Retired machinist called on to assist Watervliet to manufacture ... stories

By John B. SnyderOctober 7, 2013

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WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Oct. 7, 2013) -- To some people who worked with Bob Rawls during his 38 years as an arsenal machinist, they may have thought that when Bob retired in 2004 that he simply faded away to some sandy beach where sunshine is abundant and machinery is absent.

But for those who truly know Bob, they must have known that when Bob drove out the gate one last time as a Department of the Army Civilian that he couldn't stay gone very long. After all, Bob had invested more than 76,000 hours at the arsenal turning and machining barrels for every major artillery and tank system since the Vietnam War. Machining was in his blood.

Unlike most Watervliet retirees, Bob didn't fade away. In fact, he has quietly become a very valued and productive worker at the arsenal, albeit without pay. Immediately after Bob retired, he came right back to work in an arsenal machine shop.

Although the machine shop, which consisted at the time of a few broken machines from the late 1800s era, wasn't meant to produce weapons for our troops, it nonetheless had a very important mission … to tell the arsenal story of machining.

Tucked away in the arsenal museum activity is a late 1800s-era machine shop with working lathes and drills. Bob built this display from scratch using his personal funds, as well as thousands of hours of his personal time repairing the machines.

Although his hands now move a little slower than when he was a machinist at the arsenal, Bob's mind is just as sharp, if not more so. The repair of each machine often meant that Bob would spend countless hours researching how the old machines used to work and then fabricating parts in a small machine shop he has set up in his garage to bring the machines up to working order.

Why does he do it?

Bob said he loves working with his hands. But just as important, Bob loves working at the arsenal and helping to tell the arsenal story.

Watching Bob engage visitors, who have ranged from cadets from the U.S. military academy at West Point to local high school students, is amazing. His technical expertise, his love of the machines, and his historical knowledge of machine operations is always a visitor highlight.

Although the museum temporary closed on September 30 due to a reorganization being conducted by the Center of Military History, Bob's machine shop will stay and will be a large part of the arsenal museum activity when it reopens in 2015 or 2016.

For his countless hours of dedication toward helping the arsenal tell its story, Bob Rawls truly deserves to be an arsenal Face of Strength.


The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 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.

Related Links:

Watervliet Arsenal Twitter Page

Army Stand-To: Watervliet Arsenal's 200th Anniversary

Watervliet Arsenal Flickr Page

Watervliet Arsenal Slideshare Page

Watervliet Arsenal YouTube Page

Watervliet Arsenal Facebook Page