Interview with George Christ, 1969 July 23 [audio]

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  • Early work as a blacksmith; Getting a job at Hoopes Brothers and Darlington; Description of making a wheel for a horse- drawn vehicle;
    Keywords: Amish people.; Blacksmithing; Disneyland; Dodge City; Hoopes Brother and Darlington Inc.; Lansford, Pa.; Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company; Twentieth Century Fox; Wagons; Wells Fargo; Wheels; Wyatt Earp
    Transcript: Christ: Well, first thing I'd say is that I'm George Christ, that's spelled like Christ, you know. Oh, I guess I started around 1917.

    Scafidi: Here?

    Christ: No, working for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation. That was a utility shop you know. Everybody....well, they had shops, machine shops, and electric departments....oh, everything I suppose to make mine cars and things like that. Well, I took over the blacksmith anvil in 1920, when I was a boy. I put six years apprenticeship in those days. You see, today you just get behind the anvil in some places. Well, after I finished me six years I stayed there as mechanic, I guess for around 26 years. And then that was closing and I wanted to get out of the coal regions at the time; that was up in Lansford, Pennsylvania, and I wanted to get out of the coal fields for once and for all. I worked for International Motors oh, for say a short time, just a few months in their smith department. Bethlehem Steel had me up, and they wanted me to come on down there with 26 years experience. They wanted me to come on down there and work with them. That's one place I just didn't exactly care for. So, I seen the ad in the paper here where they were looking for a blacksmith and I come on down and I got the job; that was 15 years ago and I'm still here. A little bit....I don't do too much blacksmith work now; it's getting quicker and much cheaper....it's much easier getting electric welding. I don't do much blacksmith's work, an odd piece now and then, but I do mostly on the wheels. The wheel comes down, say complete, I kind of measure them off and I cut off the tire and bend that in a circle on the machine here and then we have it electric welded and I fit them on the wheel then, the tires that is, and after they're shrunk I bring them over to the machine and drill and bolt them and so forth, and I take them over to the boring machine and I bore. Then I put the metal box on them. And, of course, the bigger wheels, like the cannon wheels and stagecoach wheels I bore them first. For instance, I've had two wheels here I've done for Mr. oh, what's his name, Dowling in New York; each wheel weighed 262 pounds apiece. Now, when you cut the tire off first and you try to box something like that, you know, I had to handle them all myself. I don't have exactly that much strength, but I know how to lift, you see, and how to handle that kind of stuff. The point, you know, of gravity where I can get a proper balance and I can handle them. Well, I don’ t know as there is any too much more to say about it except the fixture wheels where we put our, what we call a felloe plate that's on the joints; today they call them a rim, or the wheel--that point that goes around the outside, you know, outside the spokes. The proper name is felloe, see. And then the plate that goes on to lock the joints into place is sort of a felloe. You put a hole through each end and clip them onto your wheels. Most of the work we do here now, I should say upstairs in the mill proper, is fixture wheels, but the metal tire and the boxes they all come down to me. We do quite a bit of cannon wheels and quite a bit of stagecoach wheels. We make them stagecoach...well, I've made work here for Wells Fargo and Wyatt Earp and Dodge City...that was on the tags anyhow when they shipped them out. And we made up tires for Twentieth Century Fox and for Disneyland. And Canada and every state in the Union that I can recall I've shipped wheels to. I don't know much more offhand, but I think, if I'm not mistaken, 13, 15, about 14-inch wheel in diameter is the smallest wheel I can make to fit the tire on with the machine and about 5 ft. 1" about the biggest.

    Scafidi: Does that offer anything bigger?

    Christ: Well, there has been a time or an order where they wanted5' 2" wheels, see, and we've had to cut down, in fact, I have to get as big a Wheel as possible while in the shrinking machine, see, that works by hydraulic press. The oil pumps into each cylinder and there’ s eighteen of them and eighteen times. I've also shrank 5/8 by 3 and I've also shrank 3/4 by 4. Now, in my own time while I’ m running the machine I haven't done any running bigger than that. Of course, when he'd want the wheels as big as you could possibly get, why then I'd just have to make the tire and put it in the shrinker until I would get the exact size. Then I would cut the ends to suit, you know, and have it welded and make the wheel to suit the tire; see, I think the highest I've gone is 5 ft. 1-1/2....that's about the biggest wheel I've made, in my time.

