Cowanesque Valley Iron Works

| December/January 1997

13 Main Street Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania 16929

Most everyone doing serious restoration on real wrecks, or those simply wishing to complete their engine 100 percent, will have run into the problem of missing or damaged castings that are impossible to replace. For instance, I have needed crank guards, governor arms, mag brackets, and mufflers for some of the off brand engines I have done. In this case two things are required: a pattern and a foundry. Unfortunately, these days it is often easier to come up with a pattern than it is to find a foundry willing and able to do this kind of piece work.

Here in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have just such a foundry. Cowanesque Valley Iron Works has been here a very long time and has a history as long and enduring as many of the engines we covet. CVIW was started in 1887 by John Rieppel, a German immigrant. From the very beginning, just as it is today, CVIW was both a foundry and a machine shop. Cowanesque, was a strategic location in 1887, with two railroads available to supply iron works and ship their products. Large tanneries located up and down the valley were customers for, among other things, iron and wood flat belt pulleys for lineshaft machinery. Figure 1 shows the original office and buildings, with some pulleys stored outside. All manner of repairs for local farmers and industry were done, including reboring steam engines and cylinders. Figure 2 shows the rear of the original foundry and shop. Just visible is a small farm steam engine and boiler. Examples of early business are 80 manhole irons for Westficld Sewer and 200 truck wheels for Elkland Tannery in 1916.

John Rieppel died in 1918, passing the business to sons George and John. George ran the business until he died in 1936. Walt and Harold Rieppel took over in partnership at that time, Walter having started work there in 1928 after finishing school. The foundry and shop grew to employ 35 men. A fire in 1946 destroyed all of the original buildings and much of the original machinery, sadly including a very large REID engine that was used to power the facility in the early days. Undaunted, the Rieppels rebuilt the shop even bigger than before, and in 1957 added more products by acquiring the Indiana foundry's patterns for 'Sutton Brand' stoves, fireplaces, ashpit doors, dampers, post mauls, drains, and other cast building supplies. Today these building products plus stove grates and other parts account for maybe 75 percent of the business. Walt's son William joined the business in the 1950s, and in 1969 Walt became sole owner and president of the iron works. They were joined in the late 1970s by William's son Jeffrey. Several years ago William passed away, and Walt is now 'retired,' although he still shows up for work every day.

A 1994 fire nearly wiped out CVIW a second time. The night-time fire started in the area of the cupola furnace and swept across the roof into the machine shop. Much of the antique machinery was damaged, although not totally lost. One exception was the ancient pulley lathe in the corner, which broke up when hit with cold water. This machine had been used in recent years to finish a large engine flywheel which the foundry cast, and may be missed by some of us. Once again, CVIW rebuilt and is back in business today, but it could just as easily have gone the other way, and we would have lost yet another small foundry. Today they pour iron about twice a week, and run aluminum and brass about every day from small furnaces. I encourage anyone needing parts made to talk to Walter or Jeff because they can help you and would like your business. Walt is particularly knowledgeable about the machines we like to work on and has seen just about everything in his lifetime. The address is: Cowanesque Valley Iron Works, PO Box 13, Cowanesque, Pennsylvania 16918. Telephone is 814-367-2218.

This photograph of a gasoline engine powering a cider press is so crisp and clear you can almost taste the tart apples and feel the juice running down your chin. The photo is part of the collection of J.C. Allen & Son Inc. Rural Life Photo Service, 1341 Northwestern Ave., West Lafayette, Indiana 47906


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