Engine Down in Centerville

A Bridge Breaks, a Frick Falls and a Lawsuit Ensues


| November/December 2002



Harvy Turner's Frick

Harvy Turner's Frick lies on its side after going through the Higgens Bridge outside of Centerville, N.Y., sometime around 1920. The thresher is a 34-inch Williams. Harv's son, Milton, was running the engine that fateful day. He was badly injured in the accident, but he eventually recovered.

Merle Post's article about the Birmingham Bridge wreck in the November/December 2001 issue of the Iron-Men Album prompted me to send a picture of a similar incident that took place about three miles from my home in Centerville, N.Y., about 1920.

Growing up around my father's engine, I became interested in anything pertaining to steam and I would ride my bicycle up to my grandfather Bert's house and listen to his threshing stories. I was in my early teens and he was over 80, but the generation gap hadn't been invented yet and we got along fine. One of his favorite stories was about the wreck and the lawsuit that followed.

The picture shows Harvy Turner's threshing rig after breaking through the Higgens Bridge that crossed Five Town Creek. The engine was a Frick (I think a 9 x 10), and the thresher was a 34-inch Williams made in St. Johnsonville, M.Y. Harv's son, Milton, was running the engine and was seriously injured.

Allegany County, which owned the bridge, claimed the outfit was over-weight and sued for damages. Turner counter-sued. Interest in this case must have been high, for on the day of the proceedings the courthouse was packed, with Bert among the crowd as he, having a threshing rig himself, was hoping for a favorable ruling for a brother thresher.

Richard Morris, a farmer who lived beside the bridge, had seen the accident and was subpoenaed by the county to testify. Morris wasn't too thrilled at having to go several extra miles just to get to the other side of the creek, so county officials thought he would be a good witness for them and they brought him to the trial as he had no car. On the stand he told all about what he had seen and done. Upon being asked if other steam engines crossed the bridge Dick, who was somewhat of a character in his own right, said, 'Why no - everybody knows that bridge ain't been fit for a dog to trot across in years.' After the laughter had stopped the county lawyer had no more questions.