    Scafidi: Have you ever done any shrinking of them hot? Christ: Yeah, oh yes, I've shrank them hot. Some guys want them shrunk on hot. They it's like certain Amish people....for instance now, in Lancaster County and so forth they want a blacksmith-welded tire.

    Scafidi: On a wheel?

    Christ: Yeah. On the anvil. You see, they want them done that way, but you know today With labor and cost that makes an expensive tire. Whereas, say maybe 1/2 by 1 1/2" I can weld them on the anvil and maybe I can make 20 some a day; whereas by electric welding them and see that a first class job. I've seen us put out, oh, an unlimited number....I've seen meself shrink, for instance, sixty some tires, in a day.

    Scafidi: An 8-hour day?

    Christ: I've gone up into 40 some on the big wheels. Now, if I did that on the anvil, it doesn't pay us to do work like that anymore because the cost of everything, you know, the material, the labor, every-thing concerned. Well, I'll say this, while a blacksmith's heat shrinks them, you got to get it hot and expand the tire and put it over the wood and leave it shrink; well, by the time he's doing one wheel I could have approximately 10 wheels done, see, over on the machine. So, in a place like the mill here that's too slow and too expensive, see, but I have shrunk them on that way for guys that wanted them done that way, but we don't get very much calls for that kind of work anymore.

    Scafidi: How thick is a tire?

    Christ : Well, the average tire is about 5/16"; see we make anywhere from 3/16"; the heaviest stuff made would be, let's see, I guess 3/4"thick. I got a tire laying over there now that's 7/8" x 3" and that's pretty good, you know, when you figure I've only got a small bending machine here, because today you don't get calls for them.

    Scafidi: That would be for like a heavy brewery wagon?

    Christ: Yeah, and we used to make six to go on a cart to go down to Missouri's stockyards, and they were ¾ ”  x 4", see, and there were six wheels to a wagon. 'So, I don't know how many would use them, but I always said there must have been a tractor to pull them, but the tires for the two-foot wheels, like some want fixture wheels, that's a decorating wheel that they used for chandeliers and so forth, something like a 2' and a 5' wheel with a 3/16th x 7/8th and the biggest, well, the felloe, the width of the felloe would be an inch and a half. We used an inch and three eighths and that makes an inch and a half on the outside. It would have to be 3/16 x 3/8 and that is about the biggest fixture wheel. They don't use that type any more, you know.
  • Lifespan of a tire; Designing tires to be easily pulled by animals; Making charts to help manufacture tires on 100 plus year old machines
    Keywords: Amish people; Animals; Design; Horses; Standardization; Tires; Wheels
    Transcript: Scafidi: What is the life of one of those tires? How long will one last?

    Christ: A tire? Oh, it depends on the use of the wagon but the tire does last several years.

    Scafidi: What's the difference between a grooved tire, like the one you have behind you, and a regular flat tire?

    Christ: What's that?

    Scafidi: What's the difference in use between a regular flat tire and a grooved tire, like you have behind you?

    Christ: You'd have to channel. What we call a channel. Well, the purpose, you see, is...there's different types of tires, like one to two inch channel. Well, two inches is biggest we put on here regularly. Now, we've had where they had special jobs where they wanted the tire with approximately a four-inch rubber on it. Anything over two inches you got to have special lathes. We've had them 4 inches wide or more ,but then the only way we can overcome that is to order rubber because all we make without a Special order is two-inch wide channels. We'd have to take two channels and stretch them on the wheel and then the rubber man he takes and puts the rubber on. Puts a rubber on each channel. That's the only way we can make it, see. A two-inch wide channel, that's about the biggest channel we make then all the way down to a one-inch channel, we've made 7/8 channels, one inch channels, 1 1/4 channel, and 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 and 2 inches. That's beside the flat. Then of course the half round. The purpose of that is, you know, they go through, well, you've noticed on an automobile around the tire wells he pushes through the snow and just sort of pushes the snow aside. Now a flat tire has a tendency to push everything in front of it. Well, with a round tire on the wheel that's generally 3/4, what we call 3/4 half-round. Of course the flat part goes against the felloe. Now, the purpose of that is, as I say, it pushes the dirt aside and if you go into soft ground or gravel like that it makes it easier on the horse.

