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Who Made Gort and How Old is He? Update 1 on Reg’s Old Arc Welder

Published in blog.hemmings.com

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this bulletin!

The origin of the alien device that was discovered last December and has since been variously referred to as “Arc 2 D 2” and “Gort” has been identified!

You’ll remember that when our story first broke, your fearless reporter had been tipped off to the existence of Gort hiding behind a trailer in his grandmother-in-law’s barn and had gone to investigate the menacing-looking device.

No instrument of planetary annihilation, the device was rather grandma’s late husband, Reg’s, arc welder, but, with its dome shape, absence of switches, dials, fans, or data plates, and bolted to the concrete floor, it was unlike any welder I had encountered before.

I loaded its hulking mass into my vehicle, chained it down, and brought it back to my shop for further study.

Research on the internet, as well as in dusty old welding texts from the Thirties and Forties, turned up almost nothing on the captive Gort. A post to the group “Machinists Museum” on Facebook, however, brought a remarkable amount of interest and some tentative leads.

That’s when I broke the story to you, dear readers of the Hemmings Daily. I shared Gort’s mugshot, and you did not disappoint! Your knowledge and experience resulted in some solid hypotheses, and your own stories and enthusiasm for the project were heartening.

Thanks, too, to Matt Cuddy for helping divine the strange device’s true name, inspired by its similarity in appearance with the slit-visored, 8-foot-tall, potentially world-destroying robot in the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

But because of a glitch in the way my computer receives (or does not receive) notifications about subsequent comments on the articles I write, I missed the breakthrough, a message from Jeff Glenzer that said he has an identical welder.

Doing what we reporters do, I followed up on this lead and emailed Jeff. I was careful to not get my hopes up because sometimes these leads dead-end, unintentionally misrouted and settling comfortably into people’s spam folders amid emails from captive Ethiopian princes needing to transfer $250,000 into YOUR bank account and free trials for Viagara (who do this spam bots think we are, anyway?).

But within a day I had a response from Jeff, and it included photos of his welder. He was right: It was very clearly the same make, if not precisely the same model, as Gort. This did two things for my research…

First, it suggested that mine was not a homebuilt welder, a one-off fabricated by Reg or another enterprising and skilled farmer in the far-back past, as some had thought might be the case due to its unique appearance, lack of identifying marks, and the tradition that existed in the days after World War II of DIY arc welders.

But as I clicked through the photos Jeff sent, his welder went beyond mere suggestion. Sorta like the Pioneer 10 spacecraft with its gold plaque etched with drawings of naked humans, it very clearly proclaims who made it on a data plate. It is a “Linc-Inductor” 200-ampere arc welder, manufactured by Lincoln Electric in Cleveland, Ohio… Jackpot.

The plate, located at the top of its dome, was absent on mine. In its place Gort had an opening in which a bracket with an eyelet had appeared to have been installed. Perhaps Reg needed his welder to be more portable and recognized that a closed eyelet was the most secure way to hoist it around with a bucket loader.

Also indicated on the plate are the machine’s serial number and specifications: 50 or 60 cycle single phase supply, 220 or 440 volts, and 60 or 30 amps. The plate is worn and faded, but still barely visible is a current scale (“Set pointer to desired welding current”) from a minimum of 20 to a maximum of 200.

Jeff’s welder was like good old Gort in every other way except that it had a piece of plate metal tack welded along the top edge of the horizontal slot, which hosts what we have now confirmed to be the current selector lever. Notches in this piece appear to be there to ensure the selector lever remains locked in whatever position it has been put in.

One similarity of note is that both welders have holes in their steel feet, apparently for bolting the welder down, meaning that likely Reg hadn’t modified his but it came from the manufacturer that way.

Now, with the knowledge of what species arc welder Gort is, I had the right bait for going fishing in the wide-open sea of the internet. I simply typed “Linc-Inductor” into Google. Only two pages of potentially valid hits came back, but the very first result was the actual user’s manual! And the other relevant hits were one asking what they are worth and two listing them for sale, one at $400 and one at $75 (undoubtedly confusing the person with the question even more).

The user manual is offered on Lincoln’s website, and it’s a good thing, too, as surprisingly there is nothing else out there about these welders. It’s nice when a company does stuff like this. It shows that it cares about its heritage and the history of technology and industry.

The IM108 instruction manual for the “Linc-Inductor” Alternating Current Arc Welder was published in August of 1939–which puts it right in the date range that some of the Daily’s readers and I thought. The very top of page one proclaims “This type single-phase A.C. arc welder embodies entirely new ideas of operation and construction. The automatic arc stabilization of the ‘Linc-Inductor’ simplifies handling of the 60 cycle A.C. welding arc for faster work and high quality results. The new efficient design features in the welder assure easier operation under all working conditions.”

