I have lusted after a Walker Turner bench top drill press since I was a kid. My father had one and, it was the smoothest drill press I've ever used. Last Winter, I located one for sale at the Savannah River Plant in Barnewll SC, near my home in Columbia. I bought it from the government property disposal officer, sight unseen. That was probably a mistake. I drove over to pick it up and when I saw it, my heart sank. It was in several large pieces with a box of "miscellaneous parts." The table looked like someone had knocked great chunks out of it with a ball pein hammer and the column was corroded and pitted all the way through in several places. Moreover, it was infested with bad critters. I had to remove several mud dauber wasp nests from the main casting and the belt guard before I could load it into my car for the drive home. I didn't take photos of the machine at the time because I wasn't at all sure I could save it. I did, however, take a shot of the table and the column later to document how bad it was. Here's the shot:
The machine turned out to be a Model 1200. It's a late 1940s or early 1950s update of the model 900 that most people are familar with. The 1200 is basically the same machine as the 900 except for a more streamlined cowl over the pulleys and belts. They use most of the same parts.
I was fortunate to find Jeff Hoffman at Walker Turner Serviced Machinery, LLC in Connecticuit. Jeff specializes in reconditioning Walker Turner and other vintage machines. He has a wealth of knowledge which her shares unselfishly and, I might add, with a great deal of patience. He had all the parts I needed, including the non-standard, extended race, main quill bearings and the original color machine enamel.
I had planned to buy a Baldor motor for the press, but Jeff talked me out of it and into using the original motor that came on it. When I wired up the motor and turned it on, it slung dirt and debris all over my shop. As it turned out, the motor had its own colony of mud dauber wasps hiding inside. I sent it to Jeff. He rewound, rewired and repainted it and replaced the bearings. It runs like a brand new one. Here are before and after shots of the motor:
After several months of nasty, greasy work, four-letter words and e-mail correspondence with Jeff Hoffman, I finished the job. Here's a photo of my prize:
Since I took this shot, I have replaced the rotary switch you see in the pic with the correct Cutler Hammer 3 pole pushbutton switch. I have replaced the original table locking bolt and handle (which was missing from my miscellaneous parts collection) with a non-correct spring loaded clamp handle; but apart from that, as far as I can tell, the drill press is about 99% correct with the original specs. But more important, it is just as smooth as I remembered my Father's.
Interestingly, this drill press was built in approximately 1950 or '51. Harry Truman signed the Letter if Agreement with duPont that established the nuclear weapons production project at Savannah River in 1951. Based on the timing, I am pretty certain that my drill press was one of the original pieces of equipment purchased for our nuclear weapons operation at SRP. This historical provenance makes the machine all the more interesting - to me at least.
This project took way longer and cost way more than I though it would. But I didn't undertake this to save a buck, and I ended up with exactly what I wanted, so I'm happy. It took me a month to get my greasy workshop cleaned up and now I'm back to woodworking.
If this looks familiar, bear with me. I have posted some of this on other boards, but I wanted my drill press rehab project to be part of the "Old Iron" board here on Family Woodworking.