    Ryff: Is the requirement then, in a large part, how to make it easier on the horse?

    Christ: That all depends on the individual. You know, just like some men. It seems like they make it as tough as they can for the other fellow. Now nobody showed me, so let him learn the hard way, you know. I'll say this, anything I ever know, in all my days, if it's some help to some poor fellow coming along behind me then I am only too glad to leave it go to him. That's why I make up these different charts, you know, for boxing and bending machine. This firm has been here 102 years and everybody who has been here before me they just went on with their work and never cared about the guy behind him. But I kept track of my bending machine and When I made charts of the tires I noticed that a 32nd made an inch, here a 16th would be 2 inches and 1/8 by working up and down made 4 inches. And that's generally the average between wheels, when we say it's a three foot wheel in the front and a 3 foot, 4 in the back. See, like that. Then after I made the charts a girl up in the office keeps a chart and anybody at all here can just set the machine Where I have it marked and make a circle like he wants. The same way with the boxing machine; I've kept track of all the various tapers that go in a box, the various steps. Say, now like this afternoon, I am going to do some cannon wheels and these are 13 3/4 inches, the hub is less, the box that's in them is 13 3/4 but it has, say, like 4 inches in the back and 3 inches in the front, tapered, that's when it's tapered. All of those various things I've kept on that sheet in there and then I've got others here copied on my paper which I can transfer to my typewriter and anybody walks over to those machines, just has to look at that chart and know exactly what to set the machine for.

    Ryff: On an average day how many tires do you make?

    Christ: Well, you see I'm here now all alone except for a boy who they gave me; he's going to college, you see, he’ s going back to college again. Some days I don't cut tires because I have to get them out of the way and so forth. But this afternoon I'm going to cut tires--I expect to anyhow. But it all depends on the number of wheels that come down at a time. If he brings down fifty wheels, I cut fifty tires. Now, with a hundred of them I wouldn't necessarily cut the hundred. See, I cut enough that will keep me going steady all the time. Maybe I'd say thirty, cut, get it welded and then the next day I'd cut maybe thirty more. I can keep busy so I won't run out of tires, and it won't pile too much on him at a time, and then again I've got to have time so I can shrink the tires on. In other words, keep the work going at an even shot. Just as I told you, on that machine over there....I don't believe there is a machine around here, I haven't heard of any and I don't know of any in any plant, but this boring machine over here I have over nine inches--I have started at seven and one half at one end down to three and one quarter on the other end, and you just take the difference between 3 and 1/4 and that would be 4 and 1/4 inches of taper, that would be nine inches. I don't know of a machine around here that would do that. But not just anybody could walk up to that machine and get it out of there because I know how to get it out. You got to watch because if you're hitting on the wrong angle that you are cutting through and if you don't dig in.

    Ryff: These....when you speak of boxes, what do you mean, boxes in the hubs? Are these bearings or....?

    Christ: Now, that you asked before. The purpose of the boxes. Would it be the idea of being easier on the horse? That's where the individual comes in. Some guys, I was going to say, that don't care how rough they make it for the horse. It's the same as some lads, they don't care how tough they make it for the guy. But there are some guys I must say are very considerate of the horse. There's quite a few, quite a few boxes on these....you know on the axle. Well, if they're wood they'd soon wear out so they have to put a metal box in there to run on that axle. Well, there are so many different kinds of boxes I couldn't explain them all to you. Everything from a straight box, as I say to these big boxes like I have over here now. They are made out steel and they have a taper of one inch. Without metal boxes the wheels wouldn't last any time. But then, as I say, I get quite a few that gets ball bearings in them. Now they run, you might say you could pull the wagon yourself. All the horse has to do is just walk along and he don't know he's pulling anything. There are some guys, you know what I mean, are just so thoughtful for animals. They take good care of them.

