Harry H. Hoak

Harry H. Hoak Photo courtesy of his son, Ken Hoak.

Ken Hoak

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Harry H. Hoak, of Slackwater, Pennsylvania, is an Iron-Man with many memories of steam and threshing, who could give a lot of our readers tips on solving traction engine problems.

Hoak used to fire his father's steam engine, a 1911 Avery double-cylinder undermounted. The engine is now at Williams Grove, Pennsylvania, owned by Herb Conley.

Interviewed at his home several miles from Lancaster, Harry recalled that he was 14 when he first fired for threshing. He worked with his dad, Harry F. Hoak, who threshed in Conestoga Township, where they lived, for about five miles around. The senior Hoak did not farm; he had a threshing rig and operated a small stone quarry.

'He had five men working for him on the rig,' Hoak recalled. 'The earliest for wheat was July 4; it usually was the 8th. Barley came earlier about June 25.

'He threshed anywhere from 10 to 50 acres, depending on the size of the farm. I grew up with machinery. During the Depression, I went to road construction, running a steam roller.

'Then I worked 12 years for the Arthur S. Young machine shop at Kinzersthat was Everett's dad. (Arthur S. Young was a leader in the formation of the Rough & Tumble Engineers which holds its annual reunion at Kinzers in August. His son, Everett, is an active member.)

'I was a machinist for Young and went out on service calls repairing steam engines, into Delaware and Maryland and nearby counties. Young was sort of a genius with machinery.

'On some Frick engines, the eccentric would come loose on the crankshaft, and I had to tune up the valve.

'After a sawmill fire, I had to rebabbit the bearings on a Farquhar portable.

'Steam traction engines were still in use in those years, 1934 to 1946. They really went out after World War II.

'They would have gone out earlier, if the war had not come along. Most companies stopped building steam engines in the early 20s.'

Hoak recalls what happened to some of the steam engines that went out of use. 'If the boilers were any good, they were pulled out and mounted on trucks, and used for steaming tobacco beds.' That use of steam boilers continues today in Lancaster County, leading tobacco county in Pennsylvania. 'The rest was junked.'

In 1946 Hoak started working in the shop at Slack water with his dad. His brother, Melvin, now deceased, drove a truck. Hoak has continued at the site, operating a repair shop for farm machinery.

The Avery which his father had owned was sold to the late Rev. Elmer Ritzman, founder of IRON MEN ALBUM and GAS ENGINE MAGAZINES. Rev. Ritzman sold it to Raymond Rohrer, of Lancaster Junction. Later Conely bought it, and shows it regularly at Williams Grove.

It is the smallest Avery, burning coal or wood, still doing well at age 66.

An early member of the Rough & Tumble Engineers, Hoak now attends the reunions generally to help Titus Brubaker with his Peerless.

Hoak has a small hobby engine steam, a working model, with no name. He bought it in 1927 or 1928 from Arthur Young, after having seen it outside Young's shop.

This past summer, Hoak held a well-attended public sale on his property, from his dad's accumulation. Primitive tools drew a lot of bidders. Many were for blacksmithing. Also sold were five gas engines, two Huber boilers mounted for steaming tobacco beds, a sleigh, a buggy, a lawn mower and many other items.

Will steam make a comeback?

'It all depends on the fuel situation,' Hoak responds. 'It will come back not as we know it now, with coal or wood, but maybe with atomic fuel.'


James Watt (1736-1819) invented the modern steam engine (about 1770) and introduced revolutionary developments in the form of a separate condenser for steam economy, as well as the principle of double action. The non-condensing, high-pressure engine was the invention of Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) and Oliver Evans (1955-1819), an American. An Encyclopedia of World History, by William L. Longer


Use of steam power for American ships that went whaling, in the Western Arctic Ocean, is described with many pictures in a catalog published by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, Mass.

The paperback served as a catalog for an exhibit held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and was written by John R. Bockstoce.

Steam was first used on whale ships by the Britrish, about 1860. Norway's first vessel of this kind was launched in 1863.