248 Deans Rhode Hall Road Jamesburg, New Jersey 08831-3003
This is a sad story for me to have to tell. I enjoyed reading Mr. Jack Bucklyn's account, 'B. F. Clyde's Cider Mill Declared Engineering Landmark' in the November /December 1995 IMA, and decided to try to write (and brag!) about another steam-powered operation here in New Jersey which was also on the engineering landmark list, the Califon Basket Company. This company was started in 1889, when Califon was the center of a big peach-growing area, to supply the orchards and farms with the baskets to ship their produce in. In recent years, they also made decorative baskets as well as the original styles. In 1993, prices ranged from $1.00 to $4.00 apiece.
The baskets were made from poplar logs, cut into 42' lengths, then mounted between spur centers on flat-belt-driven lathes which peeled off sheets of veneer to make the slats for the baskets. I've got a hunch some of the machinery would give an OSHA inspector conniptions! The lathes and slat-trimming machines were all driven by a Farquhar engine, shop number 16249maybe some reader could date it from the number?
The engine, in addition to the A. B. Farquhar nameplate, also had a tag from the Good Roads Machinery Company with the same number; I would guess they were the supplier. It looked to be about 8' bore by 12' stroke and was, except for flat mounts instead of curved for boiler-mounting, pretty close to identical to the 'improved' Ajax portable threshing engine shown in the 1899 A. B. Farquhar catalog reprint I got from Iron Men AlbumStemgas Publishing.
Though one difference was a cylinder-head torch cut out of ' steel plate! Guess somebody forgot to open the cylinder drains one time and blew the original head.
Steam for the engine came from a Titusville return-flue boiler, fired by scrap wood from the basket-making operation, so it was pretty economical.
Now, for the part that hurts: I last visited the basket works four or five years ago. When I went back this year, something didn't look right, and sure enough, when I got closer there was a real estate agent's for-sale sign on the front of the building. Asking around, it seems the factory shutdown about two years ago, in 1994.
The engine and boiler are still there. I'd guess the boiler would be in poor condition, as I know a man who welded a patch on it about eight years ago. But the A. B. Farquhar engine might be salable, although I don't know if it could be bought without buying the whole 'shooting match,' as I'm no real estate expert.
So ends the 105-year history of what I'd bet was the last steam engine-driven basket factory in the United States of America.