Featured Machinist: Fred Schleipman

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Thayer School Machine Shop

Among the various people that have taught me about machining over the years, the most significant and influential is Fred Schleipman. Fred was the director of the machine shop at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, back when I was working there as a research assistant around 1974. Here's a photo of Fred in the shop as it looked back at that time. (Everything was black and white, as color vision did not evolve until around 1981)

thayer02.jpg (201867 bytes)

Among his responsibilities, Fred ran a basic course in machine shop skills for the engineering students. At that time, the course was based on a project of making an engineer's paperweight. The paperweight was so designed as to require many different machining operations to make it, including use of the power hacksaw, metal lathe, horizontal mill and vertical mill.  When you were done, you had learned a lot of basic machining skills and had a nice paperweight to use on your desk when you got out into the working world.

As a finishing touch, Fred sent the completed paperweights off to be chrome-plated.  Fred tells me that many of his former students who have gone on to be successful engineers and executives, still proudly display their paperweights on their desks at work. Mine has been on my desk at every job since I left Dartmouth in 1978.

pw01.jpg (178194 bytes) Paperweight in lower left, near red book

pw002.jpg (160504 bytes)    pw005.jpg (204353 bytes)

Fred's Home Shop

Fred retired from Dartmouth some years ago, but has remained active as a machinist. He has a well-equipped machine shop attached to his home on top of a hill in Vermont. As a consultant to some local high-tech firms, he has been engaged in projects such as machining precision bearings that spin on liquid helium, and developing instruments used in brain surgery. He has  some patents for devices he has invented during his research work over the years.

fs 02.jpg (319695 bytes) Fred explains a point about the horizontal mill

fs04.jpg (144895 bytes) Some tools of the trade

fs05.jpg (256723 bytes) Another view of the shop

The machine in the foreground is an engraving pantograph. The parallelogram arms can be adjusted to reproduce lettering or a pattern on a template in reduced size onto a workpiece. Shown below is a template Fred made from acrylic plastic and below that is the pattern reproduced in very small size on a lathe toolholder that Fred made.

pg02.jpg (163962 bytes) Acrylic plastic logo template

pg03.jpg (120585 bytes) Logo reproduced on a toolholder

lathe01.jpg (205110 bytes) A beautiful vintage lathe

Fred told me that the lathe in the photo above is quite precise. It uses bearings of bronze which, by their nature, wear-in and conform to the spindle with great precision. Fred said that on some of the newer lathes the roller or taper bearings actually can leave a very fine irregular surface on a workpiece, mirroring the pattern of the bearings. When you need precision in ten-thousandths of an inch or less, such factors become important.

Porter Garden Telescope

Pine View

More recently, Fred was compelled by his life-long love of astronomy to take on an ambitious new project: to reproduce a unique Garden Telescope, originally designed and built in 1923 by Russell W. Porter, a contributor to the design of the 200-inch Hale telescope at Mt. Palomar, CA. The Porter Garden Telescope is a unique blend of precision machinery, optical instrument and classically-styled sculpture. One of the few remaining originals is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Teaming up with his son Russ Schleipman, a professional photographer based in Boston, Fred assembled a group of like-minded artisans and engineers and formed Telescopes of Vermont to reproduce the Garden Telescope using modern methods and precision optics.

ts01.jpg (162478 bytes) Some of the castings for the telescope

mill01.jpg (225622 bytes)  A large vertical mill with a fixture for milling the telescope mount

The result is truly a work of art: beautiful in it's own right, but a precision instrument as well. Visit their web site to learn the whole story.

Also, keep an eye out for the CBS Sunday Morning show on May 10th - they'll be doing a short feature on the story behind Telescopes of Vermont (if it doesn't air on May 10th, check again the following weeks).

Fred's House in Vermont

Creative people often can't confine themselves to just a few interests, and Fred's a classic example of that phenomenon. Aside from his precision metalworking skills, he's also an accomplished woodworker. And, oh, he built his own house from scratch back in the 50's, including the stone walls, the wood pillars and the wood trim around the windows. It's a beautiful place, set on a hill looking out on a classic Vermont country view. Here's the view out the living room window.

view02.jpg (173003 bytes) Vermont hillside view

Fred has made many of the pieces of furniture in his home. I can recall many years ago, Fred milling grooves into a piece of hardwood on a Bridgeport milling machine. He was working on a beautifully-made cabinet that still graces his home. That was the first time I'd seen a metalworking tool used for precision woodworking.

fs03.jpg (160117 bytes) Fred shows some ornate trim pieces that he made in his woodworking shop

Like many New Englanders, Fred has a fiercely independent streak. Vermonters pride themselves on being self-sufficient, whether in hunting, fishing and farming to supply their own food, repairing and restoring things that would be discarded in many other cultures, and in just being resourceful and hard-working to deal with the long, cold winters and deep snowfall. While most men his age might be content to sit and watch TV, when the snow falls, Fred still plows his own long, steep and winding driveway, using his vintage 1969 Land Rover.

lr01.jpg (175196 bytes) Fred's '69 Land Rover set up for plowing snow

(For you sharp-eyed metal workers, that's a Do All bandsaw in the background)

doall.jpg (146212 bytes) A fine Do All bandsaw

When I was editing this picture, I noticed the barbecue grill in the foreground. It reminded me of a time when I called Fred on the phone early in March this year, while the weather where I live in Virginia was still in the 40's. Fred's son answered the phone. Fred apologized for taking a few minutes to come to the phone. Seems he was busy outdoors grilling on the grill. Now, having lived in that same area for quite a few years, I know the temperature was probably still in the 30's. Strange thing, though, when the temperature has been below-zero for weeks at a time in January and February, 35 can seem downright balmy - time to break out the grill!

By the way, if you want to see some really spectacular photography, check out Russ Schleipman's (Fred's son) web site...

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