Farm Collector

AN IRON MAN I KNEW

15700 Sanitini Road, Burtonsville, MD. 20730.

The man of whom I write was my Grandfather, Mr. Bernard
Cleaveland Beall. He was the son of Joseph Silas Beall, a master
carpenter, and Mary Ella Beall, who was a good housewife and mother
to a good sized family. He was born Sept. 30, 1884, in
Burtonsville, Md. He was the only son who lived past infancy,
although he had 4 sisters. There were 6 children who died at an
early age. He was a lifelong resident of Burtonsville, Montgomery
County, Md. He attended school through the 5th grade, which was the
limit of his formal education. He then began doing chores around
the house and garden for his mother and father. He was expected to
follow his father’s trade as a carpenter, but the best laid
plans of mice and men oft go astray. Every time a steam engine
whistle blew in the distance, his garden hoe was found in the
garden, but not him. The nightly beating he received lasted only
until the next whistle blew. It was not long until he was assisting
in the boiler room of a nearby mill which made cotton shirts,
dresses, etc. One of the earliest amusing stories I recall his
telling is of the engineer in charge sending him to the back door
of a nearby place of business, and for 20c coming back with a ten
quart bucket of an unidentified cold beverage.

During this time he met a young lady named Mary Elizabeth
Merson, who was employed at the mill as a seamstress. She was born
July 4, 1883, and had to quit school after the 4th grade, to help
take care of her brothers and sisters and help to support the rest
of family, as they were a large family with a small income. A few
years later, on February 19, 1908, they were united for life,
despite the fact it was not liked by either set of parents.

In the meantime he had gone to work for a man known to one and
all as ‘Uncle Lewis’ Wooten, who, along with several
relatives owned several steam traction and portable engines and all
types of related machinery. This was about 1901 or 1902. ‘Uncle
Lewis’ taught him the operation and care of all of this
equipment. By about 1904 he was in charge of one of the outfits. He
often told of some of the comical things that happened.

One was of an incident when the crew was going to have to sleep
in a hay loft over the week end, as it was Saturday night and no
work could be done on Sunday. This was before his marriage, and one
of the fellow workers suggested that the two of them go calling on
a neighbor farmer, who had two young daughters. After buying two
new blue denim overall jackets at the local general store, they
proceeded to call on the two girls. They were seated in the parlor
about 9:30 in the evening, when the farmer walked in and said,
‘Young men it is time for working men to go to bed.’ To
which my grandfather’s companion replied, ‘Yes Sir but we
were waiting for you to show us where to go.’ The farmer
replied, ‘Come with me young men’, and they slept between
sheets in a feather bed and the rest of the crew slept in a hay
loft. Of course they also had a good breakfast before leaving. I
could tell many such stories, but it would make this a book length
article.

According to an article published in the Baltimore Sun
newspaper, of December 16th, 1956, he purchased his first sawmill
in 1915, but I believe there is an error on the date, but I cannot
prove it. I believe it was somewhat earlier. While working for
Uncle Lewis he helped unload a brand new Geiser sawmill and stored
it in a shed due to the beginning of the threshing season. It
remained there for two years, and then was bought by grandfather.
He already owned a Greencastle traction engine, shingle mill,
fodder cutter, etc. The little Greencastle was too small for the
sawmill so a larger engine was bought. I believe this was either T
or TT Geiser, but I am not sure. I do not know how many engines he
owned during his lifetime, but I have records of several Geisers,
Fricks, Autlman-Taylors, and at least two Hubers.

He worked during slack seasons for several counties, the State,
Washington D. C, and over a half dozen contractors. I have letters
of recommendation from over one dozen sources as to his skill,
dependability, etc. in the operation of all types of steam powered
equipment. Quite frequently he was called on to provide steam heat
for a school building with one of his engines during a heating
boiler failure. His experiences were many and varied over the
years.

The earliest pictures I have of him date about WW I. My
grandfather and grandmother had one child, a daughter, Thelma Mae,
who was born January 22, 1909. She married a man from Philadelphia,
Pa. Lawrence Hall, on October 17, 1929, and I was born February 11,
1933. My Mother passed away St. Patrick’s Day, 1933, leaving me
5 weeks old. I was raised by my Grandparents and went to the
sawmill at the age of four, and found the advantage of a sawdust
pile over a sand box. I was my Grandfather’s constant companion
at the age of six, and this is why I know so much of the details of
his life. Rainy days were spent with his old companions and friends
talking about stories of their old experiences.

I started working at the sawmill summers when about 12, and
since threshing was a thing of the past in this time, I only helped
on one run.

The first engine I can remember his having was an Aultman-Taylor
20hp. tandem compound, bevel gear. This was close to 50 years old
when he replaced it in 1937 with a I6hp. Frick, bought from Mr.
Notnagle, a machinery dealer in Frederick, Md. on Easter Sunday
morning in 1937, for $325.00. This was used until 1956, when it was
replaced with a 20hp. spur gear Ault man-Taylor, which I still
have.

The Frick is still in operating condition somewhere in Pa. It
was serial No. 18246 or No. 18248 and if anyone knows of the
whereabouts of this engine I would appreciate hearing from them. I
can positively identify it by certain features and if they will
contact me I will reply promptly.

One of the most interesting annual events was the visit of the
State Department of Forestry class of the University of Maryland.
They would be told before hand of the hazards of a sawmill and that
all sawyers, sooner or later, sawed off one or more fingers. Upon
arrival and introduction, the professor would ask my Grandfather to
show them how many fingers he had lost in his 50 years in the
trade. When my Grandfather held up both hands with all 10 fingers,
the expression on many faces was worth an admission fee. He always
said that when he bought his first saw, the salesman told him it
was made to Cut and it did not matter what it was, man or log.

He suffered no major injury while on the job during his 50 plus
years, nor did any man who worked with him. He made his last
threshing run in the 1929 season, although he still helped his
friends in season until the 1940’s.

He traveled from farm to farm with the sawmill after this and
made his last move away from home to a neighbor’s place about 1
mile away in 1942. He then set up the sawmill on the old family
home site where it remained until it’s closing. In 1948 he
suffered a broken hip, in an off the job accident, and despite
major surgery and the insertion of a steel pin he fully recovered
and was back at the mill in less than a year.

Upon graduation from high school in 1951 I joined him full time
at the sawmill and purchased some slightly newer equipment. Even at
this time I saw the handwriting on the wall for the custom sawyer.
In July of 1956 my Grandfather suffered a severe heart attack.
Although he later returned to the mill he also saw the end in
sight. The equipment was as much as 50 years old, the timber was
running out, and labor was hard to get. The area was becoming too
urban for a sawmill, so I closed the mill and took another job in
the winter of 1957. I kept the Aultman-Taylor engine and one 10-20
McCormick Deering industrial tractor and that is all. The rest was
worn out and was sold for junk by my Grandfather before his death
on Good Friday, April 15th, 1960. Thus ended the life of a true
Iron-Man, who left us younger ones to carry on.

  • Published on Jan 1, 1973
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