July 2010


I believe that I will have to live my Gearhart Knitting Machine manufacturing life vicariosly through the enthusiasm and work of PeeWee Erlbacher.

He is undertaking the job of manufacturing a Erlbacher-Gearhart Knitting Machine, which is something I had wanted to do for a least 5 years, but alas, could not due to the pressures of work and family and thousands of other things that stood between me and my own machining efforts.

I am happy to see that the Erlbacher Gear and Machine Work is making good progress. PeeWee and I spoke last night, and it looks like he is quite far into the process, which basically involves a considerable amount of reverse engineering. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Gearhart Knitting Machine was in a continuous state of refinement for its entire life. In fact, it wasn’t until the final few years of production, between 1924 and 1925, that the machine reached a state where its evolution slowed considerably.

The next step in the machine’s evolution would most likely have been the addition of a electric power source to turn the cylinder. Emory had looked at this as early as 1917, so I’m sure the thought was still in his head as more an more rural homes got attached to the increasing reach of the electric power grid.

If I had to choose a person to manufacture the Gearhart Knitting Machine, I don’t think I could have thought of a better person then PeeWee Erlbacher – A small machine shop in the heartland of America. Experienced machinist with over 50 years in the business; all parts manufactured on-site in the USA; a willingness to reach out to others with knowledge of the machine; realistic expectations that this machine will not make millions in profits; an eye to practicality, where aluminum might be just as good as brass or nickel; and an acknowledgement that a reproduction of something perfected over 40 years is just as good as inventing it all over again.

I am eagerly awaiting the completion of the Erlbacher-Gearhart Knitting machine, and will be providing the story of the original Gearhart Knitting Machine Company as part of the list of deliverables for this new machine.

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Here is an interesting new development in the history of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company. After a 37-year manufacturing run of the Gearhart Knitting Machine, which ceased production in 1925, it looks like we’ve got an brand-new version of the Gearhart Knitting Machine in the works.

I’m very intrigued about this, and very happy that their company is in the USA. Its great to see that parts of the US manufacturing industry is still humming along after all the turmoil of recent years.

That’s a pretty long gap, 85 years, between the 1925 model and the 2010 model, and I am surprized that its hasn’t been attempted previously. If fact, I was considering doing this myself, but of course just about everything has come in at a higher priority since originally considering the idea about 5 years ago.

The Erlbacher Gear and Machine Works looks to be doing a pretty good job so far. They’ve just started work, so be sure to follow their progress if you are interested in this. From emails with Grayson Erlbacher, the estimate is that they are about 60 days away from a complete prototype.

If I had to guess, based on the photos and description from Grayson’s blog at www.gearhartreproductions.blogspot.com, the reproduction will be very nice since they obviously have all the right machinery to manufacture parts with precision.

I still have the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company incorporated, so even though they would not have a company with the same name, there are many, many other options. Personally, I would be honored and happy to see the word “Gearhart” somewhere on the machine. And I think it would be very good marketing-wise as well. After all, the Gearhart Knitting Machine is favorably known amongst the Circular Sock Machine crowd.

I’ll pass on extra details depending on how things go. Meantime, have a look at the cylinder below and be sure to stay tuned-in to their blog.