spent between 2 and 3 Million dollars, remember that is late 1950's dollars to develop this poison and it's delivery system (the pin).......I went to back east to meet with the Frank's grandsons and hear first hand about their grand father who was quite the machinist...... funny thing is it is almost the same story as so many uncredited and so skilled of men....... only a 5th grade education... self taught.... could make and fix anything...... when he went to work for SOD they built him his own shop in a prefab trailer...... they equipped it with anything he desired and put a fence around it with a 24 hour armed military guard and this was inside the guarded SOD area inside a highly guarded Army base....... I remember as a kid in the 1960's we would drive by Ft. Detrick on the way to my grandparents and dad would tell us "over there past the gate is a super secret place where the government does nasty things"

    Mr. Frank retired I think in either 63 or 65 and moved his tools to his home shop were he worked on guns for folks.... he died in 68 and his widow locked the doors to his shop...... when she died in 85 the place was auctioned and this was in one of the box lots......... what remains unanswered is.... what else do I have.... there was a lot of strange stuff with it like eye glass hinges etc........ what else did other folks get.... do they even know it....... and how much got thrown away? BTW the shop was officially cleaned out the day after his death....... all makes for an interesting bit of history.... so here is what I found..... a newspaper clipping with two pins stuck in it......



    How was the pin made? after a few attempts it was so simple.... a piece of hypodermic needle with a pointed end soldered to it.... then a # 80 drill bit sharpened to a long point and soldered into a pin head..... when put in it's protective sheath it is safe....



    Mr. Frank at work in his shop.... they sure bought him a nice lathe...



    A close up this drilling attachment......



    And he had a smaller lathe... looks like a Levin...... I wonder if it was fun to be making all this James Bond kind of stuff for real.... or really stressful?



    And I know some of you will ask... have I tried to make one?..... well this time I went the other way... instead of making small stuff like I normally do I made a bigger than real one..... it is much easier to show this o folks than the little one... maybe safer too?


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    I think if you zoom in on that watchmaker's
    lathe, it will say "Boley" on it. At least
    the clamp-downs for the headstock look real
    familiar.

    I really like his home-made deep hole drilling
    attachment on the HLVH. But he's got the
    turret mounted up the wrong way, the lever
    should point *away* from the spindle!

    Also check out what's in *back* of the photo,
    in deep shadow. I think he had a "government"
    job running in that shop - the front end of
    a motorbike hanging from the overhead!!

    Jim

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    That is a great piece of history you have there. Thanks for sharing it.

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    Jim I just took a good look at the lathe.... it looks like it sort of says Levin, not Boley... but that is not a Levin headstock... and the bed is missing the holes for the gear train that a lot of Levin's had at that time had.... so who knows what it says.... and if you mean the forks seen over his right shoulder in the first picture, that is a hydraulic press.... but it wouldn't surprise me that he could have done something with a bike....... from what we know about all this guy did was make stuff for spies and methods to deliver chemicals...... I did get to play with the dart gun disguised as a fountain pen that he made....

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    Neil Boortz reported today that the spy that died of radiation poisoning recently converted to Islam and there might be a lot more to this story. As in dirty bomb or the like.

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    Fascinating!!
    You gotta love these kinds of stories and history. You are lucky to have something like this.

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    The watch lathe says "Peerless Made in USA" on the bed. The headstock locates in a v-shaped t-slot on the bed, rather than the front and back edges of the bed. The design is based on Moseley lathes of Elgin, IL, an old company bought out by C&E Marshall of Chicago, I think in the 1930's. There were tens of thousands of these Marshall Peerless lathes sold after WW2, many to GI Bill students of watch repair. Marshall also sold a Moseley version of this lathe, that was a bit more expensive and more rare now.

    I have several dozen watch lathes and can usually tell one brand from another if the picture is clear enough.

    The Hardinge lathe is a 1950-1960 HLV, with the 5" wide bed. You can tell by the tailstock design.

    Larry

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    Well, thanks again for another VERY interesting story....keep em coming. (You DO come up with some doozies)

    Bill

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    An amazing post, Rivett. I'm pondering what the odds are that someone who was interested would get that pin and clipping, much less someone who would pursue the details and publish them here. Yes, I wonder what else disappeared from that auction.

    Thank you!

