Spencerport, New York 14559
I would like to tell of my experience as engineer to an eight
horse Fairbanks Morse one cylinder horizontal engine that was
driving a direct current dynamo which was the source of power for a
motion picture show house in the village of Spencerport, New York
from about 1914 to the middle 20s.
When the show house was first opened there was no municipal
electric power in the village. Streets were lit by gas lights that
got their gas from a gas house where it was generated from carbide.
The wealthier citizens also had that form of illumination in their
homes. We were still using oil lamps.
The first electric lights in the village were in the theater and
when they started up the generator the lights on the front would
come on over the door and on a five-light post candelabra with milk
white globes that were the wonderment of all who viewed them,
especially the kids, who would sit and gaze spellbound at them.
My greatest ambition was to run the big Fairbanks-Morse engine,
so I haunted the engine room to make friends with the engineer,
Bernard Penders. He used to leave me to watch the engine so that he
might go up out of the cellar to watch the feature movie. He taught
me how to handle the engine so I learned the ropes. There was no
blast in the system so when the projectionest was about to fire up
the arc he would call on a phone to the engine room so the engineer
would speed up the engine. If he failed to do that the engine would
stall under the load and by the same token the engineer would have
to be on his toes when the projectionest would cut the arc. If he
failed that, the house lights would burn out.
Well, it came about that the projectionest quit and Bernard was
promoted to that job and he put in a word for me as engineer. As
you can imagine I was in seventh heaven, and a very important
person among my peers.
The status-quo held for a year or so and in 1915 municipal power
came to the village; but due to an altercation between them and Mr.
Herrick they would not supply him with it, so we continued to
operate with the old setup.
About this time an enterprising young fellow by the name of
Harry Place sub rented the theater from Mr. Herrick. Immediately
Harry arranged with the village to put in village power, thereby
dispensing with my services.
That arrangement went on for a number of months but attendance
fell off and Harry turned the theater back to Mr. Herrick.
Mr. Herrick met me on the street and said ‘Earl I’m
going to run a show next Saturday evening. The village has refused
me power, so will you go and start up the engine and see that it
will work. O.K.?’ I said that I would and Saturday afternoon I
went to the theater and started the engine.
Well it started all right, but it didn’t level off but kept
on going faster and faster until the big 12′ x 12′ sleepers
it and the dynamo were bedded on were hopping off the floor and the
light over the engine blew out.
I shut it off and stood in the dark trying to figure it out.
Then I started it up again and the same thing took place. I shut
her down again and went to see Mr. Herrick. I told him what had
happened and that every light bulb that had been on was burned out.
He was mad at me and said he would get someone that knew how to run
it. He went to the theater and replaced all the lights and
contacted another young fellow who had been very anxious to get the
When it came time to start the show Saturday night, Morris and
another young fellow went down into the cellar and started the
engine which did the same thing for him it did for me. But he did
not shut it off and he ran out of the cellar and left it running.
Needless to say, all the lights blew again.
Mr. Herrick ran next door to Wally Waters Garage to get Wally to
go down in the cellar and shut the engine off, which he did. When
he examined the engine he found that the key on the shaft holding
the governor wheel had fallen out so that the governor had no
control and the engine was running wild. The wheel lacked only a
quarter of an inch from coming off the crank shaft. Had that wheel
come off, it would have made a shambles of the engine room and very
likely killed anyone in the cellar.
I feel very lucky that I was fired from that job!