S.D. ‘tinkerer’ preserved freedom

S.D. 'tinkerer' preserved freedom
Recently, we noted in this column that, yes, the future that seems rather bleak right now will improve.

And we can count on our young people and their creativity to make the world a better place.

As I write this, on the anniversary of the Dec. 7 attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese that plunged our nation into World War II, I'm reminded of a South Dakota boy.

He loved to tinker. And who knows? We may not be a free country today without him.

The young man turned out to be a legitimate defender of our nation's freedoms simply because he was mechanically inclined.

I'm speaking of Thomas Fawick. His last name is familiar to younger folks because there's a park in Sioux Falls, the city where he was born in 1890, that's named after him, and there was a lot of news generated in recent years when the Fawick family donated a facsimile of Michelangelo's statue of David to adorn the park.

That's a trivial issue compared to Fawick's contributions to our nation. As our society became more mechanized, he kept on tinkering, and in 1916, he moved to Chicago to design and build a heavy-duty clutch for tractors.

He then set his sites on developing improved clutch designs to be placed in Chrysler automobiles. In the summer of 1936, development work on a new style of coupling and clutch was begun. Fawick was joined in his efforts by a major Navy gear producer, and the General Tire and Rubber Co. of Akron, OH. Their work resulted in the Airflex design.

The Airflex clutch couldn't have been developed at a better time.

In 1938, Airflex clutches made it possible to reverse the propeller of a towboat from full ahead to full astern in three seconds. This application and other successful marine installations proved to be very important in Airflex's history.

The application laid the cornerstone for future development of Airflex drives in thousands of Navy vessels during World War II.

In the summer of 1941, a new marine reverse gear was designed in cooperation with the Farrel Birmingham Company of Buffalo, NY, and the General Motors Corporation. The design permitted a rapid propeller reversal without having to slow down, stop, or reverse the driving engine. The design and tests of the pilot model were approved by the Navy Department.

In the fall of 1941, the Fawick General Company changed its name to the Fawick Airflex Company. The General Tire and Rubber Company now concerned itself with the production and further development of the Airflex coupling. The Fawick Airflex Company was left to develop the industrial clutch market. This development phase came to an abrupt end with the entry of the United States into World War II, and the concentration of the company's activities on war production.

The Fawick Airflex Company's war effort was centered around the production of the newly designed reverse gear that had been approved by the Navy department. The Navy Department established a shipbuilding program built around the use of non-reversible, two-cycle diesel engines driving propellers through the reverse gear. Airflex's production plant was selected, equipped, and put into operation.

The reverse gears were installed throughout the war on various types of landing craft, tugs, and service ships. These vessels were hailed for their maneuverability and relatively maintenance-free performance.

Through the war, more than $46 million worth of clutch and gear units were sold to General Motors. After the war, the Fawick Airflex Company was awarded the ARMY-NAVY "E" Award for contributions to the nation's war effort.

Fawick's talent most certainly proved to be a deciding factor in helping our nation's Greatest Generation take on the daunting task of defending the United States from foes in Europe and Asia.

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