Unboxing a vintage gear set

Editors Note: We previously posted about this on twitter.

Vintage Gear

At the Electronics Flea Market in Silicon Valley, we recently picked up this vintage spiral bevel gear set.

It’s still sealed up in its original 1950s US navy packaging. Let’s see what’s inside!

Vintage Gear

The whole outside of the box is wrapped in the tissue paper, and was initially held in place by some cellophane tape. The tape expired decades ago, but the rest of the packaging seems to be in great shape. (Hobby knife for scale.)

Vintage Gear

The tissue paper on the of the box is stamped “Open Only For Use.”

That’s good advice. The box is sealed and waterproof, but once it’s open, everything inside can begin to rust.

Vintage Gear

A little hard to read the label, just yet. Let’s cut back the wrapping paper.

Vintage Gear

Cutting away the tissue paper over the label, we can read it now:

5″/54 Cal. Mt. MK 42 Mod1-8
Stock No. Z012-LD-280650-6
Part Name Gear set, spiral
Qty 1 Unit pc
Contract NOrd 10337
Date 2 1956
Northern Ordnance, Inc.
Fridley, Minn.

That’s quite a bit of information! It’s a spiral gear set (we knew that part), manufactured by Northern Ordnance, Inc. (Fridley, Minn.) in 1956. And, it appears to be a spare part for the the drive system of the 5″/54 Caliber Mk 42 naval gun mount:

USS Capodanno

This type of gun was used on US Navy destroyers in the 1950s, and is still in use by some navies today. For scale, the barrel on that is 6.9 meters in length.

But, let’s get back to the box.

Vintage Gear

The outside of the box is covered in a thick (1-2 mm) layer of green wax, a little bit like you might find on a wheel of soft cheese. It appears to be cardboard underneath.

Vintage Gear

Turns out that hobby knives work quite well to cut through the wax and cardboard. (However, we have a sneaking suspicion that we were supposed to peel it like a cheese instead.)

Vintage Gear

It looks as though the cardboard box was first wrapped in lightly-waxed gauze and then dipped entirely in the wax for a watertight seal.

Vintage Gear

Under the lid, we find several pads of dense cotton wadding. This box does not rattle.

Vintage Gear

Inside, under the wadding, we find two tightly wrapped bundles.

Vintage Gear

The inner packages are not sealed, just folded over like a wrapped sandwich with a single piece of (long deceased) tape.

The wrapping material is a salmon-colored crepe paper, lined with plastic on one side. Although it looks like the paper is wet, it turns out to just be a little of the sealing wax.

Vintage Gear

Inside the little package: The first of the gears!

Vintage Gear

Here’s a better view of the small gear. Look at that workmanship!

Keep in mind that these gears were designed by engineers using slide rules — not a computer running CAD software. And they were built by machinists using regular “analog” machines, not programmed on a modern five-axis milling machine. (A perhaps surprising amount of modern machinery is still made this way.)

Vintage Gear

Now, here’s the big gear. It’s greasy in there, but no sign of corrosion.

Vintage Gear

Big gear, better view. Check out those cut splines in the middle!

Vintage Gear

And finally here are the two of them, perfectly meshed at 90 degrees.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Unboxing a vintage gear set

  1. Engineers not only using slide rules, but also *doing all the drawings by hand*, with French curves and triangles and straight edges. (They *probably* had drafting machines.)

    My-father-the-engineer never got into CAD, even though he had the opportunity; I think he *liked* doing it by hand. I have some of his sketches, as well as the statted and signed drawing printed for his retirement. (It’s a ship’s propeller – they were working out how to refurbish them. Doing that one by hand must have been tricky; it’s showing both sides of the propeller.) He’d have appreciated these gears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
(Also, be nice. Unkind comments will be removed without hesitation.)