Model T collection keeps retired industrial engineer young

By Matt Dutton, for the Herald-Whig

Nov 21, 2017

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Machines are an art form for Elvin Townsend. The 85-year-old's garages are a testament to his mechanical inclinations. He has several Model Ts -- eight antique vehicles in total -- from the early 1900s, most of which he either built or restored by himself.

"Machinery is like artwork" he said. "It has to be in your soul."

When he joined the Navy Ready Reserve as a young man, he found himself thrown into a crash course on the nature of mechanics while working as a snipe on the four massive locomotive engines below the deck of a ship.

"Beneath the deck, the mechanics are all around you," he said. "It's the same as a college education."

When he returned from his 23-month tour of active duty aboard the U.S.S. Seneca, he responded to an ad to be a team member on a project at Gardner Denver, leaving in 1982 as a manufacturing engineer who had signed for $8.5 million worth of massive machines that still are in use at the facility -- a point of pride in his career. He was recruited by Quincy Compressor, and he finished his career there in 1992.

Townsend toured the Gardner Denver facility two years ago. Seeing the machines still in use today was a moving sight for him, but the tour also showed how much the industry has evolved in the years since his retirement.

"The industry is dramatic in that it makes unbelievable changes," he said, "and then six months later, it can be dead. I was in a building that had 1,500 horsepower pumps, the size of two gymnasiums, that were worth $350,000 -- close to $1 billion now -- unsold and couldn't be sold. Two years later, they'd cleaned the building out and couldn't keep up."

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