A.B. Farquhar: Old Iron Pioneer

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The 1922 Farquhar-style W farm traction engine, rated at 12 horsepower. Said to be "an up-to-date light steam tractor, designed to efficiently and economically handle general farm work. It is especially suited for driving Farquhar Vibrators [threshers] and will fill every requirement of the merchant thresherman." The machine had an 8-by-10-inch cylinder and weighed 15,000 pounds. The water tank held 110 gallons and the coal bunker held 400 pounds of fuel. The canopy top was optional. Speed on the road while moving from threshing job to bo was 2-1/2 mph.
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The 1922 Farquhar 15-25 tractor ran on gasoline, kerosene or distillate. Weighing 5,700 pounds and powered by a 4-cylinder Buda engine of 4-1/2-inch bore and 6-inch stroke, the machine was said to be able to pull three or four standard 14-inch plows at average depth. The sliding gear transmission had a plowing speed of 2 mph and a blistering road speed of 3 mph, as well as reverse.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Works, later known as the A.B. Farquhar Co., was long a fixture in York, Pa.

The company built threshing machines, steam traction engines and other farm machinery from Civil War times until after World War II.

Arthur Briggs Farquhar was born Sept. 28, 1838, in Montgomery County, Md. His father was a Quaker school teacher and a civil engineer who helped build the first railroad from Baltimore to Philadelphia.

Young A.B., whose nickname (according to York native and history buff Bob Rauhauser) was “Polly,” received a good education, had an interest in mechanics and, by his own account, decided early on to make a lot of money.

Out to make a million dollars

A.B. wrote in his 1922 autobiography of a telling episode that occurred when he was 19, in 1858. He’d read in Harper’s Magazine about some of the rich and successful New York City men, and decided to go “straight to the horse’s mouth” for advice on how best to seek his fortune.

After a 15-hour stage coach, train and ferry boat trip from Maryland to New York City, the young man appeared at 8 one morning in the office of noted financier William B. Astor.

Somehow, he talked or forced his way past a dour old clerk to confront the Great Man himself. Astor brusquely asked the boy what he wanted, and when Farquhar replied, “I want to know how to make a million dollars,” the rich old man reportedly softened.

Astor asked, “Do you want to make yourself as miserable as I am and stay up all day and half the night trying to keep people from cheating you?” He told Farquhar in so many words that being rich wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Not convinced, Farquhar visited a prominent New York banker, who echoed Astor’s story, and then another banker and his associates, who advised the boy to “take care of your character and never break a promise.”

Hamilton Fish, another banker who was a former governor of New York and who later would be secretary of state under Ulysses S. Grant, told Farquhar if he always paid back any money he owed on the exact date it was due, no one would know but that he was worth a million.

Starting with the W.W. Dingee Co.

Returning home, the young man told his father he was going to become a manufacturer of mechanical things. His father insisted he first learn the work from the laborer’s point of view and arranged for his son to start as a machinist’s apprentice at the W.W. Dingee Co., a builder of farm implements in York.

Young Farquhar completed the normal four-year apprenticeship in a year and a half, while also studying bookkeeping, writing and drafting at night. When he told Dingee that he was leaving to start his own business, Dingee offered the young man a partnership in the company.

Farquhar accepted Dingee’s proposal and joined the company’s sales department. During the years just prior to the Civil War, he traveled in the South, selling machinery and meeting many prominent plantation owners.

Shortly after the out-break of war, which dried up the Southern market, the Dingee factory burned to the ground and W.W. Dingee went to work for the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., where he developed the famous Dingee sweep horsepower, which powered various machines.

Farquhar assumed the debts of the Dingee Co., and because of the integrity and promise he had demonstrated, he was able to secure financial backing to build a new factory and resume the manufacture of farm machinery.

Drawing fire

In early June of 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee began the invasion of the North that ended at Gettysburg. A handful of Pennsylvania militiamen were defending Gettysburg, Harrisburg and York, but they were easily scattered by Gen. Jubal Early’s division of Confederate soldiers.

Gen. John B. Gordon’s brigade from Early’s division approached York and was met by a delegation of town citizens, led by the 27-year-old Farquhar, to discuss terms of surrender for the city.

Under their agreement, Early entered York and requisitioned shoes, clothing, rations and $100,000. He got some of those supplies and $28,610 before being ordered to join the rest of Lee’s army at Gettysburg.

Farquhar’s actions saved the town from destruction but many local citizens blamed him for selling out to the enemy. In response to their view of his efforts, Farquhar traveled to Washington, D.C., and paid a visit to President Abraham Lincoln.

During a walk from the White House to the War Department, Farquhar told Lincoln his story. Lincoln reportedly thanked him for his efforts, and told him to go home and tell his detractors that he had Lincoln’s “thanks and the thanks of the government.”

The Confederate occupation would not be the last time Farquhar made news. In 1891, he bought the York Gazette, a staunchly Democratic daily newspaper. A Gazette editorial of the day told of a state Republican official’s statement, “All Democrats are not horse thieves, but all horse thieves are Democrats,” to which Farquhar countered editorially that horse thieves obey no party lines.

On Sept. 16, 1894, Farquhar and the Gazette drew another firestorm of public opinion with the debut of the first Sunday edition. The next day, the Gazette ran this story: “The Sunday Gazette Denounced in Many Pulpits.”

The Rev. Charles A. Oliver of Westminster Presbyterian Church, for one, devoted an entire sermon to Sabbath observance and the Sunday Gazette. “All Sunday desecration is planned by Satan,” Oliver proclaimed. “He planned the Sunday newspaper and inspired it. His ways are cunning and many men who think they are doing good are being duped by his Satanic majesty.”

Farquhar’s skin must have grown thicker after the Confederates’ visit because the pulpit protests did not move him to stop his Sunday edition.
Today, he is regarded as one of the more colorful 19th-century individuals who pioneered the U.S. farm equipment industry. FC

Sam Moore developed an interest in agricultural machinery while growing up on a western Pennsylvania farm. Today, he lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.
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