The manual goes on to explain how it does this: “The ‘Linc-Inductor’ embodies design features not heretofore found in single phase welders. These features make possible a construction which is simple and one which will require practically no maintenance. There are no moving electrical connections or coils. There are no contacts or switch parts to require repair.”

Sounds like just the right piece of equipment for use on a farm! Hardworking, undemanding, durable.

Good information, but something in that description caught me… “There are no moving electrical connections or coils.” 

This welder had been bolted to a concrete floor when I found it, in spite of the fact that it weighed so much that I couldn’t lift it more than a few inches for a couple seconds. Several readers here and on the Machinist Museum stated that they thought that the mechanism inside spun, and one said that one he’d encountered similar to it sounded like a jet engine spooling up, and another thought it was bolted down to prevent it from “walking away” due to that fact.

This would explain why Reg had it bolted to the floor, and it seemed to be corroborated by Frankie Libardi, his brother-in-law, who is not only an old hand with old tools, but had actually been present on a few occasions when Reg had used it.

And yet, “There are no moving electrical connections or coils.” With the exception of the instructions about setting the welder “on a foundation which is as free from vibration as practical,” there is nothing anywhere else in the manual about something as significant as Gort spinning his considerably hefty guts around before letting loose with his death ray.

Being a good researcher, I scratched my head thoughtfully for a little while for effect. Then I asked myself why the manual doesn’t mention anything about the welder potentially shaking so violently that it’s weight–surely that of at least a potbellied stove–isn’t enough to keep it in place? Why doesn’t it tell the operator where to squirt oil for the bearings that would surely be needed with a spinning mechanism? Why doesn’t it warn against it emitting a deafening noise?

Perhaps these aspects of welding were so common at the time that operators didn’t need to be told?

But then why doesn’t the manual direct users to bolt the machine down after it’s already taken the time to instruct them in something so straightforward as how to uncrate it? And why spend half a page warning about the hazards of flying sparks and skin-burning light, surely the most obvious aspects of arc welding?

With these questions still open in my mind and looking to learn more, I visited the other relevant results in my Google search, and one turned up some more useful information. The hit that was listing one of these Linc-Inductors for sale for $400 included photos, now giving me three examples with which to attempt to understand the species.

These photos revealed three things:

  • Either Gort and this welder are slightly different models from Jeff’s–because his has the toothed piece above the current control selector–or his had been modified by a previous owner.
  • This welder is indeed at least a slightly different model from Jeff’s because its data plate indicates 110/220 volts and 120/60 amps (versus 220/440 volts, and 60/30 amps).
  • Like the other two, this welder has holes in its feet, and it is using them to bolt them not to the floor, but to a welding cart.

So, here are my next steps, guided by what many of you suggested:

  1. Walk by Gort leering at me from the corner for a few weeks, feeling like I really should move this project along.
  2. Gently and methodically begin taking apart Gort, photographing, tagging, bagging, and notating along the way. This will give me a better understanding of how the Linc-Inductor works. I will reach out to Lincoln Electric and ask if they have any further documentation–schematics, drawings, repair manuals, etc.
  3. Media blast the shell inside and out if I can in fact extricate the internal components without damaging them (and I’m going to try like hell to do so). If I cannot remove the mechanism, I will carefully media blast the outside and use compressed air to blow out the inside. Prime and paint (but what color?).
  4. Thoroughly inspect all components and assess their condition, replacing and repairing as needed. Replace all wiring. Wire in new leads and a plug, paying attention to the input voltage connection diagrams on top of the data plates in the photos, as well as a fuse panel and switch–I’m thinking a big old-fashioned knife switch.
  5. Attempt to stabilize the coating on the electrical windings. This is descried as consisting of “woven glass and mica tape … impregnated with a tough, high-temperature, moisture-resisting compound.” John C. Kovalo suggested wrapping over the coating with Silicone X-Treme tape; I will also consider the method Alan Check indicated worked for him, which was to brush coat the windings (recommendations for with what?).
  6. Using my “extensive” documentation (he says recalling all of the times he intended his documentation to be extensive and it was in fact not), to carefully put the monster back together again.
  7. If it has been determined that the welder does involve heavy internal components whirling around inside, bolt it to the floor.
  8. Wait ’til nighttime. Plug it in, be ready with the words “Gort! Deglet ovrosco!”, and throw the switch.

Honest to God, if the lights in the valley don’t dim at least a little, I will be disappointed. If it works, hide your steel. I’m gonna start welding everything together.