Engine Down in Centerville

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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.

Turner removed the wrecked engine from the creek bed and sent it
back to the Frick Company to be rebuilt. Turner had the weigh bill
from the railroad showing what it weighed, and Turner’s lawyer
also had pieces of the bridge showing that it was indeed rotten. In
the end, the county had to pay for the damage to the engine as well
as build a new bridge. Perhaps disappointed at Dick’s
performance on the stand the county officials left, leaving poor
Dick to find his own way home.

Harve traded the Frick in on a second-hand Peerless, which he
used until he quit threshing. Bert then bought the Williams for
parts as he had one just like it. The steer chains are on my 45
Case now; they were removed to get the engine out and Harve gave
them to my dad.

Another story about Harve involved an unpaid threshing bill. It
seems the Turners were threshing for a farmer in a nearby town and
in the neighborhood crew was a man who never paid his bills unless
he had too. As they were all sitting around the table eating dinner
this man said, ‘When are you going to thresh for me,
Harvy?’ Now, everyone in the room knew that he hadn’t paid
his bills from the previous year, and they waited for the answer.
They said Harve stopped chewing, looked at the man sternly and
said, ‘John – don’t you think it’s a little early for
Christmas presents?’ His reply became a local classic and was
repeated into my time.

Contact steam enthusiast Brad Vosburg at: Box 10871
Vosburg road, Farmersville Station, NY 14060.

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