    Ryff: Just for curiosity, are the Amish pretty good on that?

    Christ: 20,000 live in some towns in Ohio. But, now in Lancaster County, we have Amish and they get a lot of them down there. They get a lot of them and the bearings are on both ends of the box. It makes it so easy....that's what I said, you know, you can pull the wagon yourself, it's so light.
  • Shrinking wheels; Dishing wheels; Using heat to treat metals
    Keywords: Dishing; Heat sealing; Heat shrinking; Manufacture; Metals; Quality control; Wheels
    Transcript: Scafidi: I know I've read books on old-time wheelwrights; when they shrank tires. Heating and then cooling it off with water....put a dish onto the wheel. Does this machine take care of that when it shrinks a tire? Christ: Yes, you see, as I say, I've done that. I've shrunk wheels on by heat. You know, when I do put the tire on. I've made the tire....you got to use a trolley you know, and go around the wheel and get the exact measurement of that wheel and then you make your tire an 1/8 inch smaller. And that gives you a good tight and also holds the dish in. That's the idea of the tire being a little smaller than the wheel. It's to help hold the dish that you put in there. But you see, when it's what they generally refer to as a country blacksmith or the fellow that keeps a tire on by heat shrinking, well, if he gets too much dish he's stuck. If he don't get it up, he's stuck again. But now, on the machine over here I can put in any amount of dish I want, and I can take out that dish.

    Scafidi : You can take it out? Christ: On a new wheel, I can do it. On an old wheel, I just can't. The warpage you know. From time and people letting them set and no exercise on the wheels. But I can do pretty much as I please over on this machine here. If the wheel is wrong size and the guy who heat shrinks them on, well, he's just stuck. If the wheel’ s a bad dish, then that's just the way he has to use it. Where if mine is a bad dish, I can just take that dish out just by reversing the wheel in the machine. If I shrink the tire on it's always the back that’ s up, so if I back dish I just throw the back down and then push with the machine, see and then that forces the spokes down that way. That way, for instance, a country blacksmith or the blacksmith who shrinks the tire on with heat, well each and every wheel he's got to take his trolley and go around each and every wheel. If he had a hundred wheels to do, say, oh that's a hundred wheels he's got to use his trolley, for a two-foot round rule, you know, he's got to go around each tire and then make each tire to fit each wheel. Now, for instance, I had 460 wheels here not too long ago for New York City; now, all I do is just take three or four wheels and roll them off--measure them off, see. Then for my shrinkage over here I allow 4 times the thickness if it's flat tire; if it's half round, it's three times the thickness. The channel, kept track of that for a year or more until I seen what was the average and then....for a one inch channel I use 3/4 extra channel. In other words after I measure the tire off, then I add 3/4. Now on a flat tire I add, just after I get the measurement of the wheel, I just lay down the wheel and roll the wheel on it. If it's say 5/16th, well, that would be an inch and a quarter. If it's 1/2" thickness, well, four times 1/2" would give you 2 inches. Then I shrink that up onto the wheel. Now, then, I used them measurements, and I've got about a hundred or more for the city of Baltimore. Well, I just take three or four wheels, mark them off, then I cut the whole 460 tires. I shrink them on all wheels. If the wheel is a little bigger, the tire might go on slightly tighter; if it's a little small it might go on a little looser, but I can shrink the tire to fit the wheel then, see. So, that way if a blacksmith shrinks 460 wheels, why heaven's alive, he’ d be several months doing that. Where here I can put them on, I'd say, in a week's time. A complete wheel in a week's time of 460,just by using them measurements and using the shrinking machine.

    Scafidi: What's the dish?

