W. J. Eshelman, of Lancaster, Pa., is well known to threshermen
and sawmillers as a former salesman and historian of the Frick
Company, and longtime announcer at several Old Threshermen’s
Reunions in three different states.
He is also an active member of the Lancaster County Historical
Society, and the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
As a farm boy growing up , he was acquainted with the machinery
and equipment of a former era. He carried on a family tradition
that stretched well back into the 1800s.
His maternal grandfather, Jacob C. Weaver, born in 1852,
manufactured the Weaver thresher and the Weaver fodder shredder.
Those were not days of mass production, but products were put
together to last. Two of the Weaver threshers and one of the fodder
shredders can be seen today at the Rough and Tumble Engineers
Museum at Kinzars, Pa.
‘As a farmboy,’ Wilmer recalls, ‘I went along with
the threshing rig of Walter Smeltz. He had an Oil Pull engine, a
Frick thresher and an Ohio baler’.
Eshleman stayed in farming until before World War II, when he
became interested in the sale of electrical appliances. He then
conducted a small country store at Fairland, Lancaster County. He
later sold that to accept a sales position with New Holland Machine
In 1955 the Frick Co. offered him a position as branch manager
in Canandaigua, N.Y., their largest branch at the time. Frick had
branches from the Mississippi to the eastern seaboard, but the
company found these too expensive to operate because of
Some branch managers were offered the positions of territory
sales managers in given territories, ‘Eshleman recalls. ‘I
returned to Lancaster and my territory grew to six states.’
He continues: ‘I established dealerships to sell the Frick
line. We were going into sawmills very strong. I sold the City of
Baltimore a sawmill for $50,000.’
While with Frick, Eshleman visited Arthur S. Young, of Kinzers,
‘who had collected steam engines like some people collected
postage stamps’. Young, who was one of Wilmer’s Frick
dealers, enjoyed taking him on tours in his car and giving the
story of each engine in his collection. There were three of four
rows. Eshleman reveled in this. He had ‘machinery in his
blood’ and was a historian as well.
Eshleman became affiliated with the Rough and Tumble Engineers,
an organization led by Young, in 1956. He served as announcer for
the annual reunions, and the rich timbre of his voice became
familiar to thousands of members and guests. He kept up a newsy
commentary from his seat in the tower or at the grand stand post,
telling his audiences clearly what was going on and who was doing
He liked Frick Co., finding its management ‘the soundest and
finest I ever worked for’, and stayed with the firm until it
sold out to General Waterworks in Philadelphia in 1971. When the
company was sold again, Eshleman left Frick Co. even though he had
only one year to go to retirement.
Once retired from business, he continued active in history and
organizations. He continued announcing for Rough and Tumble until
1983, for a total of 26 years. He also announced for the Maryland
Steam Historical Society for 24 years, and the engine shows of the
Delaware State Fair for several years.
He became very well known for his role in the shows, and
reunions as well as for his knowledge of Frick, and many
thresherman and machinery dealers. He carried with him a complete
set of serial numbers of Frick engines, and also provided answers
on sawmill questions.
He still receives letters for information on Frick engines. Some
of the inquiries are forwarded to him by the Frick Engine Club in
Climax, N.C. P.O. Box 70. 27233.
The last Frick traction engine, No. 30,519, was an 8 x 10, built
in 1927, he notes. ‘It left the shop in 1929. It is now owned
by James Lay ton, of Federalsburg, Md.
‘The last Frick portable made, in the last regular
production series of 12 engines, was No. 30,637. It was not the
last one to leave the shop, since they were not sold or delivered
in requence. It is an 8 x 10, owned and displayed by the Georgia
Agrirama Museum at Tifton, Ga.
‘About 100 Frick steam traction engines and portables are
still in existence.’
Wilmer has compiled a brief chronology of the Frick firm, and
here are some significant dates and events:
1828, George Frick was born in Lancaster County, Pa.
1852, Frick built his first shop and steam engine to power his
shop, at Ringold, Md.
1861, Frick built a new shop and moved to Waynesboro, Pa.
1826, Peter Geiser was born at Smithburg, Md. His mother was a
singer of sewing machine fame. He became a neighbor and friend of
1863, When the Confederate army retreated from Gettysburg,
soldiers entered the Frick shop and took all the leather belting
for shoe soles.
1850, Peter Geiser made first trial run with his thresher.
1866, Peter Geiser purchased the Frick shop at Waynesboro.
George Frick went across Broad Street and built a new shop opposite
Geiser. Since Frick had power and Geiser had none, a large shaft
was run under Broad Street, to furnish power from the Frick engine
to the Geiser shop. During the Civil War 330 Geiser threshers were
built; George Frick built 200 of them under Geiser Auspices.
1870, Christian Frick Bowman, of the noted Bowman watch family
in Lancaster, a cousin of George Frick, became interested in the
Frick enterprise. He left Lancaster, went out over the mountain and
became a partner of George Frick. The company then operated as
Frick & Bowman. Two years later Bowman died and we learn Frick
felt a great loss.
1884, Frick Company was incorporated.
Note from the Editor: It is a pleasure to present this article
about Wilmer J. Eshelman. It was through him we were introduced to
Mrs. Erlene Ritzman, widow of the Rev. Elmer Ritzman, founder of
Stemgas. Mrs. Ritzman kindly agreed to sell the business to us, and
we have tried to follow the pattern set by Elmer