Old Iron Works At Hay Creek Valley

Rock crusher

Rock crusher makes short work of a hard job.

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GEM Staffer

If there's one phrase that can be associated with the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association's annual Fall Festival, it's 'old iron works.' And if there's a second phrase that comes to mind, it's 'old iron works.' Why say it twice? Because in this case it's true twice.

Every September, on the weekend after Labor Day, you can come to the association's Fall Festival and see old iron working nearly 200 vintage engines, both gas and steam, not just sitting there, but actually doing the work they were made for. At every moment and every turn, there's something to watch, and something new to learn for those who aren't of an age to remember when, even though it looks like backbreaking work, this kind of power was the labor-saving way to get things done.

At last year's show, from the moment I arrived on the property I was watching technology at work. The first thing to catch my eye were the hydraulic rams pumping water up the hill. They're a fascinating piece of machinery, downright hypnotic, and it's such fun to watch them working. Then I turned around, and there was a 1927 Jaeger (isn't that the most beautiful blue?) with flywheel spinning, owned by Bill and Cindy Swisher of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. They also exhibited a 1 HP Gray engine running a Letz mill.

Here's one I've never seen before: a Boy Scout engine, 1 HP, built in 1912, owned by Henry Moore of Souderton, Pennsylvania. Who knows anything about these? I couldn't find it in Wendel's big book, so now I'm intrigued.

Walt Lilley's 22 HP 1914 Witte provided throaty background music for viewing a lineup of New Holland engines owned by LeRoy Hoover (aka 'Farmer Brown') from Morgantown. In his third year of exhibiting at Hay Creek, Hoover had on hand a 1915 HP, a 1905 1 HP, a 1923 2 HP, a 1915 4 HP, and a 1916 5 HP.

You wanna see impressive power? Watch a rock crusher for a while, pal. When you see big chunks of limestone reduced to gravel, you realize just how much work this machinery can do. You realize, too, what an impact the development of gas engine power had on rural life when you see exhibits like Bob Linton of Lancaster's generator display, showing how engine technology brought light to the farm and home.

More hard work was being done at the Heft family exhibit. The Hefts, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, had a big display showing what happens to corn once it's in from the field. Anita Heft and Jennifer Curry used a lot of elbow grease demonstrating the manually-operated fodder cutter and corn shelter, while the men ran the engines (boys and their toys, you know). They had a 1920 3 HP Hercules belted up to a 1916 Galloway fodder cutter, a 1920 l HP Hercules powering a 1910-1915 Mountville two-hole corn sheller, and a corn grinder run by Fairbanks-Morse Z.

Watching all that work gave me an appetite, so no better time to take some nourishment. Local civic and church groups operate booths in a 'food court' of sorts, where the good eats of Pennsylvania Dutch country are made available. Don't miss the homemade soup made by the McGowan family, simmered in huge cauldrons over an open fire.

Now that I'm fortified, it's time to explore the second reason for saying 'old iron works' here at Hay Creek. This bustling festival is held at historic Joanna Furnace, a site abundant with those things necessary for the processing of iron: nearby ore deposits, woodland for charcoal, lots of limestone, and waterways that were an excellent power source for the once-thriving iron industry and supporting community that flourished here throughout the 1800s.

The furnace, carved out of semi-wilderness in 1791, was for most of her life a cold blast, single stack charcoal iron furnace. Water-powered until the late 1850s, the furnace was later converted to steam power, with installation of a Weimer blowing engine in 1889 and conversion to hot-blast operation.

Hay Creek Valley Historical Association was organized in 1975 by a group of people (my grandparents and uncle among them) who were interested in the preservation of early American tools and machinery, and the sharing of that interest with the public. Since the late 1970s, members of HCVHA have been working to restore the furnace complex, which was donated to them by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, once a large landholder in the area. Many of the original buildings still exist and have been stabilized, restored, or rebuilt. Visitors can see the blacksmith shop, where iron working demonstrations take place; the blower engine house, which once housed the blast machinery and is now used as a viewing area for an orientation video; the furnace stack, in which ore, limestone and charcoal were layered to remove the metal from the ore; the charcoal barn, a massive sandstone structure used to store the charcoal for the furnace operation; the office and store, which served as the hub of daily operations; and the mule stable, where the work animals were kept.

In addition to the large engine and mechanical technology area and the buildings of the furnace complex, there's an extensive area in which early American crafts are demonstrated. Here's where you can see glassblowers at work, woodcrafts being made, soap making, butter churning, apple butter cooking, sheep shearing, spinning and weaving, basket weaving, chair caning: oh, there's so much I can't fit it all in! A Civil War encampment is also held on the grounds, with educational exhibits about camp life for soldiers and civilians. A musical performance stage with comfy straw-bale seating, and a large home craft and antique marketplace, round out the mix of activities.

When you get to the showgrounds, pick up a copy of the program. That way you won't miss any of the scheduled activities, like the Tractor Parade, or the threshing, sawmill, or shingle mill demonstrations. Parking is off-site, but not too far away, and they run a very well-organized shuttle bus operation (handicapped parking is available on the grounds). Early September in Pennsylvania can be hot and humid, but the show site is blessed with lots of shade. This year marks the 25th annual festival, which is scheduled for September 7-9, 2001. If you'd like more information about the event, call 610-286-0388, or visit the HCVHA website at www.haycreek.org. Joanna Furnace is located three miles north of Morgan-town, Pennsylvania, on Route 10.

If you can't make it in September, you might want to come out for the Hay Creek Apple Festival later in the fall, set for Saturday, October 13. Or, put the annual Spring Show and Swap on your agenda. Show organizer George Loughery notes that talks are currently under way to expand that event for next year, perhaps moving the date into May and turning it into more of a tractor and engine show. Keep your eyes and ears open for more on that!