The Two Last Frick Traction Engines

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722 East End Ave., Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17602

In the 1960 November-December issue of the Iron Men Album, appeared a short story entitled 'The Last Frick Traction' by Terry Mitchell, who was assistant advertising manager of Frick Company (now retired). On most occasions this type of article is accepted as a factual basis of authority by those who appreciate the nostalgia of the glories that once were, in the present era of mass confusion.

However, the 1960 article had the effect of the firing on Fort Sumter, and the battle of the last Frick traction engine has been raging ever since. The 9 x 10 engine quoted in the 1960 story bore serial number 29592. Mr. James Layton, President of Eastern Shore Thresherman & Collectors Association, Federalsburg, Md., fired back a salvo of strong opposition to refute the claim, since he had recently purchased a Frick 8 x 10 traction at a sawmill in Richmond, Virginia, which bore the serial number of 30519.

The chief of the Frick Parts Division, Mr. W. A. Hartman (now retired) had already confirmed the 30519 engine to me, and I later asked Terry about this, and I hereby quote his reply. 'Many thanks for your letter of November 26 (1960). The statement that the engine number 29592 was the last Frick traction engine built, was given us by Mr. Thornhill, but this seems to be in error as Mr. Good (O. D. Good of Engineering, now deceased) confirms the number 30519 as being the last one built. This was completed in the fall of 1927.'

However, this settled nothing, and old time Frick fans took sides pro and con. Mr. C. W. Thornhill, Culpepper, Virginia, who was a Frick customer for many years and knew his way around the company, claimed to have checked out the Frick records in Waynesboro, Pa., but he was never able to explain the serial number of 29592 claim over the 30519. Mr. Thornhill was very firm in his defense of the former and as the dispute continued we believe it was a contributing factor to his death.

When Andrew Hess, the former chief engineer of Frick Company, was alive I once asked him what the great mystery was concerning the serial number of this 9 x 10 traction engine. He said, 'Well, Wilmer, when the engine was finished one of the mechanics went to the cupboard and picked up a plate already stamped 29592, and it was riveted as usual on the steam chest. I am sure no one ever gave a thought of any dispute in later years.'

Fortunately there is one man alive who issued the original stock order to have this last 9 x 10 Frick traction engine built. He is F. Oscar Rebok who spent 50 years in the employment of Frick Company. He served as expediter of the sales department and also was the liaison between that department and the president, who was then Mr. D. N. Benedict.

At 81 years Mr. Rebok has a vivid memory of this engine and says early in 1927 this 9 x 10 Frick traction was built for stock, but since the steam engine era was drawing to a close, this large engine was not in demand and it remained at the factory in Waynesboro until 1929, when it was sold to Harvey King of Greencastle, Pa. Three months later his health failed, and since he had used it very little, Mr. King asked Frick Company if they would accept it back.

About this time Mr. Archie Gregg of Dickerson, Md., arrived at Frick Company to buy a traction engine, but was told that the company had discontinued the manufacture of tractions but could provide him with the Harvey King engine for the balance due on it. Oscar Rebok personally escorted Archie Gregg to Greencastle to see this engine, which he agreed to buy provided the changes he had in mind were made back at the Frick shops at his expense. This was agreed to and the engine was brought back and a Work Order, No. 366994-B, was made out for a Special 9 x 10 traction engine, dated January 7, 1930.

I mentioned to Oscar the Andy Hess statement with regard to the serial number; he confirmed this and also cleared up the great mystery. He said the brass serial number plates were stamped 25 at a time and no attempt was made to install them on engines in numerical sequence. So thus we have this discrepancy in the later engine serial numbers.

Since Mr. William S. Strayer, an old thresherman of Dillsburg, Pa., owns all the Frick engine patterns and many records, I paid him a visit. In his cozy office, heated with a wood burning cook stove more than 100 years old, he showed me a Conestoga Wagon Jack dated 1698, which must have been made in Germantown, Pa. When I mentioned my mission he pulled from his numerous files the Work Order for this Special 9 x 10 traction to meet the specifications demanded by Archie Gregg.

It is too detailed to account for everything, but some of the changes listed are as follows: 'Standard valve rods were deleted and the portable type installed, all piping was changed to one inch instead of standard, and this necessitated special injectors. A special crankshaft was forged to accommodate a second belt wheel of 36 inches with an 8 inch face on the left hand side. The rear axle was free floating with an extra set of cushion springs on the right rear wheel. The axle collars, counter shaft and spur gears were special. The rear driver wheels were the heavy duty type as used on the 'Contractor Special' with 24 spokes, 70 inches in diameter, with a 7/8 inch tire, 20 inches wide. On the front axle the king post brace was special, and there were special balls installed in the steering chains to absorb shock.' The jacketed boiler bears number 15478.

The engine was delivered to Archie P. Gregg on June 24, 1930. It was the last 9 x 10 Frick traction engine made and when rebuilt was the last traction to leave Waynesboro, although for the second time. In later years this engine was purchased by Mr. C. W. Thornhill, Culpepper, Va. About 1959, Mr. H. Carrick, Denton, N.C., became the owner. When he had public sale, the engine was purchased by Mr. Harry Krantz of Frederick, Md. In 1968 Mr. Krantz died and this Special 9 x 10 is at present owned by his widow Margaret E. Krantz, Frederick, Maryland. She says she admired it very much, but would sell it to the right person who would give it the proper care.

Now I hope to resolve for all time the dispute as to which was the last Frick traction engine built. In addition to Terry Mitchell, 0. D. Good, and W. A. Hartman, Mr. Oscar Rebok today confirms that when the Frick traction engine bearing serial number 30519, now owned by Mr. James Layton of Federalsburg, Md., puffed off the line on September 10, 1927, the production of Frick traction engines was at an end, AS IT WAS THE LAST TRACTION BUILT OF ANY SIZE. On October 10, 1927, it was shipped to G. W., E. H., and G. D. Secrist at Foreman, West Virginia.

And so we are happy to conclude that both the last Frick traction engines are alive and well, the 9 x 10 Special can be seen at the home of Mrs. Krantz at Frederick, Md. The 8 x 10 is the pride of Mr. James Layton and can be seen going through its paces at each autumn reunion of the Eastern Shore Threshermen and Collectors Association held at Federalsburg, Md.


With the advent of World War II there was a spurt of demand for portable steam engines by sawmillers. Some engines were made out of spare parts, and sometimes the welding shop was called on for hangers, etc. According to Frick records, the last steam engine made by Frick Company was an 8 x 10 portable bearing serial number 30716.

It was purchased by Apply Ridge Company, Charleston, West Virginia, April 28,1943. It would appear that 10 x 12 portable, bearing serial number 30695, now owned by William S. Strayer, may have been the last steam engine to leave Frick Company, thus closing an era spanning four score and ten years.

In 1916 Frick Company entered the gasoline tractor field and manufactured two sizes. One was a 12-20 powered by either a Yates or an Erd motor, also a 15-28 powered by a Veaver motor. In 1924 the gasoline tractor production was discontinued.

Frick even entered the clock field when Fred Frick, one of the three sons of the founder, invented a master impulse clock, which was to be used in schools and offices to give a signal at any desired time in any room of school or shop. After the manufacture of several, Fred Frick sold it out to Mark Landis of Geiser Mfg. Company and nothing more was heard of it. The writer owns one of these clocks. A larger size hangs in the Directors' Office of Frick Company, in Waynesboro, Pa.