Mr. Lester C. Norris of Marcellus, New York, sends us the sad news of the passing of Mr. Willard Durkee. We present Mr. Norris' letter, a clipping from the Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York, and a tribute which Deacon Doubleday paid to Mr. Durkee on the radio Feb. 3, 1961. We are indebted to Mr. Norris for all this material.
I am enclosing the death notice of Mr. Willard Durkee, who died in Syracuse on January 26, 1961, after a month's illness.
As you probably know, my Lang and Button engine was on the cover of the Jan-Feb 1961 issue of the IRON-MEN ALBUM. The man in the picture standing beside the engine was Willard Durkee.
I am enclosing a tribute which Deacon Doubleday paid to Mr. Durkee on the air February 3rd, also the notice of his death as it appeared in the Post-Standard, Syracuse.
Mr. Durkee was, at the time of his death, writing a book on the history of farm machines in New York State. Last summer P. Hal Higgins visited Mr. Durkee. He took Mr. Higgins around to visit and see the steamers in this locality. Durkee and Higgins have been working very closely with historical articles.
(s) Lester C. Norris, 33 North Street, Marcellus, N. Y.
W. J. DURKEE, 64, FARM, IMPLEMENT AUTHORITY, DIES
Willard J. Durkee, 64, of 212 Kensington PL, died yesterday in Veterans Administration Hospital after an illness of three weeks.
Prior to retiring in 1953, he was manager of the Syracuse branch of the J. I. Case Co., where he had been employed 40 years.
After his retirement, he became an enthusiast of historical farm machinery of New York State. In 1959, Mr. Durkee was in charge of the Historical Farm Machinery exhibit at the State Fair. At the time of his death, he was writing a book about farm implements.
He was a member of the Army Ordnance Association, American Society of Agricultural Engineers, Onondaga Historical Society, and was on the advisory board of Alfred University. He was also honorary and charter member of the New York State Steam Engine Association, past president of the New York State Farm Equipment Club and a member of the New York State Farm Equipment Dealers Association Inc.
Mr. Durkee was a native of Belcher and a veteran of World War I.
DEACON DOUBLEDAY - WSYR, FEB. 3, 1961
Bill Durkee has left this planet for a bigger one but somehow it will always seem that Bill is around. Durk was a business man, a showman, a producer of business spectaculars, the most successful of which was an annual gain in sales for the J.I.Case Co. in the East so long as he was district manager. A genius for making friends, Durk always wound up in the middle of things and he got the job done. If this can be any measure of statesmanship, then so be it.
One's influence follows after him and this is the story of Willard Durkee . That is why the wired woodshed feels today that while Durk may have left this scene in a very sure sense, in just as true a sense his being hovers nearby and that is a very fine feeling.
When the State Fair was pried open in 1947 for just cattle, there he was in the thick of it when do the machinery boys move in? That was the next year in the infamous limited State Fair but Durk was there. When in 1949 the lid was taken off at Sludgeville and new management improved the fair so very much, Durk was one of 5 men who helped bring it off and he was the only man who went the whole way in the discussions.
Then Bill retired from the Case Co. after successfully introducing the famous Case baler to the world through such competent single authorities as Dr. Ed Harrison, manager of Harden Farms. Ed was then at Cornell and he decided with Durk on the merits of the machine and that was it - just like that.
Durk staged a two day program at Williamstown, N. Y., over just a slab of printed steel alongside the road saying that J. I. Case had been born there. It was broadcast, written, sung, and talked about and only Durk could have done it. He came out of retirement with reams of material on farm machinery in New York State and with him he brought the steam traction engine. His letters should be printed for no other person ever dug detail out of old barns and earth like he did and when the State Fair asked him to head a steam engine department in 1959 he had 3 engines in mind. He had 16 and 14 were under steam, and then he spearheaded the formation of the State Association of Steam Engines owners and operators. This group will show live steamers at the 1961 State Fair and this should be fitting memorial to Willard Durkee. For it was through 7000 miles of driving and hundreds of dollars from his own pocket that he succeeded in presenting the greatest show on the fairground in 1959. It moved, it smoked, whistled and blew hot water, it ran a shingle machine, an old thresher, and it rolled the road after hours where the cleats of other wheels had torn it up. He bought the soft coal and almost had to dig the ditch to run water to the panting boilers, and when the amateur horsemen complained that whistles rattle their steeds nearby, Durk got got a ruling. And the whistles continued to blow.
Somehow it was all Bill Durkee and there isn't a man in that engineer group who would have had it any other way. To Bill Durkee the idea had to make sense, it had to add up moneywise and it had to have all the trappings of a show. If then the show took on added proportions it was only natural that the Durkee touch was there once again. His approach to discussion was friendly but firm and he could spot a phony at 3 miles and he did often but somehow the phony was upended and Durk continued to smile in his friendly way because his life was built on his favorite expression and he showed it and lived it and still does we're sure - 'that it'll all work out ok, everybody will love everybody after all.'