The genesis of the Old Wood Working Machines forum can be traced back to the waning days of the last century when Keith Bohn, a Milwaukee hobbyist woodworker, bought a saw. At first he only wanted to find out its age but after months of research he found something he hadn't bargained on, a total fascination with the history of old woodworking machines. Having taken part in some online woodworking forums Bohn struck on the idea that maybe there might be some other like minded people and maybe their fascination matched his. After consulting with a half dozen other woodworkers the Old Wood Working Machines forum was established on e-groups which at the time was a web site that hosted free discussion forums. On June 29, 2000 the first OWWM message was posted.
At first, the group was small, made up of only a couple of dozen odd-ball people who had an uncontrollable desire to talk about old woodworking machines. In the first full month on e-groups a grand total of 31 messages were posted. By contrast the biggest month was March of 2006 when 3104 messages were posted. Yes, that is a ten thousand percent increase.
The forum quickly became the place to be if you were into old woodworking machines. The do's and don'ts of restoring a machine, help in finding a copy of an old manual, posts about buying and selling machinery, and so on became what people did with their free time. Over time, more and more people started showing up to talk about these old machines and the forum began to grow, slowly at first and then with more steam to eventually the membership measured in the thousands. At last count, the writing of this history, the membership is close to the 4000 mark and over 90,000 messages have been posted.
In the beginning the forum was the only broad based source for information on these old machines on the net. There was no way to readily access pictures, manuals and articles written on machinery. That was until early 2001. At that time, another Keith—Keith Rucker of Tifton, GA—proposed to list founder Keith Bohn (are you keeping all of these Keith's straight?) that a new web site be constructed as a companion to the discussion forum. The Keith from Georgia already had a personal web site set up with links to old catalogs and manuals for the Crescent Machine Company, which he was researching for a history of the company he was preparing. Many on the discussion forum liked these resources and had suggested to Rucker that other manufacturers be added. With the blessings of list founder Keith Bohn, the Old Woodworking Machines web site (www.owwm.com) was launched in late May 2001 (officially on June 1). Early on, www.owwm.com contained very little information—a few manual re-prints and a couple of how-to type publications submitted by the members of the discussion forum.
Perhaps the greatest milestone at OWWM.com happened about a month after the web site was officially launched. List member Jeff Joslin had been putting together a list of manufacturers of woodworking machinery from North America (mainly the U.S. and Canada). At first, the list was simply a couple of static pages with the company name and the town it was based out of. This list soon got dubbed the "Manufacturers Index" and contained a couple of hundred names. We are not sure if Jeff knew what he was getting into but it was not long before the list of names had grown to over a thousand and more and more information was being collected on each of the companies. The "list" of names was starting to get a bit out of hand. To help things out, the Manufacturers Index (or Mfg Index for short) was put into a database that was searchable on the web site and soon became the foundation that the whole site was based on. As new information was obtained on a manufacturer, or new manufacturers were identified, the data was entered into the database. Through the magic of the database, eventually publication reprints such as catalogs and manuals, photos of machines and any other information obtainable were all linked together so that visitors to the site could easily find the information they were looking for. At the time of the writing of this history in July 2006, amazingly over 1,800 manufacturers of woodworking machinery had been cataloged in the Mfg Index by Jeff Joslin—OWWM.com's Official Historian.
And speaking of photos, in August of 2001 perhaps the most popular feature of the OWWM.com web site was created: the Photo Index. With the urging of several members, primarily Jeff Joslin, an index of photos of old machines was created so that users of the site could easily find examples of machines made by the different manufacturers. Again, all of this was linked to the database of Mfg Index making searching for this information much easier. The Photo Index has allowed our multitudes of visitors to submit photos of their vintage machinery, creating an invaluable source for information on individual machines made over the years. With so many entries in the database, many visitors to the site have been able to find other examples of machines as references for restorations. The intention of course with both indexes is to have all manufacturers represented and an entry for every machine ever made. It is a lofty goal but it's becoming easier every day.
Over time, the OWWM.com web site has evolved with the many members and visitors with new features being added as the need came up. While the OWWM.com web site is and has always been separate from the Old Woodworking Machines discussion forum, the two sites are closely related and contain many of the same members. No single person can take credit for what OWWM.com has become due to the fact that the members of the OWWM discussion forum and others contributed the entire content and molded the site into the shape it has become. All of this is in return offered back to the community at no charge.
Sometime in late 2002, a major change happened with the discussion forum after e-groups was bought out by Yahoo! At the time, this caused a great deal of concern on the discussion forum. What was this going to mean? What if Yahoo! kicked us all out and did away with our forum? What might happen to our archive of old messages if Yahoo! decided to pull the plug on us? Lots of discussion was going on about these situations and there was even talk about abandoning Yahoo! and hosting the forums separately from Yahoo! In the end, the decision was made to tough it out with Yahoo because it was free. The concern about the future of the archive was alleviated when the OWWM.com site set up a mirror site where all messages were captured and stored. This new archive even allowed for browsing of the messages without being bombarded with Yahoo!'s advertisement. In reality, it was just a stop gap measure to protect us all from Yahoo!
While lot of minor improvements were made to the OWWM.com site over the next few years – such as addition of a Classified Ads section, more articles being submitted by our members, a Machine Registry for serial numbers on machines and many more fancy features, the next major change to OWWM happened in July 2006. The Fourth of July to be exact—"Independence Day". For on this day, the discussion forum officially broke ties with Yahoo! After over a year of planning and behind the scenes work between list founder Keith Bohn and list member Tony Schmaling, a totally new site was launched—OWWM.org—which became the new home our discussion forum. The majority of the credit for this move goes to Tony Schmaling, for first suggesting it and for doing the bulk of the work.
In 2010, the forum site expanded to include metal working. By coincidence, Keith Rucker had been quietly working on a similar expansion for the owwm.com site, to add metal working machinery, steam and gas engines, and electric motors. On January 1, 2011, OWWM.com officially changed its name to VintageMachinery.org. The name change reflects the increased scope, and is also designed to eliminate confusion with the owwm.org site.
The OWWM.org site is totally separate from the OWWM.com/VintageMachinery.org site in that it is hosted and administered by two different and distinct groups of people. With that said, the two sites work in concert with each other and most of each site's contributors belong to the other.
That is where we have been. VintageMachinery.org, which serves as a clearing house and repository for information concerning Old Woodworking Machines and OWWM.org, which serves as a forum for us to communicate about these Old Woodworking Machines. No one knows what our futures will hold but rest assured, both VintageMachinery.org and OWWM.org will be here to bring together those in this world who understand the benefits of owning and using old woodworking (and metal-working) machines!
While Keith Bohn and Keith Rucker can sit back and look upon their inventions with pride it is the hard work and efforts of the Old Wood Working Machine Forum Members that make up the OWWM community that make all this possible.
And with that let me just say, we aren't done yet. Let's get back to work.