108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940
'Hurry! Hurry! Up the river down the lake, Hokie Pokie five a cake' intones the candy butcher amidst the noise and smells and confusion of that annual event, the county fair. It has been a long time since I have attended one of these rural Americana events that continue to be a part of our heritage. I really wanted to see just how much they had changed over the years. Hokie-Pokie taffy was certainly going to be more like fifty cents a cake. . . assuming that filling remover was still in existence. But, really aren't they still 'business as usual?'
The 134th annual Allegany County Fair in Angelica, New York coincided nicely with my travel plans and it had two features about it to specially recommend it to me. First, it was not only an agricultural fair but a steam show of some consequence as well. Also, Angelica is still home to some of my family. Thus it was that my wife and I found a delightful campground on Almond Lake to park our 'home away from home' while attending the fair.
We dropped down off the Southern Tier Expressway at the Angelica exit and drove into town. It is a beautiful western New York state village with a central park around which the main street passes in a circle and from which many of the village streets radiate. The white wooden bandstand done in 'Carpenter Renaissance' was still there. But, more significantly, the old croquet courts had been replaced with a well-kept lawn.
Many, many years ago, Angelica had been the county seat and as such had attained a certain eminence but one of the things that I remember from the period circa 1928 was the ardent croquet enthusiasts arriving at the courts with their mallets neatly wrapped in a meal sack ready for their part in the action. Croquet was every man's game then as tennis has become today. Faith Gielow has captured the essence of this period in her sketch 'The Croquet Player' for the Heritage Days programan obviously important citizen replete with bowler hat, pince-nez glasses held by their safety cord around the neck taking careful aim at the next wicket.
In this same period, Angelica was a division point on the now defunct Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern Railroad. We used to call it the Pretty, Slow & Noisy just to tease my uncle who was claim agent for the road. The tracks are gone now, but the yellow brick depot is still there and is in use as a feed warehouse. Otherwise everything seemed about the same.
The fair grounds are on a bluff overlooking the village. As we drove in we were greeted by a security guard with a big grin. When asked, 'How much?', he replied, 'It's usually a dollar and a half per person, but today I'll let the two of you in for an even $3.00'. And so it went. The one in the parking lot wanted to help me select the correct yellow filter for my camera to bring out the beautiful cloud formations that day. Did you ever notice how the very tone of the event is set by how you are greeted? I knew that it was going to be a great day, and it was.
One could divide the fair into several sections. There is the stock and produce judging, the midway, the grand stand events. . . some of the finest trotters can be seen... and the antique and modern machinery display. The latter activity is the thing that had attracted me but one must not overlook the other activities which are managed in a commendable manner by a Board of Dirctors with John Cronk as president.
Recognizing the importance of combining the more conventional activities of a fair with those of a steam and gas engine collector, Merle Case and the late William Wakefield began the permanent collection of machinery some 11 years ago. Later, Loren Weir, Carrol Burdick, Richard Ball and Robert Barron added their support. Today there is a very sizeable and interesting collection of steam and gas engines together with a good cross section of machinery. Some of it is housed in a building where there is enough space for not only the permanent exhibits but space for exhibitors at fair time as well. They have provided a steam supply for the stationary engines from a 1931 Farr and Treft locomotive type boiler known in that part of the country as an 'oil field boiler.' Angelica is not far from the Pennsylvania oil fields from which we still get some of the finest paraffinic crude oil. Those are shallow wells and traditionally were drilled with the older type cable tool rigs. Struthers-Wells made a horizontal engine for these rigs and there is one now on permanent exhibit.
Some of the smaller exhibits such as a model of a Westinghouse 1880 traction engine powering a 1/8' scale 1897 thresher are supplied with compressed air. These models, with a tremendous amount of detail, were built by Burdick and Paul Bliss about 1968. They are operated for the enjoyment of those that can appreciate fine workmanship. For emphasis, across the aisle there are several early steam engines of moderate horsepower. All are quietly chuffing away anointing the audience with a bit of steam cylinder oil and reminding us that the reciprocating steam engine played a very important role on both land and sea.
Neil Backer of Bradford, Pennsylvania has restored a water ram to operating condition. His original was built in Senaca Falls, New York around 1904. This one was the final straw to sparking my curiosity into inquiring about rams. In the last several shows that I have attended there have been exhibits of rams. I had taken it for granted that these hydraulic pumping engines were currently only of interest to collectors. I could remember seeing one in my boyhood back in Massies Mill, Virginia which pumped water from a branch up to a tank in an orchard.
