The Loss of a Young Engineer

Alvon Strosnider 1898-1922

Steam King

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311 Westview Avenue, Bristol, Pennsylvania 19007

 I am going to make an effort to write a story of a fatal accident which resulted in the death of a fine young man in the days when 'Steam was King.' I have found in past efforts that this is sometimes difficult or impossible after 50 years or more have passed. My last effort consumed seven years of part time research. However, in this case, thanks mainly to the cooperation of one man, I had a wealth of information available. This man was Mr. Granville Bly of Strasburg, Virginia, whose father was the owner of both engines involved at one time or another.

This story takes place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and must begin with a history of both engines involved, as this is an important part of the story. There were two engines involved, a Case and a Frick, both bought new by a Mr. Ide Moore, of Kernstown, Virginia. The Case, a 15 HP, #18798, bought new in 1907, was later equipped with special wheels with special spokes and extra cleats spaced closer together. This was so it could be used to haul apples over the roads into the town of Winchester, Virginia from the apple orchards of the Shenandoah Valley. The city was very strict on the type of iron wheels allowed in town. Due to the cleats being so close together, the engine was poorly suited to climbing the rocky, limestone roads found in this area. The second engine was a double cylinder Frick, 7 x 10, #15795, purchased by Mr. Moore in 1912. This engine was also specially equipped for the same hauling job as the Case. It had a jacketed boiler, extra side tanks, and heavy duty freighting wheels with filler blocks between the cleats so it could enter Winchester and operate on the city streets. The jacket was removed by Mr. Moore, and the filler blocks removed by Mr. Bly, at which time the cleats were reversed, after Mr. Bly bought it from Mr. Moore. Mr. Bly also replaced the front wheels, the original ones having only 20 spokes, with heavier ones having 30 spokes. Mr. Bly also purchased the Case engine, but from a man in Winchester who had bought it from Mr. Moore previously. Mr. Bly sold the Frick to his brother-in-law, Mr. Alvon Strosnider in May, 1922, who was living with and working for Mr. Bly. Mr. Strosnider was a well thought of young man, 24 years old, who owned a car, had paid cash for a new hay bailer, and had money enough in the bank to pay off the note on the engine, and was to be married the next month. At the time Mr. Bly had bought the Frick from Mr. Moore, he was not told of a defect in the engine thus neither were aware of a fault in the operation of the engine. Mr. Bly was to die in 1929, seven years after the accident which was to cost Mr. Strosnider his life without ever knowing the true cause. Several people were aware of it, it showing in two ways, first the engine could not be timed to exhaust evenly on boty cylinders, and second, when under heavy load with full throttle the engine would suddenly reverse. This was to lead to the tragedy which would cost Mr. Strosnider's life. These faults were later confirmed by several men who had operated the engine, including Mr. Hale Moore, the son of the original owner. Mr. Hale Moore stated that he had almost been killed once by the sudden reversing of the engine. According to him his father had a factory man come look at the engine when it was new. The factory representative informed Mr. Moore that the trouble was caused by a defect in the casting of the block, that this had been discovered and corrected in later engines, and nothing could be done about it in this case. This could well have been the cause of Mr. Moore's selling the engine.

In September of 1922, Mr. Bly had taken the job of supplying steam for the steam drills on a construction job, the side of a new bridge at Fisher's Hill on the Winchester Pike. As Mr. Bly attempted to move up a side road to the bridge site with the Case engine, the left wheel slipped on the limestone of the roadside several times, stripping the countershaft pinion gear on the left side. This slipping was caused by the close cleats, which would not allow the wheel to grip properly. As the engine was not blocking the road, he left it until he could get his brother-in-law to pull it the remainder of the way. On Thursday they returned, and Mr. Strosnider, not trusting a bridge on the side road forded a stream and went to the top of the hill, and backed down to the Case. They coupled up, but with a short chain, this was the one thing that was to bother Mr. Bly the remainder of his life. He always felt afterwards that they should have waited until they could get a longer chain. When the hook-up was made, the pull up the hill was begun. Part way up the hill Mr. Bly suddenly realized that he was being pushed backwards, looked ahead and saw that the Frick had come backwards into the front of the Case. He jumped off the Case, ran ahead and jumped up and shut off the throttle of the Frick, it being wide open. As he did so he saw his brother-in-law lying in the road in front of the Frick. Mr. Bly ran forward and asked his brother-in-law if he was hurt bad, to which he replied, 'Oh, I am afraid so.' He had attempted to jump to avoid being crushed between the engines, but had fallen and the rear wheel had passed over both his legs. The tool box had been broken off by the smoke box of the Case, the smoke stack had penetrated the roof of the Frick about 6', and the Frick platform was against the front wheels of the Case. According to one newspaper account, he would have been crushed much worse but for a Mr. Walter Good, the only eye witness, who pulled him partly clear. The combination tool box and seat of the Frick had been the cause of his having to jump, as the front of the Case was pushing it in on him, otherwise he would have had room to clear the smoke box of the Case. Mr. Strosnider also had on a new pair of shoes, and some thought these may have slipped on a small rock on the side of the road as he attempted to jump to his right. It was also suggested that his coat may have hung on the tool box according to one newspaper account.

