Oil Field Engine News

Notes on the Reid Company

Makers of 1/4-scale and 1/8-scale Reid engines

From left to right: Ben Faulkner, Margaret Reid, Jack Reid and Harry Homer, of Burns & Homer Engine Company, makers of 1/4-scale and 1/8-scale Reid engines.

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The following 'Notes about the Joseph Reid Gas Engine Company,' comes from a letter written by Margaret Reid, daughter of John Reid, Reid Gas Engine Co. founder Joseph Reid's nephew.

'My reminiscences of the Joseph Reid Gas Engine Co. of Oil City, Pa., begin in the 1920s. My father's office was in a large brick building located on Main Street beyond the present Electralloy Company.

'Sometimes on Saturdays I would go with my father to the ''shop'', as he called it. As he worked at the big wooden roll-top desk, I would draw pictures or write him notes, which I delighted to drop through the slots in the ends of the desk.

'If he decided to check on progress in various parts of the company, we would go through the machine shop where I was intrigued with the shiny machines smelling of oil. Occasionally a machinist would be working and I could watch metal 'curls' coiling off whatever he was tooling. These were sharp and I was warned not to touch them.

'Then we might go through the scrap yard on our way to the woodworking building. I loved the smell of the wood and was happy when the wooden shaving 'curls' and sawdust had not yet been swept away. I could play with those curls.

'The foundry was, to me, a huge, forbidding place, but once or twice I was taken to watch the molten iron being poured into molds. It was unforgettably exciting to see the blazing stream and the explosion of sparks.

'The Reid engines were built at the Main Street plant. There was, however, another section of the company at the corner of Duncomb and Elm Streets, now partially occupied by a coin and card shop. This had been an early location of the Joseph Reid Co., but in my youth had long since been used for building pumping powers.

'Two disasters during my lifetime struck the Main Street plant. One, which I remember only by family tales since I was about 2 or 3 at the time, was a fire. It was caused by a defective firebox on an Erie Railroad locomotive as it passed over a pool of oil leaking from a pipeline. Railroad officials were notified and men were dispatched to flag down a freight train while the oil was being drained away. The engineer refused to stop. The resulting fire was a major blow, which was hardly compensated by court settlement.

'The other disaster I vividly remember was the March 1926 flood on a warm Sunday afternoon. Reasons for this flood are well documented in local history. So I shall simply relate my impressions regarding the Reid Company. My father had taken us with a couple of my friends to witness the result by Canadian scientist Dr. Barnes planting thermal charges in an ice dam near Franklin. His efforts had been too long delayed by indecision among city officials, so the flood was already on its way. When we came back to town, father stopped at the Main Street plant to check on the sump pumps in the basement.

'While we waited for him, my friends and I amused ourselves by jumping over the river water rising in the driveway. We could no longer do so by the time he hurried out to say that the pumps were submerged and he was taking us home.

'Back at the shop he called all the Reid workers he could reach to help save files, blue prints, equipment. In the middle of the night, he had a heart attack. His helpers, all of them working in knee-deep water, carried him to the second floor. They tried to flag one of the rowboats being used to rescue people from houses on the hillside above what is now Route 8, but they had no luck until dawn. Finally they lowered him into a boat, walked him, and arms over two men's shoulders, to the Petroleum Street Bridge where they waved down a car to bring him home. He did not resume a full working schedule for several months.

'Long before I was a teenager and had my first paid job, I knew that the second floor of the office building contained the bookkeeping department, drafting room and the printing department; the last presided over by my brother Jack.

'Downstairs at the main entrance was a small room where, substituting during various office women's vacations, I acted as receptionist, file clerk and switchboard operator. In addition to interoffice and local calls, there were many to and from Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, California and where ever else Reid engines were sold. No direct dialing in those days!

'I did not happen to be on duty, though, when an irate lease owner stormed into the sales room shouting that he was losing a day's production and he'd never had anything but trouble with the Reid engine! Trying to calm him down, the clerks asked his name and the engine number. At first they thought he was mistaken about the number since it was so low. But they searched the files and found that the engine had been purchased 40 years before and had never, until then, been reported for repair. The owner, reconsidering, admitted that it had in 40 years been shut down only for oiling.

'Meanwhile, my father, attracted by the commotion, had come from his office to find out what was the matter. He said: 'Put every part that could be needed on a truck along with a mechanic to repair that engine, and don't send a bill.''

Margaret D. Reid February 1995

Margaret Reid passed away Sept, 23, 2002. Special thanks to Ms. Reid's nephew, Ted Golds borough, for permission to publish Ms. Reid's recollections.

Additionally, Harry Homer passed away Oct. 4, 2002, a few weeks before this issue went to print. He was known by nearly everyone in the oil field engine hobby, and was responsible for saving many engines that are now enjoyed by collectors.

Contact the Oil Field Engine Society at: 1231 Banta's Creek Road, Eaton, OH 45320-9701, on the Web at: www.oilfieldengine.com or e-mail: oilengine@voyager.net