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John Nutter '39
John C. Nutter '39 and the 1935 Ford station wagon that delivered him to UNH in the fall of 1935. Photo by Gary Samson

Still Running Fine

By Meg Torbert

When John C. Nutter '39 retired in 1979, the only thing that really changed was the age of the machines he kept running.

At General Electric, Nutter spent the last decade of his 40-year career in charge of a unit that kept 11,000 "antique" aircraft accessories in tip-top condition. Making good on its customer service promises, GE sent Nutter and his team all over the world to hand make replacement parts and provide technical know-how on out-of-production units from the '40s and '50s.

Meanwhile, in the barn next to his home in Topsfield, Mass., Nutter was collecting pieces of machinery that were even more antique, and keeping them in working order as well. A planer made at the Concord, N.H., Machine Works in 1881? No problem. An equally old band saw and an antique lathe? Running like new.

After earning a mechanical engineering degree from UNH, Nutter worked on turbine engine designs for power plants and destroyers at GE's plant in Lynn, Mass. Later, he served as a production engineer on the fuel system for NASA's Vanguard satellite. He's the kind of fellow who can walk around a piece of machinery, look it over, and build an exact replica. Next to his barn is a tractor-towed Christmas tree planter. He built it out of scrap from GE, bought for two cents per pound. Asked where he got the plans, Nutter answers simply, "I saw one once." He's built rope tows for ski clubs, a hydraulic wood splitter and an ingenious flat belt conveyor system that shuttles cord wood into his basement. Numerous old trucks and a 1932 Model A Ford all "run fine," he reports.

The latest addition to his collection of antiques is the larger part of a blacksmith's shop from downtown Topsfield. The shop itself and the forge could not be moved, but Nutter bought everything else and created a blacksmith shop in a shed next to his house. There he fashions replacement parts for fences and machines and gives demonstrations to school children. "I make a horseshoe, and I give it to the child whose birthday is nearest," Nutter says.

Nutter and his wife, Bunny, have lived in their 1887 farmhouse for over 50 years. The house's original conveniences were a wood stove for heat and a hand pump and a privy out back for plumbing. They fixed it up themselves, with help from their three children later on. Nutter says such self-reliance is not unusual in his generation: "If you grew up during the Depression, you got along with the things you had, and you didn't buy what you didn't need."

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