First aid was rendered and a doctor was summoned to treat his badly crushed legs, and he was transported to Memorial Hospital in Winchester. It was thought that he might recover, and when members of his family called about 10:00 that night they were told that he was sleeping, so he was not disturbed. However, the strain proved too much, and he passed away about 1:00 A.M. Friday morning, September 29, 1922, the day after the accident. According to newspaper clippings, the funeral was one of the largest ever held in the area up to that time. The sermon was brief but earnest and taken from the text 'Let him that think he stand the take heed lest he fall.' It was estimated that about 1,000 to 1,500 mourners formed a procession almost a mile long. Over an hour was consumed as people filed by the casket. A large granite marker bearing his likeness was erected over his grave in the nearby cemetary.

Mrs. Bly, Mr. Strosnider's sister settled the estate and Mr. Bly suggested that since the engine would be no good to his elderly parents he should offer to re-buy the engine. This Mr. Bly did, and being grief stricken over the accident, decided that all of his machinery must be sold and by the spring of 1923 all of Mr. Bly's machinery was indeed sold. The Case engine was sold to a friend, and the Frick to a Mr. Braithwaite. Mr. Bly then went into the poultry business, but returned to custom baling with a gas tractor before passing away in 1929.

To complete this story I will continue with the history of the Frick engine, which led to my interest in this accident in the first place. Mr. Braithwaite used the engine mostly on a sawmill, and I do not know if he was ever aware of the engine's defects. Its' use gradually declined, except for the possibility of a brief period at the beginning of World War II, when it may have been pressed back into service. It is reported that he used it for a brief period to once again haul apples due to the gasoline shortage, but it is unlikely that it ran into Winchester due to the iron wheels and cleats. If it was used, as I believe it was, it probably was from the orchards to a railroad siding. Mr. Braithwaite began to scrap the engine in 1943, with his son's help, due to its value in scrap iron, reported to be about $200.00, and the emphasis on the wartime scrap drives. However, his son was drafted and later killed in the War and this is as far as the scrapping went. According to one report, Mr. Braithwaite pulled the engine out from where it was setting and attempted to load it on a truck to take home to rebuild. When he tried to push it onto the truck the beams of the truck body broke and this is as far as it was moved. It was about this time that several parts were stolen, including the steam gauge and a special deep toned whistle. Here it remained, and most of those that viewed it were of the opinion that it was too much of a job to restore it. It had indeed been pretty well demolished, including the cutting out of some of the rear wheel spokes. However, it was found and rescued, and therein lies the proof that this is indeed different from other Frick double cylinder engines.

In the spring of 1970 the remains were purchased by one of my friends, Mr. William Burke, of Finksburg, Maryland, who has had experience restoring other so-called 'impossible' engines. After getting it home came the usual closer inspection and the thought, as always, 'Oh no, what have I bought?' Work was begun, boiler repairs were made, and a replacement engine bed from a later engine was found. However, when he attempted to mount the replacement engine on the boiler, he found it would not fit. There was a difference between the original engine castings and the replacement. It was then necessary to repair and install the original engine. This was proof that a change had been made in the Frick castings as claimed by the factory representative. After the restoration was far enough along and the engine placed in operation, it was found that the valves could not be set so as to exhaust evenly on both cylinders. Despite the complete rebuilding, the uneven exhaust is quite noticeable when pulling in the belt. After running in traction it was found that the engine would indeed reverse when under heavy load with a wide open throttle. Many experienced men have tried over the years, both before and after restoration, to correct this without success. This engine is now owned by Mr. Burke, and has been displayed and operated at the Maryland Steam Historical Association annual show at Upperco, Maryland, along with a Case owned by Mr. Burke since 1974.

In closing, I would like to ask anyone reading this who has any knowledge of other early Frick double cylinder engines which had these or similar traits to contact me or Mr. Burke. It would be interesting to find the answer as to why this engine was different from others of the same design in respect to uneven exhaust and reversing at times under load. Mr. Burke's address is: Mr. William Burke, 2800 Lawndale Road, Finksburg, Maryland 21048. I will answer any correspondence I may receive on this and will welcome any comments on the subject of the accident of the engine. Once again I would like to thank all who helped to piece together this story, especially Mr. Granville Bly, Mr. Frank Bly's son who supplied the photographs, newspaper reports and personal remembrances.