Iowa Company Now Owns Two Rare Sewing Machines

By Amber Rottinghaus | The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

The Jerald Sulky Co. in Waterloo, Iowa, now has a second vintage Singer heavy duty sewing machine. Only 15 were built and only nine of those remain. The wide aperture space allows large pieces, such as the three-sided dash being sewn by Lynelle Greene, to be turned as they are sewn. (Brandon Pollock/The Courier via AP)

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — When Erik Lee purchased the Jerald Sulky Co., along with it came a 1902 Singer 67-1 heavy duty sewing machine.

The machine was one of just 15 built, and one of nine remaining across the globe.

He never dreamed he’d become the proud owner of two of them. There are six of the Singer machines in the U.S. — two of those owned by Lee — and three elsewhere in the world.

The machines are vital to the horse carriage production process. At around 1,500 pounds and nearly 5 feet tall each, they stitch through two pieces of leather with foam fillers in between, which become a carriage’s dashboard and fenders.

Lee understands the stakes of owning this equipment. If something were to happen to either of these sewing machines, “there’s no plan B,” he told The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. While there are other devices that can sew through leather, “We can’t find any machine with an aperture this big where you can take the entire item you’re working on and stay on one unit.”

This means his machines are nearly priceless, needing careful maintenance of intricate, irreplaceable pieces. In fact, the only replacement parts he has came with the second machine in a wooden toolbox. The box included some extra sewing needs, a bobbin and thread.

“From our perspective, this little, tiny box of needles is worth as much as the machine. If you run out of them, there’s no more and you’d have to custom fabricate them along with other parts,” Lee said.

Fortunately, the Singers are nearly indestructible, as was demonstrated with the one that came with the business Lee purchased.

The machine was manufactured in Waterloo. In the late 1930s, the manufacturing plant in downtown Waterloo where it was being stored caught fire. As the multistory building burned and the floors weakened, the sewing machine fell through the floors from the uppermost level and miraculously landed on its feet in the basement.

Once the fire was put out and the embers cooled, the machine was lifted out by crane and transported elsewhere. Eventually, it was purchased by Jerald Sulky himself.

The second vintage sewing machine was ironically purchased on eBay after a curious employee gave Google a visit to search for a Singer 67-1 manual. Lee was conducting a maintenance check-up on the first machine, and the employee returned with a printout of another one for sale online.

A man in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was a retired farrier who owned a carrier restoration business on the side. He decided to completely retire and sell the machine.

“We weren’t looking for another one because we assumed there were exactly zero available in the marketplace, so to just trip over it is an amazing thing,” Lee said. “To us, this is a big deal that it is here in Waterloo.”

Lee and a few friends drove to Virginia to bring the machine home in a horse trailer. Fearful of its rarity, he bolted it to the trailer floor with eight industrial bolts to completely prevent any movement.

Now, both machines rest in his shop, producing carriage dashboards and fenders. The entire sewing process for these pieces takes around 15 minutes.

“I just love watching somebody sew on them. You get into that rhythm after a while and your whole body wants to move with it,” said Becky Norman, who has been working on and off with the company for nearly 20 years.

Lee said the machines were built by “engineering geniuses.”

“Just how they figured this stuff out and guided the movement and motion of this thing mechanically,” Lee said. “If you stop and watch the pieces move, it’s mesmerizing. They were absolute geniuses.”

Posted by on Aug 1st, 2017 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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