Oil Field Engine News

By Staff
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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 Joseph Reid Gas Engine Co. main plant, Oil City, Pa., sometime around 1920.
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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

‘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

‘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

‘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

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