Making Baskets With Steam


| September/October 1984



Steam engine

108 Garfield Avenue Madison, New Jersey 07940.

A fellow that I know told me, much to my surprise, that there was a little plant in Califon, New Jersey, making wood products from local logs with an old steam engine. Now, that is enough to excite any steam man's curiosity, especially since Califon is not a hundred miles from New York City, a most unlikely place to find a steam engine at work today.

I'd been through Califon several times a few years ago before Conrail tore up the High Bridge branch of the old Jersey Central Railroad. Right after its abandonment, the track made a good place to run the home made track car that my son had modeled after the Buda track car that I had ridden as a boy on the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. But, I still didn't know where the plant was located which turned out to be the califon Basket Company. It seems that not too many of the local people knew where it was either for when I asked an elderly gentleman over by the grocery store, 'Where can I find the local factory that does wood working with steam?' (at that time I didn't know that they made baskets), he replied, 'I've lived here 36 years and I don't know of any such place.'

Not satisfied, I walked around the town of maybe a thousand population and down back of the field stone depot there were some logs outside a group of low wooden buildings that hadn't seen paint since Wilson's administration. There it was quite evident that wood was being used as a raw material.

The A. B. Farquhar & Company steam engine is here shown powering the line shaft serving the veneering lathes. The engine carries shop number 16249. It also has a Good Roads Machinery Company nameplate.

The first person that I saw was a luxuriously bearded individual laboriously dipping, one at a time, lead fishing lures in a sort of pseudo mass production operation. In the Florida Keys we call them 'Millie's Buck-tails' and they do a good job catching mackerel. 'Well', he said, when I told of my first encounter in the search, 'I think that the tourists know this place better than the local people,' as he spoke of the steam powered operation in the buildings next door.