Thursday, July 23, 2015

Great Granddad Was a Threshing Machine Builder


Calvin Plimpton, my 3rd great grandfather, was born 15 Feb 1815 in Geneva, New York.  His grandfather, Elijah Townsend was a blacksmith that crafted cow-bells for the early settlers. Perhaps that's where young Calvin built a knowledge base that would eventually lead him to be become and mechanist and finally a threshing machine builder.


Sometime before 1850, Calvin moved his family to Zanesville, Ohio where he is listed as a mechanist on both the 1850 and 1860 US federal census reports.  It appears he went into business for himself sometime before 1870, as he is listed as a threshing machine builder on the 1870 US federal census.


Perhaps Calvin was in the crowd at the farm implements barn (in this JQA Tresize photo) during Ohio State Fair in Zanesville, Ohio on September 21, 1859.  Calvin passed away 26 May 1874, at age 60.

Thrashing machines (early spelling), were created to mechanically separate grain -- such as wheat -- from stalks and husks.  For thousands of years before the machine was invented grain was separated by hand with flails, which required extensive back-breaking, hand labor.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Great Granddad Was The Village Blacksmith


Valentine Boyd, my 2nd great grandfather,  was born in 1811 in Tennessee.  I know from census records he was a blacksmith in Union, Appanoose, Iowa by 1850, so I imagine Valentine Boyd had been given an opportunity to apprentice for a blacksmith sometime in the late 1820s after his father relocated to the farming community of Clinton, Franklin County, Ohio.

I can picture young Valentine fueling the forge fire as the work day begins, then pumping a huge bellows that fanned the forge fire, all the while watching the smithy perform his artful tasks.  


In time young Valentine would have learned to work iron and steel into a wide variety of useful items.  And, he would have learned to shoe horses, make farm tools, and repair farm wagons. 

After becoming a journeyman it would be fitting for him to marry, and move on to find a place to open his own shop.  Valentine Boyd married Sarah Grooms on May 6, 1835, in Clinton, Ohio, when he was 24 years old.  Then he moved on looking for a new home.  He was in Warren, Indiana, in 1840, and finally came to Union, Iowa, in 1850.


Valentine Boyd homesteaded in Union City, Iowa -- proving-up his land in 1855.

Between 1836 and 1853 Sarah and Valentine had 6 daughters and three sons.

Sarah died from Smallpox about 1858, at the age of 43. They had been married 23 years.  His son James also died from Smallpox in 1858, at the age of 18.

On July 4th, 1861, Valentine married a second time to Elisabeth Richmond in Appanoose, Iowa.

There is no record for Valentine or Elisabeth after 1870.


The Village Blacksmith (poem)

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. 


His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man. 


Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low. 


And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor. 


He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice. 


It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes. 


Toiling,--rejoicing,--sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose. 


Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, about 1840

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Great Grandfather was a foreman at Woolwich Dockyard


Stephen Head -- my 2x great grandfather -- was born 29 Jul 1817 in Plumstead, Kent, England; and died 28 Dec 1881 in Plumstead, Kent, England 

According to a Kentish Independent newspaper account of the September 10th, 1910 funeral for Mrs Stephen Head (Margaret Wilkie), at Plumstead Churchyard, Mr Head, her late husband, had at one time been a foreman at Woolwich Dockyard.

The Woolwich Dockyard was an English naval dockyard originally built in 1514 by Henry VIII for the construction of his famous ship 'Harry Grace a Dieu'. 

Royal Navy vessels were built at the yard until its closure in 1869.  The area around the dockyard was known as the Warren and consisted of workshops, warehouses, timber yards, barracks, foundries and the nearby Royal Arsenal.


During the time Stephen would have been foreman at the dockyard he very likely would have been involved with loading and outfitting ships for the Royal Artillery including the loading of shot, shell (above) and horses (below).


During the time that Stephen was at the dockyard shipbuilders had intensified the development of marine steam engineering and a growing number of steam vessels entered naval service, so Woolwich became the principal naval yard for fitting out and maintaining the Navy’s steam fleet.


There is very little gleaned from the historical record for Stephen's life, but we do know he was the son of a Royal Artillery soldier who had served in the West Indies during the late 1790s.

And, Stephen's son, and namesake, Stephen John Head was employed at the Woolwich Royal Arsenal as assistant foreman of its carriage department for 42 years, so there is an association with the Royal Artillery for three generations in this family.


While not well to do by any means Stephen and Margaret managed to prosper and raise ten child in Woolwich.  At one time they lived in an area known as the Sprays Buildings on Hog Lane in Plumstead.


My own experience in a dockyard was in the late summer 1968 when I worked as a shipwright apprentice at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.  The dockyard was one of the dirtiest and most dangerous places I've ever worked.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- Philip Carey


Philip Carey (1925 - 2009) was an American born film and television actor.  He is probably best known for his roles in Westerns as well as his starring role in the NBC television series "Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers."

Philip Carey's Santa Susana locations filmography includes:


The Man Behind the Gun (1953) starring Randolph Scott, Patrice Wymore and Dick Wesson (Bell Ranch)(Iverson Ranch) Warner Bros.


