Weird flex shaft geneology

Hi Gang,

Insomnia and the History Channel are a bad combo. To whit: Pawn
Stars. Guy comes in with a WWII vintage Bell+Howell 35mm movie
camera. Complete with flex-shaft motor, with right angle attachment
to run it.

Remember the old CC motors that had the right-angle speed reduction
on the rear? Yeah, one of those, rigged up to run the camera. I found
one on Ebay, trashed, but yeah, it’s pretty much the same motor.
(Search “bell+howell” and “Eyemo”) Even down to the connector on the
output shaft of the speed reducer. Now the real question: which came
first? The camera or the flex shaft?

Funny how technology overlaps sometimes, no?

Now the real question: which came first? The camera or the flex

How about independently?

the camera doesn’t have a flex shaft. What it has is a variable
speed permanent magnet ac motor. So does the flex shaft. I’ll bet
that in both the case of Bell and Howell (who have their nameplate on
that motor, same as does Fordom or other earlier flex shaft
manufacturers, whether or not they actually manufactured the motor
itself) and the first of the flex shaft machines, the manufacturer
simply found a stock type motor that would serve the purpose. The
right angle attachment isn’t unique to either of these applications,
being kind of standard whenever someone needed to up the torque and
reduce the rpms of a small motor. Those old cameras originally
operated via a hand cranked mechanism, or an internal spring wound
mechanism that was hand cranked up first, then used to drive the
camera. The motor drive would have been a later modification to the
design, perhaps needed when those cameras were adapted from prior
movie camera use to gun camera use. I get a bit of this history from
old family memory. When I was a kid, my dad was an avid movie
photographer, filming all sorts of home movies, to include a fair
range of pretty adverturous trips, mountain climbing, car rallies
through the middle east, etc. He was using a Bolex 16 mm camera at
the time which was driven in this same way. Spring wound drive, or
simply hand crank, and the operator had full control over the speed.
You could shoot slow frames per second when there was little
movement, or fast to catch rapid movements, thus letting you get the
most mileage from your film. When later shown, you’d have to
similarly adjust the speed of the projector to match what you’d done
when filming… But anyway. Remember old newsreels showing moviie
cameras operating in hollywood at the beginning? Hand cranked. The
Bell and Howell camera you found and linked us to is the later gun
camera version which would have needed a motor drive. It has similar
couplings and the speed reducer, but no actual flex shaft, and would
have been a perfect choice of motor type for that use. For what it’s
worth, I’ve seen similar motors used on old belt driven sewing
machines, and on some of those original type dental drills with the
motor driving pulleys and belts rather than flex shafts. I’ll bet you
that the motor type predated both the movie camera use, AND the flex
shaft use.


I have one of those. The old CC flex shaft, not the camera. It is the
first Foredom I ever bought and I have been using it for 35 years. I
love the increased torque from the reduction gear and use it with my
hammer hand piece for setting and texture. I have replaced the shaft,
the sheath, and the brushes (more than once on the brushes) and it
still works like a charm (knock on wood). Even us old war horses can
run at the sound of the cannon fire!!!

Frank Goss

Hi Frank,

Yeah, I’ve got one of them too, that’s why I recognized the RA
reducer. Mine’s a little newer than the motor on the camera though.
Takes a lot to kill one of those things off. I inherited it from my
old school after they upgraded. 20 years in a school, followed by me.
And it’s still going strong…

Peter: I knew it was a more-or-less stock motor, and didn’t use the
flex shaft in the camera application, I just thought it was funny.
(Or, in my sleep deprived state, it tickled my fancy.) I’ve seen a
couple of WW2 vintage gun cameras. That isn’t one. Much fancier.
(The gun cameras were ?8mm?, the Eyemo is 35mm, and the gun cameras
looked like shoeboxes with mickey mouse ears across the back. (the
film mag.)) They also didn’t have much of a viewfinder. Just a little
window to get them lined up prior to being bolted down in the plane.

To sleep, perchance to dream…