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    That is soooooooooo cool. I really like this kind of stuff. I'l probably save this post and burn it to a CD. Later, if I bring it up at work and no one believes it, no problem just print it out. [img]smile.gif[/img]


    JAckal

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    Mudflap , nice avatar. What a coincidence. [img]smile.gif[/img]


    JAckal

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    A few years back an auction employee was killed while cataloging tools at the estate auction of a machinist who had died. The machinist's wife was having the auction, of course. The employee was looking at some parts in one cabinet and picked up one that looked just like a ball point pen. When he pushed in the button on the end it blew the end of his thumb off! As he ran over to show someone what had happened he dropped dead! Seems the "pen" was actually a "bang stick". It contained one .22 cal LR cartridge and was designed to shoot when pressed up against something, like someones body! It appears that when his thumb was blown off the bullet had also pierced his heart!

    Wonder where this machinist was selling such things.

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    Larry Right you are... I just scanned it that part of the photo at 600 dpi and it is Peerless...... funny how the "P" just looked like an "L" with my loupe..... Oh well I can't see like I use too.... I also probably thought they would have bought him the best?.... and Levins were more expensive than a Peerless..... no wonder that plane went down... they skimped on a lathe...

    Mudflap A lot of this find was pure luck..... At this auction were lots of strange little things, tools, tiny drills, tubing, screws... you name it. Now at most sales this stuff brings junk prices in box lots and that is the way it was this day.... so I bought a bunch. Filled most of the back of my little station wagon.... when I got it back to the shop I put it all on a table and started to open every little packet and sort it in with my stuff that is kept in pretty good order. I think a lot of guys would have just put whole boxes of this stuff on their shelves..... it was this practice of opening everything that caused me to find truly a needle in a haystack.

    As for the research and sharing part...... I like to know about what I find and have.... the only problem with that is the more you learn, the more stuff you want to go out and get. And what fun is to have something if you can't share it with other interested folks.......

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    I think the "motorbike forks" is acutally a press?

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    Well.

    The toolpost is still on backwards!

    [img]smile.gif[/img]

    Interesting that it's a narrow bed HLV.
    Those were pretty rare I think, much less
    common that the HLVHs. So they reeally wanted
    to tool him up with a nice workshop.

    Jim

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    Thanks for the post!

    Jim Williams

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    About the tool post.... could it not be that we are seeing it in it's loosened position.... that he simply backed the tool out and turned the post so he would have more clearance for the drill chuck...... after drilling he will bring the tool post back to position and pull the lever back to lock it....? I know my tool post is often in my way when drilling tiny parts..... that is one reason I like my Taig lathe... I can remove the whole carriage in seconds.

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    Over the Holidays I took a trip to Washington, DC and one of my stops was the "Spy Museum"......... I'm curious if any of you have been there and if so what did you think of it? Thanks and Happy New Year.

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    Indeed, Happy New Year to all!

    Rivett, you were in my stompin' grounds. I'd have enjoyed immensely to have put a face to your name, as I always find your posts fascinating.

    Regarding the Spy Museum, it's one of the more popular places to visit (in a town *full* of museums) for our out-of-town guests. I gladly shepherd visitors through this one. Call me squeamish, but if they want to see The Holocaust Museum, they're on their own.

    I find the place to be "slick" in the sense that it's clearly a commercial establishment, and has a different "tone" or "look & feel" than the free public museums. It's an entertainment center, not an academic exercise. I'm not saying that in a bad way, merely an observation.

    I think the Spy Museum is generally pretty cleverly designed in the sense that the viewing experience is very compactly designed, and you get a nice, long visit out of not much real estate. The downside is it's a little claustrophobic.

    The exhibits are cool & generally informative, but unfortunately, they're designed for "average people", whatever that is. I would enjoy more depth in the subjects.

    It's a real playground for Tom Clancy fans. [img]smile.gif[/img]

  21. #20
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    Heh. No, I've got that toolpost on my
    lathe in the basement shop. It's not really
    backwards, they just run a not nicer if you
    turn it 180 degrees so the handle locks down
    away from the spindle, rather than towards it.

    Basically you slack the clamp nut, slide the
    whole post out of the T-slot, flip it around,
    and re-install it.

    Interestingly I had given up on that toolpost
    until reading this exact thread. Because I
    was sure it only indexed in 90 degree intervals,
    I thought it was really a production toolpost.

    But then why would a prototype machinist be
    using it??? Could not figure that out. So
    I re-installed it, and found out that while it
    does automatically index in 90 degree intervals,
    you *can* set it at *any* angle, which is what
    I really like doing. So I took off the aloris
    clone and put the hardinge one back on, loaded
    with my four favorite tools.

    Jim


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