    Christ: The dish, well, see every dish, every wheel I mean to say, every wheel that is made of wood has got to have a dish. Now, a steel rim is a little different and certain wheels I keep straight. Now, like on big stage coaches where they're going to put in boxes with ball bearings, see, on them, of course I try to keep straight because by the time I cut the hubs....see I cut the hubs off of them....cut the hubs off front and back and then I put plates on the front there and there's a box in there just like you'd say for the shaft to run on, you know, the ball bearings. Well, then I shrink the tire on and it's just impossible to get it off, that's all, it's on that tight. The big stagecoach wheels and cannon wheels. Well, when I cut the hub off on a wheel like that that's going to some dish; the wheel's going to give a little bit one way or the other, see, and then I have the amount of dish I want, see. Now the purpose on a regular wheel, what we call a Sarven wheel, that's the most used. See, what we call a Sarven. Now, them, we put in, well the dish was always a 1/4 inch dish, that's what the fellow before me told me, but I only put 3/16's in a dish in a wheel, see, and a dish is always to the front of the wheel. The purpose of that is, that dish, if you'd watch a wagon when it's going in front of you, the spokes on the bottom, on the ground, they'll straighten out, see, to carry the load. Now, as they come along, the dish gradually comes back into them and the other wheels coming along, say, the front, coming into them against the ground. Well, they'll straighten out, see. In other words, every spoke as it's going around straightens out to carry the load as it's going along the ground, and comes back in the dish again. Otherwise the wheel would be liable to collapse, see, with too big of a load on it. See, so that's the idea; the dish is say like a saucer, well that's the way the wheel is. The rounded part is towards the wagon and the basin part is towards the front. So, you've got to have that dish, as I say with the load, the spokes will straighten out and that will carry the load. If we ever get too much dish then the spokes they won't straighten out, but you'll be running like a guy on a curbstone; one foot in the gutter and the other on the curb. And the same way we make them for newspaper firms, well, in fact, all over the United States. But, a wheel like that, you see, is not carrying any load of any account and I don't put too much dish into them because they look better without the dish. A dish isn't needed in a light wheel like that, you know, and now when you've got one that's going to hit the road, whether it's two foot or five foot I put 3/16 of an inch dish. If it's a little less than 3/16 I let it go. So, that's the idea there, but it shouldn’ t be over a quarter of an inch.

    Scafidi: Does it tend to collapse over the years?

    Christ: Yeah, you see....in other words, it's got one strike against it if there is too much dish in a wheel. Of course, as I say, you know, if it's going to carry a heavy load with too much dish, well you can see that because it's only made of wood and they are going to collapse, but I'd say that the wheels they make here are good substantial wheels. You'd be surprised at the loads they can carry. I have no idea that some of the wheels that could carry a load, but you just take four wooden wheels to, like, say a buggy, why you take the weight of the wagon and everything else and a couple of people get on there, why, the wheels take a lot of punishment. But, as I say, if its got too much dish there is that danger, you know, and if the wheels are too light for the job that's wanted they are apt to go. So, it's always the best thing for them to notify the firm for what they are going to use the wheels. Now, the same way, when I was tool maker for ten years, you tell me what you want the tool for and what you were going to do with it, what kind of work you were going to do, then I would make the tools to suit. You see, when I heat treat it and so forth, I mark the tool down to what they wanted and I'd send them in to the tool grinder and he'd grind them up. I always had to keep about a 32nd extra on until after I had heat treated them. Now, just say for instance, if I take a piece of average carbon steel that we would use for a chisel and for 60, 70, 80 percent of 1 percent carbon, well, if they were going to use that for a chisel I would bring the cutting edge out to, say, 600. Now, if he was going to use it for a hand punch to punch holes through cards then I would bring that to 550 degrees see. But, now, if they were going to use that same piece of steel and they wanted to make punch and dies, see for punching holes in metal, then I would bring them up to about 430 which is a good straw on the end or a light straw. Then I would bring the shank which goes off into the heavy part, I would bring that to blue which would be, say, 600; and then the back shank that went up into the machine I'd take all the hardness out of there so that when the punch went through the iron the shock would be absorbed by the back part. That's about as far as we can go.
  • Shrinking Wheels; Age of Machinery
    Keywords: Heat shrinking; Machinery; Maintenance; Tires; Wheels
    Transcript: Ryff: Well, I think that we've almost used up your lunch hour entirely.

    Christ: Don't worry about that part. If we can use up mine we can use up some of his too. You might as well tape while you're here.

