Simanaitis Says

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JOHN ASCHAUER was a model builder extraordinaire. Whereas others fashioned car, aircraft or architectural models, Aschauer built 1/16th scale machine tools. There’s a permanent collection of Aschauer’s models at the American Precision Museum, in Windsor, Vermont (


John Aschauer, 1896 – 1979, German-born Michigander, master artisan of miniature machine tools. Image by Claudia Gabriel.

The Internet Craftsmanship Museum offers a tribute to Aschauer and his art (see A three-year tool and die apprenticeship beginning at age 12 encouraged him to build a scale model of the company’s double-boiler steam-power plant.


This steam-power plant model survived two world wars hidden in a Bavarian attic. It now can be seen at the American Precision Museum. Image from

Aschauer left Germany in 1927, eventually establishing his family in Detroit and his vocation as a tool and die maker with Ex-Cell-O, a machine tool manufacturer.


A gang drilling machine, 1/16th scale. Image by Jeff Bond.

During World War II, John and his family got caught up in prevalent anti-German sentiments. Neighbors reported that lights in their basement were seen late into the night, sometimes all night long. The FBI investigated and were shown a chicken incubator Aschauer had built by hand. He used the numerous light bulbs incorporated into the device to keep the newly hatched chicks warm.


A band saw, 1/16th scale. Image by Jeff Bond.

John retired from the Special Machinery Division of Ex-Cell-O in 1960. He clearly loved his work and enjoyed turning it into a hobby. At home, he used only small hand tools, a collection of files, bench drill press and shaper, and a small engine lathe of his own design and construction.


A machine-shop floor, all in 1/16th scale. Image from

John’s models were all built from memory. He motorized them; several can be seen in operation as part of the Aschauer Collection at the American Precision Museum.


The American Precision Museum is located in Windsor, Vermont, on a branch of the Connecticut River that separates this state from New Hampshire. Windsor is about 250 miles north of New York City.

The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., this year from May 24 through October 31. Its mission, as stated at its website, is to “preserve the heritage of mechanical arts, celebrate the ingenuity of our mechanical forebears, and explore the effects of their work on our everyday lives.”


The Aschauer Collection is one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.

My favorite interactive exhibit at the American Precision Museum was a large trunk of early motoring garb, caps, goggles, gloves and dusters.


A selfie of your author, several years before this photo term became popular.

Visitors were encouraged to dress up and experience what it was like when driving was a real adventure. And, of course, I did. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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