A Knight To Remember

| December/January 1994

Photos by Larry Angier & Carolyn Fox

Every collector likes to get inside his engine. There's no such thing as too much grease, rust, dirt or expense. Machining a part to its exact specs gives a special sense of accomplishment in the finished product.

Now for the truly adventuresome hands-on restorer there's the opportunity for the ultimate do-it-yourself project casting an original part by pouring molten iron into a sand mold formed by your own hands. The place where all this happens is Historic Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, California.

The foundry is housed in a big old weathered rough-timbered building at the end of Eureka Street. The interior carries the scars of a 1936 fire as well as past glory. Today, as in the past, gravity flow water from the Mokelumne River enters the building, rotating the water wheels and setting an elaborate, precisely balanced system of belts and pulleys into quiet motion.

The central machine shop is powered by a 42' Knight turbine. Large machine tools are powered by individual Knight water motors. Many of the machine tools were produced on site. There are several lathes up to 10 feet in diameter, a 7 foot radial drill and a 16 foot planer. Other pieces were carried by sailing ship around the Horn to San Francisco and brought overland by wagon.

Established in 1873 at the height of the California Gold Rush, Knight Foundry supplied heavy mining equipment as men dug ever deeper in search of the precious metal. Now the only water powered foundry and machine shop in the country, Knight Foundry was in continuous operation until its closing in 1989. Brought back to life in 1991 by Ed Arata and his partner Robin Peters, the foundry continues to pour special order castings, fill commercial orders and, perhaps most importantly, serves as an educational center for 19th century casting skills. Emphasis on education is not new. For much of its history, Knight Foundry produced the best trained and most highly respected journeymen in the industry.