I contacted Neil and he sent me some information that was absolutely startling. These pumping devices are still being manufactured and of all things, the largest manufacturer, Rife Hydraulic Engine Manufacturing Company, have their plant in Andover, New Jersey, not 20 miles from where I live! I have talked with these people and find that this is a conglomorate of several earlier manufacturers with the surviving corporate name being that of Rife which was originally built in Waynes-boro, Virginia. There are about 300 units produced each year and the business is growing as a result of the energy situation.
Perhaps you will recall that this type of water pump operates somewhat like the injector on a steam boiler in that the flowing water from a spring or dam is the actuating power for pumping a smaller quantity of water to a higher elevation than the flowing source. Let's take a typical example for a Davey ram which years ago was sold by Montgomery Ward stores under the tradename WARLO. Neil's ram looks very much like the Davey model. Let's suppose that we have a spring or brook that is flowing at the rate of 8 gallons per minute and we can locate the ram downstream perhaps 50 feet away but more importantly 4 feet lower elevation. And let's say that the discharge is to be 28 feet above the ram's elevation. Then we could expect the ram to deliver about 32 gallons per hour. Not a large quantity but larger units will deliver proportionately larger amounts when the flowing source is larger. These machines will operate for days on end without attention and deliver a useful quantity of water free of charges for electricity or fuel.
Old steam engines be they traction or railroad have a great attraction for me. I kept coming back time and again to watch Dan Redmond's 50 horsepower J. I. Case engine. This engine has an interesting background and its restoration and operation at shows is the fulfillment of a life long dream for this resident of Greenwood, New York.
The engine was originally sold to the town of Cortland, New York in 1915 for use in road building. When it was retired by the entry of internal combustion tractors it was stored inside and remained there until Lester Norris of Marcellus, New York purchased it from the town in 1958. Thus began a restoration under the guidance of Malvin Fellows who is a retired J. I. Case service man. Dan helped from time to time in this work and then was the operator until 1968 when he became the owner as well. This engine has been shown in operation for many years at the Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua, New York. Dan remembers well the occasion when Rev. Ritzman visited the Pageant and talked steam engines with him. It has been chuffing away belted to ensilage cutters or threshers or perhaps a Baker fan for the past 10 Allegany County fairs for young and old alike to enjoy. It was interesting to sit quietly near the engine and eavesdrop on the conversational questions put to Dan. Some boys were very curious about how he fired it and a middle aged man inquired about its original use. Looking at the sign on the smoke box that announced that it was rated at 50 horsepower someone in the crowd asked me, 'Is that horsepower the horsepower as we know it?' I begged the question of boiler horsepower or 'from and at' steam or indicated horsepower and simply said, 'Yes, you could say that it is.' I hope that the experts will forgive me.
J. I. Case 50 horsepower traction engine owned by Dan Redmond. This engine was originally used in road construction around Cortland, New York.
In the July 1978 issue of Gas Engine Magazine there is an excellent article on the Wonderful Ottawa Drag Saw by Maury Moses. We see and hear so much about this fine machine that I tend to take it for granted that it is the only one of its kind. And, for attaching to a vertical tree, perhaps it is. However, there are others. In fact, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Bulletin #1907 even talks of building one from home materials in a 1942 publication.
Carrol Burdick has restored a cross cut drag saw originally made by the Ireland Manufacturing Company of Norwich, New York around 1900. His has an interesting carriage attachment for feeding the logs to the saw. The log to be cut is mounted on a carriage which is run on a track. The operator can apply power to advance the carriage as needed. At the show it was being used to cut a very large log as a demonstration.
For the Ottawa saw the same manufacturer made both the saw and the engine. This Ireland saw was powered by a Rumsey engine made by the Rumsey Engine and Machinery Company of Friendship, New York. This fine engine has two very interesting aspects. First, the company only made a couple of hundred and there are those that claim that no two were alike. Thus they are a real collector's item. The part that interested me, though, was the manner in which the engine was built. It is a hopper cooled hit and miss design. But the unique thing about it is that the hopper, the base, the cylinder AND the cylinder head are all one single casting! A flat face is then machined on the side to receive another casting making up the carburetor and valve assembly. But, aside from that, it is one single piece. Having worked in a pattern shop one summer I can appreciate the problem of making that single casting. Anyway, when it is fired up and banging away that Ireland drag saw goes through a log like a hot knife through butter!
Most of the old time items at the show are either being operated or could be if there was someone to look after them. One such interesting portable steam engine is owned by Merle Case of Angelica. Merle is a director of the Allegany County Agricultural Society who operate the fair and is Superintendent of Utilities. As a result he doesn't have much time to operate his portable steam engine during the fair. When I first saw the engine I thought that it was an original and the name on the steam chest of the double cylinder center crank engine read, 'Soule Steam Feed Works, Meridian, Mississippi.' Now the English language can throw you a curve once in a while. I assumed that feed meant something cattle ate. Then Merle told me the story of the outfit.
