Westover's Frank Morton -determined hobbiest in battle



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Dominion-Post Staff Writer

The following may be reprinted through the kindness of The Dominion-Post newspaper of Westover, West Virginia 26505. We thank them for the permission and an interesting story. Anna Mae

Frank Morton is a retired master mechanic, an individualist, and a very determined man. His hobby is rebuilding antique engines and he pursues the avocation with a great deal of determination.

He is also engaged in a hot-and-cold war with his neighbors and the Town of Westover and he shows equal determination in this pursuit.

His front yard, basement and house are filled with old gasoline and steam engines and the parts, bits and pieces used to repair and rebuild them.

To a visitor, who is interested in ancient machinery, Morton's yard is rather fascinating.

To his neighbors, it is an eyesore and nuisance.

Morton was fined $14.60 Thursday night for the alleged nuisance his machinery is creating.

Westover Mayor John C. McKinney levied the- fine against him in mayor's court after a warrant had been filed by Mrs. Raymond Pierce, a neighbor.

Morton pleaded not guilty to the charge and now intends to appeal the decision in the next term of the county circuit court in early October. He contends that the Westover city ordinance which holds operation of such a machine as illegal, is unconstitutional.

One of the things that really troubles the neighbors about the 'junk' in Morton's yard is that he is an expert at rebuilding the old equipment and most of the old engines actually run. Since most of the motors are over 50 years old, they also make a good bit of noise when they get going.

A key piece of equipment is a nicely painted, operative steam jenny that he often uses to clean other equipment. In a petition to the town board, his neighbors maintained that the jenny makes noises and also emits unpleasant odors.

One of the problems with Morton and the neighbors is that he is a man who is accustomed to solving problems in his own way. One of the complaints leveled against his property was that a large amount of unused lumber is stacked in the yard.

Despite the bitterness of the long running quarrel, Morton conceded that the lumber was unattractive. 'Anyway, it was warped and not much good.' He found a lady needing kindling and immediately hooked up one of his 50-year-old Hercules gasoline engines to a- saw and began sawing up wood.

The neighbors, he says, then called the police, claiming he was again running his steam jenny. 'The police came up and asked me if I was running the jenny,' says Morton. 'I told them sure I was, and they said they'd have to get a warrant and arrest me. I told them I'd keep the machine running till they got back. They never came back.'

He then adds, 'Of course, I wasn't running the jenny, but they wouldn't know a steam jenny from an egg beater.' This reporter wouldn't have either until he visited Morton's house.

The house , itself, is part of the story. Morton began work on it in 1941 and has built it himself. It is not really finished yet. When Morton started work on it there were very few other houses in the area and the area was not part of Westover.

Morton definitely feels that-he was there first and that both his new neighbors and the town are trying to interfere with a way of life he had established as operator of a small electrical and machine shop, before he retired and devoted full time to his hobby.

The annexation dispute was evidently the beginning of Morton's complaints with Westover and at 65 his memory is still vivid. 'I was running an electrical shop,' he says, 'and the town hurt my business badly with their interference.' Evidently there were disputes over signs put up by Morton and other actions that he feels hurt his business.

One of his chief sidelines now is taking his various engines, both gasoline and steam, around to shows for old steam engines. He and his son, Gail, 12, mounted a much-praised show of the old engines at the Monongalia County Fair last year and he feels that much of his trouble with his neighbors stems from that show.

'The newspaper gave coverage to the show and right after that my neighbors really started complaining.' The complaints led to a Westover ordinance against the keeping of junk on property and understandably Morton feels that the ordinance was aimed specifically at. him.

Though not financially equipped for a court battle, Morton has been in contact with a lawyer and feels that he definitely has a case. In the meantime, he intends to stand his ground.

Morton's wife, Freda, works as an assistant dietician at a local restaurant, and Morton himself still works on' machinery for various people particularly if the machinery is old enough. They have enough income to run the house and care for Gail and his younger sister, but legal fees would be difficult.

Morton devotes much of his time to his hobby and notes that many of the old engines that he rebuilds are valuable. 'This engine,' he remarks, referring to a huge steam engine that he is rebuilding, 'will be worth $4,500 when I am through with it.'

He also winds armatures and does other odds and ends work including fixing power lawnmowers. He currently has a table saw in his living room as he continues work on the house he has labored on for 29 years. Currently, he is rebuilding a staircase.

He makes precise wooden patterns for his old engines and has them cast in metal at a foundry in Worthington. 'I am the only one around here, who can make Datterns for these engines. He notes.

When, he gets the castings back, he machines them and fits them on the lathes and drill presses in his crammed basement shop.

The crafts he practices were learned 'the hard way' by apprenticeship many years ago. His father was a railroad engineer and Morton came by his love of steam engines early. During his early years, he worked on the railroad as a fireman.

Later he learned the electrician's trade by working at the old Riverside Electric Company here. 'I walked miles back and forth to work each day and worked for $2 a day for five years, just to learn the trade,' he proudly comments.

He then spent several years as a master electrician in local mines before going into business for himself.

His skills, as he says were learned the hard way through hard work and determination and he is just as determined as ever to continue doing the work he loves.