The Nebraskan (1953) starring Philip Carey, Roberta Haynes, Wallace Ford and Richard Webb (Corriganville)(Burro Flats) Columbia


Wyoming Renegades (1954) starring Philip Carey, Gene Evans and Martha Hyer (Iverson Ranch) Columbia


They Rode West (1954) starring Robert Francis, Donna Reed and May Wynn (Burro Flats)(Iverson Ranch) Columbia


Massacre Canyon (1954) starring Philip Carey, Audrey Totter and Douglas Kennedy (Iverson Ranch)(Corriganville) Columbia


The Outlaw Stallion (1954) starring Philip Carey, Dorothy Patrick and Billy Gray (Corriganville)(Chatsworth Reservoir)(Bell Ranch) Columbia


Return to Warbow (1958) starring Philip Carey, Catherine McLeod and Andrew Duggan (Iverson Ranch)(Corriganville) Columbia


"Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers" TV Series (1956) starring Philip Carey as Lieutenant Michael Rhodes (26 episodes, 1956-1957)

Over the next five decades Carey made appearances in a plethora of other TV Westerns and dramas.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- John Carroll


John Carroll (1906 - 1979) was a American born actor and singer.  He appeared in several Western films in the 1930s and 1940s, and is probably best known for his role as Zorro in Zorro Rides Again in 1937.

John Carroll's Santa Susana locations filmography includes:


Zorro Rides Again (1937) [serial] starring John Carroll, Helen Christian and Reed Howes (Iverson Ranch) Republic


Fabulous Texan, The (1947) starring Bill Elliott, John Carroll and Catherine McLeod (Iverson Ranch) Republic


Wyoming (1947) starring Bill Elliott, Vera Ralston and John Carroll - Republic


Angel in Exile (1948) starring John Carroll, Adele Mara and Thomas Gomez (Corriganville) Republic


Old Los Angeles (1948) starring Bill Elliott, John Carroll and Catherine McLeod (Iverson Ranch) Republic


Old Los Angeles (1948) starring Bill Elliott, John Carroll and Catherine McLeod (Iverson Ranch) Republic


Monday, May 25, 2015

1908, Montana Schoolmarm Finds Romance


My sweet little wife Joyce spent over thirty years teaching English in Los Angeles schools, so when this photo was taken in a Wyoming photography studio I affectionately called it "Cowboy and Schoolmarm."  

What could be more romantic I thought.  But, then I recently discovered a real tale about a schoolmarm and her real old West romance.


Stella May Brown, my grandmother's older sister, was born 3 Dec 1888 in Roswell, Miner County, South Dakota during one of her family's forays into the West seeking the perfect homestead location.  The photo above was taken about 1980, in Missouri as the search for a perfect home continued.


Eventually Stella's parents -- Abraham Lincoln Brown and Neva Plympton Brown found their way to Creston, Montana where they would spend the rest of their days.


After finishing her own schooling -- at Cayuse Prairie school in Creston, Montana -- Stella became the teacher at another nearly Montana school.  The school house was a log cabin that had been constructed by two young brothers Ray and Len Schlyer.


Apparently Len Schlyer was swept off his feet by the lovely young schoolmarm, and the two were wed in December of 1908.


I believe the photo above was their home in the early 1920s.


Len built a sawmill in nearby Kalispell, Montana, but fires caused by spontaneous combustion of sawdust piles became a problem, so the family moved to New York state about 1929.  

Len passed away in 1940, and Stella lived until 1971, but never remarried.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Thank Goodness For Traveling Photographers


Having your Photograph taken became popular during the Civil War when many young men marched off to war with a brand new photo of their sweetheart or mother in their vest pocket.  Photographing the war made it necessary for photographers to outfit a wagon that could carry their cameras and double as a darkroom.  Thus the idea of a traveling photographer was born.

Following the war from -- especially during the 1880s and 1890s -- many photographers took their craft on the road…

Traveling photographers with railroad photo cars 

I have this mental image of great grandma in her sod house out on the Nebraska prairie -- her first baby is about six-months old now, but she knows there's no way she can afford to go visit her family and friends in the east.

Then someone tells her a train with a photographer is coming to town, and that's only two hours away with a horse and wagon.  When she got to the railroad station she most likely found the Hutchings Railroad Photo Car sitting on a siding and open for business for the next week or so.


The Hutchings Railroad Photo Car was a train car set up as a traveling photography studio.  They worked along the railroads of Kansas and Nebraska.  Hutchings Railroad photographers advertised in local papers announcing the date of their arrival.  Sometimes they also pass out handbills and put up posters after they arrived.


A visit of the Hutchings Railroad Photo Car was a treat not soon forgotten, and left you with a treasure to always be remembered.

Traveling photographers with horse-drawn vans and wagons


Picture great granddad working on his new barn in rural Montana when a stranger in a horse-drawn wagon comes up the road and pulls into the driveway.  

The stranger's helper unloads a camera on a tripod and points it in the direction of the barn. Wanting to know what he's doing granddad climbs off the barn asks about his intentions.  

The stranger explains to grandpa that his barn has been selected to be photographed, and that if he'll get the family together they can be included in the photograph -- for the price of $2.50 -- and they'll have a professional photograph, that will impress the neighbors, or can be made into a postcard to mail to kin folks.

At that point grandpa had two choices: 1. Grab your pitchfork and run the stranger off the place or, 2. Call mother, the children and get the new buggy out front and pose.


Apparently Abraham Brown decided $2.50 was worth the price of a nice photo of his Creston, Montana homestead.


Thank goodness for those early traveling photographers because I've got cigar box full of pictures that are a family treasure to be handed down to future generations.