It seems that the engine itself originally came from a saw mill of considerable size and was the engine that ran the carriage. . .the 'feed' engine! He had salvaged it and mounted it on a boiler that originally had powered a road roller. All of this is carried on steel wagon wheels. The front axle is equipped with a tongue and a team of horses could move it about. It is in beautiful condition and a real show engine. Too bad it could not have been powering one of the threshing machines then standing idle in the show yard.
The fair has been in operation for a long time and in that period, a number of permanent buildings have been constructed which get used throughout the year for a variety of community events. One of the larger buildings houses the 4-H Club activities. One could spend quite a bit of time studying the various exhibits and perhaps talking to the young exhibitors. I had such an opportunity, however, down at the stock barns and judging arena. The Johannes brothers of Almond were showing their prize Jerseys. Ralph, a teenager, could rightfully be proud of his Grand Champion Jersey cow. But no more so than his 10 year old brother, Mark, who had a blue ribbon winning Jersel calf. They were willing to pose for the camera and since the pictures turned out good I have sent them copies with a covering note, 'Isn't it nice to be a winner? It makes the hard work all seem worthwhile.' Having two boys of my own now old enough to present me with grandchildren convinces me that if we can keep the younger generation busy with hobbies and school work then we will have made our future secure. My compliments to those that work with the 4-H youths.
I enjoyed my visit to the fair. They haven't changed all that much in the intervening years. Some of the exhibitors seem younger and the machinery seems older but then so am I. A day at the fair and perhaps an evening watching the trotters is entertainment difficult to surpass. This is an interesting area of our country, to me at least, and one I wanted to visit again. The Genessee River Valley is a historic place with many legends and incidents, many of which are centered around the Genesee Valley Canal.
This portable engine was assembled by Merle Case from a road roller and a saw mill, but looks as if it had just been 'out-shopped' by a manufacturer.
Belfast is a canal town named after that distraught city in Ireland. It is a quiet village that still remembers its six weeks of notoriety in 1889 as the training camp of the boxer John L. Sullivan (1858-1918). In January of that year the great John L. had signed to fight Jake Kilrain in the following summer. Immediately following the signing he went on a momentous drinking and riotous living campaign until six weeks before the scheduled fight the promoters became alarmed at his ability to even enter the ring let alone put up a fight. So they arranged with the 'Iron Duke', John Muldoon, to sober him up and get him in condition. The transformation took the full six weeks at Muldoon's home town of Belfast. But the treatment put Sullivan in the peak of condition. On July 8,1889 the fight took place in Richburg, Mississippi. It took 75 rounds of bare knuckle fighting until Sullivan won the last of the bare knuckle prize fights. My father tells the story of a local character in town who at the slightest show of interest would regale an unwilling captive audience with legendary stories of the period ending the dissertation with, 'Now shake the hand that shook the hand of John L. Sullivan.'
The canal is somewhat unique in that it had 106 masonary block locks in its 124 mile span from Rochester where it joined the Erie Canal and the Allegany River near Olean, New York. Construction of this illfated venture was started in 1836, temporarily held up in 1841 for financing and completed in 1856 at a total cost estimated at $5.8 million. It never was a paying proposition due to the coming of the railroads. By 1878 the year it was closed, it had grossed a total of $852,000 in tolls, hardly an economic venture. It was sold to the Genesee Valley Railroad who immediately used the tow path as the grade for their railroad which eventually became a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad and it too has now passed into history with only the cinder ballasted grade to remind us of its past. Now one can stand at one of the old locks and look into the vaulted sky overhead and perhaps see a thin white contrail that marks the passing of a Boeing 747 in whose cavernous cabins and holds one can carry more passengers and cargo than a dozen little packet boats. Truely, we have lived in an era of marvels.
Oh yes, I could go on with stories of those river towns; Oramel, Houghton Creek where the Weslyian Methodist College is located and Filmore a town with a certain poignancy for me. I have an antique but very utilitarian chair in my office with a note on the bottom in my father's flowing Spenciarian hand to the effect that it belonged to his grandfather, Abraham Lapham, the founder of Filmore in 1830, who named it after President Millard Filmore. It was a chair used on an early packet boat on that section of the canal where great-grandfather was superintendent.
But, we came to see the fair and to enjoy the atmosphere of the area. There is so much to see and do that attending the annual Allegany County Fair is but one of many things for those who would enjoy a bit of yesterday along with a goodly portion of today.