Watervliet machinist embodies the president's words of what makes America great
August 12, 2014
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WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Aug. 12, 2014) -- In President Barack Obama's January 2009 Inaugural Address, he spoke some about those who have made America great.
He talked about how the greatness of our nation is never a given, as it has been earned by those who never were one to take short-cuts or to settling for anything less.
He talked about the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women who were obscure in their labor.
And if the president ever visited Watervliet, he would not need to change his speech because the arsenal has a rich history of risk-takers, doers, makers of things, and especially, those obscure men and women who have not settled for anything less than greatness.
Arsenal Machinist Frank Taylor is one of those great Americans that President Obama talked about.
Although Frank shies away from any accolades of his machining skills, the fact remains he is the senior machinist at the arsenal and everyone knows that even if Frank does not welcome that fact. From apprentice to the Chief of Manufacturing, Frank is revered as the most knowledgeable machinist at the arsenal today.
Bill Dingmon, the arsenal's chief of manufacturing has this to say about Frank.
"Frank and I worked together in prototype for more years than I'd like to recall. In all those years, he tops all other machinists and toolmakers on my list of the most admired and respected. Through all the very difficult projects we have worked, I can't recall Frank ever making a mistake, his quality is impeccable. He has never refused any task given to him and has accomplished all tasks with the utmost professionalism. Even today, he's willing to help anyone who asks for his assistance with a great sense of duty and pride. In a few words, he is the best machinist that I have ever known."
Every morning at 6:05 a.m., this humble machinist walks into the major components production building and gets ready for his day of machining that starts at 7 a.m. This routine has not changed since he began working at the arsenal in 1976.
Frank is a quiet, humble sort of a guy who sits down every morning and works through his crossword puzzles before starting his day of work. But there is more to this scene than meets the eye.
Although it is a simple fact that no supervisor has ever had to worry about Frank being on time, it is what Frank does when he is working through such challenges as a four-letter, across word for "Off one's rocker" that brings great value to this routine. What Frank is actually doing at that table under the pretense of finding words for puzzles is that he talks machining to anyone who will listen. And, many listen.
When asked about his personal history, Frank breaks a smile on his weathered face. He has a great history and he is proud to talk about it, but only after some prodding.
Frank was drafted into the Army in 1964. After two years of service as a military policeman, Frank left the Army for greener pastures of hanging aluminum siding and later building homes with his brother.
When the green pastures turned brown, Frank learned about an arsenal apprentice class starting. He applied and was accepted into the program. And for nearly 40 years, he has worked in the building that today houses the arsenal's major components line.
Frank prefers not to work on the computer-controlled machines and there is good reason. His mastery of legacy machines is an absolute wonder to watch. As long as the arsenal retains the non-computer controlled machines, his work is guaranteed. Anyone who has observed Frank in action will often see him leaving his hand on the machine as it turns, leaning forward as if he is watching each revolution of the tool as it cuts through steel.
Frank said he prefers working on the legacy machines versus the computer-numerically controlled machines because he likes to use all of his senses when he machines a part.
"When I machine a part, I don't assume anything." Frank said. "I use my hearing, smell, touch, and sight to make each machining operation."
Frank likes to talk about some of the great machinists he has known through the years and rattled off their names as if they still worked alongside of him, such as Bill Dingmon. But his fondest memories of his nearly 40-year career were when he was on the prototype team that manufactured the first 120mm cannon system.
Today, Frank is the "fix-it" man having now been the lead machinist for repair work in the major components building for nearly 15 years. And, he has no plans to retire as long as he can continue to be a valuable team member. Given his stature as a machinist, he will remain with the arsenal for a very long time.
By the way, Frank said that he has made one mistake in his career and that one mistake will haunt him until he dies.
For all the dedicated, tenured work that Frank has provided to the arsenal and to our Army, he is very deserving to be highlighted as this month's Face of Strength. As the type of American who President Obama spoke about in 2009, Frank has truly helped make our Soldiers great and our country greater.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously operating arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in July 2013.
Today's arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.