Early Technology Modernized the Cranberry Industry

Antique engines and other early technology made cranberry farming easier

A 1918 Fairbanks-Morse originally used to power a 12- to 14-inch centrifugal pump to flood a larger cranberry bog (up to one acre).

A 1918 Fairbanks-Morse originally used to power a 12- to 14-inch centrifugal pump to flood a larger cranberry bog (up to one acre).

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Mark Vess of Hanson, Mass., is dedicated to "educating the public in the ways of early technology as it applies to early gasoline and kerosene engines and other mechanized farm equipment." As part of that hobby, he owns and operates the Museum of Antiquated Technology. 

Mark took a selection of his antique gasoline engines to the Cranberry Flywheelers show at Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Mass., in September. Among the many machines chugging along on his display trailer were three that had been a part of the local cranberry industry.

"The introduction of internal combustion engines in the early teens was the single most important advancement in the cranberry industry," he said.

"Cranberry farming had no electricity until rural electrification some did not get it until the forties and fifties. The work done in irrigating and flooding the bogs had to be done by gravity, which restricted the size and placement of the bogs, and the potential size of the crops."

A constant supply of fresh water is essential for a successful crop. In winter, the cranberry vines are completely covered with water to protect them from the cold weather. In spring and fall, they are partially covered on a day-to-day basis to protect them from frost. Before the advent of the gasoline engine, that work was done by hand.

Water from a stream would be dammed above the bog to form a pond. When flooding was required, the water was released to flow through a pattern of shallow ditches dug in the bogs. At the lower end of the bog was another dam that could be opened to release the water after the flooding to form another pond.

One of Mark's engines – a 1912 Stover 2 1/2 hp – powered a 10-inch centrifugal water pump used to fill a  pond or reservoir. "A small engine like this would have to run for days to fill a small reservoir, perhaps a  quarter to a half acre," he said. "It's suitable only for a small bog."

Another of his engines – a 1918 4 hp Fairbanks Morse – was used to power a 14- to 16-inch centrifugal water pump. The pumps could send the water from a lower level to an upper level.

"These early gas engines were the most practical means of moving water out of the bogs," he said.

Mark also displayed a 1915 2-2-1/2 hp Hercules engine used in processing centers to power the separating and winnowing machines. That model came from an old cranberry bog at Pembroke, Mass. FC 

For more information: Mark Vess, 303 High St., Hanson MA 02341; (781) 294-1647.