Watervliet Arsenal's history, tradition, and pride help restore guns, community spirit
October 3, 2011
- Watervliet Arsenal refits 1914-era guns, but more importantly restores pride
- Arsenal teams with school that is rich with Junior ROTC students to restore pride
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y., -- A little bit of Arsenal history, tradition, and a sense of pride was demonstrated during the Christian Brothers Academy Opening Day Ceremony when the Arsenal celebrated the reconstruction of two 1914-era guns that adorn the entry to the school. CBA has a very strong Army Junior ROTC program and therefore, has strong ties to the military.
About one year ago, Colleen Ward, who is the Director of Institutional Advancement at CBA, asked John Snyder, the Arsenal public affairs officer, if the Arsenal had anyone who knew something about cannons.
According to Ward, CBA had two old guns that had fallen into disrepair and were sitting on cinder blocks in front of the school. The guns had become sort of an embarrassment to the school.
To Snyder, this seemed like a loaded question given the Arsenal's history of making cannons since the late 1800s. Nevertheless, Snyder explained to Ward a little about the Arsenal's history of gun making and said he would visit CBA. What CBA wanted was for the Arsenal to manufacture four wheels. If the Arsenal could do that, CBA would find a local company to repaint the guns.
To Snyder's surprise upon visiting CBA, the guns still had the original gun maker's stamp - "Watervliet Arsenal."
Knowing that these guns in some way still represent the Arsenal, Snyder went back to the Arsenal to see if he could solicit support to rebuild the wheel components for the guns. One gun was built in 1914 and the other in 1915.
After weeks of trying to drum up support for this task, Snyder was near calling Ward back to say that there was nothing the Arsenal could do. That is, until Jack Henry stopped into Snyder's office about another issue.
Henry, who is the Arsenal's prototype program manager, was working with Snyder on a story and was just about to leave Snyder's office when he asked what else was going on. Snyder told him about the CBA request and showed Henry pictures of the two guns.
Henry felt, as did Snyder, that the Arsenal had to do something, after all, these guns were Arsenal guns.
Henry turned to John Zayhowski, the Arsenal Apprentice Program Coordinator, and between the two of them they crafted a proposal that would have the Arsenal apprentices take this project on as their annual class project. Each year, the apprentices must produce and or manufacture a class project that represents their machining skills.
Once the former Director of Operations, John Hockenbury, and the Arsenal Commander, Col. Mark Migaleddi approved the concept, Henry and Zayhowski went to work.
Zayhowski said the apprentices were truly committed because they saw this, as did the Arsenal leadership, as a win-win situation for the Arsenal. Not only did the apprentices get great experience machining and fabricating a non-standard product without the benefit of blue prints, the Arsenal would participate in a project that would have great value to the community.
Zayhowski called on one of the Arsenal's machining gurus, Terry VanVranken, to help mentor the apprentices through this project.
VanVranken guided the apprentices through the on-site measurements of the guns to the reverse engineering of the designs that concluded with the manufacturing of the wheels, hubs, and spindles.
"Because there weren't any plans or even the old wheels to work from, VanVranken and the apprentices had to develop the plans, reverse engineer the parts, and then ensure the wheels and hubs met tight tolerances," Zayhowski said.
What VanVranken found when he and the apprentices took measurements from the two gun systems was that the tolerances between the two guns were in the thousandths of an inch.
"It was almost unbelievable that guns manufactured nearly 100 years ago met such tight tolerances," VanVranken said. "This speaks volumes about the high quality of workmanship the Arsenal had in 1914."
Besides being known for its world-class quality, the Arsenal is also known for its superb on-time delivery rate. Within hours of the CBA ceremony, Henry, Zayhowski, VanVranken, and the apprentices did a full-court press to complete the wheels and their subassemblies by painting the wheels in Henry's garage to ensure delivery for the opening day ceremony.
On the school's opening day, in front of hundreds of students and faculty, the two Arsenal guns stood proudly once again.
The Arsenal's apprentices, guided by senior machinists, proved that when something is stamped "Watervliet Arsenal," it will not fail.
The gun system, minus the wheels, was painted by an auto body shop in Green Island, N.Y. CBA paid for the parts that were fabricated into the wheels.