    Scafidi: I wanted to ask you, is it any trickier shrinking on a channel than it is to shrink on a flat?

    Christ: No, it's the same principle. I just raise the channel a little bit to catch the front of the blocks to do some shrinking be-cause beneath there's a small space between the blocks and the base of the machine. But I always raise up the wheel with small piece of channel .If you have too much channel and too much tire then she is apt to twist and go something like a snake or twist. But no matter what it is I can usually take care of it.

    Ryff: How long does it take to put a tire on?

    Christ: Well, it's only a matter of moments to put it on. See, if I have the tire made up, well, in a couple of seconds I have the tire on the wheel. I can practically put the tires on the wheels with my hands. Put it into the shrinker and it's just a matter of three pushes and I got what I want. The whole process wouldn’ t take any more than a matter of a minute as long as I have the tire and the wheel. It wouldn't take anymore than a minute.

    Scafidi: How about if you had to cut your tire and then go through the....?

    Christ: Oh, well, now that's another thing. I got to get up the material if I'm all alone. I’ ve got to cut up the material and grind them and taper 'em off on each end. Then I got to put them through the machine and round them for the welder so he can have a complete circle, and weld the ends together. No trouble at all if I can just keep going, but some days you know you got to change blocks. You'll maybe have a 3'2" wheel, and well a 3'2" wheel would take a 3'1”  and 3'3". They have a range of 3"; like a 3'3" would take a 36, 29 and a 35, a 36, 37; a 42 box would take a 42, 41, 43.

    Ryff: This machine is called a shrinker?

    Christ: Yes. They call it the shrinker.

    Scafidi: Do you have any idea how old it is?

    Christ: I don't know. There was a fellow here named Rambo who was foreman here and he was here 60 years, and I’ d say he must be dead, oh, about five or eight years, if not more. And he'd have remembered be-cause it was here when he come in. So, I don't know how old the machine is. I'm only here 15 years but I never asked the company office how old it was. Ryff: How does a machine like that last over the years? Is it in pretty good shape or....

    Christ: The machine?

    Ryff: Yeah.

    Christ: Yes. Occasionally I have leaks you know. You see there's a fiber....now, they don't make the fiber anymore--we got to use sort of a leather. Well, it's just like a washer, you see sometime they would break down and maybe I'd get a little bit of leakage and that stops it. This machine is fast, it's fast. But it's not a high speed machine. It's not made for that. It's made for power. Now, some lads seeing a machine like that, it goes faster. Now, I don't know as they do. The machine isn't made for power, this machine here is made for power. Now, the power has 2,000 lbs. per square inch. And there’ s eighteen cylinders. Now I couldn't tell you how many cubic inches is inside; I never tried to measure. I never tried to figure it. It wouldn't have done me any good anyhow. You just take each cylinder with each cubic inch that's in there and I would say there must be at least every bit of 16” , 20” cubic inches in each cylinder. Multiply that by 18 and as I say each square inch has 2,000 pounds pressure. Today I know it has an awful power. As I say, this particular machine here is made for power. And you can't have power and speed together. Not, if you want to control it. Today in a high speed press at the automobile plants where they come out with the mud guards and other parts of the body where the metal is thick. That's all done in presses you see. Those presses there are made in two pieces to work together. Suppose, we say, it was 1/16" thick, well the press, you see, is made when the dies come together. You can press in the middle into a good form, see, in that machine, but it stops short of coming in contact. You see this 1/16" metal, well, maybe they have knocked off there, the die maker maybe he's knocked off about l/32nd, if that much. He comes down in the middle. Whenever he hears the machine come down with the die touch the middle die, see you could just crush the middle. That's the idea of that. That's where you can get speed that way.

    Ryff: We notice men doing other jobs besides one specific one. Do you have any other things to do? Christ: Well, just as I say now, I shrink the tires on, drill ' em, and bolt them; I bore them out and box them, put them in meself. I do all of that. Sometimes I have a helper and, when I get an awful lot of work, before you can even get it out it piles up on you too much. You got to have some help then. As a rule I don't have help steady.