Preserving local photos keeps the story alive

steam locomotive

Hello, steam people. As I write today early in January the outdoor temperature is being warmed by a south wind which proves the idea that our weather here in western Pennsylvania depends mostly on which way the winds blow.

If any of you are firing to make steam it is likely in a heating plant of some sort. A coal-fired boiler has a lot to recommend it as a heating system and if you have the right equipment natural gas or oil furnaces can do the job well too.

Steam and hot water both do a first class job of distributing heat through a house or other building.

If you are working on a steam engine restoration project we hope you have a heated garage or shed to aid the operation.

Essential heat

I’m remembering a story from many years ago when the late Rogers McKee was the head machinist at Reliable Motor Parts Co., in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

A customer had hired him to come to his place and bore out the cylinders of an auto engine, assuring him that it was a heated garage.

The heat was a coal furnace sans jacket, but there were lots of cracks between the boards of siding such that the furnace was making the rubber of the nearest tire smell like it might soon ignite.

Meanwhile, the snow laid unmelted on the opposite running board.

Let’s hope we can do better than that. I spend some time most days looking through postings on Facebook and I am amazed by what I find there from various enthusiasts.

Gary Yeager is probably the number one contributor and I wonder with some others what his picture files must amount too.

Sharing photos

I have a few old time scenes, mostly thanks to my friendship with the late Walt McQuiston who was a well-known thresherman and character in our township.

But Gary posts as many as ten each week.

One thing that makes his contributions especially nice is that he often lists several of a particular make in a day.

This week he has shared several Avery engines of their well known double undermounted style. Come to think of it he has not recently shown any of Avery’s standard style or return flue style engines.

Avery was a company that built all three styles which most other builders did not.

Many of his posts show engines plowing along with 32/110 Case which was a popular engine for breaking the prairie sod.

Others show them moving houses or other buildings which seems like it was a common practice one hundred years and more ago when communities were less stable and rooted than we are used to.

Motor wagon

In one recent post there is a 1907 International Motor Wagon, basically a horseless carriage, on the road beside the steam engine.

Various other old cars appear from time to time, especially Model “T” Fords after 1910 and into the teens and twenties.

Today, the feature is Heilman which was an early make many people will not recognize. The first is pulling a tender for fuel and water supply, another thing many will not have seen.

Nichols and Shephard engines are quite common and some very old examples. Many posts show steamers being fired on straw which was free and plentiful after the threshing.

In fact, it was often in the way so burning it had the advantage of cleaning up the field or farmyard at the same time.

In many cases a large slatted rack was built on the back of the engine where the coal box or water tank would be, depending on the make.

A couple others show a separate wagon behind the engine with slatted sides to hold the straw. Straw, especially freshly threshed straw, is quite slippery and would slide off a flatbed wagon quite readily.

A more recent post shows several Advance engines from Battle Creek, Michigan plowing and burning straw.

Today’s posts feature railroad engines. Gary Yeager shares pictures and credits with several friends, including Scott Thompson of Old Iron magazine, author Bob Rhode, Ph.D., and Pastor Tom Olson.

Olson also contributes articles to Iron Age regularly and is quite well versed and has lots of pictures and a large bucket list.

Photos of engines which broke through bridges are another common subject.

Since we are talking pictures let me encourage you to keep your eyes open at flea markets and similar displays for local examples in your area.

My dear late wife picked me up a good one years ago at a flea market. It is a mill engine near Philadelphia which broke the crankshaft and wrecked itself.

Local photos

Knowing local photographers can give you leads too. Some of the McQuiston pictures I have were shot by Joe Steinfield who was the staff cameraman at the US Steel plant, in Ellwood, which meant he had first class equipment.

Winthrop Worcester was a neighbor who made a hobby of taking pictures and I recall him coming to the old Red Brick School and taking a picture of the picnic crowd on the last day of my first-grade year.

I know there are a couple copies around and we have identified all the faces.

I found out more recently that Bill Hoss over in Franklin Township was a popular picture taker over there. Some of what the Fombell history group has collected may well be his work and they include threshing and other farm scenes.

Most of the traction engines are Peerless so they must have had an active agent or two in the area. I wondered for awhile how engines were sold and have decided that traveling salesmen or agents did most of it. No doubt word of mouth had its effect too.

I have seen testimonials in old catalogs particularly from LeRoy Blaker of Alvorton, Ohio, who was a Port Huron man and more locally John McMurray of Slippery Rock who favored the Twentieth Century engines built in Boynton, Pennsylvania.

Preserved negatives

One of the more interesting collections of pictures I have run across recently came up on channel 13 WQED Pittsburgh, Leo Beachy – A Legacy Nearly Lost.

Leo was an avid early photographer whose work is mostly on glass plate negatives and involves local scenery in the Area of Grantsville, Maryland.

Unfortunately, Leo was an early victim of muscular dystrophy and died young in 1927.

The preserved material amounts to some 2,800 glass negatives and about one thousand postcards based on Leo’s work.

They are now held in the Garrett County, Maryland, museum and can be scanned on their website.

Since they are close to Boynton, Pennsylvania, there are a number of Twentieth Century engines shown.

These pictures still existing is sort of a miracle since they were tossed in local dumps two or three times then salvaged. Now their value is well recognized and they are pretty safe.

I bought some 15 prints and submitted them to magazines so you may see them in print soon. A collection of this size is rare and valuable and